"The pressure of creating comics isn't enough..."
- an interview with Alex Robinson
KZ: After recent published adaptation of "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" do you plan any longer project of your own?
Alex Robinson: I've started working on a new book, tentatively titled "Career Killer," which should be another very long book. Ideally, I would like to have it come out as a series of books, rather than waiting five years and having it come out in one big chunk. That's a long time to be working and not having anything new out!
On one level, this book will be very different from my previous other "big" books, in that it's a fantasy book, but at its heart I hope it will have the same qualities that people enjoyed about my other books.
KZ: Sounds interesting and I hope that You won't favor action over dialogues. As I presume it is too early that You give more thoughts away about "Career Killer" but is the action going to take place in entirely new world or maybe on two different levels (our world and fantasy world)?
A.R.: At this point it will take place solely in the fantasy world. I did toy with the idea of shifting back and forward from the fantasy world to something closer to our own reality but never really pursued it. At one point I had a very ambitious idea for a book, or series of books, actually, which would follow one character from childhood to the grave, a big epic really trying to capture what a person's life is like. When I sat down to do it, however, I had absolutely no enthusiasm to actually begin. That was when I quickly switched gears and started to do something I would enjoy more. I'm aware that people have come to expect a certain type of book from me and this one might not be it but it's the book I feel like doing at the moment. Hopefully, people will give it a chance and maybe see that despite the fact that it has swords and monsters and so on, under all that it isn't that different from my other books.
KZ: What kind of a teacher Will Eisner was and what have you learnt from him?
A.R.: He was very patient, at least with me and my friends, who were very cocky at the time and probably were not as deferential to him as I would probably be now. We were young and thought we knew everything, but I'd like to think he took it in a good spirit. I think he really enjoyed teaching, since I imagine having to teach others is a good way of always thinking about what you're doing in your own work.
I don't think I made any impression on him. I was very lazy in school and didn't do as much work as I should have. When I bumped into him a few years later he was polite about it but he had hundreds of students over the years and I don't think I did anything that would've stuck with him.
KZ: One of American reviewers named You "Robert Altman of comic books" - that is for sure because of the style of narration and creation of flesh and blood characters - where from do you take inspirations for those autobiographical threads?
A.R.: When you're starting out as a writer the most obvious thing to do it adapt elements from your own life, but I found I couldn't rely on that since my life isn't all that interesting and I would get very repetitive if I I did. So while I continue to use my own life as a source for material I have to work harder to disguise it. I've also found I've used myself as a character more frequently, but not in a way that's connected to the outside world. For instance, in "Tricked" two of the characters were sort of opposite versions of the way I see myself--Ray is the famous artist and genius, while Steve is the pompous delusional crazy person.
For me, the fun of writing, almost the whole point of it, is the experience of getting into another character's shoes and trying to see the world from their point of view.
KZ: In 1967 a psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a social experiment in which he tried to find an answer for a question: "How long should be the human chain that binds two random persons from the farthest places of the USA?" The average number is six persons... Is this a coincidence that it makes me think of "Tricked"?
A.R.: I don't recall it being a specific influence, but it might've been in the back of my mind. There's that saying "Six degrees of separation" which conveys the same idea. I don't really keep any sort of journals and very little of my preparation work so I can't tell you exactly how I came up with that number. My hunch is that it was big enough to seem like random group of people but small enough where it would be manageable.
My previous book, "Box Office Poison" had a main cast of six or seven characters, so it's possible I was just going with what had worked before.
KZ: What band was the archer for "The Tricks" from "Tricked"?
A.R.: I didn't base them on any one group, but I was already familiar with a lot of pop bands and read some biographies of people for more research. I took bits and pieces from various people's stories. Elivs Presley and Costello, the Police, John Lennon, The Who, Bob Dylan, a range. I never wanted to get too specific as to what the band or Ray Beam sounded like, since I wanted people to think of them as doing whatever kind of music they liked. If I had said "They sound like The Police" than automatically some people are going to like it but others will not. Also, I think things like song lyrics tend to be read very silly outside the context of the music, so I didn't want to include whole songs, maybe just a line or two here and there.
KZ: I thought about analogy to Smashing Pumpkins.
A.R.: Unfortunately, I don't know enough about them specifically but it seems that for all the range of styles of pop music their stories tend to be more similar than different. There was a series of documentaries here called "Behind the Music"--I don't know how popular it was outside the U.S. but it was pretty popular here for awhile--in which they would profile various bands and after a few episodes you really saw a pattern: the band's early rise, the band splinters because of ego, drugs, whatever, and then the band pulls itself together and comes back or at least they become friends again.
KZ: "Too Cool to be Forgotten" is not a typical story about a time travel. Was the book a kind of reconciliation with your own past?
A.R.: Yeah, it started out that way, certainly. I think I was interested in my own high school life to an unusual degree, maybe an unhealthy degree, since it tends to color the way I think about the world. I will always think of myself as being the same type of person, no matter what happens in real adult life, I think. So I thought by doing a story about that time period I might examine that and see why that is and what, if anything, I could do with it. In that sense, it was a very hard book to write, since it was based on a fairly unhappy time in my life. To have to go and put myself into that mental space for two years or however long it took me to do was a challenge.
I thought when the book came out I would hear from former classmates but I didn't get any response from them, so it looks like I'll have to come up with another way to defeat them!
KZ: Recently it was announced that "Too Cool to be Forgotten" is going to be filmed. Could you tell us something about this project (officially or in a way of speculations)? And when we are in this area - did you get any propositions of filming "Tricked" or "BOP" (those are practically ready film sripts).
A.R.: We'd been approached about all the books, turning them into movies or, in the case of "Box Office Poison", a TV series, but nothing ever panned out. Hollywood is such a voracious machine that any book with a certain degree of success will show up on their radar and garner some interest. So in the case of "Too Cool" I'm very excited that it's gotten to this point. I wish I could tell you more details but at this point there are still a lot of things up in the air. I hope they can fit me in as a cameo somewhere. The funny thing is that this is the only book of mine where I don't think I put myself in as a character with a speaking role.
KZ: We're keeping fingers crossed for this project. "BOP" is just asking itself for a film adaptation. It would be great if "TCTBF" was only the beginning.
A.R.: I would love it. The pressure of creating comics isn't enough, so I was thinking about adding Hollywood to the list of things that keep me up at night.
KZ: What do you think of present independent comics in the US? To whom in your opinion the future of this area of interest belongs?
A.R.: In terms of true independent comics--comics put out by small publishers, as opposed to being published by more mainstream, corporate companies--I think it's something of a hard time with the economic collapse and all, and the decline of book sales overall. The fact that big companies have taken an interest in graphic novels the past few years has good and bad points. It's certainly helped spread the word about what's out there but you also have a lot of cartoonists going to work for them instead of the small press publishers who would've handled their work in the past. It's an age old problem, I suppose.
In terms of the work being produced, I can't see how anyone can argue that this isn't a true "golden age" for graphic novels. The promise sparked by the success of "Maus" and a few other comics twenty years ago is finally being realized, and the fact that there's finally a degree of respect and--perhaps more importantly--money coming to comics is very welcome indeed.
KZ: What would you recommend to indie comics readers?
A.R.: This question always comes up in interviews and somehow I'm always paralyzed when it comes to answering! Aside from the established pantheon figures like Robert Crumb, Chester Brown, Peter Bagge, etc, there are a bunch of younger cartoonists whose work I like--Mike Dawson, John Kerschbaum, Guy Delisle, Alec Longstreh, Kaz Strzepek, Dustin Hardbin, there are a lot. I think the reason I always feel nervous with this kind of question is that I hate to leave someone out.
Questions were asked by Damian "Damex" Maksymowicz