Reviews: Raygun Roads and a chat with Owen Michael Johnson…..
Music video culture belching out pop renegades, punk ideals and comic art wonders….. Raygun Roads is part comics, part multi-media event, part biography, part musical obituary. Review later, first a quick chat….
I’ve gone atomic so get all these tourists out the fuckin’ way,
My electronics are busted and fried on re-entry tonight,
Entombed in your twenties, you feel like you’re dead,
The nail in your coffin is staying in bed,
And when you think that it’s over, sing suck on my supernova. –
Suck on My Supernova, Raygun Roads & The Kittelbach Pirates
The new project from Owen Michael Johnson, creator of the much enjoyed graphic novel Who On Earth Was Thaddeus Mist. And as a comic it’s a psychedelic pop-art explosion of a thing, Paul Pope meets Shaky Kane (as Brendan McCarthy is quoted on the back cover). And you can surely see what Brendan’s getting at with the artwork.
Before we settle down to a quick review, I fired off a few questions to Owen about what looks (and reads) like a fascinating project.
FPI: What’s the big overview for Raygun Roads? It seems to be something you’re putting a lot of thought and work into, with the online site, multimedia etc etc….
Owen Michael Johnson: Thanks! It’s a comic book first and foremost. The comic is the vendetta, and producing the best comic we can is the prime goal – a celebration of trash art-forms.
Having said that, the subject matter and tone lent itself to the mixed media project it’s become. It was written very quickly and needed a breakneck energy so listening to loud music became important. The desire to have this fictional space-punk band so I could listen to them during the writing process became so strong I couldn’t resist inventing them. That’s what the digital version is about; enhancing the story and broadening the experience. I do similar things tailored to each project. On Thaddeus we staged a mock funeral procession outside Thought Bubble [link] You could chalk it up to savvy marketing but to me if you can infuse and support each project (where appropriate) with theatre, or photography, or music that serves a story function, why wouldn’t you?
With this I began approaching it like a real band, with their own t-shirt merchandise, and tour posters, music videos, and treating each comic show like a gig. That’s when it really came alive as something more. Collaboration is magic. I thrive on exploiting others’ gifts! Ha! I was lucky there are designers like Andy Bloor; web-builders like Inigo; letterers like Mike Stock (not this one, but if it increases sales, what the hell!); musicians like Steve Harrison; all willing to use their incredibly rich and diverse disciplines to tell one story. They are like the session musicians with INDIO and me owning the studio.
FPI: What’s the 48-page flip album coming September you mention at the back of this issue? Is it all new? A second issue, or an expanded version of this issue?
The ashcan edition that sold out at Glasgow Comic Con was the first 22 pages of the final 48 page flip-album which will be available day and date digitally, mail order and selected comic stores in September. I call it a flip-album because it’s split in half (Side A and Side B), and the story dictates flipping it like an LP to continue the narrative. The ashcan was a promotional tool – an EP to court publishers and show readers what we were working on. There will be no second issue. That 48-page album is entirely self-contained.
It’s the story of my own and my friends’ experiences of being down and out, struggling to be heard, trying to make art with a purpose.
FPI: The influences are from all over obviously…. Kirby and Bradbury get mentioned early on, but there’s certainly Shaky Kane, Brendan McCarthy, Paul Pope in there, and the whole thing has something of a Grant Morrison weird vibe, probably added to by Morrison’s connections with My Chemical Romance, who, love ‘em or hate ‘em, have recent form with this sort of music meants gun-toting adventure. Any you disagree with in that lot? Any you’d like to add?
All of those went into the mix. Grant’s work looms large, especially Flex. I’d say all those artists had a connection to music in one way or another.
Listening to punk music growing up informed how I make comics. Practically, that DIY mentality of crashing on people’s floors after a show. Innovative promotion on a shoe-string; to me this is equal to the UK comic scene which I affectionately see as a collective akin to a travelling circus. It’s a risky financial proposition, but it’s full of wonderful anomalies and remains an exciting lifestyle choice.
I’d probably add Moebius and a splash of Robert Crumb. Prose writers like Kerouac and Michael Chabon. Filmmakers like Tarantino and Edgar Wright for their pure energy and skill in producing original work via pop-culture mash-ups. A thousand musical influences.
Probably most importantly, the Glasgow comic community in general has massively inspired this particular book. They have been incredibly supportive of my stuff. In many ways this comic is a love letter to the Glasgow underground.
FPI: The website is a big, loud, brash and epilepsy inducing thing, but thus far only one audio track is up there? Any news when tracks two and three (as referenced in the comic) are going to be available? And what are the plans for integrating the music and the comic?
Currently (in preparation for the launch), each complete ‘track’ or chapter from Side A will be released digitally every two weeks. Thanks to a password printed in their copies, ashcan collectors will receive this a week before the general public. We reward loyalty and blind faith.
