Best known as the vocalist/bassist for hardcore stalwarts Life of Agony, Alan Robert has also of late been cranking out wicked horror comics.
Here, Robert describes his history with the medium and his transformation into a full-fledged comic author and illustrator.
Also make sure to enter for a chance to win a custom 'Crawl to Me' Dean Deceiver X designed by Alan Robert, and check out the gallery of Robert's comics below.
GUITAR WORLD: When did you first get into comics?
ALAN ROBERT I must've been nine or ten years old when my dad broke out his old, weathered cardboard box full of Silver Age comics for me to look at. I'm talking about books like Spiderman #1, early issues of Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk, as well as stacks of vintage Detective and Action Comics starring Batman and Superman. I was blown away by the loads of books he'd saved. It made a huge impression on me. I was already drawing pretty well for my age at the time, so seeing those books inspired me to create my own stories for characters I came up with. Later on, in my teenage years, I started my own collection, picking up books like The Punisher and hittin' the NY Comic Cons to get my comics signed by the artists.
Our audience primarily knows you as a musician, but you’ve also become well known in the comic world. Can you describe the chain of events that led you to create and publish your own graphic novels?
Well, even before Life of Agony got signed to Roadrunner Records in '92, I had gone to art school on a scholarship here in New York. I intended on becoming a comic artist and was taught by legendary Thor artist, Walt Simonson. The year I graduated was the same year the band got signed, so I had to make a choice: comics or music. Well, I basically jumped in the van and never looked back. LOA built our music career, year after year, recording several albums and touring all over the world, but I never lost my passion for making comics. I continued to develop this one idea, called Wire Hangers, on the road and in the studio. Eventually, in 2009, I finally got it to the point where I was ready to present it to publishers.
I remember setting up a Twitter account that year and I began following my favorite comic artists and authors. One of those authors also happen to be Chris Ryall, the Editor In Chief of IDW Publishing. He really dug the animated short I created for Wire Hangers that was posted on my site and soon after, we had a deal in place. It happened very quickly once I put the idea out there and I was so grateful to be published, especially by my favorite comics publisher. IDW is an award-winning publisher who puts out books like 30 Days of Night, Transformers, True Blood and Locke & Key.
Once Wire Hangers came out, it was received extremely well by horror and comic fans and went on to win the 2010 Cover of the Year Award by ComicMonsters.com. That was a huge achievement for me, being it was my first series. We actually beat out established books and franchises like Vampirella and Aliens Vs. Predator. It was really amazing. Now, IDW just released the first book of my second horror series, Crawl to Me. The reviews have been incredible and some movie makers have already approached me with interest in adapting it into a feature film. So, we shall see...
You illustrated and wrote Crawl to Me. What’s the most challenging part of putting these graphic novels together?
The hardest part about creating these books is hitting the print deadlines. Somehow, I always manage to hand 'em in on time, but man, it's tough. I literally do everything you see in the book, the writing, the penciling, the inking, the coloring, the lettering and the book layout. Thankfully, I have some guest cover artists to contribute some variant cover art because each issue is published with three different covers. You see, with comics, usually there's a whole team of people in place that deliver the art and story to the publisher. But, I found that I work best solo. Working this way gives me complete creative freedom to tell the stories the way that I envision them in my head.
My process is not typical at all, either. Because I don't hand off the script to a penciler to draw, I don't find that I need to write a panel by panel script. I generally write a short book outline describing the key points I want to hit in those 22 pages per issue. Then I create thumbnail drawings of how the pages will flow, and then I'll create the finished art. It is only at that stage, when the art is complete, that I write the dialogue for the characters. Most people would think that that is a backwards approach, but because I have the whole story brewing in my head already, it's what works best for me. It's really strange, I know.
Crawl to Me deals with a lot of dark themes. What can you tell us about the inspiration behind this story?
Crawl to Me was originally inspired by my family moving into an old house on the side of a mountain, last winter. The place we moved into had a creepy-ass basement with a crawl space that sat underneath the main living area. Having grown up a city kid my whole life, this was a big change for me. Anyway, that experience was the initial spark for the Crawl to Me story. But, as I developed the characters and started thinking about the story more in terms of a
psychological thriller, the premise got darker and darker. I've always been a fan of films like The Sixth Sense and The Others—stories with shocking twist endings. I always wanted to do something like that myself, and this was my chance. The ending for Crawl to Me is completely disturbing and unexpected. I'm so excited for that big reveal. It's gonna be awesome to drop that bomb on people keeping up with the series.
When it comes to comics, who would you cite as your biggest influences and why?
There are a three main books that changed the way I looked at comics and inspired me to create my own. Those would be: 1. Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison & Dave McKean 2. Sin City by Frank Miller 3. 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith.
But, other than comics, I'm hugely influenced by film. In fact, creating comics for me are more like creating storyboards for a movie. The biggest challenge with approaching it like that is that you're kind of working at a disadvantage. Movies have music and sound-effects that establish moods, tempo and help pace the way the story unfolds. With comics, you don't have the luxury of incorporating those audio elements to help tell your story, so you gotta make do with what ya got. You have to create dramatic pauses or crescendos visually, or through the use of language. That aspect of it is very interesting to me and you'll find that in my comics, color and lighting effects are amped up to help create the right mood for the scenes. I learn more and more about pacing tricks with every issue I do.
Check out the Crawl to Me trailer below:
Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.
Your first series, Wire Hangers, is also slated to become a feature film. What’s the status on that project?
That's right! My production company, Wasted Talent Entertainment, acquired the rights to produce the Wire Hangers film. Ted Adams (30 Days of Night) will Executive Produce and Jeff Mazzola (ZAM Entertainment) will also be on board as a producer. I'm happy to announce that we will be shooting a live-action trailer for the Wire Hangers film in the coming months. Right now, we're in the process of collaborating with an amazing visual effects company out in California to produce the storyboards for the sequence. The clip will be based on actual scenes from the graphic novel and it's gonna be an absolute thrill seeing them come to life. I'll be sure to tweet pics from the set. More on all that real soon...
Along with these projects, you still manage to make time for music. Can you tell us what’s been going on in the Life of Agony and Spoiler NYC camps?
Life of Agony just got back from Europe where we did a handful of festival performances. All of the LOA guys have their own individual projects that keep us really busy so we actually don't have any more dates planned this year. Sal is kickin' major ass with his band A Pale Horse Named Death, and we're all super proud of him, Keith just finished up a record for his side project, The Neptune Darlings, Joey is working hard producing bands at his Method of Groove recording studio, and I've got all these Crawl to Me comic deadlines to hit. It makes it difficult to juggle it all sometimes, but it's all about being creative and staying focused. My punk band, Spoiler NYC, will be working on new material for the Wire Hangers movie soundtrack as we get closer to a production schedule.