Too Cool to Be Forgotten (Top Shelf)

tctbf-header.jpgThe creator of Box Office Poison easily dodges clichés in this story of a middle aged man who tries to quit smoking and winds up back in high school.

 

 

128 pgs. B&W; $14.95

(W / A: Alex Robinson)

 

Alex Robinson, like lots of other similar cartoonists, has a body of work that’s hard to explain. I’ve tried to tell friends why Box Office Poison is so good, but not many of them are interested in exploring a long saga about twentysomethings in New York City. There’s so much more than that to BOP, but it’s hard to come up with a summary as appealing as the honesty and sentiment of the book itself.

On the surface, BOP sounds like a cliché. But in a way, so does Too Cool To Be Forgotten (TCTBF). It’s about a middle aged man who revisits high school and all of its frustrations. But, like he did with BOP, Robinson takes the sentimentality from the most expected plot device and firmly plants it somewhere new. TCTBF takes place in the mind of Robert Wicks, a suburban husband and father who—on his wife’s suggestion—goes to a hypnotist to quit smoking. The procedure plants him back in high school, days before his first puff.

The cover to Too Cool To Be Forgotten, with art by Alex Robinson and designed by Matt Kindt. Click for a larger image.At first, Robert’s return to adolescence seems like the perfect vehicle for Robinson to vent his own frustrations about 10th grade life, but that doesn’t happen. Sure, there’s bitterness, but the fact that teenage Robert has the mind of an older man gives him new perspective. From a writing standpoint, it’s as if Robinson is looking back at what could be remembered as a miserable time, but he’s forgotten so much about it that the experience is almost totally new. The frustration comes from the time wasted remembering everything negatively. 

Basically, where another writer may have churned out the trite, "I hated high school now everyone will know why it sucked," type of book, Robinson’s cooler head prevailed. The message feels more like, "Sure a lot of it sucked, but it obviously wasn’t the end of the world."

From an artistic standpoint, TCTBF shows growth, too. The characters have a little more definition than in previous works. The faces, in particular, are more different from each other. My only complaint with BOP was that sometimes – and only rarely – it seemed like the characters were two or three people with a bunch of different haircuts and clothes. There’s no hint of that here. 

But the artistic excellence goes beyond faces. The experimentation with perspectives, panel size, and shape elevates the storytelling perfectly. There are angles and artistic choices made that add emphasis to just the right moments, making the previously mentioned honesty and sentiment hit even harder. One of the best examples of this is Robert’s conversation with his father. It’s in a dark room and straddles between teenage and adult Robert. The overall effect mimics a real human memory in a very unexpected way.

The dark room the conversation is in also showcases a technique Robinson seems to have mastered: negative space. The use of pure black gives most of TCTBF the feeling of a sort of vagueness one might expect from decades old memories. Everything is there in the foreground, but the less important it is, the more it’s put into shadows. It’s not something a lot of artists pull off very well. But Robinson’s use of darkness to elevate feelings of loneliness and confusion is practically unmatched by anyone this side of Charles Burns. 

Speaking of Charles Burns, one of Robinson’s spreads is reminiscent of several pages from Black Hole. On pages 72 and 73, two characters draw close and eventually kiss. The close-ups on specific body parts and the use of black ink simulates an awkward teenage makeout session in a way that ends up being both sexual and repelling for Robert. 

The kiss spread and the conversation with Mr. Wicks essentially do what the whole book does verbally and visually. They mash the past and present together to create an incredibly endearing but not overly sentimental teenage memoir.

With TCTBF, Robinson makes slight advancements in techniques and talents to create a book that fits perfectly at the top of his escalating career and reputation. And after reading 128 pages of cliché avoidance, I’m happy to dive right into hackneyed criticism and say Too Cool To Be Forgotten is too good to be missed. | Gabe Bullard

Click here for a 5-page preview, courtesy of Top Shelf! For even more Alex Robinson, visit his official site.

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