Inbound #4 “A Comic Book History of Boston”

Posted by on April 21st, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Boston Comics Roundtable; 144 pp., $12; B&W, Softcover; ISBN: 9781616583439
www.bostoncomicsroundtable.com

On Minis Monday, we looked at the first three issues of Inbound, the flagship anthology from the Boston Comics Roundtable. While many of the general comments back then hold true here, Inbound #4 makes additional smart decisions on several different fronts.

The series began life as a 7” x 11 ½” pamphlet-sized comic with stiff cover and nice paper. Issue four drops to a 5 ¾” x 8 ¾” thicker, bookish comic and bulks up from 60-odd pages to a whopping 144.

This does a couple of things immediately. First, more Roundtable members get into print. Thirty-six pieces are credited to 42 cartoonists and collaborators, a formidable display of democratic representation that squares nicely with the organization’s goals. Pieces range from one to six pages, with space allocated roughly in relation to breadth and depth of topic. With the smaller pages, less accomplished art gains for being reduced and tightened up, a collateral offset for better art being scaled down.

More importantly, Inbound #4 has a theme, one that plays to the advantage of Roundtable members and that wouldn’t hurt marketability. The volume’s subtitle is “A Comic Book History of Boston” but in fairness the volume’s really a kaleidoscopic and quirky examination of aspects of that history as opposed to, say, a more Larry Gonick-esque book of amusing but completely reliable pedagogy with subjects given justly proportioned attention. Here, though … well, by way of example: the accomplished collage of Shelli Paroline’s cover depicts, among other things, colonial warfare, the original Tea Party and Paul Revere’s ride and that’s pretty much the last you’ll see of them. Instead, the 17th and 18th Centuries in Massachusetts are depicted through such selected topics as a tour of the Granary Cemetery, an introduction to the gang of patriotic thugs known as “The Sons of Liberty,” Boston’s first duel, Shay’s Rebellion as performed by a first grade class, and the evolution of current roads from “The Cowpaths of Waltham.” The idiosyncratic nature of the project regarding matters both of widespread interest and Hub-centric fascination is unmistakable and no small hoot.

Later periods are represented by segments covering the book in the Boston Athenaeum bound in human skin, the night Mark Twain embarrassed himself before local Brahmins, a brief biography of Charles (the original) Ponzi, James Brown’s concert at the Garden immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., a fictionalized day in the life of the Boston Strangler, the theft of $500 million dollars worth of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and a history of local surfing among much of else of greater and lesser significance.

This eclectic, non-standard collection suggests that contributors were free to make comics on topics of their own choosing. Such freedom permits individual interests and enthusiasm to carry the day. But the choice of subjects also fosters a creative discipline in that creative energies are placed in service of the material. Demands of subject matter go to the fore, ahead of self-conscious concerns about personal style and individualized expression. By extension, with a set story to tell or given situation to describe, there’s presumably less pressure to be intrinsically “interesting” or graphically eye-grabbing in, of and all by oneself. Since one of the goals of the Boston Comics Roundtable is to make more and better comics, this seems a liberating assignment for advancing cartoonists.

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