Alex Robinson, author of Box Office Poison, returns with another sprawling graphic novel in Tricked. In 350 pages, he tells of a series of significant events that intertwine the lives of six people: a jaded, creatively blocked rock star; a retailer of sports collectibles who forges autographs; a teenager seeking her biological father; an antisocial music fan with psychological issues; a diner waitress; and a record company office assistant. It’s the comic equivalent of the ensemble independent film.
The structure is wonderful in its simplicity. Each character is introduced with an individual vignette before numbered chapters count down to the final defining moment that draws them all together. At first, each character carries their own chapters, but soon, more of them begin interacting. The length, and the resulting reading time, allows the reader to really get to know them.
Ray, the rock star, has plenty of money but no inspiration. He’s under increasing pressure to finally release a new album, or he’ll have to admit to himself that he’s a has-been. When he meets Lily, he’s intrigued by her — she doesn’t succumb to his usual brusque advances, and so she becomes his muse instead of his fling. He’s flabbergasted to meet someone who interacts with him instead of his reputation or power or money, all the components of the facade he’s built.
Nick, the collectibles dealer, is an accurately disturbing portrait of a compulsive liar. The reader isn’t shown whatever combination of events brought him to this situation, and at first, he plays like a regular guy who isn’t all that bad. Without paying careful attention, the reader won’t recognize just how twisted he is. He’s perhaps the most fascinating character in the book because he seems so normal but events in his life are so out of control, and he has absolutely no truth in himself.
Steve, in contrast, is anything but normal. He craves control, but as he stops taking his medication, he looks for it in unusual places, like coded messages in rock albums. His path is obvious very early on, and he’s the least three-dimensional of the six, as his world spirals down into ever-more-incoherent mental rants (nicely captured through disintegrating hand lettering for his captions).
Robinson’s dialogue, whether conversational or internal monologue, is his strength. It reads easily and smoothly because it’s realistic, yet it’s made up of distinct voices. Similarly, his characters are of varied body types and behave as people the reader could know, with just the right body language to express the wide range of emotions that makes up their lives. They’re likable, or at least understandable, even when the reader doesn’t agree with their actions or motivations.
All of the group have their lives changed by lies. The teenager doesn’t know her real father. Ray learns to stop lying to himself. Nick is punished for his lies to his customers, while Lily is rewarded for her essential truthfulness in who she is. Caprice, the waitress (and a carryover character from BOP), learns to appreciate honesty in a relationship and make better choices. There’s also the theme of how fame changes people, from the reclusive celebrity to the insane loser who will become notorious.
It’s tempting to speculate that Robinson may feel something in common with Ray, a creative type who’s had one big success and spent a lot of time wondering if he’ll ever be ever to match it, let alone surpass it. If that happens to be the case, Robinson has no worries. Box Office Poison was a sprawling series, created as individual issues over a period of years, and like an over-large ship under sail, it sometimes gave the impression of changing directions without the author’s full control. Tricked, in contrast, was created as a graphic novel, and it shows — it’s tighter in structure, with a greater sense of purpose and more fully realized characters, making for an enjoyable, rewarding read.
More information is available from the publisher’s website.