Interview with Alan Robert
While chatting with Life of Agony bassist Alan Robert, we learned about his most recent works in both the comic book and film worlds in addition to receiving an update on Spoiler NYC and Life of Agony, who will be overseas this summer.
First thing I want to talk about is Wasted Talent, how it formed, your role in it and who else youíre working withÖ give us like a little synopsis about that.
Well, Iím the owner and basically I have a good friend of mine thatís been in the movie making business for about 25 - 30 years. And he kind of put it in my ear when the WIRE HANGERS graphic novel that I put out last year came out he loved the story and told me ďwe really can make this.Ē He kind of put a budget together on what it would take to get it done. And I started to talk to the publisher, IDW, about securing the film rights so I could go ahead and put all the pieces to the puzzle together to get the film made for it. So one of the first steps was putting together Wasted Talent and really start lining up this team of CGI animators and a director and screenwriter and producers and stuff like that to get the film made. So weíre in the very beginning stages of it, but things are going really well. There are a lot of exciting names involved and yeah, I couldnít be more thrilled to bring the story to the big screen.
Do you think that being a musician being on the road and dealing with that stuff so long prepared you for this? Are there things that shocked you or any different methods used?
Well, Iíll be honest, everything in music that weíve done has been DIY. It didnít really matter, we were on indie labels, we were on major labels, we toured all over the world. But when you really break it down, it was the four band members making all this happen. Sure, there were managers and booking agents and stuff like that that helped us along the way. But we always handled our own merch designs, our album artwork, conceptualizing ideas, things like that. Weíre very hands on with all that stuff, all throughout the 20 years. And I think being that involved, especially for myself, Ďcause there were a lot of times I was the middle man between getting the bandís ideas across to management or record labels, that was kind of my role in there. Dealing with these types of executives and stuff, I think it kind of prepared me deal with all different types of people on a professional level and kind of putting the pieces together, dealing with merchandise companies directly, handing off my artwork to them or dealing with other artists or photographers to put together DVD packaging and things like that. And in 2007, I started Spoiler NYC and then I was really doing everything myself, even negotiating those record deals. So I think all these different experiences prepare you for the next step.
Did you design the Life of Agony logo?
Whatís your favorite design youíve done for Life of Agony so far?
Well, thereís this one shirt that I see every now and then and itís really hard to find, we didnít make too many of them. Thereís this kind of Tim Burton-esque kind of guy sitting on the back of it. I think it was during the UGLY era, kind of like an insect looking guy sitting in the spotlight and the spotlight is shining the Life of Agony logo beneath him and it says, ďNo one understands.Ē Anyway I lost the original design, but every now and then, especially like when we would play New York, some of those old t-shirts come out. And thatís probably the one image that I was really super, super proud of.
Maybe for an upcoming tour you can do a recreation of that?
That would be cool. Thatís a good idea. Weíre actually looking to do some merch designs for this summer weíre on.
Whatís up with Spoiler NYC right now?
With all of my projects, itís probably the least Iíve paid attention to in the last year. But I still am writing songs for it and we tend to have the band contribute music to the WIRE HANGERS soundtrack. We did a couple of tracks with producer Ken Lewis and as soon as I could get some time in my schedule, weíll end up finishing the album. But weíve got two new tracks up on Myspace. The new albumís called BANNED IN 38 STATES. The title track is up and another song called ďDamaged Goods.Ē
Have you ever thought about doing a large-scale collaboration where itís like a Life of Agony animated short? Or I donít know, maybe Spoiler NYC doing all the music for one of your things?
Possibly. I mean I havenít really had the outlet to do motion graphics yet. So itís just been the comic books. But actually this is kind of an idea on the back burner with a friend of mine, also someone pretty popular in heavy music, that we might get together and do an animated. But I canít really talk about that yet.
Talk a little bit about CRAWL TO MEÖhow it all came to be and what stage itís in now.
