The bassist of a breakout ’90s punk band, Jonny falls apart when his band mate and best friend Kirk commits suicide. Twenty years later he struggles with heroin addiction, lost in the songs they created and desperate to relive the past, when he discovers that he can-literally. With the aid of a mysterious guitar, Jonny begins to make trips back in time, searching for the roots of Kirk’s unraveling. At Nar-Anon meetings and in conversations with his sponsor Emily, he starts to cope with the events that led to Kirk’s death. But by the time Jonny realizes that his visits can’t change the present, he might be too addicted to stop.
Writer Jeremy Holt tackles music, addiction, suicide, fandom, and more in Skip to the End whose hardcover collected edition is released this week by Insight Comics. With art by Alex Diotto, the comic is layered with multiple interpretations and absolute enjoyment for those who enjoy comics and music.
I got a chance to talk to Jeremy about the series and its multiple interpretations.
Graphic Policy: Skip to the End is clearly driven by your love of music. How did that go from your own fandom to a graphic novel?
Jeremy Holt: It was a freak accident. Early on I was fairly certain that I couldn’t pull it off. Trying to translate an audible medium through static images seemed like oil and water. Fortunately, what made these two compatible was a well written song that not only conveyed the sound of the times (early 90s), but more importantly complimented the on-going narrative. I have my good friend John Merchant to thank for that. He was my music guru in college. He truly shaped my passion for finding new bands.
GP: The story is inspired by Nirvana. What’s your earliest memory of them?
JH: My earliest memory would have to be hearing about Kurt’s death from a friend. Granted, the news wasn’t current. I had just moved from England to Norway, and was finishing 7th grade, which would have been ’97? I didn’t listen to any of that music then, but a friend Bastian Scholz told me that the lead singer of his favorite band had died a few years back.
I want to say that I vaguely remember getting crazy to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at a middle-school dance, but I’m probably projecting my current love for them.
GP: There’s this concept of time travel which is really interesting. Where did that concept come from as opposed to just focusing on a band member’s struggles after fame?
JH: I have long believed that music is time travel. Smell too. We all collect sounds and scents that are time machines. I just didn’t know how to translate that into a story. Then I discovered Nirvana about five years ago, and the story started to fall into place quite quickly.
GP: The series was originally released as single issues and now is collected. Are there things you might have changed if it was just a graphic novel?
JH: I would have extended the page length. Due to a myriad of factors, me and my team wanted to contain the story to four issues. If I had a chance to re-work it, I would have extended the story by another forty pages at least.
GP: This might be a bit spoilery but the character of Emily is really interesting and how I thought about her and the story changed from single issues to the collection. At first I thought the story was just about Jonny but on a second read it also feels like a story about fandom and coming to acceptance with it. Was there a dual story there?
JH: Honestly? No. But having re-read it as a complete story, I totally see this new narrative thread that I accidentally created along the way. I believe that seeped in due to my profound love for the band. That’s definitely something I would have shined more of a light on if I could have gone back in and re-engineered things.
GP: My personal theory and spin is the story is like Fight Club and Emily is imagining Jonny. Anyone ever come up with that theory before?
JH: There have been a slew of reviews that have been getting posted for the past few weeks. Two others had the exact same thought, so you’re not alone!
GP: How did the rest of the creative team come on to the book?
JH: It’s a long story, so here are the cliff notes: Alex and I had co-created on another series entitled Southern Dog, that was published through Action Lab back in 2012. Adam Wollet and I have been friends for a while, and he stepped in to replace Ed Brisson on letters for Southern Dog. Renzo Podesta and I collaborated on a pitch way back in 2009, and he had been on my radar after I saw his work on Charles Soule’s series 27. Tim Daniel and I go back even further, and he’s been gracious enough to design all of my logos. It so happens that he’s a huge Nirvana fan, so this project appealed to him instantly.
GP: The story has to do with suicide which is the news due to the loss of two celebrities. Are you hoping to raise awareness of it through the graphic novel and why do you think so many creative people do it?
JH: Initially my intention was to shed light on the complexities of addiction, and all the forms that it can come in. The byproduct of that has been suicide awareness and the topic of mental health. I did not believe that my story would connect with anyone other than comic book readers, but I have received some amazing letters from people that have gone through depression, addiction, and rehab, who have told me that STTE resonated with them on a very personal level. These messages remind me of the power that a comic book can have on a reader.
I’m not sure why so many creative people end things so abruptly. Multiple factors are certainly at play, and I think the immense pressure of living one’s life in such a public forum only exacerbates underlying issues in that person. More often than not, it seems to be a tragic recipe for disaster.
GP: There’s a meta aspect to it all as well. There’s the story and then there’s music lyrics which are themselves a story, so you’re transported to a story within a story. Obviously the difference between the two storytelling platforms is one has music and one pictures but what do you think comics and music share when it comes to storytelling?
JH: I think it’s fairly clear. They both share a story. At least the good ones that stand the test of time do. Examining it a bit deeper, comic book pages contain a pacing that reminds me of music. Where a comic book has plot twists, page turns, and cliff-hangers, a song has beats, bars, and refrains. Even though both are polar opposites in fundamental ways, they both share a lyricism.
GP: What else do you have coming out that folks can check out?
JH: Other than Skip to the End and Skinned, I have another series that’ll be debuting at New York Comic Con, and is also through Insight Comics. It’s a two-book series entitled After Houdini (October ’18) and Before Houdini (May ’19).
GP: Thanks so much for chatting!