The Boston Comics Roundtable sure seems like one of the most viable and interesting local comics collectives around. They've put out several issues now in a couple of different anthology series (ComixTalk reviewed previous books Outbound #2 and Inbound #3). The latest edition of the Inbound anthology series (subtitled "Comics From Boston") is The Food Issue which focuses on comics featuring food. The first half of the book is titled "Food Facts" and includes stories about food and autobiographical tales with food as a prominent part of the story. The second half of the book is titled "Food Fiction" and is a more wide-ranging selection of comics, none of which purport to be nonfiction.
The book is 176 pages and features 26 brand new stories. The contributors include: E.J. Barnes, Eric Boeker, Jerel Dye, Franklin Einspruch, Patrick Flaherty, Bob Flynn, Joel Christian Gill, Andrew Greenstone, Danny Gonzalez, Raul Gonzalez, Beth Hetland, Erik Heumiller, Allie Kleber, Braden D. Lamb, Cathy Leamy, Jackie Lee, Jesse Lonergan, Dan Mazur, Mar-T Moyer, Line O, David Ortega, Shelli Paroline, Adrian Rodriguez, Roho, Aya Rothwell, Katherine Roy, Adam Syzm, Laura Terry, Jason Viola, Rebecca Viola, Katherine Waddell, Ryan Wheeler, and Andy Wong.
The book looks awfully nice. The cover art (above) is by Ellen Crenshaw and the book design is by Shelli Paroline. There's a few places where the beginning and ending of a comic is not delineated well. Maybe I'm being a lit nerd or something but I expect stories to end on the right page and to turn the page to the next one. If stories are going to stop and start on the same two page spread there ought to be clear signals to the reader. Luckily there's not too much of that and otherwise in every way this is a top-notch production of a book.
This is a really strong anthology. The first half of the book is consistently excellent. For me the best, most moving story is the "The Sardine's Tale" by the pseudonymous Line O which recounts her youth on a working ship (it's not entirely clear if it's a passenger or cargo ship) sailing the seas in the seventies. Food makes up a big part of life for the ship and her father was the cook. There's a charming bit about her sudden desire for honey (which has to wait until they reach port) and also her very common child-like approach to new and strange foods. I would absolutely get whatever this person puts out next; I liked this story that much. The rest of the "Food Facts" portion of the book is very strong. Perhaps my second favorite story in the book is the simple "Bento: Beyond Sandwiches" by Rebecca and Jason Viola which does a wonderful job in art and words of conveying the spirit of a bento box. I also liked "Django and Pesto" a poem-like recital of a recipe with simple art and Aya Rothwell's "Durian" which explores the fruit that is still relatively unknown in America. The twist of Beth Hetland's "Spaghetti-O's Secret" is nice although I wish her artwork was stronger. Reading this one reminds me of how much America's palette has changed from when I was a kid until now. Eric Boeker's "Midwestern Adventures with Indian Food or How I Learned to Read Food Labels" is, much like Hetland's entry, a nice story with a good twist, but I wish the artwork was better. "Turnover" and "Mealtime" both feature some very nice artwork.
The second half of the book is not as consistently strong but the book does not have any real weak entries. I liked "Discovery" — one view about early man's possible discovery of cooking – a really nice blend of facts combined with actually showing us a short story that gives the main character a bit of personality. "What's Eating Prometheus" is a cute idea but felt kind of like a one-note joke that didn't need all of its pages. "The Boy Who Ate Too Many Tongues" might be the funniest story in the book. Very well done – both art, words and just the whole build-up and pay-off are tight. It's creator Jesse Lonergan is another star of the book for me. I also enjoyed "The Faroe Fishwives" — its best visual joke is early in it and made me wish that there had been more cleverness in store, but it has a nice sentiment and the art is energetic in an almost John Kricfalusi manner.
When you consider how often anthologies, particularly those put out by local comics groups often include a wide variety of quality, it's very impressive how consistently good this book is. Particularly if the theme of food appeals, but even if you're not a hard core foodie, this is an impressive collection of comics, well-worth checking out.
The publisher provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.