The relationship between music and comic books stretches back to the '70s when Marvel Comics released first issues devoted to Alice Cooper and Kiss. Within the last few years an increasing number of comic-loving music artists have actually written comics for major companies such as DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics, becoming auteurs in a different medium that has been gaining increasing attention in light of recent comic-related blockbuster movie franchises such as Iron Man, X-Men and Batman. Some artists are expanding their creative horizons even further into the world of visual animation, evidenced by GRAMMY-winning R&B artist Ne-Yo finalizing a deal this past week with Cartoon Network to produce his own cartoon show, "I Heart Tuesdays."
The list of musicians who have delved into writing comics include Rob Zombie, Kiss' Gene Simmons, Canadian rock artist Melissa Auf der Maur, and dark cabaret artist Voltaire. Newer artists have also been getting into the act recently, tying in their titles with albums. One example is the Kill Corps, who released an expanded 48-page comic bearing the title of the band on March 16. Along with the issue, fans also receive a download code for the group's four-track self-titled EP, prior to their Virgin Records debut this summer.
"I think a lot of people are seeing comics as a new frontier for ways to tell the same kind of stories as [they] are in their songs," says Shawna Gore, editor at Dark Horse Comics. "This kind of project works best when the people who are attempting to do it take it seriously, get to know the format and the medium of comics and want to make the best comic book or graphic novel that they can."
Another musician who has made a splash is My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. His surrealist fantasy series The Umbrella Academy won the prestigious Eisner Award for Best Limited Series, an honor recognizing the best publications and creators in comics and graphic novels, at Comic-Con 2008. Way attended the School of Visual Arts in New York, interned at DC Comics and worked in toy design prior to joining My Chemical Romance. Missing his first love, he sought out a home for his comic series, and he and artist Gabriel Bá landed at Dark Horse.
"[Being an established musician] made it easy to try to get my foot in the door, and then it made it harder to prove that I could do it," explains Way. "But I was up to the challenge, and I think Dark Horse realized really early that I've always done comics and wanted to start doing them again. A lot of people in the comic community and the readership wouldn't know that, so I had that obstacle. It was fine once the first issue came out. Everybody realized this was a real comic."
Coheed And Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez utilized the comic medium to create the story of the characters bearing his band's name, and their saga has spanned all six of the group's albums and several graphic novels, with the latter collectively titled The Amory Wars.
"I wrote these songs but had a hard time conveying myself in the lyrics," says Sanchez. "I thought, 'What a cool way to create a piece of fiction that I can essentially hide my story behind.' That's how I created [the characters] Coheed and Cambria. [This has] allowed me to create a world that I'm going to put my life in."
Dresden Dolls frontwoman Amanda Palmer has co-authored a graphic novel inspired by her side project Evelyn Evelyn, which is titled after real-life conjoined twins. Written by Palmer with bandmate Jason Webley and featuring art from Cynthia von Buhler, Evelyn Evelyn: A Terrible Tale In Two Tomes is inspired by the songs on Evelyn Evelyn's debut album.
"I like the idea of a graphic novel because I see it as a picture book for adults with adult subject matter," says von Buhler, who is also a painter and children's book author. "This is all hand-drawn, smudgy and dirty. It's definitely along the lines of the album."
Pop/R&B artist V.V. Brown released a fantasy graphic novel called The City Of Abacus in 2010, detailing a young woman named Freeda trying to find her way in a repressed society riddled with conspiracy.
"I think that the art is a projection of life and values and the things that are in the world," says Brown. "Different forms of art are ways to express those thoughts. My comic book was a way to express my feelings on how creativity is being stifled by a monopolized culture of reality TV shows and talent contests that take away the true validity and journey of the musician. I think the comic book gives a great way to be political through illustrations and have a visual concept that can be powerful."
Taking a different approach by working with other people's material, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian penned a two-issue Lobo series for DC Comics last year. The character was originally created by comic writers Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen in the '80s. Ian will next be writing The Demon, a classic DC character that first appeared in the '70s.
"If it wasn't for me being [in] a successful band, there was no way I was getting a call from DC," admits Ian. "I very easily could've written a crappy book that nobody would've liked, and maybe the relationship would've ended there. But DC was happy with my work, the public was happy with my work and the book actually sold. It was kind of a win-win for me. I opened the door for myself, and now I'm able to keep it open with other projects."
Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation is embracing the comic medium with their forthcoming concept album The Unforgiving, due out March 29. The album is based on a story written by Steven O'Connell with art drawn by Romano Molenaar and commissioned by the band.
Lifelong comic fans, the group was excited to take this new approach in creating The Unforgiving, with the songs mirroring the comic's themes of mystery, murder and guilt. "A comic is almost like a movie that you can watch at your own pace, "says Within Temptation guitarist Robert Westerholt. "I really like that. If you have a good comic artist, which is crucial, the possibilities are limitless."
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)