Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Robbie Robertson

Singer-songwriter Robbie Robertson died at the age of 80. I was a casual fan who knew his greatest hits, was aware of some of the drama that broke up The Band, and had a lot of respect for his artistic integrity. Safe to say he never sold out. 

I never spoke to, corresponded with, or breathed the same air as Robertson, but I did have an opportunity to work with him a while back. He wanted to write a graphic novel--an insider's history of rock-and-roll kinda thing--and needed an artist. I was asked if I wanted to pitch. As I recall, I doggedly sketched and doodled and drew through a long weekend, and on Monday reported back that I had nuthin'. I couldn't crack the nut. Robertson's concept was fine, I just wasn't the right person for the job, and said so. 

I guess his graphic novel never happened. I don't regret declining. The prospect of committing to 200 pages of art you have no idea how to do would be a special kind of torture, plus I had ideas of my own I wanted to focus on. But sometimes I think it would've been very cool. I bet Robertson would have told a hell of a story.

EDITED TO ADD: My editor, Charlie Kochman, tells the rest of the story on Facebook, much of it new to me. It's better than I told it. Click on that embedded link to read it.

Yeah, the story I tried to develop art for was Robertson's Billy and Mojo idea. I'd forgotten that it was meant to be a children's book, probably because I don't really write or draw differently for children and adults. Deciding which shelf it goes on is someone else's job. 

The nut I couldn't crack was integrating Billy and his cat Mojo into the story. I couldn't just draw Billy meandering through history saying, "Gee, Mojo, here we are at Sun Records!" "Golly, we're on Abbey Road, do you think we'll see any Beatles?" That would have been a terrible comic. But I couldn't think of any other way to do it. Maybe nobody else could, either, and that's why it didn't happen in that form, although Charlie describes how it morphed into a later and very different Robertson book.

To hear Charlie tell it, I never really had a shot anyway. Which is fine. I had fun playing in Robertson's sandbox for a couple of days, which is all it was meant to be.

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