Alan Robert has a built a legendary career as a musician over the past two decades. With his Brooklyn based outfit Life Of Agony, he helped record some now classic metal albums like “River Runs Red”, while touring with metal legends like Ozzy Osbourne, Korn, Type O Negative and Anthrax. Since then he has went on to explore his punk-rock roots in his new band Spoiler NYC, which sounds like the bastard child of Social Distortion and Rancid.
Robert has been a lifelong comic book fan and before making hurling himself into the music business, studied cartooning under Walter Simonson at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Robert recently launched his comics’ career with the critically acclaimed horror series Wire Hangers, which was recently collected into trade paperback by IDW Publishing.
Wire Hangers is the story of Anna Davis, a feisty young female reporter, who goes undercover to break the news on a series of abductions and murders in New York City. Davis slowly uncovers clues that reveal a government conspiracy after she is abducted by a horribly disfigured man, Jonathon Cypra, who the media have dubbed the “Suicide King Killer”. The story then explodes into chaos as pill-popping detectives, corrupt secret agents, and the “Suicide King Killer” face-off in this horrific tale of revenge and redemption.
Writer/artist Alan Robert caught up with MajorSpoliers.com to talk about his first foray into comics, the concept behind Wire Hangers, and where he sees the comics industry headed in 2011.
MAJOR SPOILERS: You’re best known for your musical career, but you’ve now made the shift into comic books with “Wire Hangers” by IDW Publishing. Can you give us some insight into the project and how it came about?
ALAN ROBERT: Wire Hangers is a story I’ve wanted to tell for as long as I can remember. But, I never thought I’d have the time or dedication it takes to produce a monthly comic book series, let alone the ability to land a serious publishing deal for it. Somehow, through networking I was able to sign with my favorite comic book publisher out there, IDW Publishing (30 Days of Night, Locke & Key). The rest was a whirlwind of sleepless nights over the drawing board. I loved the experience so much that I’ve already come up with a new horror comic series that will come out later this year. Details on that really soon, but I think you’ll find it even more twisted than Wire Hangers. This one is like Jacob’s Ladder meets The Twilight Zone.
MAJOR SPOILERS: The story depicts a very gritty picture of New York City, did you draw from your real life and having lived in NYC did it impact your depiction?
AR: New York might as well be credited as a main character, because the comic would not be the same without it. I used actual buildings from New York City in the story, such as The Manhattan Detention Complex, aka “The Tombs” and Central Park in key scenes. There is a pivotal scene in the subway and lots more recognizable locations from around town.
MAJOR SPOILERS: Wire Hangers came out as a mini-series has now been collected as a TPB. How has the reaction to Wire Hangers been so far and what were you expectations going into the project?
AR: I had no expectations, but I had hopes that people would dig it. The reviews have been fantastic and we even won the “Cover of the Year” award over at ComicMonsters.com, beating out big books like Aliens vs. Predator and Vampirella. I was shocked! We received feature coverage on everything from Fangoria to AMC, as well as interviews on MTV. I’m really grateful that it turned out this way. It’s given me a lot of encouragement to continue writing, drawing and releasing new stories.
MS: The first story arc ended and left things wide open for a potential sequel or another story arc. Where does Wire Hangers go from here? Will there be a second mini-series or ongoing series and if so when can we expect to see something possibly on shelves?
AR: Yes, there are plans to continue the series with another story-arc/mini-series. I already have the issues plotted out, but I have another series that I’m working on before I get to that. Also, there are some other really exciting things brewing for Wire Hangers, that I can’t really speak about at this point, so let’s just say, you haven’t seen the end of Cypra just yet.
MS: Comic book properties are hot commodities for film and television adaptations. If you were to cast or chose directors for a Wire Hangers film who would you want involved?
AR: I think most comic creators would love to bring their ideas and characters to the big screen. I sure would. I’m a big movie buff and love films by David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.
