Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #71 by Drew Barth
A Short Piece on ShortBox
Founded by Zainab Akhtar, ShortBox is continually the name that comes up for me when I think about where comics can go both as a place self-expression as well as a physical medium. I’ve written about their most recent box of comics as well as their efforts in helping to maintain an active comic community during COVID-19 by offering a wide variety of some of their best work for a pay-what-you-will rate. As such, I bought and read through a variety of work that I hadn’t read before, and, of course, it’s delightful. From short comics collections like A Long Distance by Jean Wei and What Are You Thinking About? by Anatola Howard to longer works like Nicole Miles’ Barbara, it’s hard to express the depth of quality work these creators have produced, and yet I’ll still try.
Barbara by Nicole Miles is a short rumination on friends and food. What works so well throughout this story is its constant narrative movement—Jayda looks at the emptiness of her room and fills it, she hears her coworkers talking negatively about veganism and researches it, she looks in her fridge and empties it of anything from an animal. And most of this is after meeting her newest friend, Barbara the cactus. The genuine feeling resonates through every page along with the confusion and reluctance that comes with change. Through a cactus like Barbara, Jayda can become who she wants to be and we’re only witness to the most difficult beginning stages.
A collection of five short comics, Jean Wei’s A Long Distance is a marvel of vignetted storytelling. One of the strongest aspects of that storytelling comes from Wei’s constant work with panelling and dialogue balloons throughout. In the story pictured above, “Bats”, there are only three panels with the rest of the story taking over the next eight pages with either full pictures like above or with only the characters heads talking while bats hover around them. Later, in “Offering”, a young boy, Evan, takes an offering to his deceased grandma. But this act becomes overwhelming for him as soon he’s on the floor, nearly smothered by the dialogue balloons above him. All of these elements culminate in these perfectly captured moments that represent an in-between, an almost liminal space that comes with the disconnection that a child of an immigrant family can feel.
Anatola Howard’s What Are You Thinking About? is just that, pure thought. These are short strips, vignettes, and illustrations that feel like a perfect summation of someone’s daily thoughts. There are characters that reappear, there are flashbacks to childhood, there are moments of comedy and sadness, there are times when you’re not sure what your thoughts are even doing but you still follow along because they’re your thoughts in the moment. And these moments are constant—continually flashing by on the page, and yet there’s a comfort in that. Even through all of the randomness of our thoughts, we still feel a connection to the work as a whole because we can still see so much of ourselves there.
There are still many more comics ShortBox is putting out and I’ve only touched on a small few, but I’ve always said that now is the time to start looking for new comics to read. Small presses like ShortBox need support right now, the creators being published by them need your support. This is a comic community, so let’s make sure we can make it through this together.
Get excited. Get together.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.