Smash Pages Q&A: Alex Robinson on Top Shelf’s ‘Our Expanding Universe’

cvrThis week marks the release of Alex Robinson’s Our Expanding Universe. The master cartoonist behind Box Office Poison, Tricked, and Too Cool to Be Forgottenis back! Our Expanding Universe, the new graphic novel from Alex Robinson, is available now. Click here for a preview by Top Shelf, to mark the release I interviewed him.

Tim O’Shea: Box Office Poison is a classic; that being said do you ever tire of people measuring your work against BOP.

Alex Robinson: I’ve come to accept the fact that if anything is going to be on my tombstone it will be that book. Of course it’s a mixed bag having your oldest work be the one people are most familiar with but I’m going with the more positive interpretation that I’m fortunate that something I created stuck a chord with readers.

In many ways it feels like Box Office Poison was done by a different guy, which, in a way, it was since it’s been 15 years since I completed it. When I look at it now one thing I appreciate is my enthusiasm. It was like I said “I finally got a comic book of my very own and this might be my only shot at it so I’m going to squeeze in as much stuff and try as many storytelling tricks as I can.” I’m amazed at the ambitiousness of it but I guess that’s the nature of being young.

What inspired the development of Our Expanding Universe?

The new book is about three guys and how various adult concerns–whether to have children, being in long term relationships (or being an adult who is very much not in a relationship), etc–affect their friendship. It’s not autobiography but it’s definitely inspired by events in my own life, much in the same way Box Office Poison was inspired by stuff I was going through when I was in my 20s.

Prior to this I’d been working on a few projects that, for various reasons, didn’t work out so my confidence was a little rattled. I was really wrestling with what to do next–I even briefly entertained the idea of putting comics aside and writing a proper novel–when the story pretty much came to me fully formed. I remember because I was walking my dog and rushed home to write down the ideas before they disappeared into the ether.

Would you say dialogue is your greatest storytelling asset or is it something else?

It’s definitely one of the stronger tools in my box of comics tricks. I always say I think of myself as a writer who draws, as opposed to an artist who writes and characterization tends to drive the story (as it does in real life, I think). It’s something I’ve really been struggling with because the stuff I like to write–relationships, the give and take of conversation and so on–isn’t neccessarily the stuff I like to draw. If I had my druthers I’d be drawing stuff like my Lower Regions book: pretty lady barbarian fighting monsters, but when I’ve tried writing fantasy stories it’s never worked.

There are definitely some sections of the new book where I tried to accommodate both halves of my brain. I’m toying with the idea of radically our expanchanging my working method and going more “Marvel” style–plotting and drawing the book before I do the dialogue. We’ll see if I have the guts to go through with it or if the results are any good. Would a book not driven by dialogue still have that patented “Alex Robinson feeling?”

Who designed the great cover?

I kicked around some ideas with Chris Ross at Top Shelf. I think I gave him a crude rendering of what I had in mind and he spun it into gold. He did a great job with this and the new cover to Box Office Poison.

full uivDid you ever consider doing this book in full color?

It hadn’t really occurred to me, since I’ve always worked in black and white but you’re actually the second person to ask me that which makes me wonder if there’s been a shift in the industry. In olden times the economics made it pretty much impossible to do an indy color book but that seems to have changed. I can see I’m out of step with today’s comics industry–I still do all my books in old fashioned pen and ink on paper and I think in terms of graphic novels as opposed to the web comics the kids love. If it helps the next story I’m working on would be well-suited to color so maybe I’ll finally make the transition.

I’m not a good colorist but I do love seeing my stuff in color, particularly on a computer screen.

Seeing as you want to draw different material would you ever consider collaborating with someone else?

I’ve collaborated on short stories, usually with someone else writing and me drawing, but the idea of a more serious, long term commitment hasn’t really come up. For one thing, the money in comics is so bad that the idea of splitting what little you do get with someone becomes a practical concern. I also think I might just be too controlling and selfish to really make it viable. I think one of the big appeals of working in the comics medium, especially when I first started, was that one person really could do everything if they wanted or needed to. You could tell the story you wanted to tell and explore ideas you wanted to examine without having to run it by some boss. But who knows, if the right offer came along I would consider it.

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