01/31/2011

01/31/2011

A new chapter begins; Chapter Two is titled “Got No Future, Got No Past, Here Today, Built To Last.”

A RELATIVELY SHORT ESSAY ON QUOTING SONG LYRICS IN COMICS

I’ve read a lot of comics in my time, and there’s little that compares with the tendency of comics writers to drop in references to popular music. At least when it comes to exposing certain…uncomfortable…truths about said writers.

By far the greatest, earliest (as far as I know) example of this was in Doug Moench’s Master of Kung Fu series in the ’70s. In between punishing martial arts action, hero Shang Chi would discuss the deeper meaning of Fleetwood Mac lyrics with his super-spy girlfriend.

I mean seriously discuss them. Really. It’s like Moench needed to get his music analysis ya-yas out, and this was in the days before blogs, so why not put it in your comics scripts?

It was probably a safe and sensible bet at the time. After all, Fleetwood Mac was the top music act on the planet at the time. And mainstream comics, in an attempt to be as cool as the undergrounds, made overtures to the pop culture zeitgeist of the turn-on/tune-in/drop-out generation–of which many young up-and-comers in comics like Moench were a part of. I haven’t read the series in decades, but I imagine now it would read as horribly dated due to the topical references, and maybe a teeny-tiny little bit silly for its earnestness.

And then there’s Chuck Austen’s male-POV romance comic-cum-porno mag (pun intended, and yeah, that’s pretty much an equivalency, there) Strips (link NSFW), which, in its fourth issue, featured a four-page sequence of a couple of undressed female characters dancing to an obscure song by Tommy Shaw. It’s so over-the-top that it begs not to be taken all that seriously. Plus, it’s freaking Tommy Shaw. However, there’s something specifically personal about Austen’s choice of music that it comes off as a little embarassing to read, like finding Dad’s stash of Hustler.

Even one of my comics heroes, the late Steve Gerber, took time to promote KISS and slam disco music a few times in his stories, neither example of which the passage of time has been kind to. (And truthfully, disco music has held up fairly better than KISS has, IMO.)

Bottom line: it’s never been a cool thing to quote or otherwise appropriate music or a music scene unless you’re Jaime Hernandez or maybe Bryan Lee O’Malley. Even up to the modern age, writers come off as clueless as Mort Weisinger’s or Stan Lee’s use of The Beatles during the Silver Age at best, and as shamelessly pandering at worst.

Oh god, I’m going to do all of these things in Rose Madder, aren’t I?

Clark Kent with disco fever


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