Interview with Life of Agony bassist and comic book artist Alan Robert

- Nov 30, 2009 at 12:17PM
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Without a doubt, a real originator of hardcore and alternative metal is Brooklyn, New York’s Life of Agony. Over the last twenty years the band has played a large influence on a lot of similar bands and although they’re currently on a bit of a hiatus, the members are keeping busy with their own projects. Aside from being a very accomplished bass player, L of A member Alan Robert is also an extremely talented and well known comic book artist. While L of A are taking a break, Alan has been busy at work on his latest comic book endeavour, a new miniseries called Wire Hangers set to debut in March 2010. The series has been in development for quite some time but it’s finally nearing completion after an enormous amount of hard work. Recently we had the chance to talk to Alan about his life and career as an artist, how he got interested in it, his new miniseries and what’s going on with L of A these days.

Now many people of course know you from being a rock and roll musician in the band Life of Agony but you’re also a very accomplished comic book artist and writer. How did you first get interested in this?
Alan: Well it’s funny because art actually came first for me, I was always drawing as a little kid and all through high school I’d come up with my own comics and stuff just on a local level. Then I went to a school of visual arts to become a comic book artist and I had some of the best teachers there, they actually hired working comic book artists to teach classes there. So I had Walt Simonson who was really well known for X-Factor and his work with Mighty Thor, he was my main professor there for the time I was there. I was really gung-ho about you know, bringing my portfolios around to you know like Marvel and DC at that time, but that’s also the same time when Life of Agony was first getting going and we got picked up by Roadrunner Records. So basically when I graduated college, I just left on tour and I kind of left the comic book dreams behind me for a little bit. So now along the way, over the last bunch of years I’ve been thinking about doing it again and this year I got really super serious about it and buckled down and flushed out the story for Wire Hangers and a mini-series outline. I created about fifteen pages of sequential art before I started talking to publishers.

You mentioned there your latest comic venture is a new miniseries called Wire Hangers which will make its debut in March 2010. Could you briefly tell us what the series is about?
Alan: Well it’s a little complicated, there are a lot of twists and turns, it’s a hard, conspiracy type story. One of the main characters is a young female reporter that goes undercover to try to find out why people are being taken in the middle of the night off the streets of New York over a three month period. About thirty people get abducted and the closer she gets to finding out what the hell is going on, the reader realizes that there are a lot of interconnected main characters. So uh, I don’t want to give too much away, but it becomes a big government conspiracy.

Where did you get the idea for this series? Has it been something you’ve been developing for a long time?
Alan: Yeah I mean I had this idea for the initial main characters about, I don’t know I guess it’s been about ten years now. And, you know just over time I was developing it as a screenplay at one point, I started to do it as a comic book a few years ago but never finished it. I’m glad I never finished it because the style I chose to do it in now is more of what I had imagined, but my skills just weren’t there yet back then.

Now is Wire Hangers completely your own creation or did you work with or collaborate with any other fellow artists?
Alan: No, it’s completely mine; I’m actually writing and illustrating the series. I did bring in my friend Nelson DeCastro to paint the covers for the series and he’s a very well known artist in the comic world, he’s done a lot photo-realistic versions of all the Marvel characters for something called Marvel Masterpieces, it was very acclaimed. He’s also done stuff for DC, Adventures of Superman and things like that.

Obviously writing a rock and roll album takes time but how long would you estimate it’s taken to actually write and illustrate this miniseries?
Alan: It takes a lot of time man. First of all, being that it’s such a... it’s basically creating my own universe instead of you know coming up with a character that already exists in let’s say the Marvel world or DC universe. Basically creating my own universe of characters and how they’re connected and everyone’s back stories and um, you know dialogue for each of the characters, everything has to make sense and be put together like a jigsaw puzzle. So there’s a lot of research involved in creating the concept and then building these characters so that came first. And like I said, from the concept almost ten years ago to now, I’ve just been kind of chipping away at it over time.

Right now it seems that you’re focusing more on your career as an artist rather than as a musician. Has it been difficult to balance both at the same time over the years?
Alan: Well for me it’s funny because I’m actually, I’m doing them equally these days, I just got off of a tour with Life of Agony all summer and during the day I would be drawing Wire Hangers pages and at night I would be playing Life of Agony shows. So for me it’s really balanced in that respect and I really enjoyed it too because there’s so much downtime, I guess people that don’t tour for a living, they don’t realize how much downtime there is, it’s a lot of “hurry up and wait,” you get to the venue and you’re there all day until you perform. So creating comic books and losing yourself in creating art all day is a great release for me. At the same time, I also had my punk band Spoiler NYC; we’re working on a new record. So I’m very much still doing the music, the comic part of it is fitting in really nice with the schedule actually.

Now there have been a lot of rumours concerning the future of Life of Agony. Do you see any future for the band?
Alan: Well it’s a funny thing, we haven’t put out an original record since our Epic record Broken Valley in 2005 and that was a bittersweet time for us, we were very excited about getting signed to a major label, we were very excited about doing major tours, finally working with producers like Greg Fidelman who worked on the Metallica record and Slipknot’s album, we were very excited about being exposed to those kinds of talented people and having the budget to be able to make the record that we wanted to. At the same time, being on a major label also means that sometimes you’re not always in the hands of people that get the band and what the band’s about or looking out for the best interests of the band. So I think a lot of decisions were made for us that weren’t the best for our overall career and we were going through a tough time after that. So we had a little bit of a sour experience at the end of it and took a little time off and it took us a while to get back into the swing of things where it was fun again. So once we did do that, you know like this last tour that we did, we just celebrated our twentieth anniversary as a band and it was probably the most fun we’ve had since the beginning and hey, it took us twenty years to figure out how to have fun [laughs]. But it was fun and we’re doing some more stuff now, we’re headlining The Damnation Festival in the UK in a couple of weeks, we have some East Coast dates that will be announced soon and we’re also working on our twenty year strong anniversary DVD so there are some things going on.

Do you find that fans of your music are also fans of your work in comic books or are they two different audiences?
Alan: Um, well it’s strange because I was drawing some Wire Hangers pages at some shows in America early in the year before announcements were made and I was doing it right in the venue, I wasn’t doing it backstage, there was better light in the venue. I was just hanging out there and you know, a bunch of fans came by, looking over my shoulder like “what are you doing, what is that, can I buy it?” You know, stuff like that and it was flattering and it was really encouraging too because it seemed like you know here’s two totally different worlds but I think there are a lot of people who are into comics but are also into heavy music and it’s kind of incestuous in that way. But to put out a comic through IDW, I think comic book fans in general that maybe haven’t been exposed to Life of Agony or Spoiler, it would be a good opportunity for them to make those connections too. At the same time, I was just talking to Chris Ryall at IDW and you know he was kind of surprised at the kind of press coverage that’s been surrounding Wire Hangers since it’s been announced because a lot of it has shown up on music sites and traditionally, they don’t have so much of a presence on music sites because they’re aiming at comic book fans. So it’s some really good cross-promotional opportunities for everybody to expose music fans to comics and comic fans to music so I think it could be really cool.

A lot of people talk about the downfall of the music and record industry but what about the state of the comic book industry? Are people still interested in buying and collecting comics?
Alan: From what I can see, yeah, especially since all the movies have been made, there’s been a lot of attention around comic books, I mean it seems like every other movie made these days is based off of a graphic novel. It’s definitely a hot trend now, I don’t think that all the comic book movies that have been made have been great but there are some great ones. Some of my favourites are like The Dark Knight, Sin City, even the first Hellboy I thought was good, but there have been some clunkers too. I think as long as they keep creating great ones that it’s only going to be good for the comic book world. If they just make a movie just to make the movie entity of it and they don’t really get all the nuances of it and stuff, that’s what’s going to kill it. But if you get comic book fans directing these films like you know the dude who did Watchmen or something, and pay really close attention to every panel in those books then you’re going to have a great film.

There’s a buddy of a mine Corin Hardy, he’s a UK director, I know him for many years from touring overseas and he’s a big Life of Agony fan and he’s made a bunch of short films in like a Tim Burton-esque style and he’s gotten a lot of attention recently. One of his new horror movie ideas just got picked up by Sam Raimi and it’s called Refuge, Corin’s a great guy and I couldn’t be happier for him. For him to achieve something like that, it just shows you the potential out there of what you can do.

You’ve also provided art for other bands such as Three Doors Down, Shinedown and Puddle of Mudd. How do you end up contributing art for these other bands? Do they come and ask you?
Alan: There was a point when I was doing a band called Among Thieves that I also have a lot of connections with a management company that they were basically helping shop Among Thieves around and I was doing some pretty cool stuff with Among Thieves’ website and the management company who also represented Three Doors Down, Puddle of Mudd and Shinedown, they were like can you work on some stuff for these guys too. So that’s kind of how I made that connection. I ended up doing the Three Doors Down website and some merchandise; I did Shinedown’s website and some graphics for concerts they were at. It was pretty cool; it was a really good opportunity to work on some big acts. I always did artwork for Life of Agony and I always did a lot of merch designs and I worked with artists on creating the album packaging or I did it myself so that’s just something that I’ve always done all this time.

Aside from Wire Hangers, what do you have planned for 2010 in terms of comics and/or music?
Alan: Well we’re going to finish the Spoiler record with Ken Lewis the producer, I can’t believe we got him, he’s won a bunch of Grammy Awards and he’s really well known in the hip hop world but he turns out to be a great punk producer, it turns out that’s his passion but he did so well in hip hop that that’s his bread and butter. It’s been really cool working with him on the Spoilers stuff so we’re going to finish up that record and put it out next year hopefully around the time that Wire Hangers comes out. Like I said, we’re working on the Life of Agony DVD, we got a bunch of shows that’ll take us through till the end of the year and I got a lot of Wire Hangers stuff planned. I’ll definitely be hitting the Comic Cons, San Diego and New York and some other ones in between.
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