Edited version published in Suspect Press #15 Summer/2017
{Original expanded interview}

From Left to Right: R. Alan Brooks, Dion Harris, Matt Strackbein

R. Alan Brooks has been involved in with comics in Denver for the last five years. The Burning Metronome is a new graphic novel that he’s written with art by Dion Harris, and Matthew Strackbein. Brooks has been involved with Denver’s comic scene for the last five years. His new book has garnered critical and commercial attention. I sat down with Alan to talk about his new graphic novel. 
Lonnie MF Allen: Tell us about The Burning Metronome.
Alan Brooks: Well, my elevator pitch for it is the Twilight Zone meets Usual Suspects. My second, longer one is that it’s a supernatural murder mystery. Six courageous explorers find themselves trapped in a world where they encounter the strangest creatures they’ve ever seen–human beings!
9News, Colorado Public Radio, and now us here at Suspect Press have focused on a particular element of your story, a scene involving police brutality. It’s actually just a small part in your story so far, are you surprised at the attention this scene has received?
In retrospect, perhaps not. Well at first, yes, because I was trying to focus and deconstruct how human beings treat each other, and try and look at that from different perspectives. I was trying to move us towards thinking about how we treat each other better, and that just happened to be one of the topics of the story that I touched on. However, the reason I say it’s not surprising in retrospect, is that it is the most politically charged of the human interactions that I present so far
in the story.

It’s kind of jolting. You’re moving along, then boom–there’s a death. I was an early teen when the Rodney King beating was headline news, and the subsequent LA riots after the trial for the police officers. I’m wondering if broaching the subject of police brutality was something that was germinating for a while now, or if it’s a more recent idea.

Illustration by Dion Harris, color by Matt Strackbein

It’s definitely been present for a while now, but the proliferation of cameras has moved it from being anecdotal–something people can deny–to something people can’t deny because they see it. Well, some people that see it still deny it (laughing), but the evidence is a lot stronger. Oh yeah, that hadn’t occurred to me before. Rodney King became national news because it was recorded on video. Police brutality has been an issue going back to our parents’ generation and grandparents’ generation, and on and on, but now, everyone has cameraphone. It was really significant, and now a person who has the least amount of education or exposure has access to a camera and can capture these moments. It’s one of these things that’s broken open in a new way. I feel like anyone watching one of those videos could see–there was the one from about a year ago about a middle school student and a grown man, a middle-aged cop assaulting a young girl, and people saying, “You don’t know what happened before.” It
doesn’t matter what happened before. He wasn’t in any clear danger in the video, not in that moment. He could’ve arrested her. But I think the only way you could watch that video and deny the injustice of it is to not believe in her humanity. And there are some people who will just never acknowledge her humanity. Then there are people who are just in the middle, who haven’t had the chance to experience humanity in a different way than their own. So my goal in these stories is to bridge the gap of people who are seen as the “others” from either side. In the story, I start off from the police officer’s perspective and wanted to humanize him so that as you go through the story, he’s not a one-dimensional character, or villain. So that you can explore the humanity of both sides.

Reading it, I don’t feel preached to. I’m just experiencing this as a story and because of the incident that takes place I have to start thinking about race in terms of what is going on in the world right now.
I think that’s key, that’s the reason I went that way with it. 
Were there any particular influences in comics that inspired you to incorporate political and/or controversial subjects for what is fundamentally a science-fiction story?
I think comics have always been political to some extent having grown up during the time of Chris Claremont writing The X-Men which were an analogue for Civil Rights. The act of superheroes deciding to fight crime is inherently political. With this book in particular, however, I was thinking about the Twilight Zone a lot because of the way Rod Serling uses other worlds and supernatural situations as a way to comment on war, racism, or sexism. That was really inspiring to me and what I had at the forefront of my mind.

Illustration by Dion Harris, color by Matt Strackbein

Are you familiar with some of the EC Comics from the same period? If I’m recalling correctly, I think those inspired the Twilight Zone.
That’s true. And those would be addressing morals. It’s funny that the genre of horror often has a deep moral system. For example, often times the person who was having too much sex was the one who would be killed. (laughing) Or doing too many drugs.
Sometimes they do lean heavily towards the puritanical. Turning more to the comics community in general, and working in it as a black cartoonist, do you find there are any specific challenges to you?
I think it’s just a microcosm of my life as a whole. Having to navigate being the only black person wherever I go, well, except when I was younger growing up in a mostly black city (Atlanta), but whatever struggles I face aren’t necessarily specific to comics. The ways in which I’ve learned to navigate prejudices serve me well even in the comics community. Were I to write a super militant, angry black, fuck-the-cops kind of story, it would not only not be true to myself, but also limit the amount of people I would reach. There are people who exist in an extreme that I’d never be able to
reach, but more importantly, there are people who are just trying to figure things out. And if I can communicate to those people in a clear and concise way, it increases the appeal my work. It make it easier for them to appreciate a well told story regardless of the more disturbing moments.

I know you personally, but I think had I not known you, or had seen photos of you, there’d be no reason from solely reading your book that I would assume that you were black. There is a better representation of people of color in your book compared to the average comic book, but that is not something that I think is necessarily reflective of your particular choices, but rather it reflects negatively on the comics industry.
Well, I’m certainly proud to be black, and it obviously affects my perspective, but I’m striving toward a universal human experience in my story–I think ‘universal’ may be overstating it–there’s a way to reach a larger amount of people and still convey your harder points. I’m trying to communicate to more people, otherwise, if I’m just trying to be extreme for the sake of it–I’m just ultimately serving myself.

You’ve said before to me that you’ve worked many years in music toiling away in obscurity, but being relatively new to comics, you’ve garnered a lot more media attention. You’re an excellent musician, so what do you think that’s about?
(both of us laughing) Well, I think it’s a few things, one of them is that I used to believe, if you build something good–people will come. People still say that bullshit! It’s not true! Networking is a separate job to creating something good. For sure! Otherwise no one will know about it. Yeah, so I wasn’t aware of that for many years with music, going into comics, I was definitely aware of it. I have skills now in networking that I didn’t have all those years in music. I did not cultivate relationships with the press, I did not go to networking events, I just put out music I thought was good, and people thought it was good, but I expected they would pass it on and it would just grow. I mean I’d still connect with managers and stuff like that, but with comics I already had that experience, I’ve been able to take a more aggressive tactic. Also, I think the music scene is filled with charismatic personalities, whereas comics...

What are you trying to say, man? (laughter)
...haha! There may not be as many. Also, there’s less black creators in comics. I just think there are more ways to stand out.
I honestly don’t think that’s been a factor in your garnered media attention.
Thanks. I think the biggest difference is that I’m fundamentally an introvert, and the thing that people most often want from me (and that I’m good at) is engaging with them about my project, but it’s the hardest thing for me to do. It just drains me. Previously, I just wanted people to interact with the art and not interact with me as much. So with this project, I’ve just accepted people want know about me, and if the art is good, they’ll support that.

Illustration by Dion Harris, color by Matt Strackbein

The Burning Metronome is  available at retailers such as Time Warp Comics in Boulder, and Mutiny Cafe in Denver. You can also check it out online at: theburningmetronome.com
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