Well, thankfully I just finished issue one, which every time I start one of these projects itís always like how the fuck am I gonna do all this work? Itís the same week long procrastination I go through that I start second guessing myself in every possible way, like what did I get myself into. Iím so excited to pitch it to people, and then they give you the green light to do it, and you actually have to do it. So thankfully after nights and nights and nights and weeks of hard work and drawing and coloring and writing, issue one is done and Iím handing it into the publisher next week. Iím very excited. Itís a different story than WIRE HANGERS altogether. WIRE HANGERS was kind of conspiracy crime horror genre mash up and this one is more of an intimate horror story that revolves around a small family. A cast of characters that are moved into the isolated, frozen winter months, move into a cabin and the husband goes up there first to kind of get the place ready for his wife and baby. When he goes up there all these freaky things start happening. Itís not like haunted house story at all but more of a psychological thriller and all these drastic events happen that trying to figure out if heís imagining them or if heís having an emotional breakdown or a psychological breakdown. Heís not sure who he can trust and issue one kind of leaves it open ended for part two. And I donít want to spoil it. But actually tomorrow weíre going to be posting about six or seven pages. Itís really super exciting.
With the way things are regarding print itís a little more difficult it seems, like itís got to be a lot more focused and maybe even to a certain extent more genre specific now to be able to be printed. Have you noticed a flourishing of more online things or internet things versus print?
Not sure. I mean I think it all depends on the story. There are a lot of great web comics out there. Sometimes those web comics are compiled into a big print book. But generally, especially with IDW being so out there doing their thing in the digital space, theyíre really kicking ass in that realm. They have almost their whole catalogue ready for the iPad and everything like that. Itís pretty impressive. I think theyíre pretty competitive with Marvel and DC in that area.
Surely piracy is an issue.
I saw downloadable PDFís of the WIRE HANGERS series right after they were releasedÖpeople just scanning the pages and stuff.
I know youíre used to that already, being a guy in a band, butó
Nothing phases me at this point. Iím just happy that people get to check it out. Youíve got to embrace it in a way. If people really want it, theyíre gonna get it no matter what. Itís the same thing with movies though. How many times do you see downloaded movies while theyíre still in the theatre?
Itís almost at the point where the next generation isnít used to paying for stuff.
Theyíre totally not. They actually expect it for free. And if they have to pay for it, then they get pissed off. But itís a different mindset. I donít download music just because I came from the era that I like the packaging. Thatís just my thing. Iíd rather buy a vinyl if I could.
For the sound quality and just the coolness factor of it, absolutely! Do you have a nice vinyl collection at home?
Yeah, but itís kind of old. For a couple of decades I wasnít even able to get any metal on vinyl.
Now when do you find time to do all the work? Do you do a lot of the writing and comic stuff on the road?
LOA is not as active as we used to be, thatís for sure. Touring was our full time gig, and when we werenít touring we were writing a new record, on that cycle. But since the BROKEN VALLEY album in 2005 where we toured for two years on that, weíve just been doing a handful of shows here and there, so I have done the comic stuff on the road, but I mostly do it at home these days.
That must be nice to have a place to go, like a sanctuary to create and not just the back of a bus.
I donít mind, man, Iím pretty mobile.
What sparked your interest in comic books and the horror genre and stuff like that initially?
I was always a horror fan, I mean going back to like when I was ten when I saw AMITYVILLE HORROR. I was a little kid and it was coming on HBO for the first time, when Brooklyn got HBO. I asked my pop if I could watch itÖit was R rated and everything. And he said, ďOh, Iím not sure youíre gonna like it, itís pretty scary.Ē And I said, ďOh please, please.Ē So he let me sit down in front of his bed and watch it. And as soon as the opening credits came on with that haunting music, all the chanting, I made a bee line out of room as fast as I could. I ran into my room, but my room was right next door, so I heard the entire movie through the wall. That might have been even scarier! I think I was scarred from that moment, but it was more of intrigue, you know? I let my imagination go wild, trying to picture what everything looked like. So I was initially a horror fan.I always drew as a kid and ended up going to School of Visual Arts for cartooning. I had Walter Simonson, the guy who did Thor, as a teacher. I was really psyched to be like a comic book penciler. That was my goal, and right at the same tim through college, Life of Agony was starting to take off and we were starting to build the audience on the East Coast. In í92, we got signed to Roadrunner. I graduated college in í93, so basically upon graduation I had to make a decision whether I was gonna pursue music or art, and with getting a record deal that young and it was my first band, it was kind of a no-brainer. It was going pretty strong in the beginning so it was enough to make me really focus on the music full time. I was doing art for the band throughout the whole thing, then eventually doing art for other bands too. I really lost that, but I always had this WIRE HANGERS story since college that I wanted to get out there.
Did you actually illustrate it as well as write it?
The book, yeah.
Have you ever thought about collaborating with other illustrators or have you done it?
I actually tried to, man. I wanted to release this story, I was just gonna write it. I actually wrote the script. And I approached some people that work at Marvel and they took on some projects on the side and things like that. Basically all these guys are freelancers. I had some people, some artists lined up. And once a month had passed and I never saw not one sketch from anybody, like they just kept kind of letting their deadlines get the best of them and my project got put on hold every time. And I thought, I said to myself, you know what, Iím just gonna give it a shot and draw it myself and see what it looks like. I drew about ten, 15 pages, and did all the lettering and everything like that. And I put together an animated teaser for it using some software and put it up on the web. Just around that time I was just getting started with Twitter. And I started following some of my favorite artists. So I was starting to follow guys on Twitter and I ended up following this guy Chris Ryall whoís a writer. And we started to hit it off online and just we had a lot in common with our music and comics and metal and everything. And it turns out that he was the editor in chief of IDW. I didnít know that, so it was kind of organic and natural, you know? He saw the animated thing that I put together and he was ďWell, whatís your plans for this?Ē I said, ď I was gonna self publish it, but I would love for it to come out on IDW.Ē That was really the beginning of it, just a matter of months between him pitching it to whoever he had, the higher ups there and getting the green light and pretty soon I had a contract, without a literary agent or anything. It was really like the best thing that could have happened.
So how long does it take you to draw a page in general?
It was really hard at first with those first 15 pages, I didnít have a deadline or anything. I was kind of just going on my own time, so those took the longest. But then when I would really try and hit deadlines, I would say I could do about three pages in a weekend, fully colored and everything. But these days Iíve been really cranking them out and doing about five pages a weekend.
Thatís intensive. Talking everything, full boat, coloring, lettering, everything?
It must be also nice to have the creative freedom to really flesh out the story, Ďcause youíre in your own head already and you know the story better than anybody.
Well, the interesting thing is for WIRE HANGERS, I wrote the script ahead of time for issue one thinking I was gonna hand it off to the comic artists to illustrate it. That was the process there. But moving forward in that series, I was doing all the writing and the art, I kind of just outlined what the books were going to be or what the story arc was gonna be, the schemes, but I didnít write the dialogue. The process I started then was I would do the pages, the artwork, and then I would go back and fill in the dialogue, and I know a lot of people donít do it that way. But for me doing everything, itís easier for some reason. I think that the dialogue flows more natural because I know how the conversations are supposed to go.
Have you ever written any songs about your comic book stories?
How did the rest of the guys in each of your bands react? Do they enjoy your work?
Yeah, I mean theyíre really supportive of it. I think everyoneís pretty supportive of everyoneís projects. Salís got his new band together, he just signed with SPV and weíre excited for him, Keith has his solo stuff and Joey has his studio. I even recorded at his studio. So I think, everyoneís really supportive of everyoneís stuff.
Give us a synopsis of whatís going on for you from now until the end of the year. What do you got planned?
July is a big month because CRAWL TO ME comes out. Weíre also running some great contests with Fangoria and a company called Art Guitar, as well as another contest with Guitar World around the same time. Then Life of Agony is going to be in Europe, and thereíll be some in-stores and signings for the book around then as well.
Be sure to follow all of Alanís endeavors at his official site www.alanrobert.com