Those of us who were angry teenagers in the 1990’s probably fondly remember the band Life of Agony and their influential albums River Runs Red and Ugly. What some may not know is that its bassist and one of its founding members Alan Robert is also an accomplished comic book artist. In the past few years Robert has made quite a name for himself in the comic world by releasing several critically acclaimed series through IDW Publishing. Robert’s titles include Crawl to Me, Killogy and Wire Hangers. Have no fear however, Life of Agony is not a thing of the past. They are back and in top form working on a new album. Robert had plenty to say about both his latest artistic creation The Beauty of Horror: A GOREgeous Coloring Book, as well as Life of Agony’s return.
The Beauty of Horror: A GOREgeous Coloring Book will be released by award-winning outfit IDW Publishing, who has also published all of his other comic work. It will be released in October, but it is available now for pre-order at a reduced price on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel.
Robert explains that his inspiration to make his off color coloring book came from his wife and a sarcastic social media post: “I’ve been watching coloring books grow into this huge phenomenon and it’s always interested me because I’ve always been into art. Anytime I go into the store I’d always see these coloring books, but they were nature books or stuff like that. I wasn’t really into it, but my wife and my daughter started coloring in Johanna Basford books. My wife came up with the idea. She was like, ‘you should do your own book. What would you do?’ I started thinking about that seriously and the first thing that popped into my mind was it has to be rock n’ roll or punk rock. It was right around April Fool’s day and I was going to make a sarcastic social media post anyway so I figured what would be the most opposite of all the coloring books that are out there? Something totally disgusting, and the first thing that popped into my head was CBGB’s bathroom that is probably the ultimate. So I drew that up like a coloring book page and I posted it just before Aprils Fool’s day and people started coloring it and posting it back on my page and it was a lot of fun. And then I started thinking of what other rock n roll stuff I could start drawing and the books are like 80 pages and I thought that I would probably run out of ideas if I started the rock n roll theme. Then I decided I should do something more in my whee house and all of my books have been in the horror genre, so I started drawing some horror designs and that’s when I pitched it to IDW and they instantly said yes because it’s something they’ve wanted to do for a long time. The process happened quickly, I literally drew that CBGB’s bathroom on March 31st 2016 and pitched IDW on April Fool’s day. There’s everything in there I didn’t want to just stick to a vampire book or werewolf book. There’s literally everything in there that I could possible think of. 80 pages worth of killer clowns and conjoined twins in jars and crazy skeletons and undead kinds creeping around with their undead pets. It’s out there.” There is a video teaser for the coloring book that is truly frightening, and it immediately went viral when posted to social media: “It’s been shared like over 1000 times in a week and over 30,000 people watched it during its 1st week on Facebook. I think tis definitely appealing to a different part of the coloring crowd that’s looking for this type of darker material.” The illustrations in the coloring book are definitely macabre, but they also are so well done one almost doesn’t want to ruin them by coloring them.
Robert is no stranger to success when it comes to his comic work. Not only are his graphic novels widely read, but Killogy is currently in the process of becoming an animated. Robert elaborates, “For Killogy we partnered with a Canadian 3D animation studio and along with my company they produced a six min teaser using the actual voices of Frank Vincent from Good Fellas, Marky Ramone from the Ramones, Doyle from the Misfits and Brea Grant from Heroes. We put together basically a proof of concept clip of what the show would be and we’re in the process of talking to studios and also the idea of possibly doing an animated video game that incorporates the story as well. It’s pretty wild there’s like flying zombies heads and it’s a lot of fun. It’s like a dark comedy.” The executive producers of the Boondocks are also involved according to the clip, which has a Metalocalypse meets Return of the Living Dead feel to it.
Another of his novels, Crawl to Me is going to become a live-action film: “We’re making into a live action feature film now. These things take so long, but we are actively working on it. In fact, I had a call last night with a potential director for it. We are definitely gearing up to shoot sometime in the winter to match the atmosphere of the book, which is set in an isolated winter forest. So that’s the goal, so yeah were making some big strides to start production around then.”
