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Review: Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, Moonage Daydreams

Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred’s graphic biography Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams is a love letter to musical legend and bisexual chameleon, David Bowie. The book mainly focuses on his Ziggy Stardust period with the Allreds beautifully illustrating a montage of live shows as Bowie’s creation and the Spiders from Mars come to vivid life in Europe, North America, and Asia. Horton and Allred use the Spiders’ final gig at London’s Hammersmith Odeon as a framing narrative. Because Bowie had a six-decade recording career, this narrative strategy is effective and also turns the comic into a history of a certain period of pop music when peace beads and flower headdresses were replaced with elaborate makeup, big guitars, and all things glam.

Although the ever-shifting image of David Bowie himself is always at the center of Bowie, Horton and Allred tell their story in what is basically a series of montages. There will be a beautiful dream sequence with a trippy color palette from Laura Allred that visually shows the inspiration of hit songs like “Space Oddity”, “Life on Mars”, or “Rock n Roll Suicide” to name a few, and then we’ll get a list of various celebrities at a Ziggy Stardust show or a check-in on what’s happening with his contemporaries like T. Rex’s Marc Bolan or Lou Reed.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

For the most part, Horton uses minimal captions and lets Mike Allred’s art and Laura Allred’s tell the story. But when the comic calls for it, he can inject moments of humor like Bowie’s reaction to his son Zowie (Now director Duncan Jones) destroying his record collection or poignancy when Bowie reflects on his family’s history of mental illness or begins to articulate the idea of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to his band. Horton and Allred draw parallels between both Ziggy and Bowie’s hubris as he turns a blind eye when his corrupt lawyer is paying long term band members three times less than relatively new keyboard player, Mike Garson. Although they’re iconic images, there is an air of ego to Bowie’s famous Aladdin Sane photo shoot with Allred’s use of negative space crowding the Spiders from Mars out of the frame even though guitarist Mick Ronson was a vital part of his music and helped keep him focus when he was too busy flirting with his lover-turned-wife, Angie.

However, what will stay with me most from Bowie are the Allreds’ ability to capture the energy of live music while still doing spot-on likenesses of historical figures performing. When Mick Ronson and Bowie harmonize on “Starman” or (controversially) embrace on a Top of the Pops performance, there is a camaraderie and almost sexual chemistry between the two men that makes the later “breakup” scene emotionally resonant. Although Allred mainly puts Bowie at the center of the frame, he makes sure to cut to the audience and their hands as they are inspired and reaffirmed that it’s okay to be a little strange or non-heterosexual by this benevolent, iconic alien before them. The Allreds add some flourishes like Kirby Krackle every time Bowie does something that is especially extraterrestrial like floating in space in an early film that was a companion to “Space Oddity”.

Underneath the heavily researched and striking fashions and celebrity cameos, Bowie is about creating an identity out of the things one is passionate about. For example, Bowie and his band mates saw A Clockwork Orange when it was first release, and it immediately impacted the costuming, visual design, and even the intro of the Ziggy Stardust live show. Basically, he was a huge nerd for pop and folk music, high fashion, literature, and film, and it shown out in both his art and the way he approached the world. Bowie is filled with moments where Horton and Allred (And by extension, David Bowie) respects their fellow artists like a full page splash homage to Bob Dylan and Elvis, bringing up Lou Reed on stage, running around Detroit with Iggy Pop, and inspiring the young Morrissey and Bruce Springsteen during his concerts. It shows that art can lead to friendship, lifelong influences, and sometimes tragedy like the aforementioned tension between Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams is a highly stylized, yet infinitely human look at an important period in David Bowie’s career from Mike Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred. The graphic biography captures the feeling of the music of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane through dreamlike visuals as well as adding historical context to these songs and albums and personal anecdotes that add both vulnerable and mystique to Bowie’s story. Its epilogue also kind of made me want a sequel featuring the Thin White Duke and some of Bowie’s later personas. This book truly feels like a passion project and transported me to a bittersweet day six years when a closeted, sad teenager listened to the CD of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stars and the Spiders from Mars and felt “not alone”. It’s a must read for any Bowie fan, especially those who love his early-1970s work the best.

Story: Steve Horton and Michael Allred
Art: Michael Allred Colors: Laura Allred
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Insight Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Purchase: Amazon (Regular Edition)Zeus Comics

Talking Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams Graphic Novel with Steve Horton

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams is a graphic novel from legendary artist Mike Allred and writer Steve Horton. It chronicles the rise of David Bowie’s career from obscurity to fame; paralleled by the rise and fall of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust. As the Spiders from Mars slowly implode, Bowie wrestles with his Ziggy persona. The outcome of this internal conflict will change not only David Bowie, but also, the world.

