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July 11, 2006

Book Notes - Alex Robinson ("Tricked")

Alex Robinson's Tricked tells the intertwined stories of six people, one a troubled rock star, and was one of the most powerful graphic novels I read last year (see my review).

In his own words, here is Alex Robinson's Book Notes submission for his graphic novel, Tricked.

One of the main characters in TRICKED is Ray Beam, a reclusive rock/pop star who is in the middle of a monumental writer's block when the book begins. Music was obviously going to play a big part of his story, but I felt like I had to be careful about depicting exactly what kind of music Ray played.

For one thing, I wanted to audience to like Ray and didn't want to let musical prejudice get in the way of that. For example, if I were to say he sounded just like Billy Joel obviously a certain portion of the readership will instantly dislike him (and another portion would obviously like him). I felt it was better to sort of leave him as blank a slate as I could in that regard.

This was also one of a few reasons I wanted to avoid using any Ray Beam lyrics if at all possible. Every now and then I'd have a character quote a line or two from one of his songs but they were brief enough (I hope) that they didn't really give a lot of information about what they might sound like. Also, I think that usually pop song lyrics written out are usually awkward and sucky. There used to be a comic called DAZZLER about a roller discoing superheroine and (though I never read an issue--I swear!) I remember they used to feature montages of her dancing with disco song lyrics floating around the panel. It probably didn't help that the lyrics were probably written by comic book writers and not actually musicians. I'm not song writer either so I figured it was best to leave it to the audience's imagination.

Another hurdle I gave myself was to actually not mention any real world pop cultural references at all. My previous book, BOX OFFICE POISON, was crammed full of them and part of me was aware that I might've been using them as a crutch. It's fine line between using mentioning a band or movie or TV show now and again and turning into a parody of Quintin Tarantino. So, this time I decided that the pop cultural world would be entirely fictional. This required coming up with a lot of fake band, song and album names which is usually the best part of imagining-what-I'd-do-if-I-was-in-a-band but by the end it became a real strain.

People will sometimes ask me who Ray Beam is based on. I'll tell them what I told you above, but they'll say "Come on, really, who is he?" While it is true that I didn't picture any Ray Beam music in my head I did have a few people in mind when writing the actual character. Visually, he's sort of Elvis Costello. There's also some Sting in there, in the sense that he was former frontman for a short-lived but hugely successful pop group. The rest is a whole lot of Lennon.

Reading Albert Goldman's THE LIVES OF JOHN LENNON was actually a big influence on the conception of the book. Though it seems pretty much forgotten today, Goldman's book was very controversial when it came out in the late 1980s. Basically, Goldman said that the Lennon-Ono version of their life (Lennon and Ono madly in love and off drugs, Ono runs business while Lennon "retires" to raise son, bake bread and be a house husband, etc) was a big fat lie. In Goldman's version, Lennon was a reclusive, violent drug addict who was about to leave the cold, cunning Ono until she had him hypnotized (!) into staying. And so on. I figured that the truth was somewhere in between both versions, and was interested in exploring that. By the time I actually came to do the book the focus had changed but that was still a background element--the idea that someone you greatly admire and respect can ultimately be an asshole or at least just a flawed human being.

Although I didn't include any Ray Beam songs in the book and omitted any real world acts, some things did manage to sneak by the radar:

SPINAL TAP--I tried to include as many Tap references as I could, in tribute to my favorite heavy metal act. The island where Ray goes to record is the mythical Caribbean island of St. Hubbins and at one point Caprice and Phoebe go to the city's tallest building, the Tufnel Tower.

JOHNNY ZHIVAGO, etc--toward the end of writing the book my good pal Chris Radtke (who used to be a manager himself) gave me an awesome book called ENCYCLOPEDIA FAKEBANDICA. It was basically a catalog of almost every fictional music group/singer ever to grace pop culture, from Josie and the Pussycats to the Zit Remedy to the Brady Kids. I really wish I'd found this book earlier, and I was tempted to go back and replace all the fake band names I'd made up with fake band names from other sources but I decided against it, or forgot or was just too lazy to put in all that work. I forget. But anyway, Johnny Zhivago was one that I did steal from the book. 10 points to anyone who can figure out what movie featured this pop star.

XTC--I'm a huge fan of XTC and references to them have appeared in both of my books. In this case, Ray is talking about his love/muse Lily one morning and "Then She Appeared" (a song from their "Nonsuch" album.

TALKING HEADS "Lifetime Piling Up"--I have Ray quote the title of this late Talking Heads song as he's dreading getting out of bed one day. Poor rich white rock star!

see also:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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