"Neil Gaiman had a good point," says Alice Cooper of the writer who helped him create "The Last Temptation," Cooper's new album and rock comic. "His opening line, when we did the first press interview, was 'My motto is: Who says rock comics have to be bad?' "
If anything, the two would seem to be natural allies. Both have long, deep ties to youth culture, from the days when rock singles and comic books were blamed for rising juvenile delinquency in the '50s, to the recent boom in alternative rock and underground comics in Seattle. But for the most part, rock and comics artists never got closer to working together than the occasional album cover, like Robert Crumb's legendary illustration for "Cheap Thrills" by Big Brother & the Holding Company.
That may change, though, thanks to a small but steadily increasing number of rock-oriented comics. This week, Cooper and Gaiman's "The Last Temptation" will mark the launch of Marvel Music, a new rock-oriented imprint from the folks who brought us Spiderman, Wolverine and various generations of X-Men.
In July, D.C. Comics -- the home of Batman and Superman -- releases "Three Chains of Gold," the third in an occasional series of comics featuring the recording artist formerly known as Prince. Meanwhile, Malibu, the nation's third-largest comics publisher, has its Rock-It Comix line, which has so far released over a half-dozen titles, while the smaller Kitchen Sink Press has its "Grateful Dead Comix" series.
Nobody is calling rock-oriented comics the new music video -- yet. But as Todd Scott, special events coordinator at the mammoth Diamond Comic Distributors, points out, almost everyone in the industry will be watching to see just how well these rock comics sell.
"All the publishers are looking for new markets that they can develop," Scott explains. "Essentially, the two main genres that sell comics are superheroes and horror, because that's what people expect. For Marvel to do this [with Marvel Music], they probably looked at the numbers and thought, Hey, this is a large niche. We can step in there.
"Basically what they're hoping is that the people into Alice
Cooper will hear about the comic, and that will get them in the comics store, while the record company is hoping comic fans will think, 'Hey, I wonder what the album sounds like?' "
There have been attempts to bridge the gap between rock and comics before this. But those titles were mainly short-lived exploitation items, like Harvey's "New Kids on the Block" series or the late '70s Kiss comic for which the band allegedly mixed its own blood in the ink. Little thought was given to concepts like plot or artistic integrity.
That's hardly the case these days. Not only are the bands actively involved in the creation of these comics, but the subject matter ranges from straight-up biography to superhero fantasy stories, and from illustrated song lyrics to album-oriented mini-dramas.
Lita Ford, for instance, got involved with Rock-It Comix because, as she puts it, "You get to play out the superheroine, and do things you wouldn't normally do in real life. Like, I wouldn't run around and beat up people in real life. But in the comic I get to do that. I get to be Little Miss Tough Guy. And it's fun."
She was allowed a measure of control over the process, helping to develop the story line and dialogue with writer Roland Mann. She even had a say in Jim Balent's artwork for the comic. Some of that was to ensure a measure of accuracy in the comics. "You know, these are rock comic books, and they're also going to be sold at music stores," she says. "We just wanted to make sure that all the musical instruments were drawn correctly and made sense."
Guitars weren't the only thing Ford wanted drawn correctly. "For instance, he would draw me holding a guitar, and I didn't like the way my hair looked. So I would ask him if he could, you know, just change the hair. Or make me look slimmer. Just things like that."
As for Ford, she fell in love with the costume her comic book counterpart wore. "Some of the costumes that these comic book characters wear are amazing," she says. "When I looked at what I was wearing, I thought, 'Wow! I'd like to have that made, so I could really wear it.' " She laughs, and adds, "Of course, I don't know how it would hold together . . ."
With rock musicians becoming increasingly aware of the merchandising potential a successful name and image carries, it has become crucial for comic companies to strike deals directly with the bands. But that's not quite as simple as saying, "Hey, kid -- wanna be in comics?"