Grant Morrison is a U.K. comic book writer known for known for highly singular—or insane, if you prefer, in a good way—takes on established mainstream properties like X-Men and Doom Patrol as well as his own, peyotesque original series like The Invisibles and Seaguy. He is also a friend and mentor to My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way, and even adroitly played the part of “menacing bald guy in a rock video” for their “Sing” and “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” clips.
Their relationship is an example of a long-running but increasingly public trend. Comic books and rock/rap music have always had a close relationship. Both were tagged as mind-rotting, juvenile trash for much of their early existence, and over the years we’ve seen everything from KISS getting their own Marvel comic (printed in their own blood, they would have you believe) to Rivers Cuomo singing about his favorite X-Men members.
With the rise in cultural prominence and respect for funny-book creators, liking comic books—or graphic novels, if you’re fancy—is no longer an activity that will blow your cultural cachet or get your lunch money stolen, and many musicians have quit being shy about waving their fanboy/fangirl flags. In honor of our recent Comics Issue, we present the ten best musician and graphic novel-type friendships. We even reached out to some of our favorite artists about their collaborations.
1. Grant Morrison And Gerard Way
My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way is a long-time comic-book fan. He interned at DC’s comics “mature” imprint Vertigo when he was younger, and claimed that Morrison’s violently meta run on Doom Patrol was one of his favorites when he was younger. Morrison served a mentor to Way when he began writing his series, The Umbrella Academy, and wrote the intro for the series’ first trade paperback. He also pushed Way to rethink the original trad-punk direction for MCR’s follow-up to 2006’s The Black Parade in favor of something bolder. The result, last year’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, is a lot like a Morrison book. It’s filled with big ideas and gleefully absurd WTF moments, and it’s supported by an underlying narrative that never quite makes sense.
2. Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos
Though Gaiman has denied long-running rumors that his character Delirium—featured in his canonical series The Sandman—was based on Amos, he did admit that their friendship influenced his interpretation of the character. She later wrote an introduction for the collection of Sandman spin-off Death: The High Cost Of Living, and he repaid the favor by collaborating with Amos on story structure for her covers album Strange Little Girls. The platonic Joe Dimaggio and Marilyn Monroe for misfit ’90s kids with dramatic tendencies (more on Gaiman’s less platonic, just as public musical relationship later), they met after Amos, already a fan, sang about “me and Neil hanging-out with the Dream King” for her song “Tear In Your Hand.” (She later went on to sing about her anxiety that a lover might be unable to find her if “Neil makes me a tree,” which sort of happened in Stardust.) The pair share a love of folklore and a willingness to blow up odd ideas in a spectacular fashion, and an argument could be made that her friendship with Gaiman drove new readers to Sandman and Vertigo in general, and was one of several factors that helped make the art form’s less of a boy’s club.
3. Adrian Tomine and Mark Oliver “E” Everett
Mark Oliver Everett, leader of the revolving art-pop crew the Eels, and Adrian Tomine, the cartoonist best known for his series Drawn & Quarterly-published series Optic Nerve and his New Yorker illustrations, share a talent for capturing small moments of aching sadness or fleeting beauty. So it was only natural that Everett, a longtime fan of underground comics, recruited Tomine to provide art for his 1998 masterpiece Electro-Shock Blues and this year’s underrated wrist-slitter End Times. “Having been a big fan of comic artists like R. Crumb and Daniel Clowes, when I discovered the amazing work of the Drawn & Quarterly artists in the mid ’90s, I eventually got the nerve to ask some of them if they’d do art for one of our albums,” says Everett, who also worked with illustrators Chester Brown and Seth (just Seth.) “I first worked with Adrian when he contributed to our 1998 album Electro-shock Blues. In that case I gave Adrian a song title (“Going To Your Funeral Part II”) and gave him free reign to interpret the title as he saw fit. For the End Times album cover I described what I thought the homeless character in the title song looked like in my mind and Adrian quickly rendered an exact portrait of what I was seeing in my imagination. I wish I could do that.”
