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Top TenWriter/Artist: Alex Robinson

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Synopsis: Sherman Davies spends a year in a Manhattan apartment. Over the course of that time, he'll meet a new girl, get a new boss, and bear witness to the lives and loves of his friends and roommates. Meanwhile his best friend Ed Velasquez has become the assistant to a comic book artist who's living in obscurity despite having created one of the most successful characters of the 20th century, and vows to correct the injustice.

How Is It?: I admit it--no matter how much praise is showered on them, books like this don't usually appeal to me. I'm talking about autobiographical (or pseudo-autobiographical), self-published, black & white comics, the ones that usually revolve around twentysomethings seeking direction in life, are sexually candid, focused on relationships, and completely lacking in alien robots. Well, "Box Office Poison" is all those things--and I loved it. I think it has to do with the simple, clear, unpretentious style...or the way Robinson doesn't constantly screw up his characters' lives for the sake of dramatic poignancy...or maybe the fact that it's funny as hell. The heart of the story is Ed's quest to help the crotchety Irving Flavor get the money and respect that he's due, but within that framework are a whole string of subplots, many of them only tangentally related, and all handled with great heart and emotion. But what really got to me was the lack of easy answers or dramatic "punchlines"...not for a second is this story contrived or manipulative. About halfway in there's a Christmas story (one of several) that just tore my heart out, simply by presenting an epilogue that explained how all the characters wound up in the coming decades. There are a few other neat catches, like the breaks every 25 pages or so to "interview" the characters (a very effective way of getting to know them personally), but for the most part this story is told with great sincerity and a lack of gimmicks. I suppose I should come clean and admit that, like Sherman, I have worked in a bookstore, so I was there as soon as Robinson presented a hilarious montage of the kind of idiot clintele he deals with every day. But I don't think anyone else will have trouble finding plenty that rings true for them, whether it's about jobs, relationships or just life in the big city.

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