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Alex Robinson: 'Tricked' Out Edition
Article by James W. Powell
Posted June 3, 2005

Tricked Cover ImageEisner award-winner Alex Robinson is back with his first original graphic novel since the highly successful Box Office Poison. Tricked, shipping in August, follows the lives of six people whose lives are unconnected until an act of violence effects them all. And like its predecessor, this new graphic novel is more about real people and characterization then it is about all-out action.

“It's hard [to describe] because it's not really a plot-driven book,” said Robinson after trying to sum up his new story. “In that sense, it's like Box Office Poison — it's more about the characters and their development than an easily summarized story.”

It’s All About the Characters
While many mainstream, big-selling graphic novels or collections are all about the action and violence, Robinson is sticking to what he does best, which is to tell a story about people. “It's not that I'm really choosing to forsake plot in favor of character driven stuff,” Robinson said. “It's just my natural instinct.”

The storyteller added that he was approached by a mainstream publisher to create a new series, but after attempting to come up with an idea, he realized it wasn’t going to happen. Perhaps plot-driven stories just aren’t for him, even if that means less wide-spread success.

“It seems like these days, the movie business reflects the same dynamic as comics: big action brings people in. Talky, real life movies can find an audience, probably proportionately bigger than in comics, but the big moneymakers always have explosions in them. The problem always comes down to the fact that there just aren't enough comic readers. A larger readership base would mean that even less popular — compared to Spider-Man — stuff like mine could find an audience that would ensure us a livable wage.”

Ray Head ShotYet just because Robinson isn’t throwing in lots of action doesn’t mean his books aren’t meant to entertain. In Tricked, Robinson has put in layers so that the attentive reader can be rewarded for looking at the story a little closer then just on the surface. “There is sort of a theme to the book,” he said, “since many of the characters are either deceiving someone or being deceived themselves, or both sometimes, but I'll leave it for the readers to figure out if I meant anything by it.”

“That's one of the interesting parts about doing all this. People would come up to me having read Box Office Poison and come up with interpretations or ideas that I had never consciously intended to put in the book but are legitimate readings.”

Robinson continued by saying that a reader once told him that Hildy, a character in Box Office Poison, clearly has an eating disorder based on abuse she suffered as a child. “When I think about it or reread the parts [the reader] mentioned, I can see how that's in there — even though I didn't put it in! Those are the best kind of responses you can get. Not only was someone paying attention, but they find another level to the work which sort of comforts me that I'm not totally wasting my time.”

Real Dialog
Kitchen scene from TrickedRobinson has been praised for his gift for writing natural, flowing dialog. Yet unlike an artist consciously attempting to improve his craft, he said it comes from a more subconscious level. “I think it's just something that sort of evolved. Like I said, most of my stories are very character driven, with most of the ‘action’ happening in conversations rather than fight scenes, so dialogue is very important. I just try to make everyone sound like real people.”

Robinson said that he often finds himself listening to how people talk, but he does so on two levels. “On one level, I'm listening to the content of what people are saying, but I'm also very aware of the specific words or grammar they're using,” he said. “Trying to do naturalistic dialogue is a sort of delicate balancing act because if you read a literal transcript of the way people talk, it's horrible. People say stuff like ‘uh’ or ‘like’ a lot more than would be tolerable on the printed page. You don't notice it in every day life, unless someone is really bad, because everyone talks that way.”

While he might have nailed the dialog, Robinson said that readers won’t find the main characters in Tricked talking to each other too often. “Unlike Box Office Poison, the characters in Tricked don't interact with each other all that much. It's almost like six different novellas that overlap. That was a real challenge to the book, because I gave it a very rigid structure.”

“I'm curious to see how people compare the two books because while it does deal with real life situations and characters, they're much more varied than in Box Office Poison,” Robinson said. “With that book, I had a lot of people telling me that the characters were just like their friends, but I don't think that will happen as often.”

Follow-Up Blues?
Scene from TrickedBox Office Poison was a critical success, and fans loved it too. For many creators, the success of one book has an affect on the next. But what about Robinson? “I did feel some pressure,” he explained. “When I started Box Office Poison, no one cared. It was just some dumb little mini-comics and I was desperate for anyone to read them. Now, I know there is a sort of built-in audience who is curious to see what I'll do next.”

Robinson went on to add that he doesn’t like to read reviews because they make him self-conscious. “That being said, we're talking about a very low level of success. I'm not about to join Dave Chappelle or anything. It's like I'm a successful Scrabble player or ham radio operator. You're only a known property among a relatively small portion of the population. Even in the comics community, only a small percentage read Box Office Poison, so it's hard to think of myself as being this big star or anything.”

Steve postcard imageSome readers may be asking themselves, if pressure wasn’t an issue, why did it take Robinson four years to produce his follow-up graphic novel? “I didn't take any time off, at least not consciously, but there were a number of factors,” he said. “For one thing, I waited to release it all in one big chunk, so it feels like it took me longer than if I'd done a 25-page quarterly or whatever.”

Not only that, but it took Robinson a while to get rolling on his new project. “I had two false starts, about forty pages of material I just discarded and started over,” he said. “Plus, not having a quarterly or bimonthly schedule was more of a challenge than I expected. I usually think of myself as being relatively disciplined, but it was too easy to just let a day slip by with no drawing. Those days started to add up after awhile, and I was working really intensely by the end. For about three months I was doing a page a day every day, which was grueling, but I really wanted to have it out this summer.”

Tricked is scheduled to ship in August from Top Shelf Productions.


Tricked, softcover, 6x9, 352 pages, B&W
Diamond: JUN053269, ISBN 1-891830-73-2, $19.95 (US)

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