More and More Rock Stars Are Turning Into Comic-Book Creators

The idea of rock stars being featured in comics is nothing new. One of the many, many urban legends about KISS is that they used their blood in the red ink of a run featuring the band as part of the Marvel Comics Super Special series that had also done books starring The Beatles. That legend is true, though what most people will fail to mention is that the comics aren't just bloody, they're bloody awful.

There's a reason for that. For most of the last half century whenever comic books and rock and roll came together it was in order to create a marketing or merchandising ploy, not to enhance either medium in any particularly critical way. KISS comics, whether they be the work of Todd MacFarlane, appearances in Archie or the most recent weird noir series by Chris Ryall are all examples of musical icons who are willing to allow their image thrown on anything in the name of a buck.

Even Todd Loren's infamous Rock 'N' Roll Comics, which made its money doing unauthorized (and proud of it!) musical biographies were little better than tabloid fodder, though I proudly own the Cure comics. In short, little good came of getting rock and comics in bed together no matter how much the two media had in common.

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Two legends changed all that, Alice Cooper and Neil Gaiman. Cooper's 1994 album The Last Temptation was a gamble, his first concept album since DaDa. He wanted to explore the story more fully, and recruited the writer of Sandman to flesh out the tale of a boy who becomes fascinated by a demonic showman. Both the album and the three-part comic story are absolutely brilliant, and while the writing is all Gaiman's except for lyrics used in the book, it's clear that Cooper laid down the bones of the story to great effect.

It would be more than a decade before something that good would come along again.

I'm no fan of My Chemical Romance, though that's probably just gothic snottiness over what most goths refer to as "Hot Topic emo bullshit." The weird thing is, that band was never really supposed to happen. Gerard Way grew up idolizing and drawing comics. He was even a guest on Sally Jesse Raphael at age 16 discussing the controversy of featuring serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer in comic books.

Way was on track to enter the comic industry, and had just about chosen the worst time to do it. Comics had collapsed in the wake of oversaturation and poor quality in the '90s. Then he watched the September 11 tragedy unfold and decided that staring at a computer screen in the basement working on breaking into comics was both futile and really depressing. That's how My Chemical Romance was started, as a backup gig to a comic nerd's big dream.

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Luckily, Way never let go of that dream because he is a fantastic comic creator. In 2007, he teamed with artist Gabriel Ba to put out a six-issue comic called The Umbrella Academy. It's the story of a mad scientist who collects mysterious children born with astounding powers, and then turns them into a superpowered fighting force. It turns out that making kids into commandos fighting bloody battles doesn't do much for the psyche, and they reunite for a dysfunctional aversion of the apocalypse upon the death of their adoptive father.

It's a mad book, an utterly genius look at rejection and familial relationships backdropped in a fully developed world of strange wonders. Way won an Eisner Award for the work, and followed it up with a sequel. Now he's putting out a really first-rate monthly book, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, which focuses on a mysterious girl trying to reunite a shattered rebellion against a tyrannical corporation that rules the world.

Way is by far the best rock star out there creating comics, but he's not the only one by a long shot. Max Bemis from Say Anything recently began a four-issue miniseries called Polarity. The protagonist is an artist named Tim, whose bipolar disorder actually grants him superpowers at the expense of some sanity. Bemis himself has spent time in a mental institution because of bipolar disorder, and the comic mirrors many of his personal struggles.

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The comic isn't just a stand-in fantasy or a third-rate metaphor, though. It's an honest look at the nature of mental illness and how it changes your perception of the world around you.

More and more rockers are finding a voice in comics, especially thanks to Dark Horse. In 2011 Tom Morello wrote a 12-issue series, Orchid, that followed a prostitute who learns she is more than just a role in society in a post-apocalyptic world. Slipknot and Stone Sour's Corey Taylor also entered the comic arena this year with House of Gold & Bones, which calls to mind the work between Gaiman and Cooper on Last Temptation by tying in with Stone Sour concept album of the same name, which was released in April. Taylor has said that the comic may pave the way for a film soon.

Even Ghostface Killah and composer Adrian Younge have gotten in on the comic medium, releasing Twelve Reasons to Die to tremendous critical acclaim. That's the difference you're seeing now, I feel. Folks like Way and Ghostface not only have a solid love and appreciation for comic books, they don't see them as mere marketing tools. For the first time since Cooper and Gaiman sat down together to write the story of Steven and a haunted stage show, music and comics are getting an equal amount of effort when the two collide.

Which is a fair sight better than watching Gene Simmons' boots breathe fire for no damned reason.


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Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.


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