I grew up on rock and roll and comic books.
It sounds like a lyric, right? Maybe it is because my experience certainly wasn’t a solo one. Often times, those loves would intersect, like with Rock and Roll Comics, published by Revolutionary Comics in the early 1990s. The black and white books were totally unauthorised histories of some of the most prominent artists in music – the Rolling Stones and ACDC, the Grateful Dead and Bon Jovi; The Beatles and Pink Floyd even had mini-series devoted to their tales. The art was decent if not spectacular, but the histories contained were reasonably accurate, at least for the time. In the ensuing decades, the merger of the two mediums has only gotten stronger, with visual artists putting out volumes of higher quality devoted to legends like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. For me, though, no combination has proved more exciting, more perfect than the story of David Bowie and the artistry of Mike Allred.
I love David Bowie. I’m a fan of all of his work, though later albums like Black Tie, White Noise, Outside and Earthling have special places in my heart – those were the ones I came in on. I saw Bowie in concert three times – one with two thousand others in a sweat-drenched club on the Earthling tour; once on the Area 2 tour, where I leaned on the stage and watched a master at play right before my eyes; and on his final tour, in an arena, performing songs from throughout his career. A new Bowie record was a day and day listen for me, to hear what he’d come up now, and see how he’d ch-ch-changed his game. His final offering, Blackstar, remains on rotation here. I have a Blackstar tattoo on my arm, which I got a week or two following his passing.
And then there’s Mike Allred. I love Mike Allred’s work, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I came to it probably later than most. It wasn’t with Madman, his revered creator-owned character, but with the massive gigantic X-Statix Omnibus from Marvel that collected the various mutant series Allred worked on with writer Peter Milligan. Allred has this uncanny ability in his art to combine cartoon and real life. I won’t dwell on trying to describe his talents, other than to say you instantly know when you’re looking at a Mike Allred illustration. Along with his comic book art, I think my favourite piece by Allred was his cover for The Monkees’ Christmas Party album. He even made the video for ‘Unwrap You At Christmas’.
As you can imagine, Allred’s BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams is an absolute dream come true for me. In this gorgeous hardcover graphic novel, Allred (credited here as Michael) and his co “Screenwriter” Steve Horton and “Technicolor Cinematographer” Laura Allred trace Bowie’s career from his earliest days as an aspiring folkie through to his Ziggy Stardust period alongside the Spider From Mars. Along the way, we watch Bowie as he encounters some of the brightest rock stars of the era, as Allred puts his distinctive illustrative touch to icons like Freddie Mercury, Alice Cooper and Lou Reed.
Allred’s work, to my eyes, has always possessed a healthy dose of psychedelia to it – the colours, the faces – and here in BOWIE it all comes together in the trippiest graphic novel this side of Jack Kirby’s classic Fantastic Four and Fourth World tales. While the book itself only focuses on less than a decade of David Bowie’s inspiring career, that’s probably a good thing, as the story never loses its focus. Had Allred and company aspired to do Bowie’s entire life, well, we’d probably still be waiting for that particular book. However, Allred does feature a few pages I’d consider a wrap-up, focusing on images of post- Ziggy Bowie, and there’s where some of my favourites instances sit (the Twin Peaks cameos are the highlights there). Really though, every page of BOWIE is poster-worthy.
As I said earlier, there have been other books that meld comics with rock and roll. None of them, though, have done it so seamlessly and so attractively as BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams does. For fans of David Bowie, Mike Allred, rock and roll, comics and art, this is a must-have purchase.
BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams is out January 7th, 2020 from Insight Comics. You can pre-order it here.