POP CULTURE SCHLOCK at RPM: Exhibit D – The Black Crowes Rock ‘n’ Roll Comic

Greetings, RPM-people; I guess it’s time once again to dig into the Pop Culture Schlock archive and pull out something music-related to wax lyrical about. This month I’m fingering the comic book long boxes until I come across something particularly hard to handle…

Casting a dark shadow over both my comic- and music-buying in the late Eighties and early Nineties was a virulent strain of unauthorised biographies equal parts infamous and diabolical.

Inspired by ‘Hey Boss’, an independent Bruce Springsteen parody from the mid-Eighties, Todd Loren’s Revolutionary Comics launched its Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics strand in 1989 and, quite remarkably given that it came in the path of snowballing legal threats and action, the offbeat offshoot became the indie comic book publisher’s flagship product.

Hiring Larry Nadolsky, artist of the aforementioned Springsteen comic, to pen its debut issue, Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics hit the shelves with a first edition cover-dated June 1989. Guns N’ Roses were the subjects of this first issue and it was welcomed into the legal jungle via a cease and desist order from the GN’R lawyer, Peter Paterno. The subsequent press attention – Rolling Stone magazine covered the furore – saw the initial print run of 10,000 issues sell out completely within two weeks, with buyers assuming that the comic would soon be pulped as big business bulldozed small. As it happened, no actual lawsuits were filed and the debut GN’R issue would go on to have multiple reprints and eventually shift around 150,000 units. A first print copy resides in the Pop Culture Schlock archive, of course. Think it’s so easy to defeat legal issues when knocking on unauthorised material’s door, though? Think again…

 

Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics issues 3 and 4 – featuring Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe respectively – garnered legal challenges which forced Revolutionary Comics to found a new distribution network outside of the traditional comic book store, instead focussing on music- and gift-related retail outlets. The gamble paid off and Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics ran from 1989 to 1993, publishing 63 issues. The final issue (cover-dated November 1993 and titled ‘Sci-Fi Space Rockers’ – featuring the likes of Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Marillion, and Genesis) was actually numbered 65 as two issues – Number 8 featuring Skid Row, and Number 61 featuring Yes – were never published due to legal problems that simply refused to have the kinks ironed out. Surprisingly, the highest profile legal case brought against Revolutionary Comics, in regards to the New Kids On The Block issue from 1990, ruled in the indie publisher’s favour, even after Todd Loren had set up a 900 number – “Nuke The New Kids!” – to raise funds for the company’s legal fees.

 

So, Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics are pure, unadulterated, unofficial Pop Culture Schlock… but which issue should I feature for RPM? Scores of bands were featured: Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Living Colour, Metallica, Anthrax, The Doors, Queen, Van Halen, The Who, Vanilla Ice – basically any popular beat combo or sex symbol that the artists couldn’t draw very well. Need proof? Check out the Bon Jovi issue; the poundshop rendering of JBJ on the cover as realistic as David Rashbaum’s hair extensions. I have, though, for the benefit of RPM’s flowery shirt and waistcoat-wearing clientele, decided upon Issue 34 of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics, cover-dated September 1991 and devoted to…

 

The Black Crowes, by the time of the comic’s publication, had seen two of their singles – their cover of Otis Redding’s ‘Hard To Handle’, and ‘She Talks To Angels’ – crash into the Top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100, the band tread the legendary boards at Castle Donington, and be bell bottoms-deep into preparations for album number two, ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’. Being immortalized in comic book form would be the band’s then-high point, surely?

 

As with pretty much every page of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics’ output, ‘Flying High With The Black Crowes’ was well-researched but dogged by poor, oft-shit artwork; exposition too often reduced to ludicrous sentences spat from inked rock star mouths – “You just wait! Any minute now you’ll hear the first single, ‘Jealous Again’, on the radio and before you know it, we’ll top the charts!” said Chris Robinson, never.