This digital version comes complete with an original soundtrack synched with the narrative of the comic, animations and unfiltered colours. This was intended as a multisensory way of experiencing the work. We want to give choices: just read the comic, just listen to the music, or consume everything at once. Later down the line – after the physical release – we plan the whole book will be available in this format. Although in a shameless ploy to increase our web-traffic we have had complaints from epileptics, so check it out now because it might not exist tomorrow!
The website will also feature regular b-sides, covers, and rarities from friends; comic professionals, musicians, journalists, photographers, writers, fans. Anyone who wants to join the Kittelbach Pirates. The content is a free-for-all, within the bounds of the tonality of the comic.
Content-wise there was talk of taking the edges off it but myself and INDIO were adamant it remain honest, even if that turned some people off. And it has. For all its craziness, it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever done.
FPI: Indio – a fairly new name on me, how did the collaboration come about?
Indio is an artist I came across some years ago. Trained in tattoo art and underground music posters (a trick I wanted to harness). We shared an Accent UK anthology (and many since). I knew I had to work with him immediately. He’s inspired by the great psychedelic comic artists, yet remains completely unique. Just a monumental talent. Some artists only draw what you tell them to. I love the fact that Indio is immensely present as an artist. He brings a lot to the table. Part of the challenge was writing something for him. I wanted to know if I could do it. This book is a perfect meeting point of our psyches. I got in touch and we started talking about Captain Beefheart and Jimi Hendrix, psychedelia, underground comics from the 90’s. One day I got so pissed off I gave birth to Raygun Roads. Indio was the only weirdo brave enough to raise her with me.
FPI: Finally, what next? For RGR and for yourself?
I want Raygun Roads to get a full UK tour. It’s a project that needs to stay spontaneous. I’ll be hitting as many shows as my schedule allows. I’d love to play some live gigs with the artwork projected as animation throughout. That would be fun.
As for other stuff, for the rest of 2013 into 2014 I am finishing the first of a three issue series called Reel Love, about a boy’s cinema-induced fantasies. I’m writing and drawing with Colin Bell helping me out on letters. I’ll be talking about that and my other work at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, along with Lizzie Boyle of Disconnected Press, an imprint I really love. That festival is going to be incredible.
There’s another thing I can’t talk about but very much want to.
I’ve written the first issue of a pulp adventure mini-series I’m developing with Mark Penman set in Hollywood during the golden age of the studio system.
I want to write an all-ages book to stretch some new muscles. I’d like to keep working with amazing artists, and I’d like to keep learning.
Thanks to Owen for taking the time to chat, now… that review….
Raygun Roads the comic is a calculated exercise in mass-media marketing, mixing cool visuals and writing with all the right pop culture imagery, evoking (amongst others) Grant Morrison, My Chemical Romance, Jack Kirby, the aforementioned Shaky Kane and Paul Pope. The project has seriously impressive cross-media support, with the Raygun Roads website being the starting point for a collaboration between artists and designers, writers and software engineers.
And quite rightly, for a comic relying so much on music, Johnson is working with Steve Harrison to create a soundtrack for Raygun Roads available to download from the website (right now there’s just track one, a weird, rather interesting thing, although not as pumped up as I’d have expected – but especially for this review, Johnson is making Track Two available from today at the website).
Johnson explained that the desire to actually listen to music by this imaginary band became overwhelming during the writing process so he decided he’d make the band’s music come to life. The music functions to compliment the story, with track numbers cropping up during the action.
Rayun Roads is a weird psychedelic thing, foot to the floor storytelling and some bloody great artwork delivering something that impresses but is all over all too soon. It’s really a superspeed trip into weirdness, Johnson and artist Indio really pushing it all up to 11, doing very little here apart from establishing the cast, the theme, and the mood… but dammit, it’s bloody fun stuff. It’s a perfect little modern pop thing, bursting quick and bright on the consciousness.
As for what it’s about, Raygun Roads herself is the imaginary pop culture punk goddess, impossibly cool songstresss, a burst of pure imagination. And she’s coming back to bland normality with her band The Kittelback Pirates to kidnap geeky teenager Vince Paradise, currently being put through the immediate trauma that is the job centre, and the future problem of being murdered by his personal spiritual virus, D-Void.
Next up is Raygun and Vince venturing forth to assassinate Ullysses Pomp – head of D-Void and mastermind of The Infinity Loop Death-Trap, a mechanism with the power to destroy all teenagers.
But all that is next time. This is just meet and greet, basking in the psychedelic mood of the time, part pop culture love affair, part superhero metaphysical nonsense poetry, part cutting political critique of our modern coalition world.
It’s bright, it’s brash, it’s ridiculous, but it’s also rather important, rather fun, and all good. The story here is second to the art, to the energy pushing through the plot, secondary, but still well done. You finish the comic feeling breathless, and wanting more. And that’s always a good sign. This is deliberately off the wall stuff, trippy and pop art fun.
Oh, and there’s a video as well (but of course….)