Ilko Davidov's documentary film Unauthorized: The Story of Rock N Roll Comics is finally available on DVD today after having been originally released in 2005. Hopefully you remember Rock N Roll Comics, the series of illustrated unauthorized biographies that Todd Loren put out to the rage of many until he was murdered in 1992.
The books were a source of major controversy, with many artists considering them to be bootlegged merchandise. It was a somewhat debatable point, as Marvel has already had a fairly successful career doing comic books with the likes of Kiss, books which they had paid Kiss quite a bit of money to be involved with.
However, Loren's assertion was always that the comics represented illustrated biographies and nothing more. The bookshelves were flooded then, as they are now, with hundreds of unauthorized books about bands, their authors hoping to cash in on the fame of rising or established stars. That Loren had decided to do his in comic-book form is unusual, but not outside the realm of believability.
For many musicians, though, it was a source of resentment. Axl Rose famously threatened to sue Loren multiple times, and each time merely ensured the increased distribution of the offending issues. Rose, along with members of Mötley Crüe and Alice Cooper as well as Lemmy, also called into question the accuracy of the comics.
They may have complained, but Loren maintained a treasure trove of bootleg recordings and rock and roll-related literature left over from his days as a mail-order vendor of music merchandise. The legends he included, such as Cooper hurling a chicken into the audience, are perfectly verifiable, and even the infamous rumor that members of Led Zeppelin used a fish to screw a groupie aren't so much untrue as overly misconstrued.
Ultimately, a federal judge ruled that Loren's comics did constitute unauthorized biographies, and that they did not violate copyright unless trademarked logos or other images were used. Subsequent issues would remove official logos.
In later years, according to Unauthorized, many rockers would come to enjoy the fact that they had a comic book. Rob Halford even expressed disappointment that there had never been a Judas Priest issue. Mojo Nixon, who vehemently defends Loren in the film, even collaborated on an authorized comic.
Rock N Roll Comics fared little better among the comic-book community itself. Loren had a reputation for giving new writers and artists a shot, and indeed many went on to great careers, but he also had the underhanded practice of rubberstamping a contract that relieved the artists and writers of all their rights to their work on the back of their paychecks so that they had no choice but to sign. That's a dick move by anyone's standard.
It also didn't help that Marvel was paying record labels thousands of dollars to get in bed with crossover merchandise when Loren was doing the same thing paying nothing. Resentment was high.
Still, through it all the little indie comic publisher held on until Loren's mysterious, and as yet unsolved, murder. One day he simply didn't show up to work, and was found by his father stabbed to death in bed at his apartment.
It was only after he died that many of his closest friends even knew he was gay, and it was suspected that Loren had simply picked up the wrong date the night his life was taken. Some believe that Loren may actually have been the first victim of serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The case remains open.
Unauthorized is a look at one man who was many different people. Loren was a true fan, a visionary, a dickhead and most of all someone who wanted to do something with his life. He fought long, hard and passionately for the First Amendment, believing that expression should be free and that people should not be owned by copyright lawyers.
You can look at the short life of Rock N Roll Comics as either a shlocky cash grab by an unscrupulous businessman or a campaign of unrestrained rock and roll. Both views are essentially correct.
The best way to look at it, though, is as an epitaph to a time when musicians were larger than life enough to warrant their own comic books. These days? Not so much.
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