Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 172 (7/25) -- Tricked by Alex Robinson

Alex Robinson doesn't get the acclaim he rightfully deserves -- he's got three substantial graphic novels behind him (Box Office Poison, this book, and Too Cool To Be Forgotten), all in a modern realistic vein, all strong fictional works, not sublimated or thinly veiled autobiography, all published mostly to the sounds of crickets. (Though Too Cool did win a Harvey award last year.)

Tricked is the middle Robinson book, midway in time and in length between Box Office Poison (serialized in the '90s and collected in 2001 at a whopping 600+ pages) and Too Cool (a slim 150ish pages, published in 2009). It's a substantial work -- about 350 pages -- and wasn't serialized; it's a real book, with a book's structure and solidity. (Robinson's never worked in commercial comics, so he hasn't been infected with the never-let-anything-end syndrome; he knows how to shape stories, and how to end them properly.)

To be glib about it, Tricked is the story of six people -- three good women, and three bad men:
  • Ray, the rich rock star in his early 30s, coasting on his one big hit album from several years back and drifting aimlessly while he waits for inspiration (or his work ethic) to strike again
  • Nick, the whitebread-looking suburban father and husband who works as a forger of sports memorabilia in a stripmall storefront for a possibly-criminally-connected boss, unbeknownst to his wife
  • Phoebe, the teenager from somewhere in rural Texas, running off to the big city to find the father she's never known
  • Steve, the badly socialized and fanatic IT support guy, who has just stopped taking his medication as the book opens, whose obsessions will gradually consume him
  • Caprice, the waitress at the Little Piggy diner, who's just been dumped by her boyfriend
  • and Lily, a young intern at Ray's record company, who he takes an immediate interest in when he sees her -- more so when she won't have sex with him in the limo.
Their stories start out separately -- except for Ray and Lily, of course, since that's the first connection -- and gradually come together, as Phoebe's father turns out to be one of the owners of the Little Piggy, and Steve becomes more obsessed with Ray, and other characters visit Nick's shop. They do all come together in the end, but, for most of the book, there's a Ray-and-Lily story, a Caprice-and-Phoebe combined story, and separate stories about Steve and Nick.

In the usual Robinson style, the stories are heavily narrated by the internal monologue of the characters, and we get to know them all well -- except Nick, who is essentially slippery, and who Robinson only sees from the outside. (In his story, Robinson also focuses entirely on his work at the shop -- the first two pages of his first story show his wife and baby, but they're not even mentioned again until the very end of the book, after all of the stories have collided.) The women have flaws, certainly, but they're all much better than unhinged Steve, lying Nick, or that smooth hedonist Ray. And that dangerous collision of all of the stories that forms the climax of Tricked is caused, one way or another, by the bad behavior of all three.

Tricked is a big book about small things -- trust, truth, understanding, and second chances. Ray's life is larger-than-life, but in a realistic way, and that's the only part of Tricked that isn't simply down-to-earth. It's a more integrated and controlled story than Robinson's first graphic novel, Box Office Poison, and more expansive and encompassing than his third, Too Cool to Be Forgotten. For now, this is his best work -- but a creator who can be this good three times in a row is likely to keep going, and perhaps get even better.

(I've previously reviewed Too Cool to Be Forgotten for ComicMix and Box Office Poison here.)
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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