Interview Thomas Lojek and Alex Robinson: Love, Nerds and Alpha-Males
In this interview, Thomas Lojek talks to the American bestselling author Alex Robinson about the opposition of love and perfection, about muses, alpha males, and why now is the best time to be a nerd and still be happy with women.
As the author of very successful graphic novels in recent years, Alex Robinson has set new standards regarding what’s possible on characterization and narrative storytelling within this genre. Critics have described him as the Robert Altman of graphic novels: His books show complex figures in very realistic relationships, interwoven with complex story telling.
Accordingly, his publications are bestsellers and Alex Robinson has received all relevant awards for the genre of graphic novels for his works: Eisner Award, Harvey Award, Ignatz Award and the French Prix du Premier Album Award. He is married and lives in New York with his wife.
Thomas Lojek is a German author and writes about love, relationships, and the differences between men and women. His most famous publications are “Das geheime Muster der Liebe” and “Gebrauchsanleitung Mann”.
Good books, lovable characters and the secret of love
Thomas Lojek: Dear Alex, what impresses me most about your work is how much one starts caring for the characters in your books. They all have issues, self-doubts and they struggle deeply with the fact that they are not perfect human beings. And that is the exact reason why they go out into the world, trying to find a perfect match. For someone – or something – that will add stability to their lives and make them complete – and of course they fail in doing so because imperfect beings create imperfect relationships.
Do you see a link between this personal struggle of being an imperfect human being that builds imperfect relationships and the experience a reader gets while reading your books: namely caring for the characters you show, because they are not perfect human beings?
How much do you think is the struggle of ‘not being perfect’ interwoven with the point where we start to care for each other and that at the end forms the experience we call love?
Alex Robinson: I never consciously write characters with this in mind but I can certainly see it being the case. One thing I try to do when I write is make the characters as rounded as possible. That is, no one is a good guy or a bad guy. People see themselves as doing the best they can with whatever circumstances arise, and most people see themselves as basically good or at least well-intentioned. When you spend years working on a book you can’t help but put yourself in your characters shoes–why do they make the decisions they do? I suppose, ultimately, love is a similar experience. You connect with a person on such a level that you can empathize with them, flaws and all, and they’ll empathize with you.
About Alpha Males and benefits of the nerdy side of life
Thomas Lojek: An interesting aspect about the male characters in your books is that they all don’t really correspond to the currently fashionable lifestyle trend that as a man you should be an “Alpha Male” in order to be successful in life and especially with women. The men in your books rather stumble through life, and in doing so, also across a woman every now and then.
Even a figure like Ray Beam from your book “Tricked”: Ray is definitely a bit more “cocky” because as a rock star he is used to women throwing themselves at him – and yet at heart he is a predominantly phlegmatic character, where things just seem to happen rather than him really pushing them proactively and courageously.
What do think of this trending idea of the “Alpha Male”? Can a man make it life and get along with women even if he doesn’t head the pack and isn’t equipped with maximum self-awareness and confidence in each and every situation? Or do you think that a man should get on the “Alpha Side” of life as quick as possible so he doesn’t get the shaft in the end?
Alex Robinson: I think I tend to write those kind of characters because I’m that way in real life. I think the whole “Alpha Male” idea is probably as old as humankind — even older, since it seems to be a factor in many social primates. It makes sense: proactive people tend to get things done or at least get there ahead of more timid, passive souls.
But this is probably the best time to be a “beta” male: nerd culture is very popular and there’s very little required of us physically anymore (compared to, say, 100 years ago). The rise of feminism has, at the very least, taken away a lot of the traditional male pressures–being a breadwinner, asking women on dates, etc.
Self-awareness and confidence are great things to have but they’re not essential. In fact, the lack of those things can produce interesting (though not always positive) results.
I don’t know if the “alpha side” is something one can consciously switch over to. Wealthy authors of self-help books might disagree but the older I get the more I think people don’t really change very much once they get to adulthood. But being a beta-male (or female) doesn’t neccesarily condemn one to an ineffective lonely life. I’m living proof!
The need for “being cool” and more productive avenues of life
Thomas Lojek: Now that’s a message of hope for all stressed Beta Males. Let’s have a look at your character “Robert” from “Too cool to be forgotten” – after all, he gets exactly the opportunity you mentioned before: changing as an adult. He gets the chance to turn back time and set major changes in motion, to start the game over.
And for a few hours it actually works – also for the passive outsider: With the girls, with the parties, with a bit of coolness. But in the end, he finds the answer to his life as an adult in a rather dark side room of life, in a moment of humanity in vulnerable closeness and mutual forgiveness.
Is it possible that this need for “being cool” – starting from the idea of being “Alpha” to the constant pursuit of perfection – actually consumes too much of our real lives? Those little moments where closeness becomes very real, just because nothing in life is perfect, leading to adults that are therefore troubled or perplexed when they look back on their lives, because it simply feels unlived?
Alex Robinson: I suspect everyone feels somewhat troubled and perplexed as they grow older because life itself is troubling and perplexing. When you’re a kid you have some notion as to how things will go but life demands constant improvisation and goes much, much faster than you expect. I think ultimately being “cool” means not really caring much what people think, so the sooner one realizes that the less effort they’ll waste pursuing that mercurial concept and put energy into more productive avenues.
The artist, the muse and Dumbos’s magic feather
Thomas Lojek: A question that I’m repeatedly concerned with as an artist: How closely are women interwoven with what we do as artists? What influence does the presence of women in our lives have on the flow of our creativity and creative power? Does an artist need a muse – as Ray Beam in “Tricked”? Or is that only a “trick” and are we artists responsible for whether or not our art has that special spark? Does it take a woman to breathe life into an artists’ work?
Alex Robinson: No. Obviously, different artists are driven by different passions and inspiration but I don’t think a female muse is required. For one thing, what about female artists? What about male homosexual artists? I tend to think the whole female muse thing was a line invented by straight male artists attempting to get laid.
When I had Ray find his muse in Lily in TRICKED I didn’t actually believe it myself. He believed it and maybe there is some placebo effect in which an artist comes to depend on some outside persona to provide inspiration but personally I think it all comes from inside. It’s like Dumbo with his “magic” feather.
About Alex Robinson
About Thomas Lojek