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Review by David E. Miller


Alex Robinson
Alex Robinson

Top Shelf Productions
Softcover Original
Publish Date
August 2005
Cover Price

Alex Robinson had a difficult task. His last graphic novel, Box Office Poison, aka BOP, won this rookie creator an Eisner award. Robinson's first foray into graphic noveldom was a 608-page ensemble piece about a group of friends and the intertwining, often convoluted turns that their young lives took. Hence, the fan base could be justified in expecting a sophomore slump. Most writers would probably have switched genres or forms. Less brave writers would’ve tried writing a monthly comic for awhile or continuing with the same characters. Safe writers wouldn’t have taken four years to try to better what they had already done. These writers aren’t Alex Robinson.

Tricked RayForget a sophomore slump, because Robinson is a second year All-Star. Tricked is, hands down, the best graphic novel that I have read in years. It is so completely satisfying to find a writer who has matured with age and has challenged himself and risen to the occasion. Tricked is an ensemble piece that weaves completely unrelated, unique, and brand new characters (save one) into a common tragic event. Forget about a comfort zone and focus on ‘the zone,’ because Robinson is in it.

Each character presents a different challenge and each develops in a compelling way. The reader will marvel at how Robinson is able to develop such rich and complex characters from his creative mind. These characters are interesting enough that Robinson could have developed a graphic novel from each character's story. So in a way, while reading one graphic novel, you are actually getting several. I greatly respect Robinson for risking everything on this one book and investing so much time in giving us this phenomenal result. It seems that Robinson can’t just write a 22-page comic, but neither can Will Eisner, and so far, I don’t hear anyone complaining.

The story focuses on many intriguing characters. Rock legend Ray is an ex-lead singer and recluse who suffers from the existential dilemma of isolation and routine. He hibernates in the safety of his fame. Nick is bad news. He leads a double life of a wife and baby at home, and petty forgery and theft at work. He walks down a dark path that grows darker and is the least empathic character of the lot. Phoebe, shy yet brave, is the caterpillar who awakens the butterfly in those around her. Steve is one of those obsessive music fans who focuses most of his mental energy on Ray’s career. Though he works tech support at a faceless random company and his life seems the most boring, when he stops taking his medication, things get interesting…and quite fascinating. Caprice, the lone carry over from BOP, is the sweet moral compass of this story. BOP fans may remember that she was getting married to Nick, well…he never existed (we’ll give Alex a mulligan on this one). Lastly, we have Lily, who randomly meets Ray and becomes his personal assistant, but it certainly doesn’t end there.

In contemplating who this story is really about, I cannot come to a definitive conclusion because Tricked winds up really being about all of them and all of us at the same time. I can happily attest that after hundreds of pages of getting involved with these dense characters, that the ending is actually both satisfying and rewarding. Robinson experiments a bit at the end, but not in a way that sacrifices the readers right to a payoff. I was a little worried for a few pages there, but was definitely satisfied by the way the story concluded. It would have been miserable to have read such a fantastic piece of work, only to have had it all fall apart in the end.

TrickedRobinson's art is Independent. What I mean is that I can’t imagine Marvel or DC hiring him as an artist. However, I would really enjoy seeing his writing complemented by one of the many incredible artists that are working in the industry now. The benefit of Robinson's art is that we are getting exactly what Robinson intended. His style is professional and nothing is lost in the process. I would be a content fan for life reading a new Robinson tome every few years. However, in seeing what Robinson is able to do and to watch him mature at his craft, I can’t imagine that he would be hesitant to take a chance and take his abilities to the next level and start writing for a larger audience. The public at large only has everything to gain in the process.
Final Words

It all comes down to this – Box Office Poison was fantastic. It was filled with raw emotion and was real. It was real in that heartfelt, unselfconscious way that graphic novel readers rarely get to experience. Robinson had every right to strike out on his second attempt. The pressure to top an Eisner award winning tome must have been considerable. To have spent almost four years working on that second work must have made that pressure even more immense. But some people thrive under pressure and, in retrospect, only appear to have hit their peak after a first attempt. But Robinson will not be a one and done writer. No, luckily, Robinson seems to be getting better with age. Tricked showed an emotional maturity and an ability to create characters that showcases an even greater promise for the future. Instead of appreciating Robinson for giving us a one hit wonder, we may now actually instead be blessed with the beginnings of a graphic novel legend.

Highly Recommended

David E. Miller (email) has been involved in the comic book industry for almost 20 years. He started out attending Serendipity Comic Book Conventions in Suburban Philly and befriending top independent creators like Reggie Byers (Shuriken for Comico). He parlayed his industry expertise into recruiting the Honorary Board for the New York City Comic Book Museum. His highest related achievement was sitting down with Stan Lee in his studio office for an hour talking history. His lowest was selling off most of his collection in High School.
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