guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

Alex Robinson, Too Cool To Be Forgotten (Top Shelf, 2008), $14.95, hardcover.

By Jared Gardner

I couldn’t resist writing about Robinson’s new book since his last book, Tricked, was the first title I reviewed for guttergeek back in those heady days of December 2005. Plus, I really like Robinson’s work: he is funny, lively, honest and he continues to convey the joys of making comics and reading them in a way that sometimes feels increasingly rare among successful creators. Too Cool to Be Forgotten will not be remembered as a major work by Robinson: it is a fairly slight production on the level of story whose punchline is so patently obvious as to make the efforts to conceal it throughout the book seem kind of laughable (or at least cute). And the conceit of the story—a middle-aged man is transported back in time while undergoing hypnosis to quite smoking, finding himself once again fifteen years old, in high school, about to have his first cigarette. We’ve done this one before, of course (although Robinson was apparently caught by surprise when someone pointed out the similarities to Peggy Sue Got Married), and it wasn’t all that clever when it was called Back to the Future.

But despite the weaknesses in the science-fictionish premise and the after-school-special weeper of an ending, the book remains enjoying and rewarding for precisely the qualities that make all of Robinson worth reading. Robinson’s hero, Andy, is likable and wonderfully flawed. When he finds himself a teenager again he initially relishes in the opportunity to do everything he never had the courage to do when he lived through it all the first time, including making out with Marie. But the same life experience of a quarter century that gives him that courage that also makes him recoil in horror when he realizes what he is doing. When Marie tries to punish him by cozying up to his “best friend,” Andy finds himself drifting further and further away from that world and its petty dramas: “What was I supposed to do there?” he muses. “Kick his ass? Call her a tramp or something?”

In the end, this feels like a middle-aged book hoping to find a teenage audience, and like Andy in the book, desperate to impart some of the lessons that can only be learned in the living. That desire rings true throughout the book (however absurd such ambitions must necessarily be) in a way that the final “lesson” does not. And because Robinson knows that any attempt to speak to teenagers from the position of experience necessarily is necessarily absurd, the book retains a self-deprecating sense of its own limitations that reminds me why I love this guy’s act, even when he goes for a catchy single instead of his usual rock opera.