SPX Spotlight 2014: Two New Comics from Box Brown

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

New Physics by Box Brown
Yeah Dude Comics
Number 2 by Box Brown
Retrofit Comics

Here at Panel Patter we've enjoyed the group of Yeah Dude Comics mini-comics that were funded via a Kickstarter. We're also fans of Box Brown's work, so put the two together? We had to take a look.

In New Physics Brown looks at a future where social media reaches it's natural conclusion. In this story (set in the future), Vern is a proponent of the New Physics which appears to be some combination of a drug, science and a religion. As part of this you seem to inhale it. Vern quickly amasses many followers as you see many people sharing his words and message on social media. Soon he's amassed millions of followers and has gathered them together to experience the power of the New Physics. All the while we see various people sharing the message of the New Physics through social media. Eventually Vern decides to "up the dose" of the New Physics that his followers are inhaling, and while this is not without some risk and tragedy for the participants, the publicity and attention are only a positive for Vern and the New Physics.

   This is a beautiful, insightful short comic. If you spend a lot of time on social media, you're likely to cringe a little (which is an indicator that satire or social commentary has hit the mark).  The futuristic, science-fiction overlay of the story provides just a little bit of distance, so it's easier to see the sort of banalities that Vern's followers spout in various social media platforms. The art here is wonderfully evocative, and if (like me) you're only really familiar with Brown's work from Andre the Giant, you'll see here that his work is much more design-influenced in this story, with a lot of futuristic shapes and design overlays.  It's also a clever conceit of the story that all of the future-people wear these helmets that deliver all of their media content, along with the New Physics (which is an inhalant). This is a great mini-comic, well worth picking up.

Brown recently also published Number 2 as part of his Retrofit line of comics. (There will be a Retrofit Spotlight soon.)  In this issue he tells 2 insightful stories, both with a distinct air of loneliness to them.

The first story is called SK8R H8R, and follows a woman named Rose as she's drunkenly skateboarding home (and bemoaning this fact, given that she is 33). First she makes a stop at White Castle for some food, and then, much to her chagrin, she runs into a guy named Bob, a local eccentric (with mental health issues) who always seems to give her a hard time. Bob starts talking to her and following her. Rose gives Bob her food, hoping this will placate him, but this only has the opposite effect. He goes chasing after her, but eventually he trips and falls. Rose gets away, but not without a lecture from the local police about skating drunkenly.

The second story (called Elroy Mirrors' Big Score) concerns (not surprisingly) Elroy, a documentary filmmaker. The story covers a few days in his life (while his wife is away) as he's interviewed for a podcast, follows film-specific media and other social media obsessively (and harbors resentment at all of the attention his friend and fellow filmmaker Keren is getting). He plays video games, works on his documentary, and begrudgingly takes a gig helping out another filmmaker with lighting work for that person's documentary. During the course of this story, we see Elroy's disdain and judgments towards the subjects of these films, and at the suck-ups on social media who aren't sucking up to him enough. At the end of the story we see him in bed, with his dog, talking to his wife. Naturally she asks about Keren.

These are both excellent short stories. By contrast to New Physics, both of these stories are black & white, but Brown brings a great deal of creative, design, layout and visual narrative skill to both of these stories. Both stories seem to be dealing with people who aren't entirely happy about how their lives have turned out (a fertile ground for storytelling). The approach is different though, as SK8R H8R tells a much more narrow story about a specific episode in Rose's life. However, just a few quick points (she's 33, riding a skateboard home drunk, and stopping at White Castle) give the reader something of a picture into her life and the bad day she's having.

By contrast, Elroy Mirrors' Big Score accomplishes a great deal in 30-something pages. I don't know if there's any biographical element in this, but it feels very emotionally honest look at the life of a working creator. Elroy seems to be working successfully at his craft (he's being interviewed by podcasts and gets some attention as a filmmaker), but the truth is that in any endeavor (creative or not) there's always going to be someone who gets more attention and has more success than you do. 

A lot of us probably spend more time than we should not appreciating what we have, and instead obsessing over the attention that others are receiving. Brown also focuses in Elroy Mirrors' Big Score on the role of social media and the way it pervades our lives and sense of self. These stories have a "warmer," less angular feel to them visually than New Physics (probably because they take place in the present day) but particularly in Elroy Mirrors' Big Score Brown uses some ambitious sequential storyteling. During the course of the story, we see the actual blogs and social sites that Elroy follows (along with snippets of texts between him and others), and then at some point we see an entire page where he imagines 2 different blogs he could start, complete with comment sections (with some terrific, spot-on humor in those comments sections). 

These are all great books; Brown is a talented, insightful creator and these are short stories but full of ambitious ideas. If you see Brown in person at SPX, or want to order them online, New Physics and Number 2 are well worth a look.