I’m joined by the book’s writer Steve Horton to talk about the making of the graphic novel and our shared love of Bowie (and shared love of artist Mike Allred’s work). Whether you’re an “Absolute Beginer” on Bowie or already deeply “Loving the Alien” you will get something out of this tremendous book– and hopefully out of this episode too.

Share your thoughts with me and maybe I’ll show you my Bowie tattoo.

Review: Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, Moonage Daydreams

Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred’s graphic biography Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams is a love letter to musical legend and bisexual chameleon, David Bowie. The book mainly focuses on his Ziggy Stardust period with the Allreds beautifully illustrating a montage of live shows as Bowie’s creation and the Spiders from Mars come to vivid life in Europe, North America, and Asia. Horton and Allred use the Spiders’ final gig at London’s Hammersmith Odeon as a framing narrative. Because Bowie had a six-decade recording career, this narrative strategy is effective and also turns the comic into a history of a certain period of pop music when peace beads and flower headdresses were replaced with elaborate makeup, big guitars, and all things glam.

Although the ever-shifting image of David Bowie himself is always at the center of Bowie, Horton and Allred tell their story in what is basically a series of montages. There will be a beautiful dream sequence with a trippy color palette from Laura Allred that visually shows the inspiration of hit songs like “Space Oddity”, “Life on Mars”, or “Rock n Roll Suicide” to name a few, and then we’ll get a list of various celebrities at a Ziggy Stardust show or a check-in on what’s happening with his contemporaries like T. Rex’s Marc Bolan or Lou Reed.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

For the most part, Horton uses minimal captions and lets Mike Allred’s art and Laura Allred’s tell the story. But when the comic calls for it, he can inject moments of humor like Bowie’s reaction to his son Zowie (Now director Duncan Jones) destroying his record collection or poignancy when Bowie reflects on his family’s history of mental illness or begins to articulate the idea of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to his band. Horton and Allred draw parallels between both Ziggy and Bowie’s hubris as he turns a blind eye when his corrupt lawyer is paying long term band members three times less than relatively new keyboard player, Mike Garson. Although they’re iconic images, there is an air of ego to Bowie’s famous Aladdin Sane photo shoot with Allred’s use of negative space crowding the Spiders from Mars out of the frame even though guitarist Mick Ronson was a vital part of his music and helped keep him focus when he was too busy flirting with his lover-turned-wife, Angie.

However, what will stay with me most from Bowie are the Allreds’ ability to capture the energy of live music while still doing spot-on likenesses of historical figures performing. When Mick Ronson and Bowie harmonize on “Starman” or (controversially) embrace on a Top of the Pops performance, there is a camaraderie and almost sexual chemistry between the two men that makes the later “breakup” scene emotionally resonant. Although Allred mainly puts Bowie at the center of the frame, he makes sure to cut to the audience and their hands as they are inspired and reaffirmed that it’s okay to be a little strange or non-heterosexual by this benevolent, iconic alien before them. The Allreds add some flourishes like Kirby Krackle every time Bowie does something that is especially extraterrestrial like floating in space in an early film that was a companion to “Space Oddity”.

Underneath the heavily researched and striking fashions and celebrity cameos, Bowie is about creating an identity out of the things one is passionate about. For example, Bowie and his band mates saw A Clockwork Orange when it was first release, and it immediately impacted the costuming, visual design, and even the intro of the Ziggy Stardust live show. Basically, he was a huge nerd for pop and folk music, high fashion, literature, and film, and it shown out in both his art and the way he approached the world. Bowie is filled with moments where Horton and Allred (And by extension, David Bowie) respects their fellow artists like a full page splash homage to Bob Dylan and Elvis, bringing up Lou Reed on stage, running around Detroit with Iggy Pop, and inspiring the young Morrissey and Bruce Springsteen during his concerts. It shows that art can lead to friendship, lifelong influences, and sometimes tragedy like the aforementioned tension between Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams is a highly stylized, yet infinitely human look at an important period in David Bowie’s career from Mike Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred. The graphic biography captures the feeling of the music of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane through dreamlike visuals as well as adding historical context to these songs and albums and personal anecdotes that add both vulnerable and mystique to Bowie’s story. Its epilogue also kind of made me want a sequel featuring the Thin White Duke and some of Bowie’s later personas. This book truly feels like a passion project and transported me to a bittersweet day six years when a closeted, sad teenager listened to the CD of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stars and the Spiders from Mars and felt “not alone”. It’s a must read for any Bowie fan, especially those who love his early-1970s work the best.

