Boston Comics Roundtable is a group of artists who meet weekly to draw, collaborate, swap ideas, and publish anthologies of their work in the series Inbound. I discovered the Boston Comics Roundtable in 2008, when I bought Inbound #2 at SPX and was impressed by the high quality of the work. Since then, I’ve read all of their Inbound collections, as well as the offshoot science fiction title Outbound. The first themed Inbound collection was Inbound 4: A Comic History of Boston, in 2009. Their second themed collection, Inbound 5: The Food Issue, was just published and is well worth your money and time.
Inbound 5 features 26 different comics about food, categorized as either “Food Fact” or “Food Fiction”.
“Food Fact” has amazing true stories about each of the artists’ experiences with food, from discovering lunch beyond bread and peanut butter in Rebecca & Jason Viola’s “Bento: Beyond Sandwiches”, to the nearly wordless “Turnover” by Andy Wong (pictures) and Jackie Lee (script) which explores how food is used for emotional healing.
Of the non-fiction comics, “The Sardine’s Tale” by Line O, a Norwegian cartoonist living in Boston, is a beautiful autobiographical tale of growing up as a little girl on a freighter ship with her mother (“Sparks”, the radio operator), father (chef), and cat (named Knytingen) as they sailed the seas. Line O was nicknamed “The Sardine” by the crew, who also rigged her up a swing, tried to keep her out of trouble and away from girlie magazines, and helped her make “rat-poison soup” (really just all the scraps from the kitchen). The art is extremely detailed, with lots of cross-hatching, shading and textures, and really captures the personalities who worked on the ship.
College is generally the time when people become a little bit more adventurous with food, and there are many stories in the “Food Fact” section about these years.
In the comedic and loose “A Midwestern Adventure with Indian Food”, Eric Boeker learns the importance of reading can labels when his Indian (by way of Indiana) college roommate Riaz cooks up “authentic” chicken tikka masala with a side of botulism. In other college food adventures, Aya Rothwell finally tries a durian, a noxious but tasty fruit from southeast Asia, and stinks up the entire floor. (Apparently durian smells so foul that it’s banned from buses and trains in Singapore.) Beth Hetland’s college indulgence wasn’t anything strange or international, but canned Spaghetti Os, which she had been forbidden from eating as a child because her mother thought they caused seizures as told in “Spaghetti Os Secret”.
Completing "Food Facts" is a comic by Cathy Leamy about the historic - but now cancelled due to popularity and security concerns - Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake in England.
Many of the contributions in “Food Fiction” of Inbound 5 are folktale-like, stories incorporating food as origin or cautionary tales. Some are adapted from old stories, such as “Yam Gruel”, which was adapted by Roho and Dan Mazur from a 1916 story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Adam Szym’s “What’s Eating Prometheus” is a conversation between the doomed fire-bringer and the eagles who snack on his liver every day, for eternity. Jerel Dye’s exquisite “People of Corn” is an illustrated version of the Mayan myth of human creation, were Grandmother Xmucane takes corn delivered by the animals, grinds it into meal and presents it to a serpent to shape it into people.
There are modern folktales here as well, like the cautionary, thick-lined “The Boy Who Ate Too Many Tougues” by Jesse Lonergan, and the playfully drawn “The Girl Who Turned Into a Noodle” told by Rod Kleber and drawn by Allie Kleber.
More abstract Fictions include Adrian Rodriguez’s “Dinner Time” and the gluttonous “Party Sub” by Andrew Greenstone. Realistic contributions come from Dave Ortega in “The Caterers”, and the rhyming “Whatever’s in that Can” by Katherine Waddell and Ryan Wheeler, where a hungry cat tries to get dinner.
Inbound 5 is a professional publication, as all previous issues from BCR are. It’s printed on very nice paper stock with full color linen texture covers, and high quality reproduction. The editors - Dave Kender, Dan Mazur, and Shelli Paroline - have done an excellent job selecting comics for the anthology, including a wide range of comic styles and story tropes and arranging them for maximum flow and readability. The time, determination, and effort put into the Inbound series is evident in the final products.
While I also enjoyed the previous Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston, I found Inbound 5: The Food Issue easier to relate to, since food and eating is something everyone has in common, unlike living in or growing up in a specific geographical area. Inbound 5 would make a quirky holiday gift for any food-types in your circle of friends (sorry, refuse to use “foodies”), even if they are not regular comic readers. Introduce them to indie comics through food!
[Inbound 5: The Food Issue (digest sized, perfect bound, 176 pp., $12) available from the BCR Store. Previous issues also available.]