In a previous blog posted here, I raved about a new Graphic Novel, about The Beatles original manager, the late Brian Epstein, entitled ‘The Fifth Beatle‘. Since I wrote about it, ‘The Fifth Beatle’, with its emotional rollercoaster dialogue and mind blowing aesthetic artistry, has topped the New York Times Bestsellers list and has also been slated for a Hollywood animated movie in 2015. Should be pretty cool. But, enough about the Beatles. I’ve got something else to write about…
What is the one medium of entertainment that has been around almost as long as popular music, been adored by many musicians over the decades and even found its way into the lyrics and titles of some the greatest bands and artists? Some bands and artists have even had their images influenced by them. No, can’t think of what other entertainment medium, music has in common with? Try, comics.
Yup, since the early days of newspaper comics strips (the ‘funnies’), countless musicians have been amusing themselves during idle times with comics. Even the musicians who’ve read other fiction and/or intellectual books, comics have found a place in their hearts and minds. Think about it for a second. Imagine being on a tour bus. Today, video games, satellite TV, DVDs and other digital entertainment sources are the norm. But, usually, somewhere in a bunk or at the back of the bus is the ‘reader’. Now imagine what it was like before the days of digital amusement. For the musicians who traveled on rickety buses, in beat up VW vans or half expired station wagons, there you would always find the newspaper comics dailies or some comic of some kind.
It’s well known that Elvis Presley was a fan of comics. Even at his career height, his unabashed love of comics was often brought up in interviews. The public loved it. Who knows, maybe Elvis had a subliminal influence on the resurgence of comics between 1958 and 1966. Those years, of course, bring us to the ‘Silver Age’ of comics. The 60s & the dawn of Marvel Comics greatest characters – Spider Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and so many more. That same time period also coincided with 60s Jazz and the emerging British Invasion, Psychedelic Rock and Progressive (Prog Rock) movements. Two of the more overlooked recordings and original merging of comics & music come from both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, a young Progressive Jazz Rock group by the name of Icarus debuted with their untimely concept album ‘The Marvel World of Icarus’. Each song was titled for a Marvel character and the album art had each member’s head placed on various Marvel characters. Hilarious.
The music wasn’t bad either.
In the USA, was Jazz musician Freddie McCoys’ ‘Spiderman’ album with its’ sleek Jazz version of the unforgettable TV theme song. It was a perfect choice of music considering how Jazz was becoming smoother in the early 60s, almost lounge-like. McCoys ‘Spiderman’ could easily fit alongside ‘The Girl From Ipanema’.
When it comes to unforgettable comic book character theme songs, another fan favorite group that delved into comics (actually it was their drummer who was the comic book freak), was The Who. On their album ‘A Quick One’, Keith Moon led the group on a 1:45 romp of the 60s TV ‘Batman’ theme song. Awesome!
Another fine example, going back to the 70s, would be Paul McCartney & Wings with their ode to the World of Marvel, with ‘Magneto & Titanium Man’. I found an excellent youtube clip someone put together of the Wings song w/ clips of TV superheroes. More fun!
For this comic book fan (me that is), no group has better managed to infiltrate & market themselves brilliantly in the comic book world, than KISS. Not long after they began, the group started their own comic book series. Their comics continue to this day. They have even cross-promoted themselves in Japanese Manga and good old Archie comics!
Recently, I discovered for myself a couple of cool looking titles, that just m-a-y-b-e you might enjoy..
The first one is a gripping story with far out art, about a future dystopian world where music has become so cross pollinated and hybrid, that the Arts Councils and Governments decide music MUST be generalized with a Genre type or name – or else – the musician suffers severe consequences. It’s called ‘Kill Audio’. Check it out.
The other was a co-written and designed book by Courtney Taylor-Taylor of Oregon’s The Dandy Warhols and Jim Rugg (well known for his own Funk & Blaxploitation comics of the late 70s and 80s). Their book, ‘One Nation’ follows the exploits involving the mysterious disappearance of a band in the late 70s with a group of Anarchists. Part Cold War thriller and adventure with Germany and Krautrock music as a backdrop. This book is a keeper!
After doing a quick search of Google images, I was reminded of artists from the last 30 years who have either marketed themselves in comics or been influenced by comics. There have been many, many musicians who have engrossed themselves in comics and many who have found a delicate balance between both worlds in their work.
SO, next time you happen to pick up a comic book (and DO NOT be ashamed to), remember…you are in good company with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj, Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang Clan, Radiohead, Alice Cooper, Devo, Prince, Avril Lavigne Paul McCartney, Kiss, Elvis Presley, Prince, Wu-Tang Clan, Outkast and, of course Batman & Superman