Good to see ya again, RPM-people! Could there be a better time to sit and read retro articles on badass music websites? A better time to visit auction sites, PayPal account set to stun, searching for those “essentials” that you’ve just been reading about and simply MUST HAVE? Of course not.
For the eleventh of my PCS columns for RPM I have returned to finger the longboxes in the Schlock archive, searching for a couple of classic Seventies comics with a punk rock attitude and a hard rock guest appearance, all aimed to tie-in with the recent merchandise collaboration between KISS, the hottest band in the world, and Marvel Entertainment… and that’s where Howard The Duck comes in. But let’s backtrack a little… You may know Howard The Duck from the critically-mauled motion picture that was released in 1986. Yes, the feature film released in certain territories as Howard: A New Breed Of Hero. Yes, the flop flick that showed us that everything George Lucas touched DIDN’T turn to gold (dice) before we’d even heard of Mannequin Skywalker and Jar Jar Binks. You may know Howard The Duck from the modern Marvel cinematic universe: that post-credit scene in Guardians Of The Galaxy (and a cameo in its sequel); a quack-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Avengers: Endgame. For us cool kids, however, it was all about the comic books.
Howard The Duck made his debut on spinner racks in 1973 in issue 19 of Adventure Into Fear. Created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, the duck, plucked from his home world and dropped into the Florida everglades, was originally intended to be just a secondary character (alongside the likes of Korrek The Barbarian and Dakihm The Wizard) in that comic’s Man-Thing strip. Within a few short years, though, and via his own back-up strip in issues 4 and 5 of Giant-Size Man-Thing in 1975, Howard would have his own comic book.
Running for 31 issues, Howard The Duck (the comic) found Marvel at its most subversive: social satire wrapped up in pages headlined by a creature deemed so similar in appearance to Walt Disney’s Donald Duck that complaints were inevitably made. Steve Gerber, surely one of the most expansive of writing minds at Marvel in the 1970s, railed against US politics by having Howard run for President in a storyline that tied-in with the 1976 presidential campaign, then in the infamous Howard The Duck issue 16 railed against his employer’s deadlines with the biting ‘Zen and The Art Of Comic Book Writing’ “rant”. But where does KISS come into all this, I hear you exclaim?
In 1977, Marvel released the first of its Super Specials. It featured rock superstars KISS, then wilfully teetering on the brink of total commercial success, battling against Doctor Doom and Mephisto. The red ink infamously contained the blood of Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Gene Simmons (not all of it, of course), and the story was written by… wait for it… Steve Gerber. Now, if only the writer had an ongoing monthly title where Marvel could covertly publicise the upcoming KISS comic book…
Howard The Duck’s presidential campaign failed in somewhat spectacular fashion. A fake sex scandal saw the duck fall from the cusp of political success to the depths of nervous breakdown. So bad was his fall that he found himself (in issue 12 of his monthly title, cover-dated May 1977), in a tale entitled ‘Mind-Mush!’, held in the Sauerbraten County Mental Facility. Winda Wester, a new supporting character introduced in the previous issue who spoke with a speech impediment that surely meant that her real name was ‘Linda Lester’, was possessed. Who could
feature in the “swirling, seething, savage nightmare rising in billows from Winda’s skull” on the final page of issue 12? You’ve guessed it… KISS!
“Aw-riiight! Sauerbraten County, Ohio – let this old cosmos… Rock, Roll Over, and Writhe!” yells the Starchild on the opening page of issue 13. Freezing security guards with a wild eye laser that would later be utilised in the classic KISS meets the Phantom of the Park (aka Attack of the Phantoms) television movie par excellence, the Starchild then passed the mic to the Catman who told Howard “The Word”. The Word? “When you meet reality head-on – Kiss it, smack it in the face!” More than one word, really, eh? “And then, with one awful WHOOSH, they were drawn back into Winda’s brain.” Five pages, thirteen panels, and that was KISS done with Howard The Duck. Daimon Hellstrom would turn up at the facility, Howard become a duck possessed himself, but that’s another story for another time.
Those five pages, though, as blatant an advert for the upcoming Super Special that they were, worked a treat. Okay, they weren’t the only thing pointing fans in the direction of issue 1 of the Marvel Comics Super Special – KISS was every-frigging-where – but they must have added to the swell of attention towards that blood-inked comic book that would go on to sell around half a million copies over two printings.
KISS would return to the pages of Marvel in issue 5 of Marvel Comics Super Special in 1978 in an occult adventure and, in the Nineties to tie-in with the reunion tour by the original band members, would later meet the X-Men in the KISSnation publication. The band has since met Archie, the Martians from Mars Attacks, Vampirella, and had ongoing titles published by IDW, Dynamite, Dark Horse, and Image Comics. There was even a 2013 comic series entitled KISS Kids which should not be interpreted as a command.
For all those comic book appearances, however, the first ones that you need in your collection are the two Marvel Super Specials and issues 12 and 13 of Howard The Duck. Why? Because, if you’re a child of the ’70s, or simply long to have been one, then there is little cooler than your favourite larger-than-life rock band, alongside a wise-cracking duck, in a Marvel Comic. ‘Nuff said.
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Good day to you, RPM-people – I hope this finds you well in somewhat troubled times. At time of writing I find myself at the start of some annual leave from my (key worker) day job, catching up on some isolation entertainment: the beauty of having a vast collection of physical media, I guess.
My recent reading has been music-related: the fabulous new ‘Broken Greek’ autobiography from music journalist, Pete Paphides; Garth Cartwright’s chronicle of the UK record shop, ‘Going For A Song’; and ‘Talking To Girls About Duran Duran’, the coming of age book from Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield. It’s the latter that inspired this month’s column and had me digging into the Pop Culture Schlock archive for a particular item…
After the 1970s gifted the rock ‘n’ pop culture-savvy consumer with dolls/action figures of everyone from KISS to Cher to Andy Gibb, you’d have thought that the 1980s, forever carrying a “bigger, bolder, brasher” tag, would have upped the ante considerably; the post-Star Wars merchandisers giving Walrus Man’s right arm for the rights to make small, plastic likenesses of some of the most iconic music stars ever. But, the Michael Jackson and Boy George dolls (no fear of an ‘action figure vs doll’ debate concerning the latter) from LJN Toys aside, toy companies fumbled the ball when it came to immortalising music stars of the decade into toys for children to play with, and for grown men to hoard. Ahem.
Imagine a Barbie-style ’80s Madonna doll with a bazillion Action Man/GI Joe-esque costume changes? It would take that dodgy Dick Tracy movie in 1990 to finally get a miniature Madonna Louise Ciccone into consumer’s hands. Imagine Duran Duran dolls at the peak of their mid-eighties stardom with a bazillion costume change options: from their pastel-coloured designer suits to sub-Road Warrior post-apocalyptic garb. It would take, crazily when you really think about it, until the dawn of this decade for Funko to finally capture Duran Duran in their full ’80s pomp as part of its Pop! Rocks vinyl figure line. These were released in the same wave as the retro Def Leppard Pop! Vinyls which featured one of the company’s most quirky figures – the one-armed Rick Allen figure. I’m sensing a theme here… But I digress.
I love Duran Duran. Can’t help it. I’m sure the band is a guilty pleasure for many a rock fan: John Taylor’s bass playing, Andy Taylor’s guitar, etc. – but guilty you should not feel when you feel the love for Duran Duran. Three things jump out of my memory banks when I think back to how DD infiltrated my rock leanings: the charity gig the band played at Villