From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

Have you heard of Captain America? DJ Clark Kent? MF Doom?

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As spring fast approaches, the ramp-up to the summer blockbusters has already begun. This season will see Marvel characters flying across the silver screen in four separate films from three different studios. The first from Marvel Studios, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, set for release this Friday, is being described as a gritty ’70s-styled political thriller and action film and has already garnered praise, including nods for being an even better film than Marvel’s juggernaut The Avengers. 
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Marvel’s second release as part of its Marvel Cinematic Universe will be Guardians of the Galaxy, a rough and tumble “Cosmic Avengers” that puts five irascible, highly volatile, and very self-centered individuals together in the hopes of saving the universe (as well as closing Marvel’s Phase Two of the studio’s long-term cinematic goals). The studio is taking a big gamble with the film, and many wonder if there’s an audience for it. Still, Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, likes to point to the loud naysayers that whined when Marvel initially announced plans to make an Iron Man movie. How’d the third one do at the box office last year again?

Come May, Spider-Man will swing across the silver screen for a fifth time in the rebooted series sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Shortly after, the mutants will take over with X-Men: Days of Future Past, a landmark tale in the comic’s mythos that will feature members of X Teams from the original trilogy of films as well as versions of their younger selves as introduced in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. Suffice it to say, this summer will certainly be Marvel-ous. Sorry, DC fans. This summer just isn’t for you. Don’t worry, though. Batman and Superman will return fairly soon.

Because we’re music fanatics by day and comic nerds by night, we thought it would be fun to uncover bands, rappers, producers, et al who found themselves inspired to a degree by comics — whether it’s taking their name from a franchise or lifting something straight out of their legendary inked pages. Ahead, we detail some of the DC and Marvel titles that found their way into the world of rock and hip-hop (along with some independent and imprint titles that followed suit).

Who knows, maybe it’ll motivate you to visit your local independent record store and nearby comic shop.

–Len Comaratta
Senior Staff Writer

DC Comics

Superman, aka Clark Kent = DJ Clark Kent

clark kent From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

Rodgers and Hammerstein once suggested that the best place to start is at the beginning, so if we’re discussing comic book characters and musicians, then perhaps the best place to tip off is with the first superhero (and according to an IGN poll – the greatest of all time): Superman. In this case, however, it’s more of a focus on Superman’s bespectacled alter ego, Clark Kent, the mild-mannered reporter for the city of Metropolis’s major newspaper, The Daily Planet.

Created by Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, in high school no less, Superman went through a series of rewrites before he first graced the cover of Action Comics #1 in April 1938. (At one point, he was a bald, telepathic villain bent on world domination — sound familiar?) Inspired by the films of the day, Clark Kent took his name from actors Clark Gable and Kent Taylor, while his physical appearance was inspired by legendary silent film comedian Harold Lloyd and Shuster himself.

Rodolfo Franklin derived his own alter ego, DJ Clark Kent, after leading a crew of DJs called “The Supermen”. In the mid-’80s, he began his career with Slick Rick compatriot, rapper Dana Dane, though he would go on to produce a few vital records — specifically “Player’s Anthem” (feat. Notorious B.I.G. and the debut of Lil’ Kim) and Original Flavor’s “Can I Get Open” (feat. a young Jay-Z). Later, he would produce three tracks for Jay-Z’s debut, Reasonable Doubt, and receive praise on Jigga’s “My 1st Song”.

Outside of producing, Kent worked at Atlantic Records as a director of A&R and assisted in the birth of Roc-A-Fella. Though, not all is golden in Kent’s musical Metropolis. After all, he was instrumental for introducing young rap hopeful, Jamal Barrow, aka Shyne, to Bad Boy Records mogul Sean Combs. And if you recall, that didn’t end up too well for Shyne, who served nine years in jail and was eventually deported after taking blame for a shooting incident in NYC allegedly involving Combs.

Lately, Kent’s been focusing on his costume, having designed a special, limited-edition pair of Nike Air Force 1s. Needless to say, Jor-El would be proud. –Len Comaratta

DC Comics

Batman = Batmobile

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In the world of comics and collectors, there are probably three titles that rank far and above all others when it comes to value and historic status — and DC owns two. The top two remain Action Comics #1 (Superman’s first appearance) and Detective Comics #27 (Batman’s first appearance). Don’t worry, we’ll get to the third in a bit. For now, let’s chat Batman.

Although he’s one of the earliest masked crime fighters, Batman continues to thrive today. Much of that popularity stems from the fact that he doesn’t have any superpowers, instead relying solely on superior intellect and, well, a seemingly unlimited bank account. As multi-billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, his wealth affords him “wonderful toys,” as Jack Nicholson’s Joker screamed in 1989, which range from his ultra-useful utility belt to his most prized accessory: the Batmobile.

Over the past few decades, his elusive ride has evolved alongside the character as well as modern technology. Early on, it was a red sedan before its more famous black coloring, and since then, it’s gone from tail fins to custom coupes to militaristic tumblers, as seen in the Nolanverse of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. Regardless, it’s been a source of motivation for many — from techies to car enthusiasts to punk bands.

Those familiar with the earlier days of the Riot Grrl movement might point to Bratmobile, but a more literally inspired band is the Dutch psychobilly act, Batmobile. Founded in 1983, Batmobile toured their particular brand of rockabilly, punk, and psychotic tempos for over 17 years before “hanging up the cape” in 2000. Much like any hero, they re-emerged years later (2003) and continue to roam the streets today.

To date, Batmobile’s biggest achievement is when they became the first non-British act to headline international psychobilly festivals, after the release of their first self-titled EP in 1985. –Len Comaratta

DC Comics

Green Lantern = DJ Green Lantern

green lantern From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

In addition to Superman and Batman, another member of DC Comics’ Justice League was the Green Lantern. Over the character’s history, there have been at least six individuals bearing the Green Lantern ring and insignia. The first, Alan Scott, the Golden Age Lantern, first appeared in July 1940 with his final Golden Age appearance occurring in 1951. Though Alan Scott was the first Green Lantern, the most famous is easily Hal Jordan, a cocky test pilot who became a Lantern after an encounter with the alien Abin Sur.

First appearing in Showcase comics issue #4 in 1956, Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern would be one of the first characters redesigned for what is now termed the Silver Age of Comics. Unlike fellow DC characters Superman and Batman, the Green Lantern’s concept was overhauled and redesigned from its original version, replacing the magic ring that Alan Scott found in a cave to one of a more cosmic, universal origin.

Since we began with a DJ, it feels appropriate to close out the DC section with another: DJ Green Lantern. Since the early 2000s, James D’Agostino has been spinning and producing under the hero’s moniker with a surprising lack of interference from the comic namesake’s owner (unlike its more litigious competitor Marvel Comics). Then again, perhaps in the aftermath of the Green Lantern cinematic dud, DC figures any publicity is good publicity.

In 2002, Lantern was picked up by Eminem and became the official house DJ for his label, Shady Records, a position he held until 2005 when he left Shady after a dispute with rapper 50 Cent. Just as Hal Jordan and his arrogant human qualities often butted heads with the Guardians of the Universe — ahem, the overseers of the Green Lantern Corps — so too did DJ Green Lantern. Through a series of mixtapes and diss records, Lantern furthered the beefs between Eminem and the likes of Benzino and Ja Rule.

Though he continues to release his own material, in recent years, Lantern has been heard working with MC Royce da 5’9”, Dead Prez, and even appeared as a host of the hip-hop radio station “The Beat 102.7” in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. –Len Comaratta

Marvel Comics

The Punisher meets Eminem

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Our leap from the DC Universe into the Marvel 616 Universe comes through the man who once signed DJ Green Lantern’s paychecks, Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem. A longtime comic fan, the world renown rapper apparently owns a collection of comics that’s been described as “otherwordly.” Prior to the release of Relapse, Mathers appeared on the cover of XXL posing as Marvel’s nefarious vigilante, The Punisher, aka Frank Castle.

It’s fitting that Em would tag such a character. Castle defines the term “badass,” and for years he’s lead a never-ending crusade against crime following the horrific murder of his immediate family. Around the time of Relapse, Marvel issued a “One-Shot” comic featuring the two together in a story set in Eminem’s hometown of Detroit. The XXL editorial continued the tale aptly titled, Punisher / Eminem: Kill You.

In the end, Marvel enjoyed the cross-promotion, Eminem had a nice boost a few months before a big release, and novelty collectors nabbed another book for their box. But if you prefer substance over style, move along, there is nothing to see here. –Len Comaratta

Marvel Comics

Daredevil = The Teardrop Explodes

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As Frank Castle tended to exert any means necessary, including murder, torture, and kidnapping, to fulfill his agenda, it often had him cross paths with other Marvel heroes: Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the protector of Hell’s Kitchen, Daredevil, the Man Without Fear.

Daredevil, the costumed identity of blind defense attorney Matt Murdock, has powers derived from radioactive exposure that took his sight but left his other senses hyper-developed. In the opening pages of the June 1971 issue of Daredevil  #77, a scene is set putting Spider-Man and Daredevil up against Namor, one of the first mutants and one of the handful of characters pulled from the pre-Marvel era of Timely Comics. In the panel that follows is a bubble with the phrase: “…The teardrop explodes!”

In the latter days of 1978, the members of what would soon be called The Teardrop Explodes were struggling to find a name. While flipping through the pages of a Daredevil comic, organist Paul Simpson came across the previously mentioned scene. Most of the band members weren’t too convinced, but frontman Julian Cope described it as “psychedelic brilliance.”

The Teardrop Explodes became one of the primary bands responsible for bringing back psychedelic elements into the British mainstream rock scene. They employed a sonic signature once described as “bubblegum trance,” though their self-destructive nature eventually got the better of them. Simpson would leave within a few years and form the Wild Swans, while Cope found success as solo artist, releasing tracks like “World Shut Your Mouth” and his cover of The Vogues’ “Five O’Clock World”. –Len Comaratta

Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four = Fantastic Four

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In May 1962, Namor made his return to comics with issue 4 of Fantastic Four. A series surrounding the “First Family of Marvel,” the adventures followed super genius scientist Reed Richards; his wife, Sue Storm Richards, aka the Invisible Woman; her brother Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch; and their friend, Ben Grimm, aka the Thing. Their tales helped usher in a sense of realism to the stories and the characters and tipped off what became known as the Marvel Era.

A few years later, around 1965, a Detroit soul group formed and adopted the Fantastic Four namesake. (When they were feeling particularly saucy, they went by Sweet James and the Fantastic Four, which brought up the question: wouldn’t they then be three?) It’s unclear whether or not they were inspired by the Four, but that didn’t stop Marvel from filing a trademark for “Fantastic Four” in 1967.

Regardless, the band continued performing under the name, grandfathered in presumably, until the death of founding member “Sweet” James Epps in September 2000. –Len Comaratta

Marvel Comics

Doctor Doom = MF Doom

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Victor von Doom is the leader of the fictional European country of Latveria and is a primary super villain in the Marvel Universe, battling many of the comic house’s leading heroes, including Spider-Man, the Silver Surfer, and the Avengers. But none more so than the Fantastic Four. Introduced one issue after the reintroduction of Namor, Doctor Doom would eventually become the family’s most frequently battled nemesis.

Daniel Dumile, however, hails from the far from fictional country of England, and rather than pursuing an agenda of world domination and chaos through evil scientific endeavors, Dumile charges forward as rapper and producer MF Doom. Patterning his character off the Fantastic Four villain, Dumile emerged as MF Doom in 1997 after disappearing from the rap game for a few years.

Since his return, he has collaborated with a host of other producers and performers, such as Madlib on the Madvillain project and Danger Mouse for Danger Doom. Alternative to collaborations, he also performs under the name Viktor Vaughn, a play off Doctor Doom’s true identity. –Len Comaratta

Marvel Comics

(Uncanny) X-Men = X-Ecutioners, Uncanny X-Men

uncannyxmen From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

Nearly two years after the debut of the Fantastic Four, a team of mutant superheroes made their first appearance as the X-Men. Inspired by the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, the X-Men often featured stories revolving around a variety of social issues, including racism, communism, antisemitism, and the general fear and hatred of the unknown and different. With its rotating cast of characters, the team continuously evolved, allowing for the inclusion and incorporation of a diverse array of themes, issues, and conflicts.

The X-Ecutioners was a hip-hop group of turntablists initially comprised of 11 members. Calling themselves the X-Men as a ribbing against DJ Clark Kent and his Supermen, the group had to change their name almost immediately after Marvel issued an injunction. One of the group’s founding members took the Marvel theme another step, taking the name Mista Sinista, a play off the villain Mister Sinister, who first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #221 in September 1987 and is considered one of the top 10 X-Men villains of all time.

As the team’s roster changed, the adventures of the X-Men eventually expanded to other books, including the aforementioned Uncanny X-Men title. It was this title that provided the name to a pop band out of Melbourne, Australia. Formed in 1981, the band’s initial run lasted until 1987, when the group disbanded. Somehow avoiding Marvel’s lawyers, the group managed a brief reunion in 1988 and then again in 2011, going so far as reentering the studio to record new material. –Len Comaratta

Marvel Comics

Avengers = Avengers

avengers From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

In the same month that the X-Men appeared, Marvel introduced another team of superheroes, the Avengers. Another rotating cast of characters, the team initially began as Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant Man, and the Wasp. In addition to battling the likes of Loki or Thanos, the Mad Titan, the husband-wife team of Ant Man and the Wasp (aka Hank and Janice Pym) also saw the development of stories surrounding spousal abuse and anger issues, adding an entirely new dimension to comics.

As one of the pioneering women in American punk and one of its first front women, Penelope Houston probably wouldn’t have taken too kindly to Pym’s anger issues. In early 1977, The Avengers were one of the first punk bands to come out of San Francisco. Together for only two years, prior to the eventual reunions, the Avengers found themselves opening for the Sex Pistols, specifically their infamous final performance.

During that gig, Pistols guitarist Steve Jones approached the band about recording and producing their material. By then, the group reformed as the Scavengers and continued to release new material up through 2004.–Len Comaratta

Marvel Comics

Captain America = Captain America

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Captain America has a few secondary titles such as Weapon I, but he’s most often referred to as the First Avenger. Of course, his reintroduction into the modern Marvel world wouldn’t happen until the fourth issue of Avengers, when his body was discovered under ice where he had been since his WWII days. Still, following this occurrence, Captain America, aka Steve Rodgers, would go on to lead the team through many of its adventures. Naturally, his strong sense of morality and duty often put him in conflict with other more cavalier characters such as Iron Man’s Tony Stark, two qualities that eventually pit him against some of his brethren during Marvel’s climactic Civil War.

In 1989, when Eugene Kelly ended the Vaselines, he began a new band less than a year later called Captain America. Featuring members of the BMX Bandits, the Vaselines, and Teenage Fanclub, Captain America released theWow! EP in 1991 and its follow-up, Flame On, a title that played off the Human Torch’s catch phrase, in 1992. However, by the time of Flame On’s release, Marvel Comics had gotten word of Kelly’s project and filed a trademark infringement, forcing the group to change its name.

Changing their name to Eugenius, a play off of Kelly’s first name and a man who was a pretender to the Roman throne, the band received support from Kurt Cobain, and they opened for Nirvana on the group’s 1991 European dates. Soon after, they signed with Atlantic Records for their debut LP, Oomalama, though regardless of Cobain’s advocacy, the sugary pop rock of Eugenius was out of step with the grunge fad of the time. After two albums, the group disbanded in 1995. –Len Comaratta

Marvel Comics

Fin Fang Foom, Brother Voodoo

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In addition to introducing characters like Dr. Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s anthology series, Strange Tales, also introduced the final two entries of our DC/Marvel section: Fin Fang Foom, a dragon-like character who emerged in the early days of Marvel, when they were experimenting with monsters in their stories, and Brother Voodoo, Avenger of the Supernatural, a man possessed with the spirit of his twin brother and a master of voodoo mysticism.

Fin Fang Foom was awoken by a man who would become one of Iron Man’s biggest foes, the Mandarin, helping him take control of much of China before revealing that Fin was a member of a group of aliens sent to conquer the planet centuries earlier.  Either in extremely poor taste or a twisted sense of humor, in time Fin is stripped of his powers and re-enters human society as a chef in a Chinese restaurant located in the Baxter Building, home of the Fantastic Four.

brother voodoo From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

Brother Voodoo was the name taken by Haitian psychiatrist Jericho Drumm after merging his body with the spirit of his dead twin brother, Daniel. Becoming a master of voodoo practices, Drumm’s adventures often took place in the pages of Strange Tales or other horror-related comics such as Tales of the Zombie, but his inclusion in the New Avengers team saw Drumm rise to the ranks of Sorcerer Supreme, replacing Dr. Strange in the legendary role and assuming the new name Doctor Voodoo.

Both music acts who took their names from these two characters fall in the realm of punk and hardcore. Fin Fang Foom are a trio formed in Jacksonville, FL, in 1997 before relocating to indie rock haven Chapel Hill, NC, a year later. Following in the steps of rock heroes Black Flag and Minutemen, Fin Fang Foom concentrated on the live aspect of their music. In 2001, the group released its debut album, Textures, Structure and the Condition of Moods, mixing the angular ferocity of bands like Black Flag with the methodical, captivating embrace of post-rock acts like Slint and June of 44.

Not much can be found on Brother Voodoo, though. According to their Last.fm profile, they’re a four-piece punk outfit based in Edmonton. As with many hardcore acts, they draw inspiration from thrash and street punk, but Brother Voodoo also includes elements of power pop, hip-hop, the blues, and surf rock, which may or may not be a reason why there isn’t much information on these guys. –Len Comaratta

Various Comics

Archie = The Archies

archie comics banner From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

In hindsight, the freckled, carrot-top teenager Archibald “Archie” Andrews should have spawned backlash from angry parents in the late 50’s. For starters, he had not one, but two birds in tow: his Betty Cooper and his Veronica Lodge and lest we forget the playboy’s age frozen in the pages of Archie Comics at a measly 17. He makes up for the perverse love triangle by being a certified klutz and a down-to-earth, well-mannered teenager.

In a society that values sex, shock tactics, violence, superheroes, and reality TV above all good nature, Archie remains a character icon unto himself. Writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana originally created the series for MLJ Magazines, but the rise in popularity caused them to change the name of the entire company to Archie Comic Publications. Cultural and personal significance aside, when Dan Decarlo took over, he shaped a clearer lifestyle for the character, which, of course, involved his own band, The Archies.

As lead singer of the titular band, Archie chimed alongside Betty, Veronica, and his best bud, Jughead. What started on the blank sheets of paper by a team of cartoonists became a reality when their song “Sugar, Sugar” was commissioned and released. Like the effects of the song’s namesake, the fictional band’s anthem reached some of the highest highs, hitting No. 1 in 1960 by selling over six million copies, even knocking The Rolling Stones’ “Honkey Tonk Women” off the top.

So, how’d this happen? Producer Don Kirshner, Ron Dante, and vocalist Toni Wine penned the song to further develop the animated series, The Archie Show, on CBS. Not surprisingly, the song sounds exactly how bubblegum tastes: sweet lyrics, addictive hooks, and catchy nonstop melodies warrant chewing for hours. You could say they created an entire genre, too. Bubblegum pop, anyone?

If you want another jawbreaker, Wilson Pickett’s cover is an especially sweet guilty pleasure. –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

Josie and the Pussycats = Josie and the Pussycats

josie and the pussycats From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

The great Dan DeCarlo was responsible for creating another cult classic titled Josie and the Pussycats. In a personal twist, the title character was based on his wife, Josie Dumont, after she dressed up in a cat costume — cute tail and all — during a cruise in the Caribbean. C’mon, is there nothing more romantic than celebrating your loved one in between brushstrokes?

Originally pitched as Here’s Josie, the first issue hit stands in 1969, introducing Josie and her two charismatic bandmates: the crush-worthy blonde drummer, Melody, and the first popular female African-American cartoon character, Valerie. A year later, its accompanying TV show made its debut on September 12th, 1970, lasting only a season.

But the music was real. Led by Cathy Douglas, Patrice Holloway, and Cherie Moor, the real-life Josie and the Pussycats were defined by the sounds of Detroit pioneers Jackson 5 and Honey Cone. To their credit, Capitol Records tried to capitalize on the short-lived fad by releasing six singles, but all of them failed to impact the market.

In 2001, the final death knell occurred with the 2001 civil disorder of a motion picture that starred Rachael Leigh-Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson. Speaking of which, whatever happened to them, too? Meow. –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

Dan Dare = The Mekons

dan dale From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

“So they going to come out and fight? Just what we want!” said the famous sci-fi captain with a beaming smirk, a chiseled jawline, and his supremely English stature. Dan Dare, the “Pilot of the Future,” enthralled several generations with his extraterrestrial adventures of uniformed English space pilots. Despite being set in 1990, Earth representing England, and the Space Fleet sharing similarities with the Royal Air Force, Frank Hampson and his team created a beloved character, who began to appear weekly in Christian boy’s comic Eagle during April 1950.

Even though the comic moved down a few ranks after a few changes were made to the characters and the strip turned monochrome in the ’60s, the color continued when Rod Barzilay serendipitously brought Dan Dare back into print in the ’90s. If the physicality of a comic book hero became its most notable attribute, more often than not his enemy counterpart displayed an overarching mastermind. Case in point, Mekon, the melon-headed meanie who ruled the Treens and often cited Dare as “the earthman who taught Mekon how to hate.”

Which brings us to the 1970’s British punk outfit The Mekons. Founded by Leeds art students (and future Gang of Four and Delta 5 members) Jon Langford, Kevin Lycett, Mark White, Andy Corrigan, and Tom Greenhalgh, the group released their debut, The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, in 1979. Their first single, “Never Been in a Riot”, mirrors the comic hero’s failed attempts to blast a high-profile attack on the enemy of modern culture. Though, unlike Dare, the outfit managed to evolve and draw inspiration from all over the musical map, absorbing the sounds of folk, reggae, and even country.

Four decades later, the heroic and brave UK export call Chicago home and continue to stay committed to the global political landscape. Fun fact: In 1984, they revitalized the band in honor of a UK miner’s strike. Fierce stuff. –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

Judge Dredd = Judge Dread, Drokk

judge dredd From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

Joseph Dredd, the clone of Mega-City One’s Chief Judge, was the most popular character in the 2000 A.D. comic anthology and possibly the earliest proof that no matter how liberal-minded an audience may seem, even aspects of fascism can be debunked and glorified. Inspired by Clint Eastwood’s iconic character, Dirty Harry, creators John Wagner, Pat Mills, and Carlos Ezquerra swapped out a Magnum for the rather boisterous “lawgiver” blaster, which Dredd used before or after he told the worst criminals, “I am the law.” In addition to a crappy Sylvester Stallone action vehicle, the graphic series also managed to influence two notable personalities in music, namely Judge Dread and Drokk.

Now, it should be against the law to sing about Little Miss Muffet in conjunction with color-coding pussy (“…black pussy, white pussy, pink pussy blue”), but alas, this is exactly what English reggae musician Alexander Minto Hughes, aka Judge Dread, did on his 1972 hit single, “Big Six”. Because of this, the artist became Jamaica’s first Caucasian artist with a reggae hit, which he capitalized on with multiple sequels using the same formula. Sadly, he passed away from a heart attack after a performance in 1998.

Few demonstrate inherent musical ability like Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and composer Ben Sailsbury. The two de force were so inspired by Dredd that they tackled the atmosphere of the post-apocalyptic world with the use of vintage Oberheim 2 Voice synthesizers and created what they aptly defined as “soundtrack music.” Their collaboration called Drokk muffled the ire right out of the long-standing fans of both the comic strip and Barrow, proving that a world written and illustrated so vividly could permeate beyond sonic realms. –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

Speed Racer = Racer X

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We all remember the theme song, right? Made the heart race every morning and afternoon. Created by Japanese brother Tatsuo Kenji and Toyoharu Yoshida, Speed Racer hit the streets in 1967 and whizzed by kids and young adults, no thanks to its fast-paced action sequences and zipper dialogue. It’s hard to grasp why the daredevil was so cherished — maybe fast cars? — but it has and despite a wonky film adaptation a few years back, its heritage remains unscathed. In hindsight, the comic’s rapid-fire storyline validated the core makeup of the action-thriller genre, keeping readers and viewers on edge with random deaths like Speed Racer’s brother and the mysterious villain that was Racer X.

Inspired by the wild pace and technicality of the lead character from the comic, guitarist Paul Gilbert founded the speed metal outfit Racer X in 1985 after graduating from Los Angeles’ Guitar Institute of Technology. As a former student of the Musicians Institute offshoot, Gilbert’s eclectic guitar work eventually landed him a spot on Guitar World’s Top 50 Fastest Guitarists of All Time list. In an interview with the publication, Gilbert explained how failing to mimic Eddie Van Halen caused him to create his own patterns of string-skipping. In 1999, the band took a major victory lap when their third studio album, Technical Difficulties, went gold in Japan. –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

The Adventures of Tintin = Thompson Twins

tintin From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

“Crumbs!” “Blistering barnacles!” “Great snakes!” Mindlessly quoting Captain Haddock, Tintin, and Thomson and Thompson is certainly not a peculiar denunciation; it’s simply that The Adventures of Tintin have been engraved in our lives for decades. Les Adventures de Tintin, created from the mind of Belgian cartoonist Georges ‘Hergé’ Remi, glorified the life of a clean-cut journalist and his faithful sidekick terrier, Snowy. The lines were blurred between reporter and detective, however, when Tintin’s effusive will to seek answers sent him down a variety of 10,000 typhoons “to be precise.”

Thematically, the comic briskly moved through the genres of science fiction, thriller, mystery, and fantasy. Yet the most acclaimed aspect of the series was how Tintin traveled the world and unveiled cultural differences, albeit stereotypical, during a time when children were seeking material to consume. What better way than to add in the knowledge of socio-cultural traditions. Like Dan Dare, Tintin appeared in Eagle.

Just like the characters Thomson and Thompson were criticized for being a two-headed numb-nut, so was the band Thompson Twins heavily mocked for being just “the three haircuts,” as The Guardian once reported. At least it’s one notch better than NME, who dubbed them as “1984’s most instantly kitsch mass program of monosodium glutamation of the brain.” A recipe for a musical flop? Perhaps they were hexed from the start when they named themselves after the comic strip’s lead “tweedle dum and tweedle dee.”

Sure, this kind of entertainment value could pass if it were punted as “Boy George imitating Pet Shop Boys whilst hanging from a swing upside down at a children’s party,” but by crumbs! They’re still a little guilty treasure and whenever played have the ability to knock us right back to the heart of waft-y, ginger mullets and fingerless gloves. Hold me now? –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

Scott Pilgrim Saves the World = Sex Bob-omb

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The first comic on the list actually inspired by music is of the precious little life of Scott Pilgrim. Creator Bryan Lee O’Malley originally found inspiration for his coming-of-story upon listening to Plumtree’s “Scott Pilgrim”, and after being woo’d by the harmonica, he decided to name his feisty slacker after the song’s titular character.

The entire comic revolves around Pilgrim’s adoration for Ramona Flowers. Of course, as with any graphic novel series, there’s a catch to be ironed out through serialization. In order to date Flowers, Pilgrim must first stand up against each one of her seven exes, portrayed as “villains” for weight.

In a clever storytelling arc, O’Malley parallels Pilgrim’s own maturation with each confrontation, evolving our hero as the villainous exes begin to pile up. Now, we just covered Tintin and his creator Hergé, and yet it’s his quote that spurred O’Malley to give the series a definitive end: “If Tintin continues to live, it is through a sort of artificial respiration that I must constantly keep up with, which is exhausting me.”

Readers were first introduced to Pilgrim’s band Sex Bob-Omb when squiggled lightning bolts shot out of vocalist Stephen Stills’ mouth. Mind you, it was only 15 pages in, and O’Malley set the scene by providing chord progressions, an annoying groupie named Knives Wong, and a tone that he would describe as “crappy.”

Suffice to say, it takes a true artist to use a combination of imagination and visual references to conjure up sounds birthed from another man’s world. Cue: Nigel Godrich, the man behind the cinematic Sex Bob-Omb, featured in Edgar Wright’s 2010 film adaptation. To his credit, Godrich persuaded Beck to climb aboard, adding a sense of realism to the project. It’s as if the mind of O’Malley truly danced off the page at that point. –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

Danger Mouse = Danger Mouse

Danger-Mouse

“He’s the greatest, he’s fantastic! Whenever there is danger, he’ll be there!” It’s an opening line fit for a human superhero, but laconically here, it’s of Mice and not Men. Back in the ’80s, Danger Mouse was a British animated cartoon series that focused on a rodent that lived the exciting life of a secret agent — y’know, for kids. Creator Brian Cosgrove did something right, given that the series was the first cartoon out of the UK to break into American television.

That might explain why American producer, musician, and songwriter Brian Joseph Burton adopted the name for himself. Over the past decade, the 36-year-old musician has done his best work collaborating with the industry’s top artists, specifically Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz, Beck, The Black Keys, Portugal. The Man, Broken Bells, and the list evolves each passing year. More recently, he’s been behind the decks for a little band out of Ireland called U2. No big deal.

