Box Office Poison

He first time I ever heard the term “Box Office Poison” was on Conan Obrien where Norm Macdonald was making fun of Carrot Top.

This book is not good.

The second time I heard it was when my first unpublished attempt was compared to it (by either Sim or Smith. I forget which one). Since I had no idea what it was – as I’ve said several times, I quit reading comics long ago – I decided to stop at a local bookstore to take a look. All they had in was BOP, the sorta-sequel-sorta-b-side-compilation of Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison. I read about half of it in the bookstore and was far from impressed. At the time I thought, “Sim (or Smith) thinks I’m aspiring to accomplish this vibe? My book must be horrific.”

When I finally published “l(a”, again Robinson’s name came up. I’ve asked for it for Christmas for the past few years and this year I finally got it.

This book IS good.

I gotta tell you the truth, for the first 50 page or so I was bored to tears; literally my eyes were watery (but I think that had more to do with the fact that Lemon woke up at 4:30 with a hankerin for some spankerin). But once I got into it a little bit, Box Office Poison is a pretty fascinating read. Nothing really happens and there’s essentially no plot for about 500 pages, but I think it’s a voyeuristic jaunt into a comic writer’s mind. As a matter of fact, I think Box Office Poison tells more about Robinson than it does about the characters in the book.

The books starts out with a guy who works in a bookstore trying to be a writer. He has essentially no money, no girlfriend, and no place to live; this is probably where Robinson was in his life around the time he created the characters. The main character complains a lot and feels like nothing is getting done. As the story progresses, we see Robinson The Writer fall into some pretty common trappings (the need to explain the motivation behind every character, the need to over-examine situations so that the reader really knows what he’s trying to say, etc.), but we also see him mature pretty rapidly.

As I said, the books starts out with a guy who practically mirrors Robinson, but it ends up being about a much more interesting, much more three-dimensional, much more sympathetic character. It’s almost as if – and this is what good writers tend to do (at least starting out) – he put himself into each one of these characters’ situations and determined how his life would’ve turned out had he been them:

If he had continued to work at the bookstore, he would’ve been miserable but done nothing about it. If he had gotten married at a young age, it would’ve fallen apart. If he ever met Bill Finger (I’m assuming that’s who Mr. Flavor is supposed to be, but it really could be anyone working for Marvel or DC in the 40s and 50s), he would help him get some money. Finally, the only way he would’ve ever self-published is if he had a little bit of money coming in from another source, and he would be happy.

The interesting thing about writers is that after they’re done inserting themselves into their own characters (a la Tiny Life), they start to really create original personas in their work. I’m curious to read some of his newer stuff.

(As a side-note, don’t read BOP unless you want to see how bad Box Office Poison could’ve been.  There’s a bunch of anthology pieces in there and a 24-hour comic (which are always awful).  I look at it like this: Box Office Poison is like a good Nine Inch Nails album; you have to listen to the whole thing to really get it.  But don’t buy the E.P.; it’s just crap that couldn’t make the cut of the real record).


4 Responses

  1. Anything you had to say was overshadowed by the Conan clip. I’ve seen it countless times before, but that segment is captivating on each viewing. Can anyone think of a funnier thing that ever happened on a talk show? If you can, it probably involves Norm MacDonald.

    • I had no idea he was on so many talk shows. When I was searching fort his clip I found a good two dozen clips just as funny.
      Maybe I should pick up The Norm Show.

      • It has been some time since I saw it. I have no particular memories, but the vague impression that it was amusing but not extraordinary.

        Getting your own sit-com is passively accepted as the desired ascension for the stand-up comedian, much as a Hollywood movie is the mark of success for a comic book series. But there’s really no reason that either former ought to translate well into either latter. They usually don’t.

  2. Mitch Hedberg had a joke about that:
    They say “alright you’re a comedian, can you write? Write us a script. Act in this sitcom.” They want me to do shit that’s related to comedy, but it’s not comedy, man. It’s as though if I was a cook, and I worked my ass off to become a really good cook, and they said “alright you’re a cook… can you farm?”

    Like Norm (and Eisner), I respect the hell out of anyone who chooses an art and sticks with it because he likes THAT art.

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