Ask Missy Suicide about when she saw the punk rock and tattoo aesthetic of the online community she helped create shift to comic book and pop-culture geekery and she says it was a little more than a decade ago.
The SuicideGirls website, which features women posting various photos of themselves in nude and semi-nude artistic poses, predates the social media phenomenon. With the sites cult-like popularity it only made sense to take it on the road.
"We put on the burlesque show in like 2002 and 2007, and it was a much more freeform punk rock, burlesque show. We had a few numbers that were pop culture themed and they were always audience favorites," Missy (real name: Selena Mooney) says.
Around 2012, when the road show had been on hiatus so Missy could refocus on other products, such as a coffee table book and a video series, she noticed the increasing popularity of the brand she helped create.
"We put out a coffee table book in 2012, and we sent two girls up and down the West Coast to do book singings, and there were 500 people outside of a book store in Santa Cruz," she remembers.
It was apparent that there was a need to bring back a live experience.
“We know we can do better than a girl in a comic book shop. We started to reimagine what a burlesque tour could be. In the ensuing six years that we took off, the burlesque world has really started to develop, and our punk rock burlesque tour wasn’t going to cut it anymore. We wanted to create something that was more grand and more indicative of the girls, as well and their interests. So many of the girls on the site are cosplayers.”
The women who participate on the site, which was founded in 2001 and now has a few million subscribers, pay $4 a month to share and upload photos. Their tastes and images have propelled SuicideGirls into standard Hollywood parlance.
"So the Harley Quinn character, she is a suicide girl in Suicide Squad," Missy says with a chuckle. "It’s crazy how SuicideGirls became this iconic sort of character. In movies, they send out breakdowns, which are like character descriptions for actors and casting, and they’ll often put down 'Suicide Girl type.'
It does evoke such a visceral image in your mind of what a Suicide Girl is. It was great to see Harley Quinn be such a strong, dominant character in a comic book movie."
In fact, the SG brand been melding with Hollywood for years. The company's offices, Missy says, are located not far from the major movie studios in Hollywood and just happens to be within a stones throw of Jumbo's Clown Room, a storied Hollywood Boulevard strip club where the ladies who dance the poles usually have a similar punk rock aesthetic.
But as the 60-city Black Heart Burlesque tour rolls into Houston this weekend, don't expect it to just be a rehash of superhero movies or tatted-up strippers.
With the new cosplay theme, the show has a mix of numbers that touch on not only comic book culture but also Simpsons episodes and even the latest crop of HBO and Netflix television hits.
It's quite the mashup. "A little bit of this, a little bit of that to come up with something cool," is how Missy describes it.
A riff on the Planet of the Apes musical, featured on an early episode of The Simpsons, gets mashed with a song by the garage house group Disclosure.
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In another set, the piano instrumental for Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun, featured on the show West World, pops up.
"We wanted to create a show that was based on the girls' interests and really fuse that together with a really kick-ass soundtrack and really envision these grander-scale sort of cosplay- and pop-culture-influenced numbers," Missy says about how the show came to encompass such a mix.
"This year there are a lot more numbers that are influenced by television shows because TV has upped its game so much in the past year with West World and Stranger Things, there’s really more good characters and more female characters to draw from," she says.
SuicideGirls: Blackheart Burlesque Tour stops at Warehouse Live, Saturday, April 29, 813 St. Emanuel. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$240; see blackheartburlesque.com for more information.