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By Alex Robinson
Published by Top Shelf Productions; $19.95 USD

Robinson's Box Office Poison was an enormous collection of previously-published single issues, and I think Tricked benefits from being an original graphic novel; although it won't cure cancer or solve society's ills, it's a fun, engaging novel that I found more compelling and more narratively satisfying than Robinson's earlier effort.

Tricked is an ensemble piece about a number of very different people, from a rock star on a downward spiral to a workaday waitress, from an obsessive fan to a thieving clerk at a collectibles store. Robinson's seams may show a bit over the course of the story, but the characters are all well-delineated and their lives and stories are interesting enough that for the most part, Tricked works very well. I was pulled along by the story from start to finish, and only a couple of text-heavy pages caused my attention to wander and my willing suspension of disbelief to falter. For the bulk of Tricked, Robinson comes off as a confident cartoonist enjoying telling the story he has in store for us, and even delighting in the occasional narrative surprise or unexpected moments of drama and character.

Robinson told IGN that he could "only see the mistakes and blown opportunities," of Box Office Poison, finding fault especially with his own handling of the earliest chapters and the evolution of the characters. That's not a concern here, as all the players are fully-formed and follow logical, although frequently pleasingly unpredictable, character arcs. If the story falters anywhere, it is perhaps in its need to reach a definitive, dramatic crescendo; the climax of the story ends up not quite being what we are expecting (perhaps a bit of resonance with the title?), and yet still feels a little contrived. But not enough to counter the sheer joy Robinson takes in telling his story, or to undermine the delight readers will surely take in the personalities and quirks of the multitude of characters inhabiting Tricked. The Top Shelf website refers to the book as having some narrative innovations, and the one that stood out most to me at a key point was the rather unique manner in which the chapters are numbered. It seems an affectation, but the end result is quite effective at a key point in the story.

Robinson's art has definitely improved over his earlier efforts -- he thanks Mike Dawson and Chris Radtke of Gabagool! fame and Tony Consiglio, as well, and all these cartoonists seem to share a certain looseness of line and a sardonic sense of humour. What Robinson adds to the mix is a page, panel, lettering and storytelling sense heavily influenced by Dave Sim's Cerebus. It's impossible to miss, but the substance of Robinson's story is so very different from Sim's concerns -- even in Sim's most lucid storytelling moments -- that it doesn't seem false or forced, but rather a visual tribute from one who took only the best lessons from one of the medium's most individualistic and iconoclastic (not to say troubled) masters.

As "New Mainstream" graphic novels go -- slice of life fictions designed pretty much strictly for entertainment and not to "push comix forward," to coin a phrase -- Tricked is one of the better ones, a lengthy, complete tale with fun, interesting and mostly believable characters living their lives in ways that don't seem to intersect much until, inevitably, they do. I liked spending time with these folks and I really admire Robinson's facility with black and white cartooning. I can see myself reading this again from time to time, and most definitely recommending interested readers give it a look. Grade: 4/5

-- Alan David Doane

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Alan David Doane
Comic Book Galaxy Reviews
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Glens Falls NY 12801

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The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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