Review: Baroque Pop Anthology

Baroque Pop is a carefully curated set of comic book stories and portraits from writer/editor Mario Candelaria, who assembles a lineup of talented writers, artists, and colorists to spin stories of death, love, and heartbreak inspired by the songs of lounge pop/sadcore singer Lana Del Rey. It’s part worship session, part extended meditation (Especially some of the portraits), and finally yet another piece of the connection between music and comics as Lana’s music is transposed to a variety of settings from a posthumanist lead off comic from Eric Palicki (No Angel), Daniel Earls, and Scott Ewen to a rock’n’roll suicide epilogue from Jennie Wood (Flutter) and Chris Goodwin. It could also act as a rich introduction to the world of comics for fans of pop music with each story acting as a kind of flesh and blood “fan video” for a Lana Del Rey song, with many tracks selected from her latest album Honeymoon.

Palicki, Earls and Ewen’s “Body Electric” is an interesting choice to kick off Baroque Pop. It’s more of a Warren Ellis-esque transhumanism slice of life than an ode to Walt Whitman or Americana as it follows the life of a woman, who keeps replacing parts of her body with mechanical limbs despite people around her judging her. “Body Electric” firmly has an eye on a kind of utopian future where people don’t care if we decide to have cybernetic limbs to get around easier or even transplant our heads. Daniel Earls’ art is bold and blocky just like Eric Palicki’s choice to tell a futuristic story influenced by the music of Lana Del Rey, who is so steeped in the sounds, ideas, and fashion of the past that she would have been a better choice for Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby than Carey Mulligan.

God and Jesus are important figures in Lana Del Rey’s song so it’s fitting that Michael Lynch and Mira Mortal did “God Knows I Try” from the POV of the archangel Michael, who is tired of his charges failing on his watch even though the story may be a little hard to follow in the early going for non-former/current churchgoing folks. Mortal’s art and colors reminded me of Renaissance era ecclestiastical art, but with a focus on ordinary people instead of wealthy Italian or Flemish aristocrats. Lynch’s plot is super emotional as the angel Michael is willing to throw away a life of immortal bliss to save the soul of young woman, whose boyfriend has made her rob a convenience store for money. There are long passages of beauty and pain interspersed by staccato bursts of violence, which could also describe Lana Del Rey’s dark pop discography. For every sweet kiss, there is the corpse of a violent, problematic man or a young girl getting dragged off to boarding school. (See “This is What Makes Us Girls” or “High by the Beach”)

Enrica Jang and Jan Velazquez’s “That Medicine I Need” is haunting portrait of a ride or die female rockstar living large and then dying of cancer with the leather jacket wearing ghost of Jim Morrison watching her as she withers away. So, the medicine in the title isn’t something glamorous, like coke or ecstasy, but chemo drugs. Velazquez can do glam though with the early pages showing a gorgeous singer at her peak living the high life with a MTV-rapid progression of images that turn slow and labored as she gets sicker and sick before evaporating into red, black, and shadow. It’s a bittersweet tale, and there isn’t a lot of dialogue from Enrica Jang, but she nails the story’s triumphant tone in the midst of darkness with the line “I’m not sorry I lived. I loved every fucking minute.” Stories like this are why The Wicked + the Divine is an amazing comic, and Holy Bible by the Manic Street Preachers is an amazing album. (RIP Richey Edwards.)

A word that critics like to use Lana Del Rey’s music is “noir pop”, and Dan Charles, Ashley St Lawrence, and Scott Ewen introduce Baroque Pop‘s first femme fatale in the retro stylings of “Summer Sadness”. This story feels like a forgotten cut from Del Rey’s Ultraviolence album with St. Lawrence reveling in gunplay and explosions before slowing into linger in a twist ending. It’s about a man with a secret and a car on the run like the third act of a 1960s spy movie. But it’s all thriller and no filler with Charles giving us just enough connective tissue before getting to the next setpiece. Red is a color that gets mentioned a lot in Lana Del Rey’s music, and it’s present in the palette of ST Lawrence and Ewen’s art in a variety of forms from a dress to a car and even a soda bottle. And, of course, this story has a bloody, glorious end like a shot of pure adrenaline or a sugar high.

Death is more of a pink color in Mario Candelaria and Kasia Witerscheim’s “Cacciatore”, a short story about a beautiful woman’s final days based on the Lana Del Rey song “Salvatore”. A man has caught his girlfriend with another man and is about to execute her, but lets her have one last bite of ice cream while wearing a soft, pink dress. Candelaria’s writing voice is similar to the verbal asides in Lana Del Rey’s songs and music videos and heavy on allusion to the pop culture and music of the past, including Billie Holiday. It’s a lean, tragic narrative and one of the highlights in the anthology

And what anthology wouldn’t be complete without a little experimentation. Chuck Harrison and Luke Marrone adapt T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, which are seminal poems about potential and what could have been through the lens of “Burnt Norton”, an interlude track from Lana Del Rey’s latest album. The comic is hand lettered and done on a canvas type background with a rougher art style from Marrone and a looser narrative than the others in the anthology. It’s a moment of poetry sandwiched between more traditional narratives.

The final story in Baroque Pop is one of its most ambitious, and Jennie Wood and Chris Goodwin’s tale of a rock star mom committing suicide and watching her husband try to honor her legacy in a world where women are the privileged gender could easily spawn a mini or ongoing series. (A throwaway line about “the first male president” could lead to so many storytelling possibilities.) Goodwin’s art captures the rockstar highs, but also a rough kind of sadness as the main character’s husband is framed for using heroin around their baby leading to negative media pressure and her eventually death. “Religion” captures the highs and power of music, but also its destructive power just like the songs of Lana Del Rey.

My final note is that the portraits that mark breaks between stories should definitely be used by Lana Del Rey herself on posters or merchandise. They capture her beauty and sadness just like the various stories in Baroque Pop. If you like your pop music darker and a little more retro, then the songs of Lana Del Rey and the Baroque Pop anthology are definitely for you.

Story: Eric Palicki, Michael Lynch, Enrica Jang, Dan Charles, Mario Candelaria, Chuck Harrison, Jennie Wood Art: Daniel Earls, Scott Ewen, Mira Mortal, Adam Ferris, Lesley Atlansky, Jan Velazquez, Ashley St Lawrence, Jim Towe, Kasia Witerscheim, Hoyt Silva, Luke Marrone, Chris Goodwin, John Keaveney
Story: 8.8 Art: 8.6 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy