Godspeed: The new smell of teen spirit

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Godspeed, a graphic novel about Kurt Cobain, is being reissued in pocket-sized format, introducing this very modern hero to a different generation

With his ripped jeans, lank hair and sinewy, tortured frame, Kurt Cobain is not your average superhero. But that hasn't stopped a graphic novel based on the Nirvana frontman's rock'n'roll rollercoaster of a life from becoming something of a cult classic. Originally published in 2003, and translated into six different languages, Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic is now being republished in a smaller, Manga-style format for a new generation of fans to pore over.

Chris Charlesworth, editor at Omnibus Press, came up with the idea for a Cobain comic when he was pitched a graphic novel based on The Beatles. Uncertain that the Fab Four would appeal to the fanboys, he began casting around for a more youth-friendly protagonist. Cobain's short life – crammed with domestic conflict, global success, addiction and, ultimately, tragedy – offered the credible rockstar drama he was looking for. He drafted in Barnaby Legg and Jim McCarthy, a long-time 2000 AD employee who had worked on its Judge Dredd stories for over a decade, to write the story and Flameboy to provide the images. And so, replacing lycra with lumberjack shirts and heroism with heroin, a new slacker superman in worn-out sneakers was born.

The cover image, which casts Cobain as fallen angel – on his knees in a torn T-shirt, tattered wings drooping, with tears streaming from his eyes into a puddle on the floor – is typical of Flameboy's apocalyptic, inventive visuals. It took the Yorkshire-based graphic artist (whose real name is Steve Beaumont) eight months to complete them, "locked away in a room with no windows and just the music and videos of Nirvana plus a copy of Kurt's journals for company." Flailing limbs and bloody noses at gigs, the deathly, lonely glow of a heroin hit and violent rows with a nightie-clad Courtney Love, against a backdrop of jagged swear words, all feature. "You know when rock stars say they just went with the flow?" he told NME at the time. "Sometimes I look at these pages and think, 'did I draw that?' I can't even remember drawing it."

The writers took a similarly dream-like, impressionist approach to the rock star's troubled life. No ordinary biographical trawl, McCarthy and Legg go into Cobain's burgeoning childhood "relationship" with his imaginary friend, Boddah (to whom the singer would eventually address his rambling suicide note), his depression following his parents' divorce and his teenage battles with his sexuality and so-called "suicide genes" (his uncle Burle also killed himself). More happily, it also covers the first flowerings of musical talent, the euphoric early gigs, love and fatherhood. "Writing a graphic novel is different from writing a script. With really good comic art, you can do things you can't do with other art-forms," says McCarthy. The book is topped and tailed with imagined scenes around Cobain's suicide, in the greenhouse of his Seattle home, aged 27 – a controversial piece of artistic licence which drew death threats from still-grieving fans.

Today, almost 17 years after his death, Cobain's legacy lives on. "In the modern world heroes end up on T-shirts. And there's a particular brand of hero more powerful after their death than they could ever have imagined possible during their lifetime," writes Peter Doggett in the introduction to Godspeed. "Already you can find his tortured image being worn by kids whose only exposure to music during Kurt's lifetime was toddlers' TV themes. Cobain and his band have become a badge of authenticity in an age of emptiness."

In the eight years since Godspeed was first published, interest in graphic novels has also peaked, thanks partly to several big-budget Hollywood adaptations. Last year's Scott Pilgrim vs The World, in which Michael Cera's teen hero has his own Nirvana-lite band, Sex Bob-omb, played on the shared sensibility between indie music and comic books. Both speak to dispossessed teenagers in search of heroes and their own voices as they contemplate adulthood. The new edition of Godspeed, now in A5, rather than the traditional, large-scale annual format of the original, should fit neatly into their grungey satchels alongside their iPhones, Manga comics and a copy of NME. "Even though CD sales are tanking, there's no less interest in these stars. Just look at the proliferation of fanzines and online music forums by fans dedicated to their idols," says McCarthy.

Since Cobain, McCarthy has given Eminem, Tupac and Sex Pistols the comic-strip treatment and is now working on Neverland: the Life and Death of Michael Jackson, due for publication later this year. With artwork by Brian Williamson, the Jackson novel will have a more "realistic" feel than previous works, he says, but inhabits the same moral universe. All of these tales have a titanic battle of creativity vs celebrity, or good vs evil, at their heart. The difference is that their unlikely comic-book heroes end up losing more often than they win. "They're all about people from deprived backgrounds who end up finding fame wanting and just incredibly illusory," says McCarthy. "With American Idol and X Factor all over our screens, there's a story to be told there, but I don't think people want to listen."

'Godspeed: the Kurt Cobain Graphic' is published by Omnibus (£9.95)

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

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
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.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    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