Really, it’s the similarities with the cartoon hero that form the crux of Burton’s success. For one, unabashed anonymity works to his favor, choosing to act as the Wizard behind the curtain, controlling all the knobs and levers rather than being a showman like, say, the boisterous Cee Lo Green. Still, his ruthless ingenuity places him in another caliber altogether, and some might argue he’s more modest than dangerous. Too bad that title’s taken. Womp womp. –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

Love and Rockets = Love and Rockets

loveandrockets From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

The universal appeal of love is that at some point it inevitably becomes a burning ball of light capable of firing through flesh and bone – from just one stare. With that tenacious temperament in tow, three punk kids from California with nothing to lose but hours decided to throw all their love-eggs into one basket. The basket was named Love and Rockets, a graphic novel weaving across three decades.

After self-publishing the comic in 1981, Gilbert, and Jaime and Mario Hernandez turned to Fantagraphics Books in 1982 to continue the series on their behalf. At the time, Fantagraphics were founded on the principles of “alternative comics,” and it soon became the go-to outlet for independent comics. The company grappled with books awash in magical realism, so the oeuvre of the Hernandez brothers proved to fit in perfectly.

One volume, 14 years, and 50 issues later, Love and Rockets made its mark, resonating with a subcategory of comic fans that were drawn to its subject matter and depth within each story. The second volume ran for six years shortly after 2001, and the third series continues to be published once a year. The brothers found inspiration from Marvel’s iconic creators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, though also pointed to the likes of Dennis the Menace and Archie. At a quick glance, each of these characters are staged with rich and extensively detailed character frameworks, making the sentiment equally appropriate.

…. and then the universal appeal of love can turn into a fiery ball of messy confusion. English alternative outfit Love and Rockets knew this all too well, naming one of their songs “Ball of Confusion” and writing lyrics like “your strut makes me crazy / makes me see you more clearly” for their hit single “So Alive”. Founded by Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins, three original members of the Goth-rock group Bauhaus, the three darkened the shades of love with jangled guitars and somber vocals.

Eventually, Gilbert Hernandez noticed readers were becoming excessively confused when several bands started calling themselves Love and Rockets, so he addressed this problem during the 10th novel, Love and Rockets X. The proverbial “rocket” struck in 1995 when a fire raged through the American Recordings lair, where the band were recording. It destroyed a variety of instruments (on the cover of their Sweet F.A. album) and months of work.

In the game of love, I suppose it’s easy to get your fingers burnt. –Lior Phillips

Various Comics

Watchmen = Dr. Manhattan

watchmen From Ink to Sound: How Comic Books Influenced Music

Printed on DC’s imprint Vertigo, Alan Moore’s groundbreaking Watchmen unfolds with failed and retired superheroes placed in a society overwrought from the Cold War. It’s a brutal experiment showing us superheroes as we’ve never seen them before. Trauma became a recurring theme for several of the main characters, and it runs along that same vein throughout Moore’s “alternative” world. It begins with the death of The Comedian/Edward Blake, whose spirit breathes throughout the series in key characters such as Rorschach, Silk Spectre (the daughter of The Comedian), and Doctor Manhattan/Dr. Jon Osterman (who also worked with The Comedian). Although each character was referred to as a “superhero,” Doctor Manhattan is the only one wielding any power. After an experiment went awry, Moore and his acclaimed illustrator Dave Gibbons depicted the character in human form but nude, to which they decided to side with Gibbons’ preference to depict a character with undefined genitals instead. It’s within this new muscular and pale blue body that the Dr. transcends beyond the pages of the novel.

Comics explore the parallels between society, its counterpoint in characters, political structures, and so on. The band Dr. Manhattan named themselves after the key character, but they live in the ulterior universe where All American Rejects join force with Jackass on the daily. Where lyrics like “What’s the point of learning if you knew it all along” counter the god-like superheroes’ tranquil demeanor and optimistic savor for the universe. Dr Manhattan showed a clear-cut personality disorder that plagued him to shy away from society. The band, on the other hand, are nothing short of shy. In an interview with Redefine Mag, bassist Adam Engers said, “I think about humanity and where it’s headed. It’s headed where it’s always been heading – downhill.” By the Christ-like stature of Dr. Manhattan! The band represent a duality to everything he stands for.

In summation, a phrase that would consummate both creator and character: “We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings.” –Lior Phillips

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