I never wanted a robot for a best friend when I was a kid. That probably stemmed from the fact that when I was six my dad showed me The Terminator and T-2: Judgment Day back to back which taught me that robots would probably rise up to kill us all until I saw The Matrix when I was ten which taught me that technology would DEFINITELY rise up to kill us all. So…. yeah I don’t get the appeal. Anyway that weird detour into my bullshit aside what I do understand is the appeal of having an imaginary/out of the ordinary friend when you’re a kid, I’ve read Calvin and Hobbes I’m hip, and at first glance Robbie and Bobby looks like it’s going to be just that. However, as soon as I started digging into this volume it became quickly apparent that the fact that an eight-year-old boy is hanging out with a robot is the least weird thing this book has to offer. Robbie and Bobby Volume 1: A Robot and his Boy, written and illustrated by Jason Poland, centers on an eight year old named Bobby and his best friend/roommate Robbie who happens to be a robot and….hijinks ensue I guess. That’s a pretty good description of what this comic is actually, but at the same to time not coming even remotely close to describing what Robbie and Bobby actually is.
Poland uses an absurdist sensibility along with Saturday morning cartoon logic for what constitutes as plotting ( I only say constitutes because whatever happens to the titular characters by the end of each strip, which can be up to and including their death, the status quo will be reset by the next one.). This makes Robbie and Bobby effectively a gag strip in structure, which to be honest are the sort of comics I always have the most trouble writing about because I am really bad at articulating how something can be seen as funny (I enjoy the Night at the Museum movies, clearly I can not be trusted). However, it’s a gag strip that operates a bit differently than some of its contemporaries such as Eat More Bikes or Dinosaur Comics. Specifically I’m thinking of how Poland plays loose with the panel layout from strip to strip. Most gag strips, in my experience, fall somewhere between three to six panels per, but Poland doesn’t adhere to any particular format which I think is really interesting from a creative standpoint, but can muddle the storytelling upon execution.
Its worth noting that Robbie and Bobby is a web comic and I’m basing this review off its first print collection, so a few of these strips might play better online than they do in print. The shorter ones, anywhere from three to twelve panels, tend to have the best pacing of them all because Poland has to accelerate the jokes which makes the storytelling even more surreal. The longer ones, which can go on for several pages, tend to have less of a payoff because the visuals can meander or the visual flow doesn’t fit within the book and ends in the middle of a page. And with a new strip starting immediately following, it's hard at times to discern where a particular strip begins and a punch line ends.
Poland’s cartooning is solid throughout though and I will say that when a strip may not work on a writing level the visual jokes almost always work.
Robbie and Bobby is an incredibly entertaining, and at times a weirdly profound, comic but I also don’t think it ends up working as well as it should due to structure. Poland's comedic sensibility is great and the Loony Toons-esque status quo reset from strip to strip might be its biggest strength, but I think the changing panel structure from strip to strip hurts its readability somewhat. Not enough to make the comic bad, or even unreadable, by any means. A comic that has one of its characters marry a slice of pizza and raise a family with it only to devour said family on a lazy afternoon could never be considered bad. But in book form it just comes off as sloppy plotting. The comic is still perfectly enjoyable and for all I know this is a reading problem Poland has or will correct in the printing of subsequent volumes and it shouldn't be seen so much as a black mark against it as much as a fair warning that you might be better served reading it online in its original form. Either way, if you like gag strips that lean towards the absurd you should still definitely check it out.
TL;DR: Despite a few sequential flow problems in the print edition, the first volume of Robbie and Bobby is still a very fun gag comic.
A review copy of Robbie and Bobby Volume 1: A Robot and His Boy was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator at MoCCA 2013!