TRICKED by Alex Robinson

reviewed by Jon Aubin | Monday, March 7th, 2011

Top Shelf Productions, 352 pages, hardcover, $19.95

Tricked is the story of Ray, a drug-addled womanizing rock legend making a comeback and trying to mend his ways.  It is also about the reunion of a daughter and her MIA diner-owning bisexual father.  Another plotline involves Nick, a sports memorabilia counterfeiter who presents his family with a plausible double-life.  Lest we forget our two extremely fascinating primaries: Steve, an office clerk who, off his meds, has trouble separating reality from paranoid fantasia, and Caprice, a waitress on the rebound from a longterm relationship.  Now that we have all that sorted out, it’s worth noting that this book is great. Tricked is the Robinson’s follow-up to 2001’s Box Office Poison, another harrowing graphic novel that among other life lessons, taught me it’s never okay to serve alcohol to pets.  Having consumed Box Office Poison like M&Ms, I went into Tricked with high expectations.  I was hooked from the get-go.  Even the cover art, which replicates the look of an old mix tape, was right on the money. I could not put Tricked down until I was finished.  Just read it! It won’t take you long to read and it will open your eyes to one of the better graphic talents of our time.

Working in the same vein as like-minded artists Los Bros Hernandez and Daniel Clowes, Robinson succeeds at a level of storytelling much more down-to-earth and relatable than the former graphic artists, but his work is every bit as engrossing.  Robinson has attained ownership of the printed page.  There is such fluidity and ease of motion for the reader’s eye from panel to panel that, at times, Robinson’s work achieves a cinematic quality.  The encompassing scope of his frames and stylized characterization and mise-en-scene are just that good.

The crux of the story is Ray’s character.  Ray falls in love with Lily, a temp with a heart of gold, at his label’s publicity agency.   Steven, an office clerk, is obsessed with parsing Ray’s lyrics, descending into a self-made oubliette of anger and obsession, speaking to himself in the office and on the street — not much bodes well for a character who, upon introduction, strips nude in the workplace bathroom.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a daughter reunites with the father she never knew existed until recently, upsetting her father’s committed relationship to the co-owner of the diner where Caprice works, who is having trouble on deciding whether to date too-good-to-be-true, Boyd, or Nick, the counterfeiter whose wife and kid believe he has a steady office job.

In many ways, Tricked is the story of the American dream gone sour:  the dad who left his family behind without a trace, the rock stars whose millions can’t bring him happiness, the double life, the obsessive celebrity-worshipping fanatic blindsided by the inscrutable darkness of his paranoia.

Tricked won the 2006 Harvey Award and Ignatz Award for the year’s best graphic novel, and was nominated for the Eisner Award, the highest honors in the graphics industry, and there’s no wondering why.  Robinson is a craftsman of fine art and a reliable, thought-provoking storyteller.  Robinson also has deft ear for dialogue and turns of phrase.  He’s an artist well worth keeping one’s eye on.  If he does a children’s series or a syndicated serial, he could easily be a household name.

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