4. Jim Mahfood and Slug And Murs
Rap and comics share a pretty deep bond. Wu-Tang alone, you know? But while Method Man a/k/a Johnny Blaze, Ghostface Killah a/k/a Tony Starks, and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan had their own, forgotten comic series for a while, it was Rhymesayers kings Slug (of Atmosphere) and Murs (who will gladly be your best friend) that initiated the best merger of the forms yet. The pair recruited indie artist Jim Mahfood, best known for adapting Kevin Smith’s Clerks into comic form and his own Grrl Scouts (both of which were filled with shout-outs to his favorite music, from Peter Tosh to Run-DMC) to produce a comic interpretation for an album by the pair’s low-key collaborative side-project Felt.
“They told me they were doing the Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet album and they wanted a comic book to come out along with it,” Mahfood says about the resultant work, Felt: True tales of underground hip hop, which illustrated the albums themes of scamming on girls and hanging out. “So they sent me the album as soon as it was done and I listed to it, like, 150 times, and then I sat down and started writing out the lyrics and figuring things out, and then I eventually crafted comic book stories for each song on the LP. Those guys pretty much gave me complete freedom to basically do whatever the hell I wanted. They didn’t even see the thing until it was done,” he explains. “I met them at this restaurant in Hollywood called Swingers, and I showed them the entire book, and Slug just sat there after he finished his meal, just reading the whole thing and studying each page. I thought that he was going to hate it, and then he put it down and told me he really liked it. That was a relief. What I’ve discovered over the years is that basically most underground hip-hop dudes are fans of underground comics. And vice versa. The two cultures are closely linked for some reason.”
5. Todd McFarlane and Korn
I know, I know. But it would simply be dishonest not to mention that Todd McFarlane did the cover for the funk-metal band’s breakthrough album Follow The Leader and helped art direct their “Freak On A Leash” video. Both are a source of generational “hey I was young” fandom excuses due to a shared tendency towards public assholery (see MacFarlane’s widely deplored lawsuit against Gaiman over character rights and Korn’s part in the Woodstock ’99 debacle and helping to make hard-rock nigh intolerable for many years) and a willingness to make their work as slick, dumb and mouth-breather friendly as possible. But let’s give credit where credit is due. “Blind” is still an angry, incoherent, Rage Against The Machine for people-who-can’t-read beast of a song, and all the toys MacFarlane designs with his company are admittedly still pretty awesome-looking. (McFarlane also did the art for Disturbed’s recent album, but I refuse to write more than a sentence about that fucking band.)
6. Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer
He certainly has a type, doesn’t he? But while Gaiman and Amos were just friends, Gaiman and Amanda Palmer (who garnered more than a few comparisons to Amos, which is what happens when you are a woman who beats the shit out of your piano/keyboard onstage) are actually married. These two began dating shortly after Gaiman collaborated with the punk-cabaret singer for the photo book companion for her solo debut Who Killed Amanda Palmer? The union seems to fit: Both make art that gets lazily described as dark and depressing but is actually hilarious, humane and life-affirming.
7. Frank Miller and Dave Wyndorf
Listen to his long-running and painfully underrated band Monster Magnet—seriously, the chorus to “Space Lord” could knock down the Chrysler building—and one would reasonably expect Dave Wyndorf’s days to be filled dropping acid with space aliens and air-brushing pictures of totally bitching dragons onto his guitar. (Judging by Monster Magnet’s new, typically over-the-top new album Mastermind, these topics remain an ongoing concern.) But Wyndorf has always found time for comics, and in the late ’70s became friends with a young Spider-Man illustrator named Frank Miller, who would later go on to revolutionize the form with cinematic works like The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. (He also directed The Spirit, but let’s try to stay positive.)
“Hanging out on the Lower East Side in the late 70’s-early 80’s, everybody met everybody eventually,” Wyndorf says. “I was a huge comics fan (still am) and Frank, writer Denny O’Neil, and I got talking at a party. Illustrators are like magicians to me so I’m asking him all kinds of questions and just generally talking comic books. Of course, I invited them to a Shrapnel, my pre-Magnet band, show at CBGB and they came.” He was surprised that the visit eventually inspired a scene where Peter Parker ventured to CBGB to see Shrapnel, a band whose beat “I could feel in my marrow.” (And you thought Spider-Man only listened to emo and indie.) “I didn’t know we were in there! All I knew was that Frank and Denny were working on the story, a team up with Spidey and Doctor Strange. I bought the issue off the newsstand. And lo and behold: Spidey is at CBGB and Shrapnel is playing! A two-page spread! I’ll never know exactly why it happened, but I’m eternally grateful to Frank and Denny. It’s every comic lover’s secret dream to be in an actual book but to be in something drawn by Frank Miller? MEGA.”
