Music comics

Sordid City Blues previewOne of the comics I’ve been keeping up with online is Sordid City Blues. It stands out among the throngs of webcomics out there, with a cast of smartly written and charmingly drawn characters wrestling with issues of love, faith and art. The author, Charles Schneeflock Snow, is taking a few weeks off to work on other projects, and recently put out a call for guest artists to fill in for him on the web site. So I chipped in with a page, and went for the most obvious subject: Luther and his bandmates. (Luther’s the one in the blue hat - the central characters in SCB are colour-coded.) Here it is!

There are some references to earlier stories - particularly Chapter 43, which deals with the origin of the mural. The conversation about the bass is one I’ve had several times (the Fury LS-4 I play has an unusual headstock which tends to attract the attention of gear nerds) but also, Barkey does play a rather odd-looking bass.

(Like SCB? The first collection of stories is available in book form… help support independent artists!)

I’ve played around with comics before but never in a big way. And I’ve used Adobe Illustrator for years, but this is one of the few times I’ve actually been using it for hand-drawn illustration. Lessons learned: use layers. Lettering using a tablet is a pain in the ass. Background detail really helps a panel to spring to life (as was the case with the graffiti and cinder-block wall in the second panel). Also, it’s really freeing to write in a different voice for a while, and play with someone else’s characters. I did my best to capture a little of SCB’s look and its rhythms.

For quite some time I’ve been tossing around some story ideas, but I’ve never settled on a satisfying way of telling them. The format and characters keep shifting around on me - first it was a series of radio plays, then it was going to be podcasts, or maybe just short stories, and now I’m thinking of doing it in comic form. It may end up being a combination of all of the above. This has been a good chance to test the comics waters, and see if I’m really up to the task.

SketchSome of the characters I’m developing are musicians as well, which means that at some point there will be music played. Which brings up the fascinating question of how to represent music in a silent, static medium. Usually comic artists just resort to a sprinkling of eighth-notes and some lyrics. But what about taking a crazy graphical approach, one that breaks out of the usual rhythm of panels, the way a big number in a musical jumps out of the “real world” of theatrical/cinematic structure?

The example that springs to my mind at the moment is Hot Jazz by the ever-wacky Hunt Emerson. I don’t know a whole lot about comics history, so I’m sure there are others… Any suggestions? I should probably look into some Matt Howarth, for instance.

In the meantime I’ve been hunting through The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (see here for images, mostly the ones by Alan Aldridge). I’ll have to have a look for What The Songs Look Like too, which does the same for Talking Heads… and I wish I had a copy of More Dark Than Shark, a collection of artworks created by Russell Mills inspired by Brian Eno’s early “rock” albums, now out of print and hard to find.

My next comic-related project, then, is going to be this: pick a few songs that really inspire some visuals, and do one or two pages for each one. Strong contenders for the first couple: Stereolab and the Pixies.

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I’d say that some of the best places for seeing Howarth visualizing music might be the Sonic Curiosity strips in the back of his comics. He tended to be more random in those. Savage Henry, the comic about a musician with regular guest stars from the real world, almost never showed the music happening! It was mostly about the weird shit that happened when they weren’t playing.

Still, worth digging at for other reasons, says I.

There are some cartoons I’d suggest but I’m kinda tired from the trip back; I’ll try to drop ‘em on you tomorrow.

Posted by Egypt Urnash on 23 October 2007 at 3:25 AM

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