I first came to know Alex Robinson through his book, Too Cool to Be Forgotten, and then again on the bus ride home from SPX through Tricked. He has proven himself to be a creator who can resonate with a reader. He creates--in my experience--a combined experience that exists both on the page and in the memories of the reader. I got him to talk to me at SPX 2011 just outside of the show floor. I was three hours away from reading Tricked, so the conversation focused on his history with Top Shelf and his work on Too Cool. Thanks for talking with us, Alex--and you've got a very handsome name.
Alex Jarvis: So you wrote Too Cool to Be Forgotten, which externally, literally on the cover, appears to be a story about quitting smoking, but of course, is a little bit more of a trip through high school. What inspired you to do such a raw, nostalgic look back to the formative years?
Alex Robinson: Well, I graduated high school in 1987 and at the book came out in 2008 so I sort of did as a way of celebrating the 20th anniversary of me graduating high school. So since I didn't go to the reunion or, I didn't plan on going to the reunion, this would be a sort of mental high school reunion. You know, high school has always loomed curiously large in my mental landscape. So it was kind of like a way of exploring that. Like why am I so fixated on it and so on. So it was a very strange journey to spend that much time thinking that intensely about high school. It was a strange experience.
AJ: How much of it was kind of sudo-autobiographical? I noticed some very specific stories of these people that everyone reads and goes, oh MAN I knew a lot of those people in high school! She did this and he was this! How much of that is you and how much was just sort of imagined?
AR: I would say it was probably about 50/50. I mean, there were certain things where I was like, I really want to make this close to my high school experience. Even the characters names I sort of transposed various people I knew in high school. So if you went to high school with me, you'd recognize a lot of the names or caricatures of people, but I changed it enough where I wouldn't get sued. But some of it was also just made up and I tried to give it the illusion of things that, like you said, people would be able to identify with from their own high school times.
AJ: What's it like working with a, at least in the small press world, very big name like Top Shelf?
AR: It's great. I mean, I've done all my books with them with the exception of one children's book I did. But all my, what I consider my "real books," I've done with them, and we have a great working relationship that they give me a lot of leeway and pretty much let me do what I want and so I have no complaints with them. They are a great bunch of guys.
AJ: What did you do before you worked with them? Did you ever do the Kinko's thing or... I suppose what I'm really asking is how you got to work with them but also but also, what happened before that?
AR: Well, I graduated from art school and I said, "You know, I really want to be come a cartoonist now." And this was the 90s so mini-comics were really just starting to be a real big thing. There was a big zine scene and I figured, well that seems like a good way of getting yourself out there to regular people and to send stuff to publishers. So for a couple of years I did a bunch of mini-comics and sent it to various publishers and a company called Antarctic Press, who do mostly Americanized Manga comics, for some reason liked my stuff and I did a whole series with them that ran 20 issues. It was kind of obscure in that it never really got a wide audience. Not that I have a wide audience now, but it was even a much smaller audience even than I have now. And Chris Staros, who runs, at the time was kind of like a reviewer of comics, said he was a fan of my work. So once they started Top Shelf, I liked the work they were doing with designing. They did real good design work and they really wanted to get stuff in bookstores.
AJ: I really love that cover too. It's really subtle.
AR: Yeah, Matt Kindt designed the cover for that. So yeah, when it came time and I wanted to do a collection, they were one of the first people I thought of because they obviously do very nice packaging. So that was ten years ago now, so we've kind of been working together for that long period of time. Most of my professional life.