Comic-book rockers strip away the music

Superheroes and cartoon characters have always featured in pop. Today the genres are merging in new ways, says Nick Hasted

Comic-books and music have been linked since San Francisco's underground cartoonists and acid-rockers mingled in the 1960s. Now in a new wave of activity, the two spheres are becoming interchangeable.

From UK indie veterans The Wedding Present to US prog-rockers Coheed and Cambria, and Camden indie band The Red the White and the Blue (who include members of Ash and Feeder), musicians are writing their own comics to illustrate the imaginative worlds in their heads. Meanwhile, clambering over the other side of the fence, comic-books' most brilliant writer, Alan Moore, regularly performs sell-out shows to eerie musical accompaniment.

Coheed and Cambria, who have released a series of top 10 albums in the US, are named after characters in the popular comics their singer-songwriter Claudio Sanchez also scripts. The albums' concepts only make sense when heard alongside the comics' cosmic conspiracies. Sanchez was inspired by bands of the 1970s who suggested a world beyond their music. "When I was growing up," he recalls, "I liked the bands that had a cinematic counterpart to their record, like Pink Floyd with The Wall. I liked the idea of the songs having a life off of the record, and that's what I'd like to see happen for Coheed. The comics detail all those moments that might not be fleshed out in the music. They work hand in hand, to help create each other."

Another clear connection between the comic-book and rock mainstreams is the outlandish characters of the greatest rock stars. Bob Dylan, Ziggy Stardust, Johnny Rotten and Slim Shady are super-aliases, masking the secret identities of Robert Zimmerman et al. In the 1970s, the masked and costumed Kiss and Alice Cooper both starred in Marvel comics, and in 1994 Cooper employed British writer Neil Gaiman to help conceive his Lost in America album.

Sanchez agrees he has a more potent alter ego, on both page and stage. "I created my concepts to allow myself to tell my story, but also have something to hide behind," he says. "And when the music happens onstage, I feel like someone else. It's a kind of superhero transition." Ash's Rick McMurray, moonlighting with The Red the White and the Blue and cameoing in their comic The Balloonist, also sees the appeal. "Comics relate closely to music," he says. "They can both be vehicles for creating an ideal concept of the self."

The Balloonist is published in issues packaged with CDs which soundtrack the story. An album and graphic novel will collect both next year. "I haven't seen anyone do that before," the band's guitarist and comics mastermind Paul Cronin says. "But there seems to be a whole wave coming of people doing something similar. Comic-books seemed like a perfect medium to get the story across. The style of music we do is quite Pop Art. The lyrics are direct, as comic-book dialogue is." An online, part-animated "motion comic" soundtracked by the songs connects the media still closer.

Alan Moore's new single, "The Decline of English Murder", is a fund-raiser for the Occupy movement the anarchist writer helped inspire with his comic V for Vendetta, a 1984 episode of which, "The Vicious Cabaret", began his fascination with expressing "the vitality and spirit of rock'n'roll" in comics. It's whole story was in song form, with music by Bauhaus's David J written under the frames, then recorded as a single.

In Moore's current comic, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Stones' 1969 concert in Hyde Park inspires a lavish swirl of psychedelic art to the rewritten lyrics of "Sympathy for the Devil", followed by a 1977 comedown in a grey punk club. But Moore is as likely these days to be found incanting onto CDs such as Unearthing with musicians including Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite and Faith No More's Mike Patton, or performing.

When the comics and pop scenes are at their strongest, they intersect and play off each other. Leading 1960s underground cartoonists such as Robert Crumb made their names in San Francisco alongside their acid-dropping friends Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, while in the 1990s Fantagraphics was Sub Pop's comic-book equivalent and neighbour in Seattle, chronicling the slacker era in Peter Bagge's Hate.

At the decade's end, New York's anti-folk music scene gave a voice to musician-cartoonists including Jeffrey Lewis, who has been called "the finest lyricist working in the US today" by Jarvis Cocker. "Music's never what I intended to do with my life in the first place," he tells me. "I've regretted the time taken away from comics." Sanchez knows how he feels. "When we were working on this last record, I stepped away from comic writing for six months and I felt a void of some sort. Then, when I looked at the next scripts, it felt like, 'oh, this is what's been missing'."

'The Balloonist' by The Red the White and the Blue and Coheed and Cambria's album 'The Afterman: Ascension' are out now

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace