Thursday, September 25, 2008

Too Cool To Be Forgotten

There isn't an adult alive who hasn't idly wondered what it'd be like to go to high school again. Forty-something, balding Andy Wicks has done it – he's zipped back more than 20 years to relive his high school geek days in 1985. It's the plot of the latest graphic novel by the indie comics creator Alex Robinson, "Too Cool To Be Forgotten."

PhotobucketRobinson is best known for lengthy multi-character stories like "Box Office Poison" and "Tricked," but the relatively short "Too Cool To Be Forgotten" sticks pretty close to one protagonist. 40-something Andy Wicks wants to give up the smoking habit he's had since his teen years, and after all the cures fail, decides to try hypnosis. But it has a bizarre effect, sending the modern-day Andy back to his high-school body to get a second chance to get things right.

The hypnosis thing is a whopping deus ex machina and fortunately "Too Cool" doesn't dwell too much on it. This is the tale of a guy really reliving his high school days -- all the crazy uncertainties, mega-drama and foolish mistakes. It's often quite funny – what would you tell a power-tripping sadistic school principal if you were 40 rather than 15? Would you approach that old crush with a little more confidence with a few more years of living under your belt?

What Robinson really captures here is the contrast between the fumbling strangeness of being a teenager, and the more settled, if less exciting, existence of an adult. Unlike wish-fulfillment movies like "Freaky Friday" or the like, Andy really doesn't want to stay a kid forever. "Too Cool" doesn't pretend that our younger days were really the better ones – it doesn't put a glossy romanticism on things. But it also comes to finding a kind of genuine peace between the way you were and the way you are, which is a lot deeper than "Freaky Friday" really got.

PhotobucketRobinson's crisp, expressive cartooning knows when to push the conventions of the medium and when to just sit back and let the drawings work.. There's a marvelously trippy 'word cloud' image Robinson uses to illustrate Andy's transition into teenager-hood, yet there's also just a kind of calm, precise detail to how Robinson shows the differences between Andy at 40 and age 15.

In its final pages, "Too Cool To Be Forgotten" takes a bit of a swerve, into an area that's foreshadowed a little earlier on. It's a heart-wrenching move and adds a generous dollop of pathos to the story. Sure, being a teen again would be kinda cool, but it'd also be kind of awful as well. It's a mark of Robinson's ever-increasing talent that he takes the shopworn idea of "18 again" and turns "To Cool To Be Forgotten" into a genuinely heartfelt, funny and sad piece of work.

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