Too Cool to Be Forgotten
Alex Robinson (Tricked, Box Office Poison) is best known for his mastery of handling a sprawling, connected, soap opera-style cast. In his new graphic novel, Too Cool to Be Forgotten, he changes gears to focus on a single protagonist.
Andy Wicks is a middle-aged man who, when he undergoes hypnosis to stop smoking, finds himself back in high school in 1985. It’s a common fantasy, to wonder how things would go if you had the chance to do it all again. (One of my favorite examples is Never Been Kissed.) How much better, one thinks, high school would have been if I’d have had mature knowledge in the young body and circumstances.
Well, not really. Andy goes from accidentally revealing the future of others (which helps no one) to getting himself in trouble by acting inappropriately for a teenager to actually trying to make a difference. Which makes less of a difference than you’d expect. The real meaning of his life turns out to be found elsewhere.
I was impressed with the strength of Robinson’s graphic language. Much of the book is told through typical rectangular panels. When he breaks this pattern, it really draws your attention to what he’s conveying (which is the point). Early on, we get a full-page look at his application to the hypnosis center, which gives the reader a lot of background information about the character in a condensed space. Even when the panels aren’t as unusual, the size and space controls the pacing, as when reactions and asides are put in smaller, page-ending boxes.
The tour-de-force, though, is the transition under hypnosis. A full-page consists of nothing but words, arranged in an outline of Andy’s face, literally getting inside (and around) his head. Then he awakens back in the high school library — another full-page panel but in this one, the words are mostly meaningless — and the point is the setting and characters and their old-fashioned hairstyles. Later, he shows Andy’s reactions to finding out what’s happened to him almost wordlessly, letting the body language carry the emotions. He’s also not afraid to use the currently out-of-fashion thought balloons, a necessity in showing us how Andy feels about his situation.
The lesson of the whole piece is how unexpected factors wind up shaping your life. What you think will be important isn’t; what seems like a throwaway choice may cause years of repercussions. It’s unpredictable, and only with hindsight does it all make sense. Robinson portrays these life lessons in an involving and well-designed way. (A complimentary preview copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)