Saturday, August 27, 2016


The latest book by Alex Robinson, OUR EXPANDING UNIVERSE, published by Top Shelf Productions, is Robinson’s best book yet.  [or, put more honestly, my favorite of his books]  Revolving around three buddies—Billy, Scotty, and Brownie—in their mid to late thirties, it’s a book about growing up, and about being a grown-up, that I found relatable in a way I hadn’t with Robinson’s earlier works.  Not that I didn’t appreciate Box Office Poison or Tricked, but the subject matter, as much as anything, in Our Expanding Universe just hit a nerve that elevated the book for me. 

The drama for Expanding Universe comes from the various familial entanglements of the three men—Scotty is married to Ritu, with one child and a second on the way; Billy is married, and he and his wife Marcy are just beginning to try to get pregnant; and Brownie is divorced, currently single, and ever the voice of authority, expounding upon marriage, child-rearing, and every other subject, regardless of his personal experience—and their efforts to hang out with one another, as if nothing has changed in their lives.  The trio gets together to play box ball (or 4-square), go to Funcle’s novelty shop, and grab a beer and talk about old times (the underlying sentiment being these were also the “good times,” especially as far as Brownie’s concerned).  It’s a quiet existence, with our characters comfortably settled into their lives.  It’s real life, one might say. 

The couples also get together for dinner at one another’s places, allowing readers to learn who Marcy and Ritu are.  The book may be about the dudes, but Robinson doesn’t forget about the women in the story, because they are essential to the lives of these men.  And these women become the lynchpin for a major turning point in the narrative, when Marcy happens across Scotty, in a café, having coffee with a woman from the school where the two work.  The philosophical conundrums that branch off this single scene—Marcy detecting a sexual vibe between Scotty and his co-worker, the ethical considerations of sharing this with Ritu, for both Billy & Marcy, along with the possibility of Scotty being innocent of any infidelity—propel the narrative forward through the rest of the book.  And—without giving anything away—though some could find the ending to be unsatisfying, as things are not neatly tied up with a bow, I felt it was a very real, very honest, very human place for the story, and the friendships, to end up. 

Robinson’s writing in Our Expanding Universe is as good as it’s ever been.  His dialogue is natural and genuine, sounding a lot like conversations I’ve had, or overheard, while getting to the important (and not so important) philosophical questions that plague all of us.  It’s engaging, while also entertaining.  And the plot points develop effortlessly, following not only from what goes before, but also from character, with nothing feeling forced.  Robinson keeps his readers, and his characters, in the moment, allowing things to progress at a pace that keeps the audience wanting to turn the page without ever feeling lost. 

Our Expanding Universe also benefits from being a shorter book with a smaller cast of characters than Tricked or BoP.  This book feels more accomplished, never wandering in its narrative, remaining focused and on point throughout the book.  Though I enjoyed his earlier works, it feels as if Robinson managed, with Expanding Universe, to cut all the chaff that, in my opinion, bogged down parts of these longer works.  It’s impressive how concise the book is, while also packing in a lot of great story. 


Alex Robinson’s art, like his writing, is also spot on with this latest book.  He has always been a rock-steady artist, simplistic (but not simple) figure work clearly relating the story he is telling.  But with this book, his art is not only accomplished, but he also injects some new approaches (or, at least, some approaches I don’t remember seeing previously) into his storytelling that work incredibly well.  In one scene, after Scotty’s second child has been born, he is feeling claustrophobic and a bit overwhelmed and needs to get out of the hospital room.  When Billy arrives with Marcy, Scotty and the guys head into the hall and make for the stairwell leading to a side exit, and once outside, with the sun looking down on Scotty as he takes a deep breath, Robinson forgoes his traditional inking and, instead of outlining the figure, fills in the body with hatching and uses the negative space to create the figure.  It’s a perfect example of form following function and enhancing the storytelling, in the process.  In another section, Robinson plays not only with the art but with his writing, as Marcy and Ritu get together with a bunch of their female friends.  In this scene, the images are snapshots of the party, while the dialogue is typed out, outside of the panels, like a film script.  This approach allows the women, seven in all, to carry on their various conversations, over one another, without the panels getting jumbled with word balloons or the audience becoming confused about who is speaking.  It was masterfully done, and something that, though non-traditional, worked very well and never pulled me out of the story. 

If you’ve enjoyed Alex Robinson’s books before, then you owe it to yourself to check out this latest work (though, if you are a fan you probably already have).  If you’ve never checked out Robinson’s work, seek this book out.  It’s a smart story, well told and entertaining, which will make you think.  And I don’t think we can ask much more than that of Robinson, or any creator. 


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