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When musicians get the comics itch (and vice-versa)

August 11, 2009 |  7:48 am

Alan Moore, the writer whose comics work includes "Watchmen" and "From Hell," is collaborating with avant hip-hop artist Doseone (Subtle, Themselves) and Andrew Broder (Fog) on music to accompany his upcoming graphic novel "Unearthing." This is far from Moore’s first foray into music: He has collaborated with Tim Perkins and David J from Bauhaus.

Looking back to R. Crumb's album cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company, it's clear that comic art and music have a long, interweaving relationship. Now musicians/artists/writers pull double-duty, making music and graphic novels in tandem. The artists below work in both disciplines.

Percy Carey’s "Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm" (DC Comics, 2008), a collaboration with artist Ronald Wimberly, is a memoir of Carey’s decades-long involvement with hip-hop, acting and the illegal activities that landed him in prison. It has the feel of an illustrated monologue, and is presented as a cautionary tale: Carey emphasizes his own wrong turns, specifically his inability to choose music over the allure of maintaining a small drug empire. And while Carey’s storytelling is at times intentionally oblique, admitting that certain topics are off-limits to this particular narrative, it’s also an example of why the archetypal redemption story retains plenty of power.

Gerard (My Chemical Romance) Way's series "The Umbrella Academy" (begun in 2007) boasts the surrealism of Grant Morrison’s "Doom Patrol," (he notes this is an essential read) and the emotional heft of Chris Claremont’s "X-Men."  It’s not surprising that the vocalist for My Chemical Romance has a sense for the grandiose and a morbid sense of humor. Interior artist Gabriel Bá ably handles the absurdity, angst, and heroics on display in Way’s scripts, while James Jean, the cover artist, also provided illustrations for My Chemical Romance’s "The Black Parade." Publisher Dark Horse recently announced that Way and co-writer Shaun Simon would be teaming with artist Becky Cloonan for a new series, "Killjoys," debuting in 2010.

Best known for his solo records and work as a guitarist for The Sea and Cake, Archer Prewitt’s work as a writer-artist -- in the relentlessly optimistic "Sof’ Boy" (begun in 1992, reissued by Fantagraphics 1997-2004) -- has earned him acclaim from the comics world, including a 1998 Eisner Award nomination.

Ron Regé, Jr.’s ongoing series of dispatches, "Yeast Hoist," have a similar surreal brightness to them. Even if Regé’s name isn’t familiar, it’s likely that you’ve seen his button-nosed characters somewhere before -- it's the artwork for "Imagine Our Love," the 2006 album from Lavender Diamond, in which he plays drums.

Zak Sally’s musical resume includes playing bass in Low and Enemymine. He runs the small independent press La Mano, releasing others' graphic novels and comics, as well as his own. Sally's surreal and compelling series "Sammy the Mouse," begun in 2007, is a kind of existentialist's Bloom County. Sally has recently released his first solo record, the impressively moody album "Fear of Song."

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s ongoing "Scott Pilgrim" graphic novels (begun in 2004) feature a manic pop-influenced sensibility, and his graphic novel "Lost At Sea," ably translated teenage melancholy into words and pictures. His solo musical project Kupek has released three albums and an abundance of odds and ends; it’s homemade pop music, that, like his graphic novels, is intimate and enthusiastic. It doesn’t hurt that he has covered both Underworld and the Microphones, or that his descriptions of Kupek’s back catalog can be brutally honest: the album "This Is Intolerable," he writes, “is kind of a concept album about ... BEING SAD."

-- Tobias Carroll

Tobias Carroll writes about music and books and blogs at The Scowl.

Image from The Umbrella Academy. Credit: Dark Horse Comics