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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:







Alex Robinson has quickly become one of those creators whose every work becomes a highly anticipated event. 2008 sees his latest graphic novel, TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN, hit the shelves. He was kind enough to take time in his schedule to talk to Marc Mason about the book, his career, and other assorted topics.

MM: Not everyone working in comics went to art school, but you did. I know that in the past, your thoughts on that were sort of negative, but as time has progressed have you seen any benefit to it that might not have been there previously?

AR: There are some benefits, but I don't know if they're worth the price. I went to School of Visual Arts which was very expensive for what was basically a glorified summer camp. It was pretty much impossible to fail--everyone who left to school did so because they couldn't afford it or lost interest. My feeling right now is that you're better off going to a liberal arts college with a very good art department if you're going to go into comics, especially alternative comics. The odds of you making enough money to pay for your student loans are very much against you.

MM: You defied the odds during the market collapse in the mid-90s by completing a 21-issue book at a black and white indy publisher. Looking back on that experience, are you surprised? Or did it feel like “destiny” that you were going to make it?

AR: A little of both, I think, though "destiny" sounds a bit pretentious. I think because I had devoted so much mental energy and passion to becoming a comic book creator that I couldn't even conceive of not "making it." Mentally, psychologically, practically, I had no fall back plan.
 

I do feel like I was also very lucky. The fact that Antarctic Press, my original publishers, kept the series going for twenty-one issues, even though sales were never really that good, is amazing. It was also great because they didn't interfere at all editorially. It was really ideal for me, since I don't respond well to authority. The fact that I could send them a completed comic and they would print it as is, in that sense I feel like it was a real lucky break.

I remain surprised I've done as well as I did. I did name the book "Box Office Poison" after all.

MM: Top Shelf swooped in and picked up the trade paperback rights and put out the massive phonebook version of BOX OFFICE POISON. How did you react when you saw the final product? Was it a “dream come true” moment?

AR: Ha, well just to clarify, I had approached Top Shelf about doing a collection once I knew the story was coming to an end. Chris Staros had told me he was a fan of the book and they were starting to be known for doing nice trade paperbacks so I asked them if they'd be interested. I had actually proposed a series of slimmer books but in their vision Chris and Brett wanted to go ahead and experiment with the 608 page collection.

I was very happy, since being hugely influenced by CEREBUS, I always saw a self-contained, massive trade paperback as the ultimate goal. It happened much sooner than I thought!

MM: You also won the Eisner for BOP. What was that experience like?

AR: I was very excited, and, again, it happened much sooner than I thought it was possible. It was the same summer that Top Shelf released the collection, which was a nice bit of timing, publicity-wise. I won the award for "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition" and a (probably jealous) cartoonist friend of mine said that's like the "good try" award--you didn't do anything good enough to actually win an actual award, but keep trying! Since then I've been determined to win in another category, to make it legit, but so far no luck.
 

MM: It took some time before your next graphic novel, TRICKED, came along. Another tome-sized book, it also showcased your strong gift for character and storytelling. While BOP certainly had some roots in your own life, where did the people in TRICKED come from?

AR: It's hard to say. The characters in BOP were much more inspired by actual people I knew or, in the case of the Irving Flavor story, people in the news. In a strange way, the characters in TRICKED were almost more personal, since they were more cut from whole cloth, and were sort of reflections of my own personality. So in that sense, it felt more autobiographical. I don't know I'm explaining this as clearly as I could, or if I'm even capable of explaining it!

MM: At that point you sort of became known as the guy who turned out work of lengthy substance. While BOP had appeared over a period of years originally, this was one large chunk. What sort of struggles did you have along the way? Was it easier or harder than doing BOP?

AR: It was harder, for a few reasons. The scheduling was one, since without the quarterly-ish schedule of BOP, it became a lot easier to slack off. When your deadline is a two years away it's very simple to let the days go by without working. I really had to learn to discipline myself in that regard.

It was also difficult because the first book had done so well, I felt more expectations. My working title for the book was "Sophomore Slump" so that should give you some idea of where my head was. This wasn't external pressure, for the most part, just me becoming very self-conscious. When I started BOX OFFICE POISON it was in mini-comic form and no one cared so I didn't have to worry about pleasing or disappointing an audience. Now, when I'm working on a book I'm also imagining being at a convention selling it and people telling me "Yeah, it was good but not as good as BOX OFFICE POISON." I almost have to convince myself that that will happen, to allow myself to fail.

MM: You won a Harvey and an Ignatz for TRICKED. At that point did you suddenly start to feel the expectations people had for you?

AR: In a way I'm glad they were for my second book, instead of BOX OFFICE POISON because it made it easier to deal with in that regard. I didn't feel they added much pressure, since the pressure was already there from the first book's success. Anytime I've won an award I feel self-conscious and embarrassed about it, honestly. I love getting them, don't get me wrong! But I'm neurotic enough where I can't enjoy it as much as I would like.
 

MM: Last year, you took the road far less traveled and offered up LOWER REGIONS, a short homage to a life of being a D&D nerd. Was it a deliberate choice to do something completely offbeat before presenting your next major work?

AR: I was in the middle of working on TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN and was sort of stuck. It was a very hard book to write, since it deals with some uncomfortable stuff from my own life, so I wanted to do a quick short story, more as an exercise than anything else, to free up the cobwebs and recharge my batteries. What story could I do that would maximize the amount of fun stuff and minimize the amount of tedium? Answer: a sexy barbarian lady killing monsters in dark caves with little or no backgrounds. It turned out to be more fun than I expected, the most fun I've had doing any comics since I was twelve or so, and became longer as a result.

Once I finished, I got back to work on TOO COOL.

To be honest, I'm not sure what people's reaction to my LOWER REGIONS was. Some people seem to have liked it but I think mostly it confused people who had read my other books.

MM: This summer sees the debut of your newest major work, TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN. While it lacks the length of BOP or TRICKED, it’s still quite a substantial character piece. In it, a man goes to a hypnotist to try and help himself quit smoking but winds up mentally traveling in time to his 15-year old body. What was the genesis of the story?

AR: The big incentive was that my twenty-year high school reunion was coming up, and I've always had a fascination with that period of my life. I think it really screwed me up! So I thought about doing a story where I would really examine that, why I think about it so much, what baggage I'm still lugging around, etc. I didn't want to make it a straight-up autobio because I doubted my abilities to accurately recreate the mindset of a fifteen year-old boy, so I got around that by having him re-experience it as an adult.
 

MM: As he relives his past, he has to confront some demons, at first seeming to revolve around his libido and some regrets but ultimately relating to his family. The climax of the book is quite a tear-jerker. Was it difficult to write and draw this material? It certainly felt like there was more than a little bit of personal truth in that sequence.

AR: It was difficult--and kind of hard to discuss without giving too much away. I will say that I had the ending in mind the entire time, but I tried to think about it as little as possible, and didn't write or plot any of the details out ahead of time so that when it came time for the last scene, it would be as honest and unfiltered as I could try and make it. I'm glad people have been responding the way they have, since I wasn't sure if I had pulled it off or if it was overwrought or what.

MM: What comes next? Do you have strong thoughts about where your career is headed? Or are you taking things one book at a time?

AR: I generally take things one book at a time. I'm currently working on a second book of my LOWER REGIONS, though this one will have dialogue so it might turn some of the haters around. Beyond that, I don't know. Usually, when I finish a book it takes me a few months or even a year to start a new one, especially once we start going around promoting the new book to conventions. That's a very exhausting process.

Marc Mason has his 20-year reunion this year, too, but isn’t going.

Marc Mason

 



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