Popular music of virtually every era has often been maligned at first blush. Some called it noise. Others felt just listening to it was the first step on the road to eternal damnation.
Comic books also had a bad reputation for decades and were generally seen, at best, as too frivolous to be worthy of the term ‘art’.
Alan Moore’s The Watchmen (1986) changed that perception, but like Moore’s ground-breaking mini-series, music and comics are still at their best when they’re somewhat subversive. Maybe that’s why the two have collided so often, as if, in vying for the hearts and minds of a generation, there’s strength in numbers.
Examples of this type of crossover range from hilariously spot on (The Stones’ ‘Mick n Keef’ in Cerebus the Aardvark 163) to outright silly (see DC Comics’ The Fiddler, a super villain whose energy manipulating violin causes ‘physical or emotional pain in those who hear him play’. Which, frankly, anyone who plays a violin poorly can do just as easily).
As Marvel Comics’ heroine Dazzler proved, however, even relatively silly ideas can morph into perfectly serviceable characters, which eventually was the case after Dazzler (initially a 1980’s era collaboration by Marvel and Casablanca Records) got past exclusively using Disco music to fuel her sound manipulation powers and ditched her oversized mirror ball jewelry.
Granted, we’re talking about comics here, where even goofy ideas can have legs. Case in point: a number of fictional bands leapt from the pages of comics and into radio, television and film, including Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Archies and Josie & the Pussycats. It also works the other way, with ‘real’ bands like The Monkees and The Partridge Family getting their own books. Incidentally, Don Sherwood, who drew the Partridge Family comic also worked on a 1995 Sunday comic based on radio’s Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll & Remember.
There’s a lengthy history of artists and bands showing up in comics and graphic novels. Over time virtually every genre and scads of individual bands and musicians have gotten the pen and ink treatment – from a 1950’s-era comic strip featuring Gene Autry to shock rock acts like Alice Cooper and Kiss showing up as either super powered characters or just their own bad selves. Kiss show up over and over again in comics, but nothing tops Gene Simmons appearance in Bart Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (alongside Rob Zombie, Alice, and Pat Boone).
You don’t have to wear spandex and makeup on stage to take a turn as a superhero, however. Take Marvel’s crack at putting Eminem and The Punisher, together.
Public Enemy and Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels have also created their own comics, with McDaniels reimagining himself as a superhero on his own Darryl Makes Comics imprint.
Unsurprisingly, many musicians are avid comic book geeks and some, like McDaniels, credit superheroes with informing their approach to music. As McDaniels once told Fuse: “If you listen to most of my early rhymes, it was always approached like, ‘What would the Hulk or Spider-Man do in this situation?’ That’s how I attacked my records.”
In fact, there’s a long list of artists who’ve collaborated on or released their own comic series over time: One Model Nation, co-created by Courtney Taylor-Taylor (Dandy Warhols); Ghostface Killah and producer, Adrian Younge’s companion piece to their 12 Reasons to Die album, which chronicles ‘the brutal story of a vengeful soul hunting the 12 most powerful crime lords in the world’; Mike Doughty (Soul Coughing) who contributed a hilarious take on a superhero open mic night for DC’s Bizarro World anthology; The Weeknd’s Star Boy; and the incomparable Canadian artist Lights, who wrote and drew Skin & Earth as a tie in to her 2017 album of the same name.
While all these efforts have their merits, here are two instances where music and comics have come together and yielded truly lasting, highly acclaimed results…
First up, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. Way started writing comics at age 16, and, in 2007 created what would become not only an Eisner Award-winning miniseries for Way and Dark Horse Comics, but a highly successful Netflix show. Way also co-founded DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint and, relying on his own experiences in the music industry, co-created The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, which drew heavily on themes presented on his band’s 2010 album, Danger Days.
Secondly, we have the Hernandez Brothers, creators of Love and Rockets – a series that music was always an integral part of. In fact the real world band Love and Rockets took their name from the comic, which created some confusion; a fact Gilbert Hernandez tipped his hat to in Love and Rockets X, which featured a garage band called, you guessed it, Love and Rockets.
Mainstream comics have traditionally been very popular in Latin America, but it wasn’t until the 80s and 90s indie comic boom that Latino and creators began getting well-deserved recognition for work that centred on characters the mainstream avoided completely. And that’s the beauty of the Mexican-American brothers Gilbert, Jaime and Mario Hernandez’s creation; they relied on personal stories, weaving in their own experiences and focusing on highly detailed relationships and situations featuring Latinos, strong female and LGBTQ characters, and the punk rockers who populated their fictional towns of Palomar in Central America, and Hoppers, California.
Music and comics have striking similarities. In music a combination of lyrical/melodic and instrumental hooks draw you in. In comics it’s signature bits of dialogue and visual hooks. But both are all about payoff, whether that’s a big chorus or a full-page action shot. The approach and delivery may differ, but both feature larger than life personalities and both are fuelled by well-honed artistic chops, boundless creativity and irrepressible imaginations.
Historical and Biographical
David Bowie, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams
Brian Epstein The Fifth Beatle
Female Force featuring Madonna, Liza Minelli, Olivia Newton John and others
Robbie Rebel featuring Robbie Williams
To the obscure 60’s era street performer and ‘madman’s madman’ Wild Man Fischer
Gabba Gabba Hey: The Graphic Story of the Ramones by Brian Williamson and Jim McCarthy. McCarthy’s also wrote comic bios of Nirvana, the Sex Pistols and Bob Marley to name just a few
Brazilian actor, singer and TV presenter, Gugu Liberato
Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, by Derf Backderf
More musician/comic creators and musical inspired artwork