Story: Steve Horton and Michael Allred
Art: Michael Allred Colors: Laura Allred
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Insight Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Fashion Spotlight: Zuulander, Timeless Lord, 80s

Ript Apparel has three new designs today for Zuulander, Timeless Lord, and 80s from wytrab8, Jimiyo, and Barbadifuoco will be for sale on February 16, 2015 only!

Zuulander

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Timeless Lord

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80s

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Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide

PhonogramIG-06_coverYou can’t talk about Phonogram (or The Wicked + The Divine) without talking about David Bowie. He died the day the final issue of Phonogram shipped with a cover eerily similar to a scene from his final music video*. In death Bowie gave us a final gift— his remarkable new album Blackstar. And with it an affirmation that you can be relevant to the end. A fantastic final statement. It would have given Emily Aster some hope about changing as she gets older. It also makes for one hell of a boss battle in issue 6.

Bowie has always been the best at moving through to new selves. His former selves don’t haunt him. They certainly don’t make him slit his arms with a mirror. He’s not Emily Aster. But like Bowie she comes into the series, sheds a self, builds a new one, grows through it and emerges to seek out what’s next.

The final issues of Phonogram ever are both about people moving on or growing. Example 1: David Kohl learns a thing or two about friendship. No seriously, that’s his story arc. Immediately preceding her attempted suicide Emily’s old self, Claire had isolated herself by breaking up the coven. She destroyed their music scene and when Kohl tries to get its former members together to do a ritual to save her (and use up the last of his power) they’ve all moved on. To conventional adulthood. Or they’ve been burned.

By talking with his mentor Lady Vox (who’s about to “shit out a kid like it’s a cannonball” speaking of growing and changing) he realizes this is Emily’s life crisis and he can’t fight it. She needs to figure out how to move forward in her life.

Kohl then performs an act of generosity that makes up for some of his past assholic behavior. Kohl gives his wheel-man/wing-man Kid With Knife a gift he deserves and needs: he phonomances him off to Times Square . He may even have used his last bit of magic to do so. It’s a mature and loving thing. Maybe it makes up for all the times he’s made KWK drive his ass across town. Like Kohl, I don’t drive and I get by a lot on my ability to persuade. So I appreciate him taking ownership of his behavior. It’s also a literal demonstration of magical power in a story where much of it can be read as strictly metaphor. The final B side makes it clear: Kohl really sent KWK to NYC.

One of the great things about the back-up story in issue 4 was how Gillen says that at one time he was his friend Johnny Panic’s Kid With Knife, a.k.a. his sidekick. For most of the series Kohl has been a protagonist with KWK his dull sidekick. Sometimes you’re the protagonist and sometimes it’s not your story. Gillen gives Kohl a wonderful complete story arc here because in The Immaterial Girl the star is really Emily.

Sure, David Kohl may have killed a god in volume 1: Rue Britannia. But in volume 3 Emily Aster kills the King of Pop. Or his death set her free. One way or another.

phonogram emily hand mirror bloodWhen Emily was a girl the King Beyond the Screen, a Michael Jackson made of TV static beckoned her and offered her the deal. She signs over her depressive self in exchange for the power of image.

Jackson, like Bowie was always changing— physically even. Both were masters of image. Emily’s image has been killing her literally.

This chapter is named “See Emily Play” (a Pink Floyd song that Bowie covered). Syd Barret’s lyrics go “Emily tries but misunderstands. She often inclined to borrow somebody’s dreams till tomorrow.” Emily has been trying to play by the rules of the magic video world she’s trapped in but she misunderstands. Inspired by the Lady Gaga within, Emily reveals the King to simply be an aspect of herself wearing Michael Jackson’s Bad garb. The King/Queen of Pop insists that Emily needs her or else she’ll be entirely empty. In a visual technicolor crescendo of blood splatter that artist Jamie McKelvie and colorist Matt Wilson completely ace, she takes a wrench to the effigy powerfully stating “you can fill empty things.”

phonogram emily smash

In another striking set of panels she dissolves her old depressive self and penetrates the retina of her eye, “the ultimate screen” emerging back into her body on the other side. Throughout the whole arc artist McKelvie has done amazing things using mirrors as portals and playing with screens and windows and faces reflected in windows with raindrops. It’s all very metaphysical. The scene also reminds me of Ann Margaret pushing Roger Daltrey through the mirror in Tommy, Ken Russell’s movie version of The Who’s musical.

