Review: BORB by Jason Little

Comics convention season has officially begun with RIPExpo two
weekends ago and MoCCA coming up in this weekend; the latest comic on my docket
is a MoCCA 2015 debut from Uncivilized Books, Jason Little’s BORB. Clocking in at 98 pages of black
and white comics drawn in a style reminiscent of the scratchy Depression-era
comics like Walt and Skeezix, BORB takes the loveable vagabond
character trope out for a spin in a comic that looks like a comedy but acts
like something much closer to a tragedy.

The main character of BORB
is Bob, an alcoholic vagrant whose alcohol and drug use has landed him in the
streets, and his disability has prevented him from finding stable housing or a
job. The book is set up in a series of newspaper strips, many of which end with
a punchline, and each finds Bob getting closer and closer to the bottom; his
teeth are pulled, he breaks both legs, he ends up with a diabetes foot
infection/trench foot. While Little’s beats keep the story moving, it’s his
humor that makes you empathize with Bob. Meanwhile Little’s heavily crosshatched
art makes the comic feel like something from a different era, although it very
much focuses on the problems of today.

And to be honest, BORB
is as much an individual story as it is a compilation of the difficulties that current
homeless folks face. The majority of homeless people are part of a marginalized group, and a
large percentage of homeless people have some type of disability. The homeless
have a distinct lack of access to healthcare, which leads to long term problems
like those Bob faces in BORB. One
specific example, where Bob gets reprimanded by a physician for not eating
enough fresh fruit and vegetables, is a Little throwing a brick at the window
that is fee-for-service medicine. The system can’t figure Bob out because he
falls outside of the tight boxes we’ve drawn around ourselves as a society. All the while, underfunded
supportive services and a lack of subsidized housing mean that the current
homeless have a harder time getting and staying off the street.

It’s important to note that BORB is a book focused on showing us the homelessness problem, but
Little doesn’t go as far as showing the reader any solutions. Making readers
aware of the systemic issues that exclude and punish homeless people is job #1.
Perhaps for that reason, BORB feels
less like an expose titled “Homelessness In The United States” and more
like a call to action. In that regard, BORB succeeds; Little has
constructed a compelling narrative about a societal problem most folks would
prefer to ignore, and has done so in a way that is both funny and heartbreaking.

————

Jason Little is a cartoonist and illustrator based out of
Brooklyn, NY. He teaches in the cartooning program at the School of Visual Arts.
You can see more work at his blog littlebeecomix.

Uncivilized Books uncivilizr is a publisher of independent comics based
in Minneapolis, MN. You can see more of their Spring and Fall 2015 publishing
lineup on the Uncivilized website.

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