Inbound 5: The Food Issue
Inbound 5: The Food Issue (Boston Comics Roundtable): Special thanks to Dave Kender for sending me a review copy of this 176 page, $12 behemoth of entertainment. I absolutely self-identify as a foodie, having managed restaurants, eating out certainly remaining a hobby, hosting holiday dinner parties considered fun and not a chore, and am addicted to way too many Food Network and Travel Channel shows thanks to the magic of DVR. With the popularity of comics like Chew and the infusion of foodie culture into the mainstream, it’s fantastic to see this indelible component of the human experience merging with one of my other great interests – comics! The Boston Comics Roundtable crew also seems to be decadently capitalizing on America’s love affair with the interesting mélange of cuisines our country of immigrants has to offer. On the cover alone, you can spot ice cream, hot dogs, hamburgers, bread, grapes, pancakes, and sausage, thanks to a beautiful watercolor rendering by Ellen Crenshaw. Thinking back on my experience with Inbound 4, one of my only real criticisms was around the clarity of the credits, and they are crystal clear here. Although, they still do the thing where the artists are listed before the writers. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just atypical and not something I usually see. It’s nice to see the editorial hand(s) growing stronger, guiding the content and improving the professional polish of the package, thanks to the triumvirate of Dave Kender, Dan Mazur, and Shelli Paroline. The book is divided into two large chapters, the first – fact, and the second – fiction. Let’s dive in, shall we?
- Django and Pesto by Franklin Einspruch is a clever demonstration of a recipe, with lines bearing the simplicity and elegance of James Kochalka. Grade A.
- The Sardine’s Tale by Line O is brimming with compact detail and sensuous figures. The only suitable art comparison I can muster is to Kevin O’Neill, but this is even more intricate line work, full of contrasting patterns and inviting textures. It’s a recollection of the creator’s seafaring youth, with prose ranging from Chaucer to the fickle speech patterns of a kid. The lettering is particularly attractive and this was an extremely enjoyable reading experience. It’s an all around winner, operating with style and grace. I’m sure that art will stay with me long after I’ve put the book down. Grade A+.
- Spaghetti O’s Secret by Beth Hetland is driven by a simple visual style that highlights how our perceptions change and the way faulty nostalgia can be created. There are a couple of minor stumbles (things like “suppose to” instead of “supposed to”), but it largely succeeds by capturing the frustration of how kids eat and their illogical fascination with certain foods. Grade B.
- Durian by Aya Rothwell reminded me of how I once had to evacuate an entire building because of a report of a “toxic smell” that was assumed to be a natural gas leak. It even had the local Fire Department stumped. Well, it turned out to be a group of women eating some Durian fruit cookies from the Philippines. The story works with beautiful gray tones and a slightly manga influenced style. Grade A.
- Midwestern Adventures with Indian Food or How I Learned to Read Food Labels by Eric Boeker has some slender figure work that reminded me of Jason Asala. The images are a little flat and don’t produce a lot of depth despite the detail, but still manage to entertain. Boeker captures one of the many quintessential college experiences, with interesting new people, and a widening sphere of influence. The story is affable, very funny, and poignant, with crisp writing. Grade A.
- Bento: Beyond Sandwiches by Rebecca and Jason Viola employs great figure work. I’m not sure if it’s the eyes or what, but I thought it had a very Calvin and Hobbes-y quality that I enjoyed. Not only is it an interesting tale of a cottage industry that sprang up unexpectedly, but the intrigue and fun of the “new” relayed in this story captures the basic magic of food. Grade A.
- Turnover by Andy Wong and Jackie Lee is a beautiful marriage of story and art. The characters are full of emotive expression, with very few words and many panels relying intensely on visual storytelling. At the end, it’s a little unclear what the ultimate message of the piece is, or if the changes the protagonist seeks are self-imposed, medically necessitated, or simply a lifestyle choice. Grade B.
- Mealtime by E.J. Barnes and Patrick Flaherty uses some tightly zoomed shots that focus on objects in space, placing you up close and personal with food. I think the dramatic thrust of the story is to show that food preparation can move slightly from being a chore to something enjoyable that’s part of family culture and should be cherished, but the point could have been clarified/emphasized more. Grade B.
- Chase that Cheese by Cathy Leamy proves that truth is stranger than fiction, with an 8 pound cheese wheel doing 70mph as a local English tradition. The small scale figure work is impressive, and considering that cheese, any cheese, all cheese, is one of favorite foods, hey, I loved this one. Grade A.
- People of Corn by Jerel Dye is absolutely one of my favorite entries, capturing an interesting sort of Aztec aesthetic. It’s a nice blend of creation myth that’s visually stunning. Dye has a terrific line weight, the results looking more like Paul Pope than the style you’d typically expect from DIY small press comics. The pages with the fox, coyote, parrot, crow, and Gods Hurricane and Plumed Serpent are especially amazing. The story illustrates the power of corn to early cultures as a staple food, with beautiful asymmetry and irregular panel shapes. Grade A+.
- Discovery by Dan Mazur and Bob Flynn is about the comedic evolution of hunter gatherer society, the power of tools, fire, and the necessity of cooking meat in order to increase protein delivery to the brain as man’s analytical needs increased. The panel sequences function very effective with no dialogue. Grade A.
- What’s Eating Prometheus by Adam Szym has some deadpan humor that really made me laugh. Lines like “So good, man. So. Good.” are just hilarious. This pair of eagles are my new comedic gurus, showing up with an anemic line that reminds me of Tom Neely. Grade A.
- Bellyful by Laura Terry delivers some angular anthropomorphic creatures that reminded me of the work of the Norwegian artist Jason. Maybe my mind is in the gutter, but I enjoyed the double entendre of lines like “Who’s been fingerin’ my pie?” The need to eat here is epic in scope, with a playful sense of wonderment that… consumes the protagonist. Heh. Grade A.
- The Boy Who Ate Too Many Tongues by Jesse Lonergan has a rustic quality to the art, with thick and uneven lines which are really compelling. The story centers on a strong sense of irony, and I loved things like the close up of a small inset panel with the little sister screaming “MOM!” It ripples with emotion, and the story helps show how kids speak truth to power, with absolutely no innate filter. Grade A.
- The Girl Who Turned into a Noodle by Allie Kleber had me feeling like the lettering and panels in general were a little cramped at times, though I liked the depictions of actual foods immensely. The art style is nice, but just framed too close. I think if the panels were opened up, it would allow the smooth and flowing pencils to breathe a little better. The story takes a literal approach to the adage “you are what you eat,” and also includes a cool mac n’ cheese recipe. Grade A-.
- Whatever’s in That Can by Katherine Waddell and Ryan Wheeler has a nice sense of lyrical timing and visual pace. The style feels like a modern Saturday morning animation piece, like Phineas and Ferb (can you tell I have young kids?). Grade B+.
- The Nine Onion Rings of Hell by Erik Heumiller (who is a name I remember fondly from the last volume of Inbound) begins with the mundane chores of a sorcerer’s apprentice, and then really gets rolling with a beautiful two page spread about an onion ring recipe from “the actual Hell’s Kitchen.” The little fire lord sprite guy is a great reimaging of a mischievous Jiminy Cricket. This one is extremely imaginative and very well rendered visually. Grade A+.
- Soup: A Caterpillar Tale by Katherine Roy feels like it was inspired visually by Kochalka’s Johnny Boo. There’s a manic pace to the panels, which feel slightly cramped, however I enjoyed the sense of creative glee. Grade B.
- The Faroe Fishwives by Shelli Paroline and Braden D. Lamb is about the hard life of the wives of fishermen, and the delicate balance the sea offers. It provides sustenance but will also claim payment. I liked the way that common myth (like sirens and beasts from the deep) are used, along with the pleasant art style and fun panel layouts, which deliver lots of action. Grade B.
- Yam Gruel by Dan Mazur and Roho has magnificent detail, relying on a clever technique that blurs and fades the backgrounds in order to differentiate them from the figures in the foreground. The main character is captured effortlessly, like on the page with the boys menacing a poor old dog. Yam and arrowroot broth functions as a stand-in for the dangers of excess, and though it’s random, I really liked the depictions of the animals, dogs, foxes, and birds being the most memorable visually. Grade A.
- Dinner Time by Adrian Rodriguez has a ferocity to the detail that’s quite compelling. I’m not sure the clarity of the story is readily apparent, but the engaging energy in the pencils reminds me of Steve Parkhouse, and that alone is noteworthy. Grade B.
- Party Sub by Andrew Greenstone is over in a blink, but there’s a subtle Robert Crumb quality to the figures. Grade B.
- The Caterers by Dave Ortega has an interesting sense of satire that I enjoyed immensely. It’s about the etiquette and art of fine dining being lost. Lines like “My charm is waning!” are full of that sense of sarcastic parody, letting the audience know that it’s all a sham. People pretending to play high society belies the fact that true culture is largely slipping away. The art is full of clean lines and small scale figures and I’ll certainly remember this unique narrative voice. Grade A.
- Meal Planning by Mar-T Moyer has brilliant details, like the errant crossword attempts, and is a chilling little look into middle American eating habits and the general dinner fugue. The detailed art captures a sense of weariness, amid spousal arguments, green streak tirades, and a culture where food may be the only thing to look forward to. Grade A.
- A Conversation About Food by Raul Gonzalez and Danny Gonzalez blends some wondrous artistic styles, from old-school Disney creator Floyd Gottfredson, to Tezuka’s Astro Boy, all the way to modern DIY’ers like Tom Neely. There are a few odd words choices along the way, and I’m not sure if they were typos or deliberate attempts at off center character voice, but it’s things like “botchalism” instead of “botulism,” then “healthily” instead of “healthy,” with “organismic” bringing up the rear. In any case, this was a fun and offbeat nutrition lesson. Grade B+.
- Lil’ Nino Brown (in Slumland) by Joel Christian Gill apes the Winsor McCay aesthetic as successfully as always and though there isn’t much of a story to follow, the visuals are grand. Grade A.
I did some quick math here and it looks like the total GPA is somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3.78, which is a straight Grade A if you correlate it to a letter grade. Stop for a minute and consider just how astounding that is. This is an anthology we’re talking about, with 3 editors, 26 individual entries, and 34 creators. That’s staggering. That’s like successfully herding cats. Anthologies are widely known for being infamously uneven and wildly inconsistent. In the typical anthology, you might get a couple of Grade A efforts, balanced on the opposite end of the spectrum by some Grade C and Grade D efforts, with the bulk of entries creating a bell curve in the middling Grade B and Grade C range. It’s not the case here. In terms of maintaining a consistent level of quality, the numbers just don’t lie. We’re talking mostly Grade A contributions, with just a few Grade B marks as the only relative “low” points, and more than a couple Grade A+ entries vying for excellence. This is one of the best anthologies I’ve ever come across. Grade A.