From the other side of the computer screen, it appeared that Alec Robbins lives in an apartment that many twenty-somethings would reside. However, seeing him in my Zoom call and not on my Twitter feed, like time and time again, was still slightly strange.
I had taken notice of Robbins the same way many people on Twitter did, through his surrealist, four-panel comic series Mr. Boop. The story, originally following the exploits of a fictionalized Robbins being married to American comic icon Betty Boop, garnered a large following due to how increasingly absurd the story progressed. With the series drawing to a close through a fourth-wall-breaking volume, we came together to talk about the origins of his bizarre comic strip and what he has in store next.
Robbins currently works at Abso Lutely Productions, the company famously known for bringing Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and The Eric Andre Show into the world. (Robbins worked on the latter, which returns October 25.) He credits his experiences at the company as important to developing his own comedic style.
“A lot of their shows made a really strong impact on me, especially stuff like Jon Benjamin Has A Van, The Birthday Boys, and Nathan For You,” he says.
It was him who brought up the idea of us communicating through Zoom. “Just so we don’t have to bounce back and forth for too many emails,” he explains in the email.
He has taken his experiences of both watching and working for Abso Lutely and applied them to his own original work. “I’m making stuff all the time,” he says, “I think early on, like at back in college or whatever, when I was making stuff, I had this viewpoint that it has to blow up. It has to be big. And then over time I sort of realized, well, no, I’m just making it for me. And I’m happy if it’s just for me or for my friends. Like if I’m making a friend laugh, that’s all I really need out of it.”
This mindset led to the creation of his cult creation. “Mr. Boop started as like drawing a little cartoon of myself, married to Betty, but to send to a friend just to text to one person,” he says.
However, the idea of experimenting in drawing comics had been on his mind for a while.
“At the time, I had been kind of thinking about doing comic strips. I was thinking about working in that format because I love four panels strips, so I sent this Mr. Boop drawing to my friend, and then like the next day I thought it’d be funny,” he says.
That joke drawing he drew for his friend began getting traction, yet Robbins did not mind. “I had a lot more ideas for it, so I just kept it going and kept playing along.”
He tells me about the underrated and overlooked creators he says consistently put out great stuff, but he feels never get their due. “I’m not going to call it a crime that they don’t blow up, because that’s not always the best thing for a piece of art,” he explains, “but there is a lot of stuff out there that should have more eyes on it for sure.”
That was part of the reason he decided that, when the popularity of Mr. Boop skyrocketed, he would bring on guest artists for his comic’s print editions. Despite initial mishaps regarding broken Riso printers involving delayed products shipping from China (“They’re older, finicky machines, but ideally they shouldn’t break down in the middle of printing”), he found relative success in the selling of published Mr. Boop strips, partially because of the artists he had met while making the comic.
“A lot of people I had been following and buying comics from were following me back or retweeting Mr. Boop,” Robbins says, “so I decided to reach out and see if any of them would like to do a guest comic.”
Like many people, especially those working in the television industry, Robbins has seen a dramatic shift in his life occur after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Since many of the shows he was working on before the pandemic had to be delayed, the success of Mr. Boop came at an important time in his life. “I’m able to keep my finances going during COVID, which I’m very grateful for,” he says.
At the same time, however, he had conflicting feelings about making a profit off of his creation. “I don’t feel great making money off of my art,” he explains, “that’s not the goal for me. I don’t love turning something I made into a product. [Mr. Boop is] a goof, it’s self-serious, so I’m fine with that.”
Both intentionally and not, this conflict of Robbins’ ended up seeping into the fictionalized persona’s world. In Volume III: Mr. Boop Endgame, the issue of copyright infringement and the growing cast of intellectually-owned characters was more prevalent than ever. It seemed like everyone, from Porco Rosso’s Gina to Tony Soprano, was fair game to join the Mr. Boop universe.
