Monday, May 28, 2012

Alex Robinson's Tricked

From the first chapter, reoccurring themes of small scams and funny retail math set the stage for the larger deceptions. Tricked follows the lives and loves of six seemingly unconnected characters whose paths occasionally cross as they move toward a final convergence. Each character is actively holding something back that must be resolved either by coming to terms with it or with crisis. The Little Piggy Diner and the its owners round out the cast and provides a reoccurring location.

What makes Robinson's body of work so relevant is in his non-heroic, non-autobiographical long work he has given us some incredibly dynamic characters. All likeable even while unapologetic, petty and flawed. While deceptions and revelations shift our sympathies towards the characters, it is our empathy that turns the page. (I was barely able to closes this 349 page book. I also finished Robinson's Box of Poison's 608pgs in a long weekend and To Cool to Be Forgotten's 128pgs in a sitting.)

I love Box Office Poison, but it is almost his juvenilia. In Tricked, the wild experimentation with page layouts that show his love for Dave Sim has settled down. It is more the case that Tricked 's symmetry of form and content has unified into a narrative fatit-accompli. Matt Kindt gorgeously playful rap-around cover for the second edition highlights the interconnected totality of the book.

In Robinsion's speech at Staple! 2011, he claimed that he was a better writer than an illustrator. On the face of this claim it is him talking down his cartooning, but I would argue that it highlights one his strengthens as a cartoonist. As a writer he is very good about allowing his character drawings to hold most of the diegesis of the internal states of his characters. The lines of his faces, body posture and even the externalization of internal body image creates an expansive dimensionality to his characters. If he had attempted to convey this content in prose it would quickly become ponderous and preachy. As it is, the character contradictions are conveyed atmospherically. The accomplishment has relevant teachings in the larger world of the narrative arts as one of the defining separations between high and low art.

There is an open question of whether he has a profound admiration for or is disgusted by humanity. Tricked can be read as love for the human condition (warts and all) or as condemnation of human as all too human. Either was the trick of the book, and Robinsion's work in general is sincerely guileless and a beautiful read.

You can click to Mr Robinson web-site.  If you don't have a hip local comic book store you should buy his books from his Top Shelf page because Chris "rock-"Staros and the gang at Top Shelf deserve your love too. The Top Shelf page is also a great resources.  If your trying to squeeze every nickel out of your dimes you might consider by a digital copy from Top Shelf or the comiXology smart phone app.

Monday, May 14, 2012

About the blog

If there is one thing that I want to get across it is that comics are an important art form. 

In 2007, SUNY Stony Brook awarded me a Master's Degree in Philosophy for a thesis largely focusing on Kantian Metaphysics and Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. My plan was to create a new critical vocabulary for the study of comics as high art.

Now that I'm out of the academy my exposure is limited to what I pick up here in Austin and from podcasts like Indie Spinner Rack, so I want to reach out to communities of like minded readers and to up the profile of comics. I feel that part of doing that is maintaining a few commitments to those of you who are kind enough to read this and the artists that share their brilliance with the world. So here is the mission:

1) Every Monday I will publish a post of either reviews or bits of house keeping like this one. Hopefully one day I will have interviews...

2) Because I want this to be a resource for ongoing discussion and not a soap-box, each post will be tagged to allow you to search out my thoughts on a particular artist or on comics in general.

3) I am interested in sequential art as art and not a given genera, so my reviews will focus on artist styles of narrative storytelling favoring form over content.

4) I will try to keep the reviews updated with info on where you can purchase the books and contact the artists.

5) Out of the deep admiration I have for anyone who puts their art out there, I will not publish any reviews on anything self-published and self-marketed without getting it approved by the artist.

6) I won't review anything that I wouldn’t generally recommend and I will try to give warnings if I feel a particular work might be too offensive or difficult for a given audience. (I have a 10 year old nephew who breathes comic books. I get the need for rating.)

That is what you can expect here. Hopefully, there will be audience participation. There are three ways that I would especially love to get feedback from you the reader.

Please, please leave comments. They are always welcome. Don't hesitate to share any positive or negative feedback about this blog. Positive discussion about the books reviewed is the point. The only caveat is if you pick up something I suggest and you don't like it, I ask that you focus your criticism on my failure to properly represent the work and live up to point 6 of the above. You don't have to agree with me, but I ask that you remain polite to the artist and those of us who do like their work.

I want to encourage you to get involved in the comic book community. It is still small enough that most artists are reasonably approachable. Most have websites or blogs which make fan mail easy. They tend to do lots of book signing and conventions which I should be highlighting according to point 4. If you do get a chance to meet them, ask if you can take a picture of yourself with them and post to the review.
If any of the artists read and especially like my review, I hope you want to help build the content I offer. Please contact me to do an interview by e-mail or locally around one of our Austin conventions. Contact me if you would be willing to share an image or images of a page from the book in the progress of composition. It would be extremely cool whether it is just a quick photo of the page with the pencil lines intact or images from the stages of completion.

And let me know if there is something you want me to review