Given the material that Robert has released over the years, one would guess that he’s a big horror fan. He explains a bit about where his love of horror started: “I grew up with all the 80’s horror slasher movies and stuff like The Shining and that kind of molded me. I think the first experience I had with horror was begging my parents to see The Amityville Horror movie when it came on HBO as a kid and I didn’t get past the opening credits with the music. I ran out of the room and went into my room and my room was situated next door to my parent’s room and they continued to watch the movie. I was just scared shitless all night listening to it through the wall. I think it either traumatized me so much that I became obsessed with horror films or it just piqued my interested and that was it. That was probably the starting point.”
One might wonder how Robert made the transition from music to art, but in truth it was the other way around. He started with art and then found music. He explains further: “When I was a kid I was really super shy and the one thing I was good at was drawing. I would draw funny cartoons and stuff and even in elementary school I would sit at lunch and just doodle. Kids would come around me and watch me draw and I would make a lot of friends that way. So I got more and more confident and came out of my shell as a kid and then I really wanted to pursue being a professional comic book artist. I got a scholarship for a school in New York. I had Walt Simonson, the artist that draws the Mighty Thor, as a teacher. Right when I graduated, around in 1993, I was already playing with Life of Agony, which was basically one of my first bands that started in 1989. I was going to start taking my portfolio around, but we got signed that year. We recorded River Runs Red, and I had a choice to either go jump in a van and tour the record on a US tour, or start taking around my portfolio to comic book companies. I figured the music thing was happening, it was exciting, and the idea of getting a lot of rejection at comic book companies wasn’t that appealing. I figured this is probably a once in a life time opportunity to try and go for music and see where it would go and I figured art would be my backup plan at that point. And the music took off and we held our own for many, many years and built a really solid fan base.”
Robert describes how he recently came back to his love of art and comics: “I always wanted to do my own comic book. I had an idea back in the early 90’s of a comic book character and finally in 2009 I got really curious and decided I’m going to bring this idea to life. I was all set to self- publish the book and that’s when I jumped on Twitter and Chris Ryall from IDW and I became friends. He’s a big metal head and we started trading comic books for music and things like that. Once he heard the idea for Wire Hangers, he offered me a publishing deal and basically since then, since 2009 -2010, I pitched IDW a new concept almost every year and published it. So I have several series out through them and that’s why this coloring book happened so quickly.” Apparently, IDW has been good to Robert: “IDW has been great. They basically gave me total creative control to write and draw anything I want based on these ideas that I’ve pitched them. It’s been awesome. I basically just lock myself down for like 3-6 months writing and drawing all day and then submit a finished book and they print it and promote it. It’s been amazing. IDW deals with big properties like Star Trek and Transformers and My Little Pony. If you deal with existing properties your dealing with a lot of input about who’s likeness should be drawn a certain way. With my books they really don’t have that type of pressure. I’m coming up with everything on my own. They give me free reign to do what I want. You can’t really ask for anything more with a publisher.”
Clearly, Robert is a busy guy. One might wonder where Life of Agony fits into his busy schedule, but he is reassuring about the fact that the band is equally important in his life and the album is on its way to being completed. “We’re probably right smack in the middle of the recording. All the basic tracks are done. I finished my bass tracks last week or the week before and now Mina’s going to sing on it and we’re all super excited about the way it’s coming out.” Roberts goes onto to reveal that the sound is, “really heavy, very melodic, very dark lyrics. I think our fan base will be very happy with it. There’s some bands that put out the same record every year but we never wanted to be that type of band and we always wanted to evolve and grow. I think our fans would agree that every album that we’ve made is a little bit different. I think that the mind set of writing this record was that we were very aware of where we came from lyrically and from a conceptual stand point, and the sounds that we captured on River Runs Red, and we understand who we are now also. I think there’s a mixture on the new album of that old way of thinking mixed in with who we are now and moving toward something that we’ve never done also on previous records, so I think it’s a nice combination.” One thing that is certain is that Life of Agony was on the same page as far as what they wanted to write: “I think we all knew the type of record that we wanted to write. I think we were all on the same page as far as what the next step for this band should be. So we were all on the same page even before we started writing as four people that have gone through this all these years and had a chance to step away and take a look at it from the outside view. I think we all knew the type of record that we needed to create and so we went into the writing session with that in mind and what the sound should be and the tuning should be the tempos should be.”
