Sure it’s just a pitstop on the road to the next great Alex Robinson volume, but let’s face it, when someone you’ve come to know over the years as a spinner of true-to-life tales of young people in big cities takes a decided detour into the dimly lit world of dungeons, dragons, and the like, it’s tough not to keep steering the conversation in that direction, and as such, this second of out three part interview with the artist picks up right where its predecessor left off—smack dab in the middle of his Lower Regions.
That said, after a few more ogre- and orc-centric questions, the conversation moves back toward the more familiar territory of Robinson’s first two major works, Box Office Poison and Tricked, of course, not before asking the artist whether he’d like to give it all up and go work for the creators of Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s cool though, right? We’re all geeks here.
When drawing something in your style, which is essentially fairly cartoony, it seems like that would be a limiting factor in terms of your creating a fantasy work that takes itself too seriously.
Yeah, I guess so. Compared to the more realistic fantasy, like, say Frazetta—or someone else, I don’t even know any of the more contemporary ones—my stuff is a little too cartoony. Someone said to me, “you should show this stuff to the people who make D&D, I’m sure they’d want to hire you,” and I’m like, “they have people doing full-color, lush airbrushed work, who can really draw. They don’t need my little rinky dink drawings.” Maybe 25 years ago, when they were a small operation, and the artwork was a bit simpler.
Is the idea going to work for D&D something that still appeals to you?
I would love to do that. I would love to have a side job, where they tell me that they need a drawing of an ice troll, and I get to draw an ice troll, and someone pays me for it. Yeah, I would definitely be into doing that. I’m actually considering doing another fantasy story, this one with dialog and more complicated plots. Someone said that it’s going to be a mistake for me to do that—it’s like eating chocolate cake for three meals a day—I’m going to get sick of it. I said, “well, I’ll take my chance on eating chocolate cake three meals a day.”
Yeah, I’m surprised that when you’re working on one of your massive stories, you don’t take more breaks by doing minis, in the multi-year process that comes with completing those big volumes.
Well, I’m a surprisingly monogamous creator. I find that, when I’m in the middle of a story, I generally don’t like to stray too far, because I need to totally absorb myself in that world. Once I’m out of it, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to get myself back into the story. When I did Lower Regions, I was totally stuck, so thankfully that worked out.
What is about your process that makes you want to sit down and create a 500- or 600-page story?
I generally don’t want to do that too much. That’s a young man’s game, those 600-page books [laughs]. I don’t know, I think when I first started off, I was a Cerebus fan, and I liked the idea of a big, thick book, and really getting to know the characters and being able to have enough room to do tangents that aren’t really necessary to the story, but are fun to do or tell you something about the character. It also makes it more realistic, because everyone’s life is like that. Not everything in your life is a plot point. There are a lot of dead ends in life or things you think are going to be important, but turn out not be, or things that you think won’t be important but totally turn out to be, and catch you off-guard. I think that’s sort of what I was hoping to achieve with the longer books—that sort of realism.
One of the most fun parts of the process of writing a book like Box Office Poison and Tricked must be setting out with these seemingly unrelated stories, and seeing how they fit together. Is that something that comes together, as you write it?
Well, the way I see it, is I sort of have a map of where I have to go. I know what points I have to hit. If I’m driving from New York to Chicago, I know that I have to go through Pittsburgh and Columbus, but beyond that, I can take a side road, I can take a highway, I can go slow, I can go fast. I like knowing where I go, but having that freedom to say, “you know what? I’m not even going to go to Chicago now.” But I like having some end point in mind, but having some freedom to screw around, on the way.
You know where you’re going to be, at the end of the story, but most of the time, at that point, the characters’ stories aren’t necessarily over. You did a supplemental book after Box Office Poison (BOP! More Box Office Poison). Are those characters ones that you foresee yourself coming back to again?
Box Office Poison was probably my most popular book, and a lot of people ask whether I’m going to do a sequel. I think it’s a slippery slope. If I do it, I feel like everyone would be mad [laughs]. I don’t really have any stories for the characters in mind, but if I’m going to do it, I’d have to find a reason why all of those characters would be interacting with each other.
Most people—you don’t stay friends with people for that long. If you were going to do a story about your college years, and want to see where they’d be in 20 years, most likely they won’t be hanging out. There might be one or two that you’re still friends with. It would be coming up with a contrived way to get everyone together. It’s kind of a tricky thing.
There’s a reason that Hollywood makes sequels that are more or less exactly the same. That’s what people want. They want to re-experience the same thing. They’ll want Sherman to still be working at the bookstore and Ed’s still a virgin, all of this stuff that, if I were to do it again, it couldn’t work. But it does tempt me sometimes, the idea of going back and doing a story in my 40s, the way that I did Box Office Poison in my 20s. But that’s a thing that people probably don’t want to see. They want them to be young and have stories of falling in love for the first time. I think I’m being too cynical…
[Concluded in Part Three.]