The influence of Comics on Music

Comics and their pulpy, image focused mandate have been an influence on music for as long as the two have existed. Everything from Beatlemania to New York Hip-Hop has had comics touch on their output, and as this excellent feature from Comic Booked shows the influence often swings both ways.

Indeed Marvel even had a short-lived music focused subsidiary, releasing titles based on musicians as wide varied as Bob Marley, Alice Cooper (see above), The Rolling Stones and rapper KRS-One. Here we’ve selected three examples to touch on some of the influence the two have had on one another.

Kiss’ glam metal in the seventies was powered in part by their cartoonish antics and appearance. So it’s not entirely surprising to find out that their success has translated equally well beyond the musical realm and into comic books, where their comics were created by distributed by no less an authority than Marvel themselves.

The first Kiss related comic Marvel got behind was released in 1977, and even featured a rather unusual gimmick behind it, that of the band mixing their own blood with the red ink it was printed with. Since then they have been part of numerous recreations of their stage characters into print, with the same theatrical elements that dominated their stage presence (huge pyrotechnics and grandiose entrances among them) a recurring theme.

The success was so much that lead singer Gene Simmons eventually started up his own successful comic company the Simmons Comic Group. They were behind the title, which featured a cover illustration from comic book legend Todd McFarlane and fifteen short stories of gruesome outcomes, with Gene contributing the intro and outro to the project.

Superheroes and rappers share one trait – the need for dual identities. The Wu Tang clan are one of hip-hops strongest examples of performers with a litany of titles, with many of the other monikers taking inspiration from the world of comic books. These include Method Man’s affiliation with the moniker of the motorcycle riding Johnny Blaze aka Ghost Rider, and RZA’s blaxploitation themed Bobby Digital – a comic book development on his own name, Bobby Diggs.

The one most commonly associated with comics though is Ghostface Killah, who assumed the identity of Tony Starks aka Ironman. His 1996 debut album was named after the superhero and he modified the Wu Tang blueprint of segueing kung fu film soundclips to the music by instead using mocked up sound-bites based around the character, all of these in the 90s when Tony and Ironman were not a huge part of the cultural lexicon.

All that changed with the explosion of comic book titles a few years later, and in particular the Robert Downey Jr played version of Ironman. The mutual benefits saw Ghostface record a song for the soundtrack to the first film in 2008, as well as constant referencing to it in interviews and promotional duties (MTV recently asked for his thoughts on April’s Ironman 3).

Johnny Thunder wasn’t the most famous of the DC Comics starlets, but typically had a pretty outlandish skill-set. Due to being the seventh son of a seventh son, born at 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 7 in 1917, he was then given a thunderbolt in an infant ritual which led him to having special powers. Swept away to the United States where he was raised unaware of the gift, he inadvertently recalls it in later life for a serious of adventures, using the sheer power of the bolt for the greater good of society.

Which makes it at first, it would seem, an odd choice for The Kinks to pick upon for two records during their recording career. As the quintessential ‘English’ band of the swinging sixties, the usual source material mined by the group related to twee lyrical anecdotes of very uniquely British characteristics. Indeed the album that the group’s first reference to Johnny in ‘Johnny Thunder’ appeared on, The Village Green Preservation Society, was actually primarily themed around village and hamlet life. A direct reference to the idyllic surroundings of the Devon retreat the group had found themselves in, it’s hardly the most obvious bedfellow for the comic book capers.

Delving a little further into the subject realm does show that really it was a nickname for a similar character for which the Kinks were attacking, who finds himself socially marginalised on account of his preponderance to do everything by himself with gusto. Unlike Ghostface who would assume the identity of his comic book hero, this level of influence exists more on a metaphorical level and shows the reach of even the most obscure of comics and the characters.

The Kinks would later return to the character on ‘One of the Survivors’ on the Preservation Act 1 LP.

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