Alex Robinson's last graphic novel, the massive compilation Box Office Poison, ran to more than 600 pages of small-scale insights, observations, and plot arcs in the lives of a handful of loosely associated characters. His three-years-in-the-making follow-up Tricked cuts a similarly structured story down to around half the length by streamlining the process. Where Box Office Poison was an open-ended slice-of-life book, Tricked tells a more conventional start-to-finish story about characters running in parallel, along life-changing courses. It's a tidier and more formal package, with far fewer gags, sidebars, fourth-wall breeches, and narrative experiments. But it's also more dramatic and propulsive, and it channels Robinson's considerable writing and drawing strengths until they burn with a new intensity.
Tricked focuses on six primary characters: a burned-out rock superstar, the ordinary-girl temp he decides is his muse and salvation, a paranoid schizophrenic who's off his meds and degenerating rapidly, a collectibles-store clerk who's robbing his dangerous employer and leading a double life, a cheery waitress who's starting a new relationship, and a teenage girl who's out looking for the father she never knew. Some of the characters have instant connections, while others come together slowly over the course of the book, but Robinson begins with chapter 50 and counts down to chapter one, putting them all on a clear collision course toward a key moment.
As with Box Office Poison, Robinson takes his time with his characters, developing them through anecdotal scenes, complicated storylines, and busy, naturalistic dialogue that often dominates his clean and iconic black-and-white art, especially in the case of Steve, the disintegrating white-collar office worker who's falling slowly into madness. As Steve's interior monologues grow steadily more disturbed, the lettering deteriorates and his word balloons fracture into tiny boxes and subsume his image within his thoughts, letting him literally fall into his insanity. Robinson produces his share of sprawling, expressive, experimental splash pages, and he again finds ways to sum up lifetimes in a few simple panels. But he isn't afraid of dense, text-heavy pages, either, which gives his story a narrative complexity that's still unusual in comics. Fans of Box Office Poison may miss Robinson's lighter touch and funnier, more playful side. But Tricked is a more mature, deliberate, and focused book that's just as strong and just as revelatory.