Four Color Rock and Roll
From the Drawing Board of Gabe Soria
Comics and music have been inextricably linked in my head since the beginnings of my fascination with each art form. Where did it begin? Nelson Riddle's goony score and songs for the 1960s live-action Batman series? Spider-Man's catchy themes from his Ralph Bakshi animated days and his later mute incarnation on The Electric Company? That first fateful day I read an issue of Heavy Metal while Physical Graffiti droned on majestically, coincidentally in the back ground? Whatever it was, I can't imagine NOT wanting to put on some sort of record to accompany kicking back with a comic, and I'm astounded that more comics don't have soundtracks.
The purists out there might cry that pure comics don't need music to complete them. Well, they're right. You don't NEED music to make a complete comic book experience, but the right mood setter can make a great comic book even better. Artist and writer James Kochalka's band James Kochalka Superstar makes music that could be the pop music his violent robots and horny elves listen to on their radios; Craig Thompson's award-winning doorstop graphic novel Blankets actually has a very commendable original soundtrack of atmospheric instrumental indie rock by the Oregon band Tracker; and many comics creators are hip to the idea of listing the records that have informed their work in the back of the newest issue of whatever they're working on (Paul Pope's comics, with their name-checking of Nick Cave and being titled after pretty good boogie rock songs ("Heavy Liquid" by Thee Hypnotics) come to mind).
But I'm digressing. My point is: Why not more? Why aren't there more original soundtracks to comic books? Why aren't more creators listing the records that inspire them? Why don't more comics come with suggested listening?
Well, there's no reason why, which is why I'm suggesting the following recommended listening for some favorite comics (I'm stopping at two, because otherwise this erstwhile music journalist would go on forever).
Jack Kirby Comics
Unsurprisingly, the heavy-duty head trip comics of Jack Kirby (especially, but not exclusively, his Fourth World stuff) lend themselves to being sound-tracked by prog rock, doom metal and the like. I have no idea why more of his art wasn't featured on the side of custom vans in the mid-70s. Vaughn Bode and Frank Frazetta won THAT battle, I guess. The great stoner rock/acid metal band Monster Magnet wrote possibly the greatest, most to-the-point rock lyric about the world of comics in "Melt", the lead track from their 2001 album God Says No:
"And I was thinkin' how
the world should have cried/
On the Day Jack Kirby died/
I wonder if I'm ill"
How awesome is that? Monster Magnet rontman/songwriter Dave Wyndorf LOVES to sprinkle the band's records with not-so sly references to "classic" (pre-emptive quotes for the contrarians out there) comic books and characters, including the utterly bizarre Marvel Comics villain M.O.D.O.K. It's a great lyrical conceit, since these references tend to make one remember some comics more fondly than they deserve, perhaps, and in essence make the listener actually CREATE beautiful Platonic-ideals of psychedelic comics from the 70s in their heads. Hopefully one day this will come full-circle and somebody will actually make comic books inspired by this stuff. (For the record, the world SHOULD have cried on the day Jack Kirby died.)
Recommendations: In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson; Dopesmoker by Sleep; Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space by Spiritualized; Spine of God, Dopes to Infinity, Powertrip, God Says No, by Monster Magnet
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
I'm currently reading the long-delayed hardback graphic novel The Black Dossier, the second and a half volume of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's history of the creative world/literary superhero opus and am marveling at its formal gymnastics and pure storytelling chutzpah. It's really a marvel, well worth the thirty dollar (!) cover price on re-reading value alone, but I'm feeling a little bummed upon realizing the promised flexi-disc of a faux fifties rock song was not included. I'm assuming the twin boogeymen of enormous cost and lack of readers actually possessing a turntable on which to play the thing scotched the idea. Anyway, here's to it appearing online one day, or being issued by a VERY smart indie record label as a limited edition seven-inch. In my mind, the LOEG musically lends itself to the theatrical, the baroque and the circus-like, so with that in mind:
Recommendations: Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards by Tom Waits; a nice recording of The Threepenny Opera, preferably in German and featuring Lotte Lenya; Working for the Man by Tindersticks; Vol 1: Soft Emergencies by the New Orleans Bingo! Show; Trouble is a Lonesome Town by Lee Hazlewood
[UP NEXT WEEK: TANYA MCKINNON]