Alex Robinson on 'Too Cool to be Forgotten'

You ever wish you could go back and make things right?

Be it a little thing like a parking ticket of something big like asking out that one girl in high school, those wishes and those regrets are what's at the heart of the upcoming graphic novel Too Cool To Be Forgotten. This book follows a forty-something father of two named Andy Wicks who in an attempt to quit smoking, gets transported back to the year 1985. Wow. He's fifteen years old again. With a mixture of fright and wonder, Wicks is now poised to relive four of the most awkward years of his life: high school.

Released this week from Top Shelf Comics, Too Cool To Be Forgotten is the latest work from cartoonist Alex Robinson. Well known for his previous work Box Offive Poison and Tricked, Robinson has won several awards including an Eisner, Ignatz, Harvey and the Prix Du Premier Album at Angouleme International Comics Festival.

We interviewed Robinson by email from his home in New York City.

Newsarama: Too Cool To Be Forgotten stars a middle-aged man named Andy Wicks. Can you tell us about him?

Alex Robinson: Well, I tried to keep him kind of a blank slate going in, or at least make him like me in enough ways where I didn't have to come up with any kind of detailed back story. Other than the fact that he's got two daughters and works at a sort of middle-management job at a software company he's pretty much a stand in for the author. It's funny now that I say that, since creating comics has been such a big part of my life and Andy doesn't seem creative at all. Oh yeah, and he smokes, too, which obviously plays a big part in the book.

NRAMA: How does Andy get sent back to 1985?

AR: He wants to quit smoking but has tried everything with no success. As a last resort, at his wife's suggestion, he tries hypnotism, even though he's skeptical. Somehow, as a result of the hypnosis, he winds a teenager again in the mid-eighties.

NRAMA: Wow. And I thought cigarettes were the ones needing warning labels. Smoking cures do to!

Why 1985 – is that when Andy started smoking in the first place?

AR: Yeah, and he figures out that that must be why he was sent back to this particular time, to try and alter that fact of history. I won't say whether he figured right, since I don't want to spoil anything but let's just say that it's more complicated than he thinks at first.

NRAMA: What inspired you to take a look back to the earlier days in this book?

AR: 1987 was the year I graduated high school, if you can believe it, and I had the possibility of a reunion coming up, so I thought it was a good excuse to look at high school and see if I could figure out why looms so large in my personal legend. I think I was sort of stuck in that era, mentally speaking, to an unhealthy degree, so I thought it would sort of be an art therapy project.

NRAMA: How did you go about accumulating reference for drawing the 1985 scenes from the book?

AR:The single biggest resources I had were the yearbooks my wife and I held on to from our respective schools. That was definitely a key for stuff like hair and clothes and stuff like that. I don't know how it was for other people but I was really surprised looking back at how un-eighties it actually looked. There were still a lot of kids with long hair, almost more seventies looking, instead of the spikey, new wave look that Hollywood featured at the time.

NRAMA: How about you – are you a smoker, past or present?

AR: I've never been a smoker, but I'm a slave to other vices. Nothing major but I know what it's like to not have the will power to quit something.

NRAMA: Time Travel's a big thing in comics and science fiction – how does it play out in Too Cool To Be Forgotten?

AR: Well, I don't want to give anything away but I've always been a big fan of time travel stories. It's kind of weakness, in that I'll tolerate otherwise mediocre material if it has a good time travel hook, like the movie The Butterfly Effect, for instance. I guess since I'm sort of a nostalgic person it was fun to get to combine two elements.

NRAMA: I knew there was a reason to save yearbooks.

I've read a preview of the book, and noticed a lot more internal monologue and thought balloons than your previous work. Why'd you decide to get inside the character's head so much in this one?

AR: Since so much of it dealt with memories and ruminating about the past it seemed natural. Given the situation the character is in, it would've been very contrived to have him talk about that sort of stuff with another character. It was interesting, to me, since I've never really used them much before--I probably used more thought balloons in this book than all my other books combined, which is saying something considering that my other books add up to about a thousand pages and this one is about 150. I think because of the movie influence, thought balloons are thought of as being kind of hokey but if done right I think they're a great tool.

NRAMA: Are you doing anything special to promote the book's release such as store signings or conventions?

AR: Funny you should ask because I feel like I've already been running ragged promoting it! The book debuted at the MoCCA Art Festival in June and in the past month I've done two other big conventions, a couple of bookstore signings and we had a big book release party, plus a lot of interviews and other promotional stuff. We're doing the big San Diego Comicon and some other events here in New York but thankfully August is pretty low key. Nothing makes you miss the drawing board more than doing the promotional leg of a new book.

NRAMA: Now that you've finished this book – what's next for you?

AR: I've been kicking around some ideas but it's been so hectic I haven't really settled on anything, let alone started drawing it. I sort of need some uninterrupted time to gather my thoughts and work some stuff out before I commit to anything. I like the idea of doing another long book like my first one, Box Office Poison. Maybe this time around I would serialize it in a series of trade paperbacks, maybe one a year or something. We'll see.

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