Nerd City Interview: Alex Robinson

January 6, 2009


Alex Robinson is the artist and writer behind the hit graphic novels Box Office Poison, Tricked and his newest work, Too Cool to Be Forgotten. Recently, Max got to talk with Robinson about his work.

Your work on Box Office Poison and Too Cool To Be Forgotten appears to be heavily autobiographical. Is this actually the case or is that a common misinterpretation?

I used to be sort of in denial that Box Office Poison was as autobiographical as people seemed to think it was but looking back now–I finished the book almost ten years ago I realize it was closer than I thought. Not necessarily in terms of the details of my life, though there is some of that, but more in terms of the things I was working out in my head. I would say it was psychologically autobiographical, if that didn’t sound too pretentious. Obviously certain details were taken from my own life: Sherman worked in a bookstore, Ed was an aspiring cartoonist, I had a crazy landlady, but for the most part it was fiction.

With Too Cool I definitely took a lot of elements from my own life and put them in the story. That was an inspiration for doing the book, a sort of art therapy dealing with my feelings about growing up and high school and whatnot. It didn’t quite pan out the way I expected, but there were still a lot of details from my own life. Andy’s house is the house I grew up in, for instance, but some things are different. I didn’t have an older brother or sister, for instance.

It gets harder to take stuff from my own current life since my experience is so limited now. I work at home as a full time cartoonist, so it makes it harder to mine my own life.

The subject of struggling as an artist plays a major role in BOP. Now that both that piece and Too Cool to Be Forgotten have achieved a certain level of success, do you personally still feel some of those pressures? How has your outlook changed (if at all) as your work has received acknowledgment?

Well, the pressures are still there. It’s the same basic neuroses but they’re just updated to suit my current position. That was one of the things I wrestled with in Tricked, the idea of Now That You Got It how do you Keep It and how do you get more. You always have to be careful talking about these kinds of ideas because it’s easy to seem like an ungrateful whiner. That said, I’m constantly battling with my own professional jealousy, as a friend put it. I’m always wary of who is “ahead” of me in the biz and who is coming up behind. I’m also a glass-half-empty kind of person so even with whatever successes I’ve achieved I tend to downplay them or spin them in a negative way. It’s terrible!

How did you get your start? What advice do you have (if any) for those who want to try their hand at creating a graphic novel?

After I graduated from art school I started doing mini comics and sending them to publishers. After goofing off through four years of college I figured it was time to get serious so I really tried to be as productive as I could. Eventually, Antarctic Press picked up what would become the serialized version of Box Office Poison and it just kind of grew from there.

I guess my advice is to do it if you really love it. There’s so little money to be made that you can’t think of it as an occupation so much as a hobby. Once you accept that you’ll be a lot happier (or less unhappy). The key for me was creating the kind of comic I wanted to read. Comics are very labor intensive and you’re going to be spending a lot time with these characters and situations so you’d better make sure it’s something you enjoy.

On a more specific and practical note, you might want to consider making the first few chapters of your “novel” fairly self-contained. This way, if you get sick of the concept you can abort the project and just offer those chapters as a shorter work (if you’ll notice the first sixty pages of Box Office Poison are more or less simple short stories in which I was getting to know the characters, there isn’t really any overall plot).

In most cases, you seem to pull double duty, both writing and drawing your work. Is there a particular reason for this? Do you have any interest in collaborating or do you just prefer to work alone?

I guess ever since I started making my own comics as a kid I did it all myself so I just never stopped. I enjoy both aspects so I want to do both. I think most people seem to like my writing better than my art but I have much more fun drawing than I do writing. They just use different parts of your brain, I guess.

I think I prefer to work alone but I’d be curious to try collaboration. I think the problem is that everyone wants to collaborate with someone better than them, right? Most of the people who have talked to me about collaborating are aspiring amateurs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if I feel like I can draw better than someone there’s not really much incentive for me to write something with that person in mind–I would just draw it myself. Similarly, I would love to draw from an Alan Moore script or write a story for John Cassaday to draw, but I’m sure they both have better things to do and would lump me in with the “aspiring amateur” group.

I think it would be interesting to write a script knowing that someone else would be drawing it. I know I have certain limitations as an artist so I would never write, say, a fight on the rooftop of a cathedral because I know I could never draw that. So writing a script for a really good versatile artist would be an interesting experiment.

With the continuing popularity of comic book-based movies, both large (Dark Knight, Iron Man) and smaller (American Splendor, Ghost World), are there any plans to transfer you’re work to the big screen or other media? Is that even something you would want?

There have been some nibbles over the years but nothing that has panned out. We’ve all heard stories about the nightmarish development hell that is hollywood so I’m not exactly betting on anything happening but I’m hopeful. Personally, I would love for it to happen. I don’t have a lot of faith that a good movie would come out of it–it’s more for the fame/respect and, most of all, the money. Once I got the cash they could do whatever they wanted. Cast Carrot Top as Sherman or the Jonas Brothers play Andy Wicks, I don’t care–actually that last one might be good because it means the movie would at least make money. Where do I sign?

What can Alex Robinson fans, (myself included) look forward to? What projects are you working on or releasing in the near future?

My next project is kind of out of left field on a few levels. Harper Collins approached me about a new series they’re doing where different cartoonists adapt classic Christmas stories into comics form and I thought it sounded like an interesting project. It’s proven a real challenge on a few fronts but hopefully it will be out in time for Christmas 2009. I’m adapting L. Frank Baum’sA Kidnapped Santa Claus.” It will be a short book, only sixty pages or so. I have some ideas for stuff after that but nothing definite. I like the idea of doing another very long book, like Box Office Poison, but maybe serialize it over a few paperbacks. I don’t know if I could wait to release it in one big chunk this time, since it would probably take me ten years to do a five hundred page book.

Thank you, Alex.

Get Alex Robinson’s work @ Chicago Comics.

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    One Response to “Nerd City Interview: Alex Robinson”

    1. punch888 Says:

      i’ve wanted to read too cool to be forgotten. that is all.