Thursday, April 29, 2010

Comics and Music: Looking at Two Cross Pollinations

Words: Jared Gniewek

Comics and music have many things in common. The use of rhythm and synchopation to drive the root of the piece. The use of texture and "color" to set mood. The use of lyricism in dialogue and song writing. Pacing, dynamics, positive and negative space. Subject matter. Crippling dependence on genre convention. Scapegoating for juvenile delinquency. 
The way we listen to music has changed drastically in the last ten years. Music appreciation seems more akin to a traveling soundtrack than an end in itself. Tunes are rocked out to while commuting or working. It tends to be in the background for most of us. I grew up in a dark room with a pair of headphones. Hanging out listening to records is still done, but it seems to be the exception rather than the norm. I, along with many folks, used to enjoy cutting off the outside world and enjoying music for itself. Letting it comment on nothing other than whats fuming in the old brain pan. 

I've often toyed with listening to different music while reading comics. I used to love the recommended soundtrack in Scud: The Disposable Assassin back in the nineties and often found myself scoring the books I was reading to music I found that would pair nicely with it. I found the rhythms of the music and pacing of the panels could often synch up and further the immersion process. I find film soundtracks to work quite well for this. Sometimes, though, it can be a trainwreck... I still have nightmares of Marvel Two In Ones with music by Abba. Sweet sweet nightmares.

The Americans UK are a rock band in the purest sense of the word. Brooklyn based (for what its worth) guitar riffage melding with an attitude vocal over limber drums and solid bass. I listened to their free apeman EP available on their website as I read the three issues of their comic book. 
The comics and music don't work in concert as much as expand and recontextualize the music, art, and story. An exception would be the "I am the Apeman" piece in the second issue where it really feels like music and image and story meld seamlessly. Otherwise, I found the style of art and story to complement the style of the music if not fully suck you in. The art was rendered in a simple nuts and bolts black and white boldness that reflected the music quite nicely without pushing too hard. The lead story was ballsy and wacky and certainly wasn't meant to be taken too too seriously. I appreciate that. The writer, Jef UK has a nice sense of the absurdity of the mundane. The best line for me was when the lead singer, upon learning his drummer is a cyborg, states "no wonder you were so good at T-shirt sales". HA! It is a reminder that when someone is living inside rock band culture, the band really does color every interaction and moment of your life. It is obvious that Jef is a "lifer" and zealously immersed in the rock world.

On a different plane is the collaboration between Witch Knots artist, Ira Marcks, and his scrolling art piece set to the band The Few Moments. This wasn't trying to do the same thing as the Americans UK project but the analogous relationship between art and music must be commented on. This is a fifty foot long scrolling piece of narrative art which plays to an entire album. You can see it here
I tend to think of the piece as more of animation than as a comics narrative. The interactivity of the control of time is crucial to the comics experience and although the artist's intent was to be an accompaniment I couldn't help but approach the piece as two disparate elements. When the lights went out and the headphones came on I found my mind wandering pretty far from the illustrations but what was nice was how the looseness of the illustrations would inevitably draw me back in. It felt almost like a springboard for my own rambling mind. By not being a purely literal translation of lyrics to art it frees the listener/ viewer to interact with the piece and sort of make it their own. If you have forty five minutes... that's probably the hardest part of the enjoyment. Freeing up that chunk of time to focus on something like this is a real challenge.  

The shadow of Scott McCloud hangs over both of these projects as Paul Ciaravino's art on the lead Americans UK piece seemed to evoke a Zot era design and a spirited discussion as to whether it can even be thought of as "comics" ran for a few days regarding the Marcks' illustrative score.

I'm sure there are more folks bridging the gap between art and music in wonderful and innovative ways, and being that its hard to get a hook into anyone with just songs nowadays I'm sure we'll see even more of it in the future. So I'll keep my eyes peeled...and my ears open for it. And tonight, Ben Grimm's gonna kick some Fernando ass in Jared town!

Reviewer Jared Gniewek joined Graphic NYC with the site's relaunch in September, 2009. Jared has worked in the music industry as a back line technician, performer, and promoter. He has also been a freelance writer whose work can be seen in the recent re-launch of Tales from the Crypt and heard on The Dark Sense, an audio anthology of the macabre for which he is also the story editor. Jared’s blog, Die By The Pen, outlines his philosophies and personal quest as a writer. His cartooning can be found on his blog Scary-Oke, a monster indy cartoon karaoke game stemming from his own twisted mind.