“I wanted to shift gears and if I was going to keep doing [Mr. Boop], I wanted to have more to talk about,” he explains, “and then obviously I’m using copyrighted characters. It felt very natural to start discussing the use of intellectual property in a format that the owners of that property would probably not be happy with.”
Part of this also has to do with Robbins’ own views on the companies whose intellectual properties he is appropriating. “Obviously, I’m anti-corporation,” he states, “I don’t like Disney or Warner Brothers or any of those companies that I’m mocking, but they were more material to talk about.”
This should come as little to no surprise to those following Robbins’ strip. In early June, he drew a “special” set of panels depicting Robbins and Betty as protestors as well as donating all proceeds from extra copies of Mr. Boop Volume I: My Wife is Betty Boop’s publication to charities and GoFundMe’s supporting Black communities. Not only that, but one of the third volume’s most popular strips involved the recurring Bugs Bunny holding Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at gunpoint after a brief arc of him working at an Amazon facility.
“I have a much bigger platform than I had before,” he says, “and so by any chance I’m able to amplify other voices or other important issues, I have no qualms about doing that.”
One of the aspects of Mr. Boop that raised eyebrows and attention toward the online strip was the extreme sexual situations displayed, all of which at least involving Robbins’ fictionalized version of himself and his wife Betty Boop. If the thought of your favorite childhood characters having erect penises and engaging in hot and heavy orgies grosses you out, Mr. Boop simply isn’t the comic strip for you. Robbins knows this, telling me that “at some points, it’s very close to just being a porn comic” despite no sexual acts being explicitly drawn. He says that he specifically refrained from drawing these actual acts being performed as well as drawing himself fully nude (not counting Mr. Boop’s coma dreams in Volume II: God is a Woman, and She’s My Wife).
“There’s still lines I’m nervous to cross,” he tells me.
Having this kind of creative control is one of the things Robbins enjoys the most about writing the Mr. Boop strips and is also why he decided to have a definitive ending to the series with Volume IV: Mr. Mr. Boop. “I guess I don’t want to milk it until it’s dying,” he says, “I wanted to make sure I just go out when I have an ending in mind.”
The ending Robbins has in mind, however, is slowly beginning to unravel. Mr. Boop’s forth and final volume not only has a very different, more realistic art style but also offers a less fictionalized portrayal of Robbins’ life outside of making the comic. “It’s going to be similar in length to the other books,” he says as he teases how the rest of the strip will turn out, “so around fifty strips, and since we’re doing three a week now, it’ll take a little longer to finish this one.”
Although he is relatively mum when it comes to the ending of Mr. Boop, Robbins is excited about his future projects. He is starting work on his follow-up to a visual novel game he developed entitled Heartbreak High, where the player is tasked with breaking up with various characters. “I like working around the concept of visual novels and dialogue options,” he says, “so this next [game] is more of what I did in Heartbreak High and a couple of other mechanics that I don’t want to reveal yet.” He does say, however, that he will be revealing these secretive mechanics when he makes more progress.
Despite the world being thrust into a state of uncertainty, Robbins seems optimistic about his future. He has a number of different projects outside of his visual novel, including directing a new music video for a friend (he has previous directorial credits for his friend ASH NERVE’s music video for “LiVE IN THE FANTASY” and Bug TV+’s The World’s Greatest TV Show) and developing a new idea for an indie comic. “I love drawing comics,” he says, “I have an idea for another one after [Mr. Boop] that I’d like to start. I don’t know the exact format. I don’t know if it’ll be a webcomic, but I do have more plans for comics afterward.”
Seeing Alec Robbins shed his Internet persona for an intimate talk was a bit strange, to say the least. However, it was a reminder that despite the bizarre comic he has created, he was a human creator trying to survive in our hectic world. Perhaps that is why Mr. Boop has resonated with so many people beyond just being an Internet meme; at the core of the comic is a man trying to interpret the crazy world we are living in, just in his own unique and comical way.