She wakes up in a bath of her own blood and to a text message from Kohl saying Michael Jackson has died. That Gillen got the calendars to work for this is very impressive! The sequence counts off the various ways Michael Jackson’s death impacts people, from Black Laura’s relief that it wasn’t her idol Kate Jackson (from the Long Blonds), to the great Poly Styrene’s last song “Ghoulish”, the video for which consisted of Michael Jackson impersonators and called out the media’s description of the late MJ as “ghoulish” (again, a statement on aging). The next panel is a random guy playing Dirty Diana on an acoustic guitar thinking he’s cheeky and a phonomancer “too old to feel so angry, wishes him immolated” (yeah me too). Gillen even writes himself, his actual self, not Kohl, spotting an MJ impersonator on the tube and being wildly disconcerted by it.  But it’s mostly everyone dancing “as close to forever as any of us will ever get.”

Phonogram Very DramaticKohl has been offered a job by “The Adversary” and states that whether he takes it or not it’s proof that he’s irrelevant. Because that means he’s mainstream enough to be marketable. Marketable at what we don’t know– is it music writing? Or is it maybe writing comics (since this comic has frequently been a magical realist auto-biography). Her final conversation with Kohl really got to me. It reminds me of all the people I used to know in the scenes I’ve been in and whom I’ve lost track of. The whole issue has me in a sad nostalgic puddle.

Emily walks away in the rain, alone. For pages. Kohl can go back to his girlfriend-soon-to-be wife. Emily could be on her way to a healthier place but for now she is on her own. She is utterly at sea and is even soaking wet to prove it. Her hair is kinking up in the rain like MJ’s. Her red shirt is a mundane echo of the red Michael Jackson jacket she wore as Queen Behind the Screen. But her shirt is so conventional she could wear it to a job interview <shudder>.

She tosses her cigarette into a puddle and in the next panel we see Black Laura, lighting up her own. A tiny torch has been passed (albeit toxic). We get a final moment with Lloyd and Laura (god I love them!) and Shambles (sure, he can come too) as they prepare to launch their own DJ night and start their own coven. Shambles even calls Lloyd “Logos” (a small victory for his nom du magic). They quote a contemporary song. Good for them. They talk about the important Work they have to do. Kohl may be moving on to a job job but the next generation of phonomancer leadership is just coming into itself and this is their important work– “the sooner we start the sooner we save the world”.

Bowie’s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars ends with Ziggy’s Rock and Roll Suicide. The rock Jesus from space tells us he’s washed up and feeling old and so, Bowie the artist offs his current avatar in a grand finale chanson.

But as the song ends the singer (I’d argue Bowie at that point and not his character Ziggy) implores the listeners:

Oh no love! you’re not alone

No matter what or who you’ve been

No matter when or where you’ve seen

All the knives seem to lacerate your brain

I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain

You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone

Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone

Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)

Emily Aster has smashed her old selves. Claire has had the rock and roll suicide she always wanted but a new Emily lives on. “I’m still Emily Aster. I’m just not Emily Aster…  I’ve tried everything else. I may as well try changing.”

For us readers and listeners that story is over. The creators told the story of their youth the way they wanted to and so it offed itself so we can grow and change and move to the next thing which is the creative team’s new series, The Wicked + The Divine. May Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have 100 years until their Blackstar. I love this comic so so much.

Thoughts on the Final B-Sides:

Shiney Black Taxi Cab (pencils Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt on layouts/inks/letters) features particularly phonogram-y art. Kohl gets a cab to take him on a drive while the radio pulls up whatever random dreck the radio pulls up. He’s using it as a divination tool. It seems a bit like a mediated version of what the Situationists call Dérive: “unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.”

It’s also like writer/speaker/activist Deanna Zandt’s annual Magic 8 Ball Music Ritual where you open up your music player, hit shuffle and draw conclusions. Try it. Mine just said Dance Apocalyptic which fits because Janelle Monae’s voice sounds like young Michael Jackson’s on this track.

Modern Love (art by Tom Humberstone)

The last bit of Phonogram EVAR and it’s a Bowie song of course. It’s also another ultra autobio story and it’s so good it could literally stand alone as a comic. Kieron and Kid With Guns are out for Kieron’s stag night and realize they’re the first people in the club because that’s what happens when you’re old. When the music takes over it’s a shared moment. Kieron shows us the story of his life in clubs. Of finding the place that had the music that he needed and “It was like discovering Narnia with hotter people and better music.” This was my life too.

Kieron literally grows up across the 4 panels from a long haired kid, to somewhat shorter haired teen spotting Britannia, his goddess (read volume 1), up to the present where he is remembering what it’s like to be clubbing again. There is one last piece of magic: he asks the record to always remind him and “it obliges”. Because that what music does.

*The totally arresting cover image of issue 6 is actually a reference to Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush video Don’t Give Up (don’t feel bad, I didn’t know that one either). The reassuring title should make us feel better. Personally I’ll always associate the cover with Blackstar even though it was drawn months before the album was released. Synchronicity.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: This goes to 11. Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review,  but I buy it anyway so I can evangelize to the masses

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