Blackwax Boulevard: Five Years, What A Surprise
This volume is a collection of the first five issues of the webcomic of the same name. The issues follow the rather non-charismatic Marsalis through his work at the struggling independent record store Blackwax Boulevard and through his contentious home life with his brother. Marsalis bemoans the state of popular music, yearns for a beautiful customer, who’s dating a bombastic agitator Marsalis can’t stand, and tries to keep his reckless boss out of diabetic coma.
Music is undoubtedly the centerpiece of this series, and that’s made clear by the prologue, which presents each of the story’s characters posed with their favorite album, explaining its personal significance. It’s a warm, personable way to begin this story, which will see these characters often show a more prickly facade. The majority of the scenes take place in Blackwax Boulevard, where Marsalis works and spends a great deal of time pontificating on the poor musical taste of the unwashed masses. I’m not sure if the endless stream of music snobbery is presented as satire or not. Marsalis offers several withering takedowns of various species of local hipster and often critiques in them the very same preciousness toward which he is often inclined. Marsalis’ lament for all things “fake” unavoidably evokes Holden Caufield’s overwrought elegies for the “authentic.” Setting that aside, I’m torn on this final point of critique because the neuroticism of the main character can get frustrating, and the supporting characters are almost always made more interesting than the protagonist. On the other hand, the series also gets important stuff right. For example, Marsalis speaks with a stutter, and I appreciated that the author includes that speech impediment throughout the series in all of Marsalis’s dialog–a testament to representing neurodivergence honestly, without sugarcoating or reducing it for the reader’s comfort. I really appreciated the supporting characters and their struggles, including Marsalis’ diabetic boss, whose struggles with adequate education and care mirror a very real ongoing problem. Marsalis’ relationship with his older brother is a testament to the kind of economic and family frictions a lot of college educated and significantly indebted Millennials are living. There were a lot of things to like about Blackwax Boulevard. Despite a couple frustrating elements, I really recommend reading this one. The story it’s telling and the way it’s telling it are interesting, original, and honest, and the series deserves a wide readership.
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