I want to pop open the hood and take a look at what I see going on in this excellent short story.
This comics gem consists of two friends musing about the (transformer) box that they’ve come to sit on every day after school for 16 pages. Their theories about it are wild, ranging from a mech slumbering underground or a spatial portal to a sub-dimension to more creepy and silly origin stories.
This comic is like shooting the breeze with your good bud. You rag on each other, but it’s all good. You don’t have anywhere to be or anything to do. So your imagination runs wild while staying super chill. This comic is a breath of fresh air.*
When I found this comic in 2018, I found myself in awe of Pope’s control as a storyteller and the breadth of his visual imagination. With the bare minimum, black lines on white paper, his work shows an unparalleled strength of imagination and an brilliant intellectual thoroughness. Top to bottom, every panel counts. All killer, no filler.
Aesthetically Pope plays with the power of yin and yang.
Like Taiyo Matsumoto’s Kuro and Shiro in Tekkon Kinkreet, there’s beautiful tension of a runaway imagination with a stable, consistenlty chill realness. The character designs make their silhouettes instantly recognizeable. Think Aaron McGruder’s Huey and Riley from, Boondocks, turned down a couple knobs. Hypothesis vs. counterhypothesis. Question vs. Answer. Thesis. Antithesis.
Each of the comic’s sixteen pages contains a single six panel grid. No variance. Using such a prescriptive structure, the work achieves a meditative quality that at once feels tense but supple. Despite the tight structure, it never drones on. It’s only 16 pages after all.
An interesting side-effect of his techinique is that as a reader I find myself asking: Where does this box begin and end? The act of reading becomes a multidimensional experience, where each hypothetical timeline becomes one of many faces on a hypercube. I applaud Pope for using comics formalism to allow the form of the comic to dance so beautifully in unison with the form of the subject.
The down-to-earth, natural, genuine feel of the comic cannot be understated. Pope’s dialogue sounds simple and fresh. Expertly written and playfully lettered.
Pope’s even handed uniform line allows him to emphasize his spot blacks over any particularly sexy lines. It’s all classic Pope “comfy-chunk”. Feels really good. Cartooning in this way allows him to effectively build a visual shorthand throughout this comic and it allows the lines that form the box they sit on to blend, naturally, with the lines that compose the grid. I’m a huge fan of lettering that is an extension of the way that the rest of the page is rendered. It all is of a piece, woven to feel like a cohesive feeling song.
Here’s how I conceive of breaking down the pages and spreads as conceptual units. More than an exercise in pedantry, I’d like to outline the structure of this comic because doing so speaks to what a uniquely and discretely structured bit of comics Pope has concocted!
Starting on the cover, unbenkownst to us, the stage is set… We see the kids. We see the box. We open the comic and enter the box.
📦 … What is it?
(1 Page) This page welcomes the reader into the Waiting for Godot-esque action and asks the question “But what is it?”
📦 It is:
(6 pages) Like any good philosophic treatise we have a collection of postulations. The work starts out with 6 one page postulations. I like to think of this as the 6 sides unfolded sides of the box. Like a narrative cube embedded within the story.
- A Mech
- A Huge, Creepy Bug
- A Portal to a Twilight Zone
- A Portal to other Boxes
- An Aging Entity
- The Fountain of Youth
📦 1 – “It’s a Dog”
(2 pages) This spread, expands on the previous postulations and digs in deeper as to the details of the possibility of the box being a mutant being that has a dog as a psychic appendage to act in the world. As more time is spent on this single idea, Pope shows how deep each of these rabbit holes could go.
📦 2 – “It’s a tiny room containing room within rooms.”
(2 pages) To fully express the scale of the recursive infinities possible within this box, Pope suggests that it is a tiny room wih people living within that room and that they too have box upon which they sit. And there’s people within that box too. An endless cycle.
It’s at this point the full scale of the infinite possibility of the box is clear. Boxes within boxes. Turtles all the way down.
📦 3 – Sunflower seed interlude
(2 pages) In the next spread, Pope puts the breaks on the theorizing with a snack break. This interlude is what sells the comic to me. The hypothesizing and arguing stops and the kids crack into some spicy sunflower seeds. It is essential in that it allows the reader to feel the space of the page as time. Micro becomes macro as Pope renders details of teeth, sunflower seeds, munchin and litter. Rather than darting from one idea to another, you linger in the metaphysical pause. It’s the space within the space.
📦 It is what it is.
(2 pages) Bellies full, the theorizing returns to the top of mind. And, needing some kind of resolution before dinner time, this spread imagines if the sides of the box are just the sides of the box. It playfully puts forward the philosophical musing “If we’re not there to sit on the box, is there a box?”.
Maybe it just is what it is…
📦 … or is it?
(1 page) As the kids say their goodbyes, the comic wraps itself up. The kids leave. The stage is empty. And yet, in the last panel, when no one is around. We see a an unexplained pop from the top of the box.
Doing this echoes out the infinite. It visual states “Yeah, but what if…”
As you close this book, this reality you may ask, is my world just a page in someone’s comic? Just a potential parallel reality? All this while staring at the empty six panel grid on the back cover of the comic. ** chef’s kiss**
Needless to say I love this comic. I teach this comic when I work with teens. I teach this comic when I work with adults.
It’s a big deal to see Black kids just shooting the breeze in comics. Inevitably, the politics of allowing your Black characters to hang out and just joke around and eat sunflower seeds are a big deal. Though they’re not being heavily policed, or harmed in the comic the threat of being threatened by armed police is still present. Needless, to say it’s really satisfying to see Black boys afforded some simplicity, a chance to be goofy and carefree in comic.
The reason why I recommend That Box We Sit On onto others, why I’m still writing and thinking about it 2 years after I bought it from Richie is that it’s bit of comics magic. It does what only art can do:
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.
That Box We Sit On is a testament to Richie’s imagination, improvisation, and craft. While the characters never physically leave the spot they’re at, they take us across space and time, six panels at a time. The work stays fresh as you never pin down what the “box” is. Grounded and clever + abstract and expansive. This work is impossibly full of joy and it begs to be shared.
Quietly glorious in terms of form, content and how it speaks in the context of contemporary America – a comics miracle indeed. 📦
** Here’s what others think about this killer mini-comic?**
- Jazmine Joyner at WWAC: https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2018/10/that-box-we-sit-on-review/
- Carrie McClain at Black Nerd Problems: https://blacknerdproblems.com/that-box-we-sit-on-proves-that-the-black-kids-are-alright/
- Keith Silva on TCJ: http://www.tcj.com/reviews/that-box-we-sit-on/
If you want to hear/see Pope talk about this comic, check out this short video interview he did right before was awarded the Outstanding Artist award at the Igntazes. Richie Pope Interview — That Box We Sit On (SPX 2018)
BUY A DIGITAL COPY: https://gumroad.com/l/thatboxwesiton
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Gemini - Princess Nokia