The reinvigorated publisher Heavy Metal is branching out into some musical turf this fall with a science-fiction series inspired by the rise and fall of the now-legendary Seattle grunge band Nirvana. Skip To The End takes the spirit of Kurt Cobain's band to chart a new fictional story adding a guitar capable of time-travel.
Writer Jeremy Holt and artist Alex Diotto are the two-man behind this cover song / comic book, and Newsarama talked to them to learn more before the series' debut on August 3.
Newsarama: Jeremy, tell us about Skip To The End.
Jeremy Holt: Skip To The End explores the concept that music is a form of time travel. I think just about everyone has experienced that unique sensation of hearing a particular song and being instantly transported to a specific time and place. This story takes that feeling a step further as we follow the protagonist Jonny Wells' personal investigation into his past, in an attempt to find closure to some very tragic events in his life. Most notably, the death of his bandmate and best friend, who also happened to be the most famous rock star of the 90's.
Nrama: In our chats leading up to this interview, you mentioned to me that this was inspired by Nirvana and the death of Kurt Cobain. Just how close is it to your story?
Holt: Skip To The End is more closely tied to historical events of the band, and less so with the life of Kurt Cobain. This wasn't the case at the beginning because I had originally set out to do a straight up bio comic on the Nirvana leader, but that proved to be quite challenging and limiting in many ways.
I quickly shifted gears and decided to create a fictionalized version of the band, which allowed me to have the creative freedom to develop a revisionist history. During my research, I collected pivotal moments in the band's history that I used as Easter eggs if you will for Nirvana fans, while simultaneously folding those moments into a completely independent story that was all my own. And the only way this was going to work--in my mind--was to not focus on a legendary rock star of mythical proportions, but instead turn the attention on one of the other surviving members of the band. I chose the bassist because Krist Novoselic is the least famous member of Nirvana, which makes him the most accessible from both the writer's perspective as well as the reader's.
Nrama: Did you consider contacting Cobain's surviving family, or any of the surviving members of Nirvana, about doing this comic book?
Holt: Early on I had thought about it, but once I decided on developing a revisionist history of a fictional version of the band, I figured it wasn't necessary.
Nrama: So getting to the fictional side of it, tell us more about the band, Samsara - then and now.
Holt: Samsara's career trajectory mirrors Nirvana's in almost every way, but it also differs significantly in three ways.
1. The Drummer: I simplified things by suggesting that the three members of Samsara, leader Kirk Jansen, bassist Jonny Wells, and drummer Mark Strong, are the only members of the band. In reality, Nirvana had gone through several drummers before Dave Grohl joined them in 1990. I chose to deviate from that aspect of the band's history in order to keep the story streamlined.
2. The Bassist: 20 years after Kurt's death, Krist Novoselic has gone on to have success outside of Nirvana. 20 years after Kirk's death, Jonny Wells has failed to move on from the tragedy and is now a heroin addict working at a dive bar on the wrong end of town. He's reminded of his grunge rock royalty past any time Samsara's hit song "Skip To The End" comes on the jukebox, and is desperate to return to his glory days when he discovers a guitar that allows him to--literally.
3. The Music: Despite Nirvana's brief six-year existence, they produced a plethora of material. It was challenging for me to decide just how much of their discography I wanted to feature in Skip To The End. Ultimately, I decided to deviate again from that aspect of Nirvana's history by shortening Samsara's productivity to one album with one major hit song. Focusing on one song--as opposed to 10, 20, or 30--was intentionally designed to help clarify the rules of time travel that I developed for this story.
Nrama: And what's up with this guitar that, according to the press release, at the center of the story?
Holt: The guitar serves as the spacial collider (i.e. hardware) that facilities the time jump. Whether it's a portal, a pod, a briefcase, or a DeLorean, every time travel story includes a piece of tech necessary to make time travel possible. In the case of Skip To The End, a 1930's National Duolian Guitar is--at least to me--the musical equivalent of a DeLorean.
There is an interesting and in-depth backstory that I've developed for the guitar, which depending on sales, I may or may not get to explore in future story arcs. For this first arc though, I wanted to focus solely on Jonny's physical and emotional quest. In doing this, the guitar is meant to serve more as a subplot.
Nrama: You mentioned this briefly above but let’s dig deeper: how'd you and Alex settle on what this would look like without it being too much like a Nirvana bio comic?
Holt: Having collaborated with Alex for 6+ years now, I was well aware of how his style has evolved, and when it came time to pitch Skip To The End to him, I knew his art would be a perfect fit. Seeing some of his most recent work on other projects, it was just a matter of providing enough research material for him to reference.
He's only 22 which put him at a disadvantage in regards to the particular time period that Skip To The End is set within. I'm 33, so MTV was a significant part of my formative years. It was fun to collect dozens upon dozens of images of 90's fashion, and various Youtube clips of Nirvana interviews, music videos, and live performances for Alex to immerse himself in.
The series does feature historical locations that are part of Nirvana's history, but subsequent events based in those locations are completely fictionalized.
Nrama: How did you two connect with Heavy Metal to do this with them?
Holt: I was put in touch with Heavy Metal through my good friend Kurtis Wiebe, but it was Tim Daniel, Heavy Metal's Production Editor and my co-writer on our MonkeyBrain series Skinned, who championed the book's potential success at the publisher. It also didn't hurt that Tim is as big of a Nirvana fan as I am.