Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #5 by Drew Barth
The Music Connection
There’s a deep and wide history interconnecting music and comics that goes back decades. For now I’m just going to focus on one aspect of it: the ways in which music has influenced comics. These influences go deep. Anything from Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello lyrics at the ends of issues of Watchmen to DC’s Young Animals imprint being headed by My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way. And even more of it goes further back with more of DC’s work in the sixties being directly influenced by the counter-culture and, by extension, the music of the era.
We would get these series like Angel and the Ape, Brother Power the Geek, and Prez that were such products of the late-sixties/early-seventies era that it’s hard to look at the imagery used for their titular characters and not see the ways in which that particular musical era inspired them. This ties even deeper into the Adam West Batman of the era doing the Batusi (referenced later in the greatest piece of Bat-media, Batman: The Brave and the Bold’s “Mayhem of the Music Meister”).
But it isn’t always just superheroes. In the eighties we first got to see Los Bros Hernandez bring us their wonderful comic Love and Rocketsthat was dripping with musical references and stories involving various characters connected to the LA punk scene. The series even has its own unofficial soundtrack compiled from songs referenced or sung throughout the series. Love and Rockets made that leap from having music influence series in a superficial sort of way into being a part of the DNA of the series.
When we get more into the modern age, we start to see this flourishing of music related comic series come into the mainstream, most notably with the creative team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Beginning with the first volume of their series Phonogram in 2006, they began to show how music could work in comics in a more fundamental way. And that isn’t even getting into the playlistsGillencreatesfordifferent series. But what Phonogram did as a series was tap into something that everyone experiences: the idea of music as magic. This, layered with copious Brit-Pop references that are nigh incomprehensible unless you wrote for NME in the 90s, created a series that treated music as inspiration and source material. Like Love and Rockets before it, Phonogram worked with this idea of how music makes an individual feel but took it a step further with how that feeling is tantamount to magic itself and how people utilize that magic for themselves.
And then The Wicked + The Divine happened with Gillen and McKelvie taking that music as magic idea even further with gods being reincarnated as pop stars. Because, from the floor of a show, that’s how the music feels. What WicDiv(as it’s typically stylized) does is tap into what it means to be a fan and everything that comes with that—and I do mean every soul-crushing moment that comes with it. Gillen and McKelvie created something both delightful and harrowing in equal measure. It’s a series I’ve been following since its debut and every page follows this inaudible beat as the story rips through your soul. But it is so imbued with this musical spirit that you can’t help but dance through the tears.
All of this brings us to a new series Image Comics released recently that wears its musical influences a bit more on its sleeve. Gunning for Hits is a series that is seeped a bit more in the business side of the music industry. And that makes perfect sense as the writer, Jeff Rougvie, is a music producer who’s worked on albums from David Bowie and Big Star.
When looking at the state of the music industry and how harrowing most media typically portrays it, it makes perfect sense for a comic from someone within the industry would revolve around a former hit man working as a talent scout. While previous series glorify the music as a piece of art and the emotional connection people develop, Rougvie and Moritat gives us a kind of unerring reality seeped in back-room rumors and healthy cynicism.
Gunning for Hits is a series that feels like a natural step in how music and comics have interacted for the past fifty years. We’ve gone from the fans to the people who had a hand in creating some of these albums that were influential to those original fans. But of course, that idea of influence is a two-way street. I wonder where an intrepid reader could learn more about that.
Get excited. There’s a part two coming next week.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.