For comics about to rock, we salute you.
Seriously though, comics about musicians – rock or not – have become a growing genre inside the comics medium. And former Newsarama columnist Troy Brownfield is taking his background in the Indianapolis music scene and putting it to music in the webcomic series Sparkshooter. Illustrated by Sarah Vaughn, Sparkshooter follows an underdog rock band named Crazy Yeats as they try to scale the ladder and win over fans all the while losing their lead singer and finding an unlikely replacement in the audience at one of their shows.
Originally launched back in February, Sparkshooter is in the final days of a hiatus between the first chapter of 29 pages and embarking on chapter two beginning this Wednesday. We caught up with our colleague Brownfield, who’s currently writing Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales Myths & Legends, about this decidingly different kind of eye candy.
Newsarama: Last month Sparkshooter’s first chapter ended with Sondra joining Crazy Yeats and now chapter 2 is about to begun. What can Sondra, Crazy and their mutual friend Jack expect in their future?Troy Brownfield: The very first thing we’ll deal with in Chapter 2 is Sondra’s “interview”. There are a few levels going on there, in the idea that they’re trying to see what her personality and interests are like and how that might mesh with the boys. Of course, you can read a lot of that dialogue as some of the same things that you might cover on a first date, So, I’m intentionally blurring the signals there. We’ll also see how Lowell and Michael deal with Ray, get our first cameo from an actual Indianapolis musical personality, and, several pages down the line, address the lingering Elizabeth question from the first chapter.
Nrama Now that Jack has made the connection, where does he fit into Sparkshooter going forward?
Brownfield: Jack’s an important guy for a few reasons. He’s the connective tissue between all the characters. As you’ve read, he’s friends with Sean and Elihu from the day, he got Lowell to replace him on bass, he’s the one who made sure Sondra was there, etc. As things take off, Jack will make the trains run on time. He’s also knows certain things, like why Ray was even in the band in the first place, that have other ramifications down the road. I also like to use Jack as a POV character; he’s like me in a lot of ways, as I also managed bands. He’s also the only one allowed to break the fourth wall.Nrama: Sondra’s got a good voice, but so far she’s just used it in the shower and in karaoke. Is she ready for the big stage, joining Indianapolis’ biggest local band?
Brownfield: Well, I wouldn’t say that they’re Indy’s biggest band YET. But they aspire to be. It’ll become evident that the band plays out a lot, and that the band knows lots of people and are generally well-liked among others in scene, but there’s a difference between being part of the scene and leading the scene. And that’s actually all part of the larger story; how do you “emerge”, and what happens with that. As for Sondra, she sells herself short on a few fronts; she’s done plays and sang in formal situations as befitting school, but she’s never fronted a band. She’s got more stage presence than she herself realizes.
Nrama: Seeing a band replace their lead singer is a big thing, especially when its going from a male voice like Ray to someone far different in Sondra. How would you compare this switch-up to other famous frontman replacements? Van Halen? AC/DC? Faith No More?Brownfield: Man, that’s a great question with great examples. Bon to Brian had a pretty similar sound, in some ways. Dave to Sammy probably changed the popular acceptance orientation of Van Halen a bit; obviously Dave is a great frontman and they wrote some enormously popular songs, but Sammy had tons of experience as a frontman, solo artist, and writer for others (Rick Springfield’s “I’ve Done Everything For You”, for example), so he really knew how to come in and detonate that whole anthemic approach that 5150 took. There have been some interesting female-female swaps too, like when Anette replaced Tarja in Nightwish; that’s still very contentious, five years in, that move from Tarja’s more operatic demeanor to Anette’s poppier persona.
The closest big world equivalent is probably what happened with Fire Town. I know a lot people reading are saying, “Who?” Well, they were a Wisconsin band whose drummer, guitarist and audio engineer teamed up, added a female lead singer, and became Garbage. Okay, granted the drummer was Butch Vig, but Fire Town existed before he became BUTCH VIG, and the idea of how a sound changes is still there. Part of it is an awareness of the quality, range and storytelling possibilities that the female voice can give you. Another thing to explore is what happens if you have a strong female AND male singer in the group. Look at Fleetwood Mac’s classic era; you had three great singers and it gave them tremendous range ("Dreams" does not sound like "Go Your Own Way" does not sound like "You Make Loving Fun," and yet it’s all ineffably them and remarkably on the same album). There are story elements that can and will come out of that.Nrama: Switching from an all-male band to have a female in the mix is quite a turn in the dynamics, especially when you upfront said in the chapter 1 finale one of the members has eyes for Sondra. How’s that going to play out going forward?
Brownfield: Messily. Chapter 3 is largely about how the band begins to work together, whereas 4 is little bit more about the socializing aspect. There’s a sort of rebonding process that goes on. Sean and Elihu are long-time best friends. Lowell and Michael are buddies. How does Sondra fit? Even though Michael is a total hound, he and Sondra will become friends in that big-sister-doofus-little-brother kind of way. The various combinations fuel some fun comedy moments and will drive more drama later on as we get into how certain band members REALLY feel about Sondra.
Nrama: This series kicked off when Crazy’s resident frontman Ray Sheridan quit the band. Is he out of the picture for good, or could we see more of Ray in the future?Brownfield: I promise more of Ray in Chapters 2, 4 and 6 for sure. Ray is a prick, but I really enjoy writing him. I have seen his ilk many times, the guy that believes that he is God’s Gift To Music. I want to avoid him being too much of a twirling moustache type, but seriously, the guy’s an ass. Trouble is, he’s also well-connected and has no trouble finding a new gig, and that’ll occasionally put him and the gang at odds as they both try to rise.
Nrama As a fellow musician, one of the things I love is your honest portrayal of the usual categories the different musicians fall in – especially the drummer and the bass player. How much of this comic series, especially these incidentals, came from your own time being in and around bands?
Brownfield: Didn’t I tell everyone this was a documentary? Just kidding. It’s hugely informed by my own experiences. My own almost-life-long best friend and other close parties find a lot of extra humor to be sure; the bass that Jack plays in the high school flashback is the exact bass that my friend Jason Renn had in high school, for example. Stuff like THAT makes it more fun for me, in a way; it’s that extra wink.And as far as the categories, stereotypes of band roles, etc., I’m glad you noticed those things. One of my friends that is a bassist and author (Ryan Williams! thebassgeek.net!) posted after Page 7 “... and the bassist is the only one actually moving gear. Figures.” There’s a kind of molecular certainty to some band roles (drummer=wild man, etc.) that I like to play with. It also makes sense for character purposes to team up Lowell and Michael as a sort of comedy sub-duo; they’re the rhythm section, one’s crazy and one’s steady, and so on. I expect some of those attitudes to always be present, even as we develop them further.
Nrama: You’re not the first to cover a band in comics; the epic manga Beck springs to mind. But now that you’re over two dozen pages into it, has there been anything surprising crop up in depicting the act of making music in comics?
Brownfield: I’m surprised by how many people have asked me when we get to see them play! That’s kind of funny to me, since they’re sort of still forming, and we’ve technically got a lot of other ground to cover first. They don’t even have “the name” yet (note: I always liked the idea that Sondra will eventually give the band the name Sparkshooter, inspired in part by the fact that the Wasp named the Avengers). But it’s made me consider the different ways of how we can “watch” the band play, and I’m pleased with my ideas on that front, potentially. You’ll be able to hear them eventually, too.Read new pages of Sparkshooter Wednesdays on Sparkshooter.com!