Right up front: I love comics. I have since I was a little kid. I also think that comics get a bad rap. We’re able to accept that beautiful visual art can be a part of any number of artistic experiences across a whole range of quality and genres; stories told in the written word are given the same broad consideration. But something happens when you marry the two together and tell a story in sequence — American pop culture, perhaps due to its enthusiastic embrace of superheroes — sometimes has trouble recognizing the full gamut of possibilities in storytelling via comics and graphic novels. But it’s gotten better in recent years, to be sure; this column is meant to provide some examples of comics and graphic novels across different genres, themed to attract and entice different kinds of readers who like different kinds of themes and storytelling. So, we’re going to look at three different uses of comics across a genre, and then take a peek at what’s hitting stores today, Wednesday April 23, that might be worth your while.
Today, we’re going to talk about music-based graphic novels a little bit; the last several years have seen several different graphic novels really break through, and find different and cool ways of marrying the subcultures of comics and pop/rock music in unforeseen, unexpected, and entertaining ways.
So, consider this a smattering of graphic novels and stories to read if you’re a fan of music culture, and want to see what might be out there beyond the standard perceptions of comic book capes and tights. All of these are available at your local comic shop, via Amazon, or on the Comixology app on your computer and smartphone.
For the Pop Music History Buff: The Fifth Beatle: the Brian Epstein Story, by Vivek Tiwary (Author), Philip Simon (Editor), Andrew C Robinson (Artist), and Kyle Baker (Artist)
There was John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and then there was their visionary manager, Brian Epstein, whose idealistic, groundbreaking and dogged form of management perhaps provided the incalculable propulsion that drove the fab four to stardom. Told in gorgeously colored vignettes of his life and loves, The Fifth Beatle really cuts to the quick of who Epstein was, and balances his creative life with the Beatles against the dangers of his personal life as a Jewish homosexual in 60s England, in a time when both of those qualities invited prejudice. We all probably know the legend of the four boys from Liverpool in one form or another; seeing the story from a sensitive and talented soul just off on the sidelines provides a very different, and very funny, and ultimately tragic and worthwhile look at the price of fame and talent.
For the Lover of Punk Culture/Anglophile: Phonogram, by Kieron Gillen (Author) and Jamie McKelvie (Illustrator)
This is a story of how music can change a person’s life in real, very tangible ways: it’s a look at the history of British guitar rock, and the punk scene, and how a love of music is to be treasured, and nurtured, and has purpose and value. Here’s the twist: the whole story takes place in a world where music is magic, and the songs we know and love each have powers that are weird and wondrous. Songs are spells, and the right one might save your life just as easily as the wrong one will kill you cold. If Harry Potter and High Fidelity had an angry, awesome baby, it’d be this. Phonogram has two volumes, with the first in black and white and the second in gorgeous color. The team claims there’s a third volume on the way eventually, but Gillen and McKelvie recently got snapped up for an extend run on Marvel’s Young Avengers, with more mainstream work in the pipeline. So we’ll see when we’ll get more of this awesome series.
For the Guy or Gal Who Misses 90s Music: TRICKED! By Alex Robinson
Robinson first came on the scene in the 90s with his extended epic Box Office Poison, about a group of friends living in New York and having to balance their dreams of writing and drawing for a living against paying the bills and the complications of relationships gone right and wrong. His follow-up book Tricked! is a bunch of interwoven and deeply funny love stories, built around a very strange dude who just might be based on Rivers Cuomo (just kidding, he’s TOTALLY based on Rivers Cuomo). This book is a love letter to the culture of the one-hit-wonder, and the weird post-grunge bands of the 90s and 00s. It’s also super sweet, bitingly funny, and shockingly real at points. If Judd Apatow wrote for Behind the Music, it would feel a lot like Tricked!
So, friends, that’s scraping the surface of great music graphic novels. Next time, maybe we’ll talk romantic comedies.
For the moment, though, I’d like to end this column with a heads-up about the best of what’s coming out this week. I’ll top off every column with one comic book (floppy, two staples for binding, about 32 pages) recommendation, and one graphic novel recommendation. And once again, all of these are available at your local comic shop, via Amazon, or on the Comixology app on your computer and smartphone.
COMIC BOOK OF THE WEEK:
Herobear and the Kid: Saving Time #1 by Mike Kunkel: Kunkel spent over a decade as a Disney animator before moving into self-publishing and creating this series. This is a story of a kid and his favorite stuffed bear—who actually is a big, goofy superhero imbued with a whole bunch of cool powers by the kid’s grandfather, who was secretly Santa Claus. The series is a wonderful, all-ages adventure that has some sly gags and beautiful art, and it’s appropriate and magical for all ages six to eighty-six. It’s rare for a book to really span all ages, but this one does it, and this issue is a great jumping-on point.
GRAPHIC NOVEL OF THE WEEK:
BRILLIANT, VOL. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley: Now, I’m a big fan of HBO’s Silicon Valley, and I’ve always been a sucker for stories of brash groups of smart young people coming together and changing their corners of the world. This is a dark, superhero-y version of that, about a group of brilliant young minds at the most elite universities around the world, who crack the code for superpowers in a “real world” setting—and the dark and terrible consequences that come with it. If the cast of The Social Network could punch holes through each other, it’d be a little like this book. Thought-provoking and a ton of fun.
That’s all for now, friends—what are you reading? Drop me a line and tell me if there’s something I’ve missed. I’m always up for new books.