 

Ah, yes, Chris Robinson, one of the greatest voices of his generation, whose first word (“cool!”) in this comic comes via a thought bubble when he is still in the womb…

 

This is the kind of bollocks that you have to squint your brain and accept if you’re gonna have some Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics in your collection, however. That “Unauthorised and Proud Of It!” mantra from the company emblazoned across the comic covers carte blanche to interpret a beloved history in as ludicrous a way as possible.

 

“By the way, how’s your guitar playing coming along?” seventh grade Chris asks little brother, Rich. Pretty good you’d think, because seven pages later Mr. Crowes’ Garden have a record deal and a new band name. Soon band members are recording the sound of cars crashing into trash cans, supporting Junkyard, dissing Milli Vanilli posters, and getting career advice from Steven Tyler: “You could learn from [Aerosmith’s] mistakes, that stuff can kill you!” “Rock and Roll and safety have nothing to do with each other,” replies Chris Robinson. A few pages later he’s spitting at concert security for roughing up gig-goers. Silly Billy.

 

The band is accused of dabbling in black magic, of inciting a Dutch riot. Chris slags off Milli Vanilli again; this time in the face of an autograph hunter who complains about the sound at a Crowes gig. Cutting edge stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

“Quit calling us The New Stones!” Chris Robinson rages at a journalist. “We’re doing this in and for the ’90s,” adds Rich. “Acts like ourselves, the London Quireboys, and Lenny Kravitz are playing a NEW tune…”

 

…and then they are gone, forever to reside in the comic boxes of nerds like myself, a faint “the future holds nothing but high-flying promise for The Black Crowes” inked farewell floating on the winds of time.

 

If you think that the bands featured in Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics got their bank balances bludgeoned by the unofficial output of Revolutionary Comics, spare a thought for the company’s main man, Todd Loren. He was brutally murdered in 1992, the body of the 32-year-old found at his San Diego condo. He had been stabbed to death and, I shit you not, members of both Guns N’ Roses and New Kids On The Block were linked with the murder due to the previous legal issues. The case remains unsolved to this day, though many believe Loren was the first victim of Andrew Cunanan; the American serial killer who murdered Italian fashion designer, Gianni Versace.

 

You didn’t expect that bleak shit when I was writing about Milli Vanilli a few paragraphs ago, right?!

 

I’ll be back in October with some horror-related musical Schlock just in time for All Hallow’s Eve. Smell ya later…

 

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POP CULTURE SCHLOCK at RPM: Exhibit A – Alice Cooper’s 1st comic-book appearance

 

Step inside; walk this way; you and me, babe; hey, hey! Welcome, RPM-People, to the first irregular column dedicated to music-related items from the Pop Culture Schlock archive. Some will be cool, some will be curious, but all will be from a simpler time when music wasn’t just binary code on a smartphone stolen by some scally on a moped. So, pour yourself a Skol, slip into your Starsky cardigan, and wrap yourself in the warm embrace of nostalgia via a New York sanitarium by way of a Seventies newsagent.

 

Marvel Comics, before becoming responsible for almost every three hours you spend in the cinema, saw the late 1970s ripe for its own slice of the mass market appeal afforded to the rock stars of the day. Rather than living fast and dying young, your common or garden rock ‘n’ roll visage was more likely to be on the cover of a teen magazine or the panel of a game show than the front of a memorial service brochure.

 

After giving KISS its first appearances in issues 12 and 13 of its monthly Howard The Duck comic-book, Marvel rocked out no fewer than three times within the first five issues of its then-new title, Marvel Super Special, a 41-issue series of one-shots published between 1977 and 1986. KISS featured in the first (famously/supposedly donating blood to be used in the red ink) and fifth issues, The Beatles Story making up number 4. Now, any UK rock ‘n’ roll archivist with a shred of honesty who was in single figures age-wise when that first Holy Grail of a KISS comic came out will admit that it took until they were well versed in the art of mail order before they could add that piece of exquisite ephemera to their collection. Not so issue 50 of Marvel Premiere which hit spinner racks in the UK prior to its October 1979 cover-date…

Marvel Premiere was essentially a “try-out” comic; publishing a one-shot tale of a character to determine whether or not he/she/it could attract enough attention and/or revenue to launch their own regular title. After throwing around the idea of an Alice Cooper comic for a few years, Marvel finally took the plunge in 1979 with the special 50th issue of Marvel Premiere. That the legendary comic company did so with a storyline based around the Coop’s album from the previous year, ‘From The Inside’ (a concept record based on the then-troubled shock rocker’s time in a NY sanitarium where he was treated for alcoholism, with songs based around patients he met inside), remains bizarre to this day.

 

To be fair, the album – housed in luxurious fold-out sleeve and playing as I type – was pretty upbeat, musically if not lyrically, no doubt courtesy of Cooper’s collaboration with Bernie Taupin. It was with that in mind, I guess, that Marvel deemed the content suitable for adaptation in comic-book form. Of course, as an eight-year-old kid I read it all in a blur, oblivious to its roots, simply joyous that I could actually find a comic that featured one of the coolest rockers to grace my turntable in a British newsagents. Reading through it now, four decades later, that sense of wonder remains, even though I now understand the serious ramifications of the original subject matter. That Marvel decided to go for a lighter-hearted tone (albeit with a wicked bite) more in keeping with the commercially-accepted theatrics of the album now means that critical re-evaluation doesn’t come with the wince that oft-accompanies the remembering of once-troubled celebrities.

 

With artwork by Tom Sutton and Terry Austin, who also provided the stunning cover art, and a script by Ed Hannigan (based on a plot by Alice, Jim Salicrup, and Roger Stern) the comic version of ‘From The Inside’ opens with Alice trying to escape from his sanitarium cell via the time-honoured tying together of bedsheets. Caught by Nurse Rozetta (yes, she of the album track – also joined in ink form by Jackknife Johnny and Millie and Billie from the record) Alice is thrown into The Quiet Room by Dr. Fingeroth. Here, the Coop recalls the unfortunate series of events that saw him stuck there on the inside looking out.

 

Y’see, Alice, his mind undergoing a meltdown whilst trying to survive the “high-powered lunacy of the showbiz world,” had checked into a clinic in an attempt to dry up and calm his nerves. As (bad) luck would have it, Alice was confused with an Alex Cooper – a “certified paranoid schizo with a radical tyre fetish!” – and locked away by mistake. As our hero is treated to electro-shock therapy, ice water baths, and a crude haircut, Alex Cooper is about to be elected governor!

 

With Veronica (his trusty snake here, yet a dog on the album track, ‘For Veronica’s Sake’) stripped from him and locked away herself, Alice has to negotiate bed straps, sedatives, muscle-bound orderlies, and a doctor seemingly more crazed than the inmates of his facility, in order to get his story believed. Spoiler alert: doesn’t happen!

With a legion of background cameos and in-jokes for lynx-eyed readers (featuring the likes of Popeye, the Incredible Hulk, and Donald Sutherland’s character from 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake), the comic is wildly entertaining, possibly more so than the album it is based on (‘From The Inside’ attracting much cooler critical acclaim than many of its long-playing predecessors), though that claim could well be down to my original childhood love for what was then the pinnacle of my fledgling comic buying.

 

“But what of the future?” asked the powers that be at Marvel Comics in 1979. “Should Alice be awarded his own regular Marvel title? Should we break him out of that Asylum and send him blasting through the Marvel Universe?” Well, it would be 1994 before Marvel featured Cooper again via a three-part, Neil Gaiman-penned comic series that tied-in with Alice’s 1994 album, ‘The Last Temptation’.

 

Dark Horse Comics would later reprint ‘The Last Temptation’ as a trade paperback, but Cooper’s comic book history doesn’t end there. 1990 saw Revolutionary Comics’ dubious Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics title (more on these chancers in a future article) feature an unofficial Alice Cooper history, with Bluewater Comics later picking up that company’s past monstrosities and lowbrow ethics. Much better was to follow in 2014 with an ongoing Alice Cooper comic book title from Dynamite Entertainment which lasted for six issues and was followed by ‘Alice Cooper vs. Chaos!’, another six-parter that saw the veteran shock rocker up against the denizens of Dynamite’s horror universe; including Evil Ernie, Chastity, and Purgatori. Oh yeah, also look out for the Coop in a Treehouse of Horror special Simpsons comic along with Rob Zombie, Gene Simmons… and Pat Boone.

 

It is Marvel Premiere issue 50 that will forever be the peak of comic-book Alice Cooper, however. With the guillotine of nostalgia cutting deep, that forty-year-old mass of paper, ink, and staples is a thing of beauty in a world turned ugly. As Millenials and Post-Millenials reminisce about their friggin’ iTunes playlists, us forever-cool-kids will always have stuff like Alice Cooper comics to read via torchlight under our covers at night, knotted bedsheets at the ready…

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Author: Gaz Tidey

 

 

“Do you believe in Jesus? Well, you’re gonna need him…”

Swedish death ‘n’ roll mofos Jesus Chrüsler Supercar blew me away with their debut long player, 2013’s ‘Among The Ruins And Desolate Lands’, and if that vicious slab of noise was a spree killing then its follow-up, 2016’s must-have ’35 Supersonic’, was a premeditated exercise in cold-blooded rock bludgeoning. How could the nefarious band members – Robban Bergeskans (vocals/bass), Nicke Forsberg (drums), Pär Jaktholm (guitar) and Tobbe Engdahl (guitar) – ever hope to top that? Well, they’ve gone for broke with their third album by being in league with Satan himself.

 

Named after the ultimate anti-establishment figure, ‘Lücifer’ is an eleven-track horned beast of a record that grabs the band’s grubby take on the legendary Stockholm Sound and rubs its nose ever-blacker in the filthiest, most glorious sonic hell this side of the Seven Gates.

 

That Stockholm Sound? It comes, as it did on the previous two albums, via the Scandinavian supremacy of über producer, Tomas Skogsberg (The Hellacopters, Entombed, I could go on for days). Drummer Nicke’s brother, Fred Forsberg, mixed the record and, in the search for a thuggish American tone to throw into the muscle car melting pot, Brad Boatright (Converge, Corrosion Of Conformity) undertook the mastering. The results are MASSIVE.

 

This record is housed within four gargantuan walls of guitar. From the opening seconds of the album’s opening (and title) track, no listener will dare keep his or her head still lest they be judged by El Diablo himself. Wood splinters, foundations shake, and auditory canals take an unholy amount of abuse as shit-kicking, brain cell-killing tracks like ‘Flesh ‘n’ Bones’, ‘High Times For Low Crimes’, ‘Never Sleep Again’, and ‘Boogeyman’ grab the speakers by the throat with zero intention of letting go.

 

Side One of the record – entitled ‘First Testament’ – motors along like Dennis Hopper has wired up a bomb to it, but Side Two – ‘Second Commandments’ – does offer the briefest moments of respite: the speeding strut smudged into a sludgier swagger on tracks like ‘Straight To Hell’. A major tour with heavyweights Clutch can do that to a band, I guess. Album closer ‘Black Blood’ is a revelation too: a murder ballad of grandiose proportions that I imagine few would have thought possible from this eight-legged, turbo-charged behemoth of a band. The impressively-titled ‘You Can’t Spell Diesel Without Die’ restores the balance on this fearsome flip-side, however.

 

For fans of Motörhead, Entombed, and Chrome Division, and just about anyone who likes their music as badass as Beelzebub, and their many guitars chugged like their many beers. It’s Death Race 2019 and this is the soundtrack. Buy it and play it like you stole it.

Buy Lücifer Here

Author: Gaz Tidey