Summary: Borb by Jason Little (Shutterbug Follies,Motel Art Improvement Service) is the story of Borb, a severely alcoholic homeless man. Borb is a downtrodden urban Candide whose misfortunes pile up at an alarming rate. The narrative is presented as a series of daily newspaper strips as the author draws on the long and complex tradition of the comic strip slapstick vagabond archetype. At once hilarious, horrifying, and full or heart,Borb depicts the real horrors specific to present-day urban homelessness.Borb is Little’s most complex and challenging work.
Borb, by Jason Little 7.75
‘Borb’ is a tragicomic comic about an alcoholic homeless man as he tries to survive. Through a series of short misadventures, many more grotesque than the last, readers are exposed to the shocking -and frequently darkly comic- vulnerability of life on the street.
I know, I know… sounds like a gas.
But bear with me.
Admittedly, I myself found this approximately 90-page widescreen book hard to digest when I first started reading it; I just couldn’t tolerate -let alone appreciate- the misery that Little laid out before me. And it felt transgressive -if not plain immoral- to laugh.
But the fact is that the book, through its twisted humour, does two things: 1) it makes us more aware of the issues surrounding homelessness, and 2) it makes us laugh in the face of the unspeakable, which allows us to process this indigestible reality more easily.
I’m not saying that ‘Borb’ is a fun book.
But it is funny.
My concern with a book like this one, of course, is that it could cross a line, making a mockery of these people’s plight. If it dehumanizes its subject, the end result is hoodlums paying homeless men to beat them up, the kind of horrors that stain humanity.
I think that, as a whole, Little does an excellent job of broaching the two. But you have to get past your initial reservations: right at the onset, our protagonist gets his teeth replaced then loses them, then gets a broken leg reset and breaks it again. Yikes.
And it gets worse.
But Little’s skill at storytelling and the quality of his art compels you to read on, to give it another chance. And yet another. And eventually you start to see the big picture. And though it’s not a pretty sight, it’s an eye-opening and thought-provoking experience.
For me, the idea that Little conveyed to me the best was when I realized that our guy is either so inebriated or uneducated that the words we’re accustomed to are gibberish to him; he’s utterly unable to cope with the world around him, leading him to further misery.
It makes you think.
And that’s the mark of the best art: it doesn’t just appeal to your senses, it also stirs emotions and/or it makes you reflect. ‘Borb’ does all of those things, which leads me to conclude that, despite its disquieting mixture of foulness and humour, it’s a work of art.
I’m glad that I gave it a proper chance.