Boris is a robot of leisure. He is designed as an integral part of GLOMCO’s Zukunfthaus (the “house of the future”) in the Neue Vista Estates housing development and can complete all the tasks necessary to hold a swanky party: he can decorate, be a DJ, mix drinks, and play party games. However, when Boris is activated, something goes horribly wrong. He sets up an awesome party, only to have no one arrive at the house. As the days go by, he attempts to amuse himself, eventually making a sock puppet friend, Beryl. When he ventures outside, he discovers a run-down strip mall with all the businesses closed. Boris lives his quiet existence until he meets Nigel, another robot programmed to be a butler/valet—and then the really weird stuff begins to happen.
Boris began as a webcomic. This volume collects together the mini-graphic novels of Boris’s adventures. In “Boris and the Open House,” readers are introduced to Boris and discover he can’t hold parties for an empty house. It’s in “Boris Makes a Friend”, that he crafts Beryl and together they use their imaginations to make life less lonely. Nigel shows up, which creates some pretty awkward moments in “Boris Gets a Visitor.” In “Boris Takes a Nap,” Boris dreams of all sorts of careers he could do, and in “Boris Meets His Maker,” Boris is introduced to Dr. Otto, his creator. The final installment, “Boris Versus the Future,” finds Boris contemplating what he is will do in the face of his obsolesce.
The humor in BORIS: Robot of Leisure is subtle. One of my favorite moments was when Boris finds a sock and decides to create Beryl. In a moment reminiscent of Dr. Frankenstein creating his creature, Boris, wearing a surgical mask and equipped with a permanent marker, brings Beryl to life (complete with rain and lightning outside the house).
This comic reminds me a lot of Sara Vernon’s Robot Dreams with its subtle sadness, but it’s more appropriate for an older teen or adult audience, since the emotions Boris feels are akin to a mid-life crisis. Teens will be attracted to the cute art style and the author’s website has a number of fun Boris print-outs like valentines, bookmarks, and paper dolls, which crafty teen fans will get a kick out of.
The comic itself is nearly wordless, with text only appearing in flyers and in Boris’s programming screens. This become a disadvantage once readers get to the middle story, “Boris Takes a Nap.” It starts out simply: Boris relaxes and dreams of different careers. However, it is at this point that the timeline of the story becomes confused. Dr. Otto, his creator, appears to be watching Boris from GLOMCO’s headquarters one minute, and then he is standing next to Boris the next. As the story progresses, the reader slowly becomes more confused about when Boris is napping and when he is awake. It only grows more baffling from here.
There are some moments in the book that might be controversial for some parents. Since Boris is a party planner, he does make alcoholic drinks. He is also shown drinking from a cocktail glass numerous times throughout the book; however, since he’s a robot, there isn’t any actual liquid in the cups (he’s just pretending). When Nigel and Boris travel to meet Dr. Otto, they pass a number of billboards, one of which is advertising an adult store called “We Bare All,” but unless one is really paying attention, this is easily overlooked. The other element that might cause some concern is that Boris, in his imaginative play, does do some cross-dressing: in one dream sequence he imagines being a ballerina and wears a tutu, while in another, he and Beryl have a tea party in which Boris looks like a Victorian lady complete with balloon breasts. However, it is done in a humorous way and could be seen as a subtle way to be progressive about gender roles.
While I did not regret my time reading about Boris’s adventures, I spent the latter half of the book feeling confused, which lessened my enjoyment. This is definitely a cute book with an art style that will attract some teens, however, it would probably only appeal to a certain type of reader, so it may require some hard selling.
BORIS: Robot of Leisure: The Complete Series
by Katharine Miller
Grawlix Interrobang, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: 16+