8. Warren Ellis and Warren Ellis
In the late ’90s, a certain strain of fan that devoured comics and music began to wonder how Warren Ellis, the violin player for mournful instrumental trio the Dirty Three, could also find time to Marvel comics titles like Excalibur and Doom 2009. As time went on, it became clear that there were two separate, very talented men named Warren Ellis. Today, Ellis the musician is Nick Cave’s right-hand man; his searing, heavily distorted violin leads bring a noise-punk way feel to Cave’s Grinderman outfit and a noirish ambiance to the Bad Seeds, and the pair have also written acclaimed scores for films such as The Proposition, The Road and The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. (It should also be noted that White Lunar, 2009’s collection of their scores, makes for good Sunday-afternoon whiskey music.) Regularly combining totally-out-there nutball science theories with inventive violence and hilarious profane dialogue (among other achievements, he introduced the term “Godzilla Bukkake Night” into the modern lexicon), Ellis the scribe has become one of the most acclaimed comic writers in the genre with celebrated series like Transmetropolitan and Planetary redrawing the medium’s boundaries, and his book RED was recently adapted into a film that featured Helen Mirren shooting people with a machine gun. Though Ellis the writer still gets regularly confused for Ellis the musician on Twitter, the Warrens are mutual fans with a sense of humor about the whole thing. Though based on this interview, Cave is getting sick of the confusion.
9. Jeff Lemire and Eddie Argos
When Art Brut debuted with their single “Formed A Band,” many people were quick to assume that frontman Eddie Argos was the snidest ironist in the land. But time and songs like “DC Comics And Chocolate Milkshakes” has revealed that Argos is one of the most sincere and likeably dorky indie-rock characters around. He’s so open about his love for comic books, that he once told me that fans bring him issues featuring his favorite character, time-traveling Justice League Of America member Booster Gold, to sign after concerts.
It was also his love of comics, that led him to finding a future collaborator and friend, artist Jeff Lemire. “I sometimes review comics for a website called Playbackstl.com,” Argos says. “They pay me in free comics, which is ace for me. They sent me Jeff’s book Essex County. I wrote a review saying that it should be on the national curriculum and he got in touch with me,” he recalls. “A lot of the pleasure I get from comics is from reading the adventures of Time Travelers, Crime Fighters, Superheroes, that kind of thing. So left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t have picked up any of Jeff’s Essex County trilogy, which is about people in a small town in Ontario. Luckily it was sent to me, as it is now one of my all-time favorite books.
“When people write about Jeff they often write that he writes about small-town life really well. I personally think Jeff just writes people incredibly well and just chooses to set his stories in small towns. We asked Jeff to do the art work for Art Brut VS Satan because the rest of Art Brut had seen me reading his comics and thought they looked so great. They really are beautiful books. I was over the moon when he said yes.”
10. Alison Bechdel and John Bechdel
Cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s long-running Dykes to Watch Out For comic series gave the world the Bechdel Test 25 years ago. Her acclaimed graphic novel memoir Fun Home dealt with her coming to terms with her sexuality and her relationship with her overbearing father. (It’s actually much more complicated, but you really need to check it out for yourself.) She’s a hero to a generation of riot grrrls and queer artists, but her closest relationship with a musician is a world away from the likes of Bikini Kill. Her brother John Bechdel, who she writes about and thanks in Home, could best be described as a journeyman industrial musician that has played keyboards for Prong, Killing Joke, Fear Factory and many others. He might not be as well-known as his sister, but he played on the Grammy nominated (“Best Metal Performance”) Ministry song “Señor Peligro”—and getting to play “Stigmata” and “Burning Inside” every night in Ministry is unassailably awesome.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 12, 2011