Our Expanding Universe
by Alex Robinson
Top Shelf Comix
Alex Robinson is a master at slice-of-life graphic novels. Box Office Poison is a classic of the genre. He is back at it with Our Expanding Universe, a 250-page opus that follow the lives of three guys in their thirties trying to maintain their friendships as their life situations change. We see most of the action from the POV of Bill, the married guy whose wife is more interested in starting a family than he is. He is flanked by Scott, also married but with one child (and another on the way), and Brownie, divorced but with no children. Their adventures include trying to find an open box-ball court, playing video games, and watching movies. But adventure isn’t really the goal here. It’s life, and how they deal with it. And Robinson excels at depicting life, especially through his dialogue. Robinson skillfully weaves in and out of the lives of the three men, the two significant others, and some key ancillary players.
The main theme that emerges is the difficulty inherent in maintaining the friendships that are integral to our young adulthood as we age and/or mature. Bill is torn between continuing his old habits of hanging out with his friends as much as possible, while also being committed to his wife, who really wants to have a baby. Scott isn’t helping, by constantly being late to their games, often with a toddler in tow. Neither is Brownie, who is in a constant weed-induced state of “nothing ever needs to change.” Bill also has to deal with his wife’s family, who are difficult to say the least. Robinson never takes the cheap way out. There are several times when the plot could easily take the expected turn (e.g. the obvious point where the dog will run away and cause trouble, doesn’t happen), but instead things develop naturally and characters make decisions that fit their established traits.
While dialogue, as mentioned, is Robinson’s strong suit, I was very impressed with his design and character work here. He has a history of diverse characters – all body types and various ethnicities – which fits perfectly into his NYC setting. New York, and especially Brooklyn, stands out as a character in itself. While dialogue heavy stories are often set in static locations, Robinson has his characters in parks, on the roofs of buildings, in the subway, and on the beach. When that isn’t enough, he layers the dialogue onto screens of the fantasy video games the characters are playing, adding a visceral counterpoint to emotional conversations.
As the title refers to the friends’ expanding universe of friendship, family, work, and other responsibilities, Robinson also juxtaposes that with lessons in the actual expanding universe with some brief and fascinating lessons in astronomy and cosmology. In all honesty, I felt more of a connection to the characters in Box Office Poison, but I did feel like Our Expanding Universe was more engrossing than most similar stories. Taken all together, if slice-of-life comic stories are of interest, you should definitely pick up a copy.