Life of Agony is coming back after a pretty big gap in time. The last album that Life of Agony released was 2005’s Broken Valley. Record company issues and disillusionment with the music business is what led to such a long break. Robert explains, “We did a bunch of touring when that Broken Valley record came out. We were on a major label with that and we had a lot of high hopes for it. However, that album was included with probably about a dozen other Sony records that year that Sony had released with illegal spyware on the CDs themselves. They were trying to basically prevent anyone from downloading music for free and basically putting a block on people’s computers so they couldn’t do that without the users knowing it. They got caught and they got sued and they ended up having to pull all those albums off the shelves including ours just months after it came out. So that really affected us and it really bummed us out. This was a record that we worked really hard to make and it never really got the chance that it deserved, so that really made us upset. We toured to support the record after that, but I think we were all pretty bummed out about it and no one was in a rush to write anything soon after that so it took us a long time to recover.” Roberts goes onto explain that the break was ultimately good for the band: “Every now and then I think you need to step away from something to get re-inspired. Sometimes you get into a grind, especially after the Broken Valley record and all the disappointment that we felt with what we experienced at the label. I think we all personally, emotionally just needed to step away and kind of reevaluate the whole situation and make it fun again because it wasn’t fun for a while. If were not having fun then there’s really no point. You never want to feel like you’re punching in or going through the motions. I’m glad we were able to step away and still come back stronger. I think that’s definitely what happened.”
In addition to the disappointment with the record company, Life of Agony singer Keith Caputo was dealing with his own gender identity issues. Ultimately, Keith Caputo transitioned to Mina Caputo and she is a much happier person for it. Robert describes it this way: “She’s never sounded better, I think, and she’s finally free and has no more hang ups in her own mind battling things.” As far as fan reaction goes, Robert explains that fans have completely embraced Mina: “She thought people wouldn’t accept her for who she is and they do. What she did is really courageous and as a friend I’m super proud of her for being so brave and I’m glad we have the opportunity to share the stage again and do the things that we do. The crowds have been amazing its better than ever I mean the footage over the last couple years since she came out you can see the response. It’s just such a universal love for this band and everything that we’ve gone through and it’s never been more exciting than now. That’s why the new album is coming. I think we can really breathe a new life into what we’re doing. Once Mina came out and made her announcement we got back together and started performing and the response has just so overwhelmingly positive that we’re having such a good time. It just came naturally that the next step would be to get back in the studio. I think the fans definitely want to hear new material it’s been a long time.”
Recently, Rolling Stone called Life of Agony’s new album one of the most anticipated of 2016. One might think that this puts a lot of pressure on the band. However, Robert says he doesn’t concern himself much with what people might expect from the band as far as their sound: “We don’t really listen to anybody. We don’t give a fuck what anybody says. Its funny when we came out with River Runs Red that’s who we were at that moment. Two years later we came out with Ugly and everyone at the time that loved River Runs Red was like ‘What is this Ugly record? It’s so different.’ We got a lot of shit over it because it was so different and now people all these years later look at Ugly as this ground breaking record when they gave us such a hard time when it came out. So we decided a long time ago never to listen to anybody but ourselves about what we wanted to do and what we wanted to write. Even before we were signed I think that we were doing something a little bit different than the other Brooklyn bands that we were playing with. We were mixing it up with a lot of melody with the vocals with the heavy music and we never really fit in back then either. Somehow or another we built up our own fan base where we came from and we got signed and got a chance to put out the record but if we had listened to everybody back then ‘oh you should sound like this’ we probably never would have got signed. So we’ve learned to ignore everybody and do our own thing. Its funny people ask us to play songs more and more from Ugly these days. In fact, we did a live album for River Runs Red. We did the whole album in its entirety and we recorded it and put it out in Belgium and people ask us to do the same thing with Ugly. It’s an interesting idea. We haven’t played some of those songs live probably ever, but right now we’re focused on the new album and were excited to start playing that stuff live.”
The band is eager to head out on the road after a delay due to an injury suffered by their drummer Sal Abruscato. Roberts elaborates, “We have a bunch of dates coming up at the end of the year. We were supposed to be in Europe in July and we had to postpone a bunch of dates because Sal broke his collar bone. So we will be going out around November and December. While he is getting better and recovering the goal is to try and get him well enough so that not only can he perform the set like he used to, but maybe tackle a couple of new songs.”
While the world waits with baited breath for the new Life of Agony, they can keep themselves busy reading Robert’s myriad of graphic novels as well as work on finding their own creative spirit via his coloring book.