Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Jarrod Jones. I don’t know what kind of person James Robinson is.
I do know that he’s been through several different kinds of personal hell, most of which were likely of his own making. He’s a surprisingly candid person, I do know that; a person who’s quick to accept responsibility when he’s wrong, and someone who doesn’t shy away from the dark stuff when he speaks in interviews.
If there’s a shred of truth to be found in Airboy — and considering how open Robinson is about his history with substance abuse and interpersonal relationships, there’s no reason to believe that there isn’t — then the man has truly led a perplexing and perilous life. It’s that life that informs this, erm, “re-imagining” of a nigh-forgotten Golden Age property, one that has survived plenty of achingly dull attempts at contemporary relevance as it is. Now it is a property that’s survived long enough only to get yanked into a Kaufman-esque dark night of the soul. Airboy could be considered the comic book equivalent of a snake eating its own tail, but it’s nowhere near as dire as that. It can’t be.
Because, as a character, Airboy isn’t the focus of the book. He isn’t the character who has to endure the piercing and unforgiving gauntlet of public scrutiny to find a shred of humanity in himself. Airboy isn’t scraping the walls with his nails to reach artistic relevancy. James Robinson is. This four-issue mini-series isn’t an exploitive, wild grasp for attention. It’s a four-colored confessional, dipped in sickly teal hues.
But in order for a story like Airboy to work, it has to be held upright by a certain level of honesty. In the medium of comic books especially, when we’re privy to a debauched jaunt of hedonism the likes of which Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle put us through in issues #1 and #2, it’s easy — for me, at least — to spot a phony, someone putting on subversive airs because that sort of lifestyle is romantic to them, or worse, heroic. After a thorough scan of Airboy‘s four issues, it’s apparent that Robinson chooses to depict the life favored by hollowed-out shitheads with a potent sincerity that could only have come from experience.
That experience comes in handy for this darkly hilarious, often morbid glimpse into the creative process. Airboy wouldn’t feel as raw or honest if Robinson couldn’t get a clear look in the rearview mirror. But there’s a tremendous chasm that lies between “honest” and “brave,” and if James Robinson is half the person I think he might be, after spending so many years reading his work, it’s likely that he would prefer to reside on the side of honesty. Integrity can be found in there somewhere. But with it comes a level of accountability that won’t be denied, not anymore. Every decision made in Airboy, no matter how profoundly ludicrous Hinkle renders it, is anchored with bouts of sobering accountability. Robinson and Hinkle’s fictional avatars don’t often triumph against it, but their struggles with responsibility ring true.
That’s where the realism lies in this book. Hinkle and Robinson’s dedication to the details, no matter how uncomfortable or offensive they are for some, show that on the other side of life — where failure, depravity, and self-abuse are commonplace — there’s nowhere to hide. It’s not always an easy read, it’s certainly never a pleasant one, but Airboy is comics found in its purest form. In showing what kind of a person Robinson once was, we’re offered an opportunity to look at our own lives, the mistakes we’ve made, and the accountability we either embrace or choose to ignore.
Written by James Robinson.
Art by Greg Hinkle.