by Jason Little
Uncivilized Books, 96 pages
reviewed by Jesse Allen
Is Borb a graphic novel or comic strip? Packaged as both, the reader is treated to various juxtapositions that jar as well as entertain and enlighten. Illustrated in a style reminiscent of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, Borb’s main character is out of time. Homeless and alcoholic, he constantly stumbles into mishaps, finding resolutions that quickly fall apart and lead him into more desperate circumstances. But what we know and learn about him is very little, as alcoholism is the main character throughout this tale. He is able to make gains, such as finding food and a place to eat, and yet he sabotages himself through his addictive imbibing. As the story progresses, it is hard to muster pity for the main character.
Rendered in classic Sunday comics’ style, the horrors of alcoholism are accompanied by the bumbling antics of the everyday life of this man. Rarely does he speak, and yet Little is able to capture the humor and sadness in his alcohol-fueled survival and fall. While never pretending to be a “feel good” read, Borb doesn’t come across as a cautionary tale either. Our man finds himself surrounded by bits of chicken bone, pizza boxes, half eaten Styrofoam containers of whatever, and stained cardboard boxes strewn across the ground. While this might appear to be “rock bottom,” his alcoholism causes him to sink lower when his descent moves underground.
This is not an homage to the homeless in modern times but it is a recognition of existence in the face of a world and city where ignoring homelessness is the norm. The list of names for the homeless that society uses to dehumanize are spelled out in Borb before the story begins as a precursor to a tale one might otherwise ignore (and often does in life), forgetting that everyone has a story of value. While this series of vignettes often portrays bumbling antics with dismal results, the specter of addiction and its consequences is explored in a very human way. Even if you can’t relate to Borb, you can see how the spiral perpetuates this character’s condition.
Borb is rich in the way that Little is able to present shocking and dark themes in short, light spurts to give the reader an overall greater depth. While Borb is a comic strip, its impact is novelistic in every sense.
Jesse Allen lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He has a MLA with a focus on New York Studies from City College of New York. He is a life-long fan of comic books, books without pictures, art in museums, and art on the street. He teaches at Guttman Community College.