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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Five Choice Books of Small Press Expo Book 5: Boxcar Joe

by Max Evry

It is fun to imagine the whir of hundreds of printing presses and, yes, Xerox machines working tirelessly in the days and hours before the Small Press Expo kicks off each year. The two-day celebration of independent comics in Bethesda, Maryland attracts the many brave souls who put their hearts, minds, and cold-hard cash into getting their cartoon visions out to attendees.

With so many titles to choose from, it can be difficult to tell the wheat from the chaff. Is it a beautifully drawn title, or merely one with a nice cover? This series will shine the spotlight on five authors who represent the most promising emerging talents on the indie comics scene, including exclusive interviews where they discuss their process, their inspiration, and their joy in creating these works.

“BOXCAR JOE” by Pranas T. Naujokaitis

Having followed web cartoonist Pranas Naujokaitis for quite some time, from his trippy, gag-laden SCAD student strip “Rocket Tonic” to his (almost) daily journal comic “Inkdick,” it can be said that he is the very definition of an emerging talent. While many of the others in this series have clearly found their niche, Pranas’ style is still exponentially evolving.

A prime example of this continued experimentation with form is “Boxcar Joe,” a mini-comic that literally takes the shape of a bright-red train car. The slipcase has a cut-out window through which we see the book’s hero, an old bearded hobo who rides the rails without a care in the world. Once removed from the slipcase, each successive page contains a single panel, the interior of the boxcar. This never changes, but both the scenery in the background and the characters in the foreground do, and the tale almost unfolds like key storyboards from an animation, with the title character meeting a friendly dog and a not-so-friendly young rival. By the end the reader feels as if they have taken this trip along with Joe, and the subtle gestures in each panel create surprisingly vivid characterization from relatively simple illustrations.

Naujokaitis had this to say on the creation of the book:

“I created ‘Boxcar Joe’ as part of a mini-comics class I took during the winter 2008 quarter at SCAD. Before this book all my minis were simple fold-and-staple deals. But after doing something like this, I have trouble going back to doing simple fold-and-staple books. After ‘Boxcar Joe’ every mini-comic I do now has to be handmade, crafty, and really play with and push the boundaries of what mini-comics can be. For me, the creation of ‘Boxcar Joe’ was a huge game changer.”

Check out Pranas T. Naujokaitis HERE: http://ghostcarpress.com/inkdick/

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