MS: What was your favorite comic book TV and film adaptation and what adaptation do you think missed the mark?
AR: I loved Sin City, Iron Man, Spiderman 1&2 (not 3 though), The Dark Knight and Hellboy 1 (not 2). I didn’t like The Hulk, Fantastic Four or any of the Punisher films. I’m looking forward to Captain America and The Avengers. I love the Walking Dead TV show and can’t wait for next season. It’s inspiring to see that become such a success. It gives me hope that maybe Wire Hangers will be seen in that medium one day.
MS: You studied cartooning under Walter Simonson at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. How did that experience shape you as an artist and writer? Was there any wisdom that Walter had that helped you?
AR: Walter was pretty tough on his students. He was always very blunt. I think that helped prepare us all for rejection in the real world. The comics industry is a super tough business. There are tons of kids out there that can draw really well, or emulate other artist’s style to a T, but it’s a lot harder to find someone who has their own style and that can interpret scripts in a compelling way. Storytelling is key and that was something I learned from Walter. Page layout is important; it’s all about the way you make the reader’s eye move across the page. Details, like knowing where the word balloons are going to go can make or break an artist. I definitely learned a lot by doing all of the art myself for my own series, too. I fell into a groove about halfway through, but getting there was a bit overwhelming at times. It’s a lot of work. I actually ran into Walter at the New York Comic Con last year and thanked him for everything he did for me and gave him a copy of Wire Hangers. It was a very cool moment.
MS: The comics industry is now just starting to deal with the digital revolution, where music has been dealing with it for over a decade. What is your take on the digital revolution that’s happening in comics and how will it impact retail shops? Can they exist without hurting one another?
AR: I’ve yet to buy an iPad so I can’t speak from personal experience yet on how comics read on the tablet, but I’m interested in getting one. I’m old school, and enjoy the feel of a book in my hands, but I equally embrace the digital world. Half of my process of creating the comic book art is digital, so I get it. Also, it’s the way of the future, so books have a limited lifespan. In a few years, it will be very difficult to compete with the digital realm and I’m sure the publishers will follow suit. As it is, book stores are closing left and right.
MS: How is the comic book market different from the music business and did your dealings in the music biz help you in dealing with your first experience in comics with a publisher?
AR: The two industries are the same in the sense that breaking in is very, very difficult. Some people, as talented as they are, never get a break, while some people, who are maybe less talented, break in because they were able to sell themselves better. Is it timing? Is it talent? Is it the stars aligning? I couldn’t tell you, but my experience was unique.
Yes, my music experience helped prepare me to deal with folks in the comics industry. From a business standpoint, it’s very similar. As a young musician, you demo your songs and perform in an effort to catch the eye of some A&R talent scout looking for your type of act. The same goes for comics. I happened to have my story ready to present in a very professional way, when I caught the eye of the publisher. I did a lot of research to find out what publishers were looking for and how they wanted to see the work. What was important to present and what needed to be streamlined. It’s like everything else, though. Once you get someone interested, you have to have the goods to back it up. You also have to handle yourself in a professional manner, meet deadlines and do everything you said you were going to do.
MS: What are some of your favorite comics currently coming out and why?
AR: I love Sin City, The Walking Dead, 30 Days of Night, Welcome to Hoxford, Choker (I’m obviously a big Ben Templesmith fan) as well as some new series like The Veil, and Silent Hill. I love a great story, but the art has to be even better. I’m usually drawn to dark content, as you can tell from the titles I listed. I also have a lot of respect and am influenced by non-standard comic book artists. Some of my favorites are Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean and Frank Miller.
Also, I’d like to mention, one of my heroes – Michael Zeck, who drew the Punisher Limited Series and Kraven’s Last Hunt (Spiderman) was a huge influence on me growing up. Over the years, I connected with him at conventions and later online. It was a real full-circle experience when he wrote the introduction to the Wire Hangers graphic novel. What a dream come true.