Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston Edited by Dave Kender, Dan Mazur, and Shelli Paroline

Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston (Boston Comics Roundtable):
  • The Granary by Erik Heumiller focuses on the infamous Granary Burial Grounds near Boston Common that houses Paul Revere and other historical notables. It’s an intriguing history lesson that gives the feel of being on an actual guided walking tour. The thin expressive lines are a fun way to open the book and provide an ethereal slant in tone with the story. Grade A.

  • New England’s “Dark Day” by Bob Flynn has a very cartoony style that, for me, sucks the gravitas out of an otherwise horrific and shocking incident. I also think the strip is much too short to really get going and achieve any otherworldly intrigue. Grade C.

  • Birth of a Nation by Matt Aucoin made me chuckle with its trademark New England accent, using words like “lobsta” quite effectively. It’s done in more of a caricature style, but provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the compromise it takes to build a new country. Grade B.

  • Cowpaths of Waltham by Dave Unger and Aya Rothwell possesses some really clever and unique art. The characters’ actions seem to be superimposed on maps within the panel walls. These facts are so unbelievable that they can’t be fabricated. This was very entertaining. Grade A.

  • Mrs. Henderson’s First Grade Class Presents Shay’s Rebellion by Will Clark has a relatively simplistic art style, but it’s not without its charm. It’s interesting to see the way kids would interpret centuries old characters and their actions. Grade B.

  • Boston’s 1st Duel by Erik Heumiller presents a completely different artistic style than his earlier entry. It’s a more refined and realistic style with heavier inks that allow a more full figured aesthetic, while still being clean and effervescent. It reminded me of Carla Speed McNeil, pulling us right into this small scale mystery as it unfolds. Grade A.

  • Pope’s Night by Baldemar Byars didn’t work very well for me, with rudimentary art, lettering from a shaky hand, and characters shouting non-sequitur lines with the occasional typo, such as “mechanicks.” Grade C.

  • Black Sam by Richard Jenkins showed off a solid, grounded, representational art style, reminding me of the Oni Press book Northwest Passage, as it whisks us off on a high spirited adventure. Grade A.

  • A Book And Its Cover by Jesse Lonergan tells a great story about a notorious book bound in human skin at the Boston Athenaeum. It’s about an old highway robber, with an angular art style high in detail. For only a $230 membership fee, you too can view the actual book! Grade A.

  • Heywood’s Brook by Franklin Einspruch highlights a Thoreau hangout with beautiful prose. The abstract washes aren’t really traditional sequential comic panels that tell a story, they’re more used to achieve mood, but I still enjoyed it. Grade B.

  • The Lost Pirate Treasure of “Dungeon Rock” by Ron Lebrasseur is a fun tale with compact and cartoony art that looked to my eye to be a mix of The Simpsons and LEGO people. Grade B.

  • The Boston Slave Riot and the Trial of Anthony Burns by Dan Mazur and Brad Derocher employs a very intricate overlaid collage style. The art looks like a crackling mosaic of leaded glass windows, as a fugitive slave is apprehended and 50,000 protesters take to the streets during the Civil War era. I think there might be a small mix-up with the artist’s name, listed as “Doug” on the story page, but “Brad” in the table of contents. Still one of the better pieces in the book. Grade A.

  • The Last Act by Susan Chasen and Dan Mazur was one of my favorite pieces in the anthology. Mazur’s art has a depth and detail to it, achieved by grayscale washes and inky lines. I was really impressed by the sense of texture he was able to achieve in a 2D space. His control of shadow and presentation of richly rendered characters lends an Eddie Campbell vibe to the endeavor, as we’re taken inside the mind of John Wilkes Booth and his enigmatic political views and love life. Grade A.

  • Littery Men by Matt Boehm and Ellen Crenshaw uses a compact dynamic style to tell a story of Mark Twain and a speaking engagement gone awry. It’s full of fun facial expressions and detailed backgrounds, but unfortunately the text is a little too dense to allow the story to breathe. Grade B.

  • Old Ironsides by Braden Lamb uses a very attractive sketchy style to accompany the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem about the famous warship, the USS Constitution. Grade B.

  • Moxie by B.K. Smith does a fantastic job showcasing the so-called snake oil salesman of the era, and focuses on the titular soft drink from Lowell, Mass. It’s a fun artistic style, with lots happening in the panels. The period parlance is equally engaging and kooky, with lines like “Egad! The vigor!” Grade A.

  • The Amazing True Rags-To-Riches-To-Rags-Again Story of Charles Ponzi by Dan Mazur was another fantastic entry. We see how the Italian immigrant’s quest for the American Dream becomes synonymous with corporate greed and unethical behavior. The art’s got all of Mazur’s strengths, rich detail, panel to panel storytelling chops, creative use of varied panel design, a penchant for cross-hatching, and humor based in irony and contradiction. I loved the shot of the angels singing above Ponzi’s head, proof that Mazur is a very gifted artist, able to relay so much complex meaning purely visually. Grade A.

  • Blood by Matthew Reidsma uses a simple but effective style to relay the Sacco & Vanzetti story. It’s an interesting behind-the-scenes anecdote about the unbreakable human spirit. Grade A.

  • The Old Howard by Cathy Leamy combines intricate art and lively text about the changing face of modern Boston, where the general public would rather see a performer juggle three Yorick skulls than actually perform Hamlet. Grade A.

  • The Great Boston Molasses Flood by Jaime Garmendia and Dirk Tiede is such an odd story that it can only be done in a comic, here with the perfect balance of realism and unbelievable action in the art. It’s the story of an exploding storage tank that killed children and literally swept whole buildings toward the sea. Grade A.

  • Harry “Bucky” Lew: Original Baller by Joel Christian Gill uses an odd disproportionate art style that is detailed but cramped, yet still fun to look at. There’s some manga influence here, as the story of the first black basketball player is recounted. The text was much too small and I thought there was a little too much conjecture, tipping the scale more toward fiction than fact. Grade B.

  • A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitudes by Carl Tsui uses a clean, almost sterile art style, with fascinating results. I was definitely engaged by this story about Dr. Robert Goddard’s pioneering experiments that became the basis for modern rocket science and led to a 49 year old newspaper retraction. Grade A.

  • In da’ Chowda’: A Rough Surf History of Boston by Kevin Kilgore covers the topic from the Revolutionary War era to now, addressing all of the significant people and highlights, blending a good level of humor and history. The art is full of fun and lots of detail, particularly the panels with smaller scale figures. Grade A

  • Send it to Zoom! by Tim Fish possesses a cartoony manga bent, more of a slice-of life-teen tale, like the work of Chynna Clugston-Major. At one page, it feels much too short, with some indecipherable meaning behind the text. Grade C.

  • James Brown: Savior of Boston by Steve Polakiewicz and David Fernandez focuses on period racial tension, employing very simple figures, but a dead accurate rendition of James Brown. By the end, it works more as a teaser for another full length story. Grade B.

  • American Confusion by Joshua Santa Cruz covers unconstitutional segregation in the city, with somewhat stiff art that managed to capture the energy and instability of the time period, with an iconic image of the American flag being used as a weapon during a protest incident. Grade B.

  • William Moulton Marston by Raul Gonzalez addresses gender politics in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion, along with stereotypes in early comics that are still being carried out today. It’s nice to see the Wonder Woman creator covered in a bit more detail, wishing to create an archetype with all the strength of Superman, coupled with the natural allure of a beautiful woman. There’s a powerful quote about girls not even wanting to be girls if society portrays them as weak and submissive – that beautiful full page alone was nearly worth the price of admission. Grade A.

  • A Day in the Life of Al DeSalvo by Lindsay Moore and Roho introduces a Boston Strangler victim, achieving a creepy tone, with a refined line that you’d expect to find in the MOME anthology, ready for life in prime time, beyond the world of mini-comics. Grade A.

  • The Great Sordid History of Boston Punk Rock! by Eric Boeker provides a nice overview of the topic. I liked the subject matter immensely, but the art was kind of cartoony and distracted from the rich wicked cool music tradition of influential acts like The Modern Lovers, Dinosaur Jr., or The Pixies. The script was first rate, if a bit text heavy, with overlapping punk, alternative, and garage rock genres, with the charm of lines like “Again with the bastardized Longfellow?” Grade A.

  • Roxanne by Jen Vaughn is a piece where the backgrounds are more interesting than the figures in the foreground, but overall is a nice ode to an influential radio station that The Police credit much of their early success to. Grade B.

  • The Gahdner Heist by Line-O really delivers the New England accent in full force, enjoyable repartee like “Drop the chahges for the Gahdner aht” swirl around the real heist of $500 Million in art in 1990. The author looks into the heist by faux-interviewing other works of art that were at the scene of the crime. The piece has very tight and compact art that kind of pushes your eye away from the page, but it’s still a clever idea and engaging subject matter. Grade B.

  • Now by The MCC uses random factoids that are strung together like early Jonathan Hickman work at Image Comics. Not much “there” there. Grade C.

  • Lucky Seven by David Marshall covers Boston Celtic Dee Brown’s case of mistaken identity, highlighting some poignant embedded prejudice in society, with a bank robbery suspect that’s got very little in common physically with Brown, other than generally being of African-American descent. Grade A.

  • Wanted by Lawrence Gillette has a very unique art style that relies on iconic imagery tell much of the story about a mobster who disappeared and remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Grade A.

  • The Berdovsky Kids by Troy Minkowsky and Samuel Ferri operates with an affable art style with unique perspective shots, about the advertising savvy of youngsters being mistaken for terrorism, a bit of a non-sequitur. Grade B.

  • Factory Town by David Kender and Ron Lebrasseur attempts to use a panel flow that is totally counterintuitive, panels starting in the lower left corner of each page, but the actual art is attractive, and the strip succeeds in spite of itself. It’s full of meaty ideas and astounding facts about the interesting history of Harvard and the Cambridge area, largely influential in government, commerce, art, and culture. Grade A.

While I enjoyed the thematic connections of this anthology, overall it’s an extremely art-centric book, even going so far as to credit the artists before the writers in the table of contents. This isn’t something usually seen, but it does live up to its self-proclaimed premise of showcasing up and coming artists in the greater Boston area. For those not in the know, the Boston Comics Roundtable is a loose conglomeration of artists (and writers!) that publish an anthology twice per year. This book was from 2009 and presents a very strong diversity of style. It covers a plethora of subject matter, from colonials, to pirates, to slaves, assassins, and poets. At 140 pages for only $12, it’s packed with material and really could function as a marketing brochure, being housed at museums, hotels, and tourist information centers. In terms of comic books, it manages to avoid the most common pitfalls of anthology style books; it not only achieves a high level of quality, but is miraculously able to sustain it throughout the project for the most part. I say this as someone who isn’t really a fan of anthologies simply because I’ve been habitually disappointed by their inherent inconsistency, but this is probably one of the best anthology books I’ve ever read. With grades clocking in as mostly A’s, a few B’s, and nothing lower than an isolated C or two, this is largely a win. Grade A-.


At 3:08 PM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

This looks really interesting! Thanks for the thorough review on what looks like a really promising read.

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks, Ryan. This one's definitely recommended, a pleasure to read.


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