Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll … and maybe a dash of supernatural mystery?
Joe Harris and Megan Hutchison team up to deliver arocking magical mystery tour in their new creator-owned series at Image, Rockstars.
Scheduled to debut this Wednesday, Rockstars is one part Almost Famous and one part The X-Files, this series follows an unlikely pair - Jackie Mayer (a strange music fan) and Dorothy Buell (a do-anything music journalist) as they attempt to comb through a series of unsolved rock band groupie murders and find out how they connect to one of the most famous bands of the time.
Harris and Hutchison spoke Newsarama about the new series, and its connections to the realms of music and magic.
Newsarama: Rockstars situates itself in the 1970s rock scene but tacks on a supernatural mystery flare to what is one of the best known periods in American history for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. What’s the appeal for you in this setting?
Joe Harris: Well, it’s always been my favorite music. I’m a fan of lots of things. I love jazz, and I have affection for lots of different stripes of rock. But 1970s rock ‘n’ roll as lit by the brightest lights such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin in their primes is just tough to beat, to my mind. I love the pageantry and the groundbreaking. The birth of the arena rock show, the lighting rig, the featured evolution of the guitar solo and the frontman, the strides in recording and studio techniques and on and on. I also think I could have shortened this answer to repeating your “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll” observation as though it was also an answer, because it kinda is.
Megan Hutchison: I love the aesthetic of the 70’s. It’s been a blast doing research into the set dressing and costumes from the time period. It’s so creative and funky. Very different from what I usually draw.
Nrama: As I was reading the first issue, I couldn’t help but think of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, not just because of the similar setting and subject matter, but also the narrative voice-overs that you employ. What would you say influenced you the most in terms of the development of Rockstars?
Harris: Almost Famous is certainly an influence. It is my single favorite movie since 1999 turned over to the year 2000. But there’s also some Hardy Boys in there somewhere, going back to deep, deep childhood. Scooby-Doo-style investigating is something Megan and I realize is in here too. But getting back to the grand era that birthed the idea, I grew up both listening to and absorbing a lot of music that came out a generation earlier. I played in bands and soaked up books about Led Zeppelin, the Doors and rock ‘n’ roll’s long associations with the occult, and its flirtations with the darkness.
Hutchison: I want to capture the energy of Almost Famous mixed with mysticism and a little cartoon goofiness. I like to think that the tone of the book is Almost Famous written by Aleister Crowley with a touch of Hanna-Barbera with a Led Zeppelin soundtrack.
Nrama: Along the same lines, what would you say it is about the music from this time period that drew you to it?
Harris: You’re taking about the biggest bands in the history of bands doing their greatest work, expanding their voices and the form itself. You have Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin pioneering how drums are recorded in ways that still matter on pop albums today. You had arena rock shows growing from something the Beatles had given up touring over due to the limitations of the PA equipment to be heard over the screaming crowds into circus processions with light shows, and even the Grateful Dead’s famous “Wall of Sound” to blast that shit to the back row. It is a time of the most colorful characters at their leanest, sexiest peaks. From David Bowie to Robert Plant, to the advent of Bruce Springsteen. You have the best of the best, the eventual bloat, and even the principled, bare-knuckled and striped-down reaction to the largesse in the punk scene that exploded once the prime years were fading. And, finally, you had the mythology that was built around them. The mystique. And this idea that these bands moved through an ether that was rarified and dangerous and crazy sexy cool.
Nrama: The trick, it seems, is that you’re focusing on a medium that is almost strictly aural in nature while dealing in a medium that is visual. What sort of challenges did this pose for you both?
Harris: I always used to think about this! How do we show music being played without just having floating notes above guitars being strummed, etc. I think the way you do it is make the scene the backdrop. I’m not asking anyone to pretend they can hear the band playing, although I hope you do or will. We’re telling stories about aspects of this culture in which the music is the inspiration, and even the inciting incident, but it’s the characters and the discussion and dissemination of the conspiracies, secrets and histories both real and apocryphal that matter most and carry us through. I mean, I hope!
Hutchison: I try to capture the energy of the music in the movements and framing of the panels. It’s been a challenge but as a narrative artist and music enthusiast I focus on imbuing the music into the visual image. Hopefully it comes though.
Nrama: This next question might almost be better suited to Kelly Fitzpatrick, your colorist and fellow collaborator, but perhaps you can fill us in, Megan. The book has an incredibly gritty feel to it in terms of the inking and coloring. Why was this an important choice for you?
Hutchison: Usually I work a lot cleaner, but this book leans towards being darker and grittier so it’s been fun to play with layering on ink washes, drips and splatters. It also gives it a little more chaos which I think tonally works with the story we’re telling. Kelly is amazing at understanding the tone and texture of the book and adds so much to the magic and darkness of the visuals. I’ve actually learned a lot working with her and transformed my inking to compliment her coloring style.
Harris: I’ll just add that I love the textures in this book like little else. Megan draws lovely, pretty faces, and then she knocks me out with the ink drips and general gritty destruction she hands over to Kelly for coloring magic that only accentuates that grit while making it pop all pretty like. I think this tension is what the book calls for.
Nrama: Joe, you set the story up to follow the disappearance of two teen girls in the hours after a show from the fictitious band, Blue Rider. Yet, you mention in the story that these sort of missing persons cases were not infrequent, and that the world of rock and roll was rife with mystery. Can we assume you’re setting the stage for later story arcs here?
Harris: Most definitely! We’ll get to the bottom, sort of, of the mysteries involving the missing girls by the end of the first arc. But we’re actually going to be seeding an overarching mystery involving Jackie, his family history, and both he and his late father’s connection to this mysterious, almost magical force that connects so much of these secret musical stories and myths.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite real world, rock and roll conspiracy theories? Any chance you’ll tackle them in future arcs?
Harris: Well, our “A” story is almost always going to be something that’s inspired by an urban legend, possibly at least, but with a wholly original twist. Or just made up whole cloth. That said, I do have a take on the Beatles “Paul is Dead” conspiracy rumor I think is pretty cool and may work itself in soon. Man, I remember seeing Eddie and the Cruisers with my dad when I was a kid, which sparked this whole resurgence of rumors of whether or not Jim Morrison is still alive out there somewhere. This was also around the time when Elvis “sightings” seemed to be in the news a lot too. Something involving the dead not really being dead would be fun. I also very much want to tackle something based around “The Day the Music Died” that saw Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper die in a plane crash while Waylon Jennings, who elected to take the bus, lived to tell the tale and suffer guilt for the rest of his life.
Nrama: Megan, are there any bands or musicians in particular you’d like Joe to wrangle into Rockstars?
Hutchison: I’m a huge Bowie fan and I’m sure he’ll make an appearance at some point. However, I grew up a goth girl so I really want to dig into 80’s new wave and goth like Joe Division, Bauhaus, and the Cure. Also doing some early British Punk like Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks would be a ton of fun to draw.
Nrama: For a final question, I’m curious what soundtrack you’d recommend readers have on in the background while listening to Rockstars?
Harris: I suggest Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” and Pink Floyd’s “Meddle,” played front to back with a the flip after each side like the gods of rock intended those LP-length stores to be told and punctuated. I could cobble a Black Sabbath playlist together too, along with some Deep Purple and a droning list of Doors tracks which are from the 60s, but transcend the decades for eternity.
Hutchison: I listen to a lot of current music which works really well with the tone of the book. It’s actually really cool to hear the direct influences from classic rock in new music. I think bands like Swans and Cold Cave are great to listen to while reading this, along with classics like Bowie and Bauhaus. I have a Spotify playlist if you look for Rockstars, Image Comics.