For his new album, writer and musician Jesse Blaze Snider decided to combine songs with his other great love – comic books. Black Light District is a one-shot anthology of six stories based on songs by Snider, and it's being published by Image as a collection on October 26.
Serializing online right now at the Black Light District website, stories include art by Chris Burnham, J.K. Woodward, Jason Pearson and more. Four stories are already online, with the final two scheduled for a monthly release - along with an animated music video to match.
Snider is a long-time comic book fan, with his father Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister fame) setting it in early with his son's middle name, "Blaze," done in tribute to Johnny Blaze, a.k.a. Ghost Rider. The younger Snider considers Black Light District his “love letter” to comic books, and Newsarama talked to him about the book/album, working with his heroes, and more.
Newsarama: Jesse, the book and songs deal with a variety of themes and ideas. What was the initial inspiration for this, and why did you want to do it as a tandem comic book/album?
Jesse Blaze Snider: Well, my two greatest passions in life are writing and music – and writing, specifically with comics. I always loved comics because the stakes were the end of the world – when you’re a kid, everything feels like that.
This is something I’ve finally been able to articulate with Black Light District. I wanted to take the stakes of comic books, the end of the world, and put that into every song. I wanted every song to be the emotional equivalent of “I’m gonna die, someone better come along and save me.”
Whether that’s someone being helped by Spider-Man or Captain America, or the whole world being pushed out of the way of a comet by Superman, the stakes are always about being powerless in the face of an idea, they’re very absolute.
My producer Will Knox, God bless him, was totally into this. And Black Light District is the name of my recording studio at home, my happy place full of posters and toys and stuff –
Nrama: Your fan cave, basically.
Snider: Exactly, the treehouse, you know? When I was a kid, comic book stores were comforting places like that to me, because they were filled with toys and statues and of course, comics.
When I was younger, I’d write songs whose titles were just the last name of the heroes I was writing about – one on the Punisher was just called “Castle.” So it starts off with him saying that he thought he’d been a good father, but apparently that wasn’t his cross to bear, and he says he thought he’d been a good husband, but that’s not his cross to bear either, and by the end, I’m screaming how he knows he made a good soldier because apparently that is his cross to bear.
I saw such wonderful emotional metaphors in those characters. All you had to do was take them seriously.
The comic book stuff that I loved became my room, and Will Knox really embraced it, and literally every song in that album came from some physical thing he was looking at while he was trying to build tracks for the record. I’d come in and he’d have a title like “Ten-Ton Hammer.” I’d go, “Okay?” And he’d go, “I keep looking at this thing you got here…’Mjolnir?’”
And from there we came up with a metaphor about the burdens we have to carry as humans, and we came to the idea of having to provide for your family, and possibly failing. So there’s a lot of comics in the roots for this.
Nrama: How long did Black Light District take to put this together?
Snider: The album part wrapped about a year ago. The comics part took a little longer; I didn’t know when I started doing the album that I was going to have something so inspired by comics.
And once I realized that, I knew I had to find a way to tie it more closely to that medium.
I really had a better perspective on it than anything else I’d ever done. The collaboration on the album was so perfect, and I knew I had to continue it, that sense of collaboration. So I reached out to some artists, and before I knew it, I had this amazing book filled with people I admired.
It took, all told, probably a year – six months of the music, eight months for the comics, and a bit of overlap in the middle.
Nrama: Was getting the music right trickier than getting the comic books themselves done?
Snider: Oh yeah. The comics were easier, to some degree. The trickiest thing in any artistic effort is collaboration and coordination – getting the right people together in a position to do something great.
I think everybody really got behind both the idea and the fact that they got to steer their own ship – do whatever they were most comfortable doing with the comics.
Nrama: What was the process like working with comic artists to turn these into short stories?
Snider: Wonderful – each was a unique experience to work with in their own way. Jason Pearson is such a gift – he totally got into this, and I got to hear stories back about him listening to the song and getting inspired by it! Just that idea, Jason Pearson even listening to my song…Body Bags was hugely influential to me growing up, and Savage Dragon: Sex and Violence – my girlfriend-now-wife, that was her favorite comic.
Chris Burnham’s a good friend of mine, and he and I have known each other for at least 20 years now, since we were kids. I knew I could get him to do this story for me if I gave him some time.
Nrama: So you’re doing this across a few platforms –
Snider: We’ve got the album out, and we’re doing the comics on the website, and we’ve got three music/comic videos that are sort of animations of the individual short stories, which we’re doing monthly.
And now we’ve got the Image Comics collection of the short stories. We’re really excited and hoping to keep pushing this forward. This is, like I said, a love letter to comics. These are the most personal songs I’ve ever written – while they’re superhero metaphors, I think they’ll be personal to everybody, because they’re based in emotions I think everyone has felt.
I want people to give this their time, and I don’t care if I make any money off of it – I want them to be engaged. And whatever way is most palatable, I’ll provide it. I don’t have any ego about it – I just want people to see not just what I have done, but what Will Knox and all our amazing creators have done.
Nrama: What are some comics/creators you currently enjoy?
Snider: Mark Waid is a go-to for me. Loving his take on Daredevil. I read Phil Hester’s Deep Sleeper recently; that is so good. I’m not in the monthly grind, but I’m always picking up different books I enjoy or have heard great things about. I just started Locke & Key, and I’m halfway through Neil Gaiman’s American Gods prose novel. I have a lot of creators who I love, hard to pick.
Nrama: And what are some of your favorite fan items that you have – original art, toys, collectible issues, etc.?
Snider: I just got Mondo’s Iron Giant figure – it’s freaking awesome! I had a fire earlier in the year and lost my entire toy collection, over $100,000 worth of toys collected over a lifetime. But the Iron Giant coming in the mail for me last month was a real treat to offset the loss.
I also have a Jesse Custer Preacher statue I bought when I was hired by MTV. I have a vintage Animal hand puppet that has moving eyebrows! And still held on to my My Pet Monster and My Pet Monster’s Pet Monster! [laughs] I’ve saved a box of Marvel series 1 and 2 trading cards from the ‘90s, to open and trade with my kids when they get a little older.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?
Snider: This is such a labor of love for me, and I’m so proud of what came out of it. I hope people enjoy it, because I enjoyed making it, probably more than any other creative experience I’ve ever had.