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A review a day: The Ragbox

by  in Comic News Comment
A review a day: <i>The Ragbox</i>

After my last monstrous post on several graphic novels, some commenters wondered if I might cut down the number of books I review in each post. With that in mind, I’m going to review the rest of the graphic novels I have lying around, each in a separate post, one every day at the same time, until I run out of books. How does that sound to everyone?

Our first selection is called The Ragbox, a short (51 pages) story that’s the beginning of a longer series. It is written by Dave Kender, and each chapter is drawn by a different artist: Mark Hamilton, Braden D. Lamb, and Matthew Reinke. It costs $7 (what a bargain for you!) and is published by Black Napkin Press in association with Boston Comics Roundtable. I received in the mail, and I’d like to thank Kender for sending it to me.

The Ragbox tells the story of Roberto and Ana Estevez, two teenagers who live in the eponymous neighborhood. One night their parents are killed in a fire, and this volume and its three chapters begins that story and sets up some plot threads for future volumes. In the first chapter, we see the kids at home, waiting for their parents to come home from the community center. Ana sees the fire through her window, but doesn’t realize what it portends. Chapter Two is the funeral, and we get to see a few more people in their neighborhood. In Chapter Three, Roberto walks around the neighborhood, past the wreckage from the fire, and has a flashback to an incident from his childhood that highlights the casual racism many Hispanics have to deal with. It’s not terribly subtle, but it still works pretty well.

As a single comic book, of course, this doesn’t work too well, as it’s a first volume. But as a set-up, it’s quite good, and it’s obvious Kender has a lot on his mind to get to. There’s the fact that these kids are sudden orphans, Roberto is trying to get into college but now he has a younger sister to care for, and he has to grow up fast. Kender introduces several characters in the second chapter that will intersect with the kids’ lives in some ways, and he implies that there’s something off about Ana, whether it’s just that she’s really shy or if there’s something more seriously wrong with her. There’s a lot here, and most of it is simply there for later volumes, but it still gives us a nice portrait of this neighborhood and the two principals. What Kender does best is let us figure things out. He underwrites very well (that’s not a criticism), giving the characters dialogue that doesn’t exposit but gives us what we need to learn about them. Almost from the beginning of this book, there’s an underlying tension between the siblings, and although we believe that they love each other, there’s also that usual opposition that siblings have, and Kender does a fine job with it. It’s the same with the new characters in Chapter Two – the people in the neighborhood speak about seemingly mundane things, but we can tell there’s a lot going on underneath. There’s a slumming Anglo girl, Nancy, who knows Roberto and shows up at the wake. She’s only on a few pages, but Kender gives us a nice thumbnail sketch of a person who desperately wants to fit in with Roberto’s “people” but can’t, really. Kender does this throughout the book – simply lets his characters talk, and they reveal themselves. I don’t know how much Kender has written prior to this, but he’s a relatively new writer, and he already shows he knows one good thing – never overwrite. This book doesn’t have a grand plot yet, but it doesn’t matter, because the characters are already so interesting.

Kender’s artistic collaborators are different in style, and it’s the only problem with the book, because the shifts between chapters are unusual. Hamilton, who draws the first chapter, has a very fine line, which works to highlight the starkness of the Estevez house and, also, the devastation that is occurring not far from Roberto and Ana that will change their lives. Lamb’s art is much rougher, with a bit thicker lines and messier blacks and more complicated layouts. He does a good job, as well, except for the fact that his people are a bit out of proportion, especially Nancy. Still, his chapter has a more friendly feel to it, which, considering it’s the chapter dealing with the wake and how the neighborhood people are trying to cheer up Roberto and Ana, makes it a good fit. Reinke’s art gets even rougher, but its grayer tones helps convey the feeling of the aftermath, when Roberto and Ana are trying to figure out where their lives are going. My problem with this chapter is that Ana looks much older than she did in the other two, and it’s a bit weird. But Reinke does a nice job with Roberto’s walk around the neighborhood and the wreckage of the community center, showing how horrible the Estevez’ deaths really were. Each artist does good work, but it’s a bit odd when the style shifts so completely.

The Ragbox is a cool comic, and I hope Kender and his collaborators can get out subsequent volumes on a timely schedule. You can buy the book at the Ragbox web site, to which I linked above. Or you can read it on-line for free there too, but don’t you want to give hard-working comics creators your money? (Says the guy who got this in the mail for free, I know. Shut up.)

I’m going to post these every day at high noon, Arizona time (that would be Mountain Standard Time, because we don’t need to go on no stinkin’ Daylight Savings Time, as we have plenty of daylight!). So it’s 3 p.m. on the East Coast, if you’re wondering. And, unless I can’t count, 7 a.m. in Melbourne. And 8 p.m. in Geneva. And 10 p.m. in Addis Ababa. You get the idea! (Of course, that didn’t work too well today. I’m still futzing with the scheduling publishing function. I’m not as smart as Cronin, after all.)

Tomorrow at noon: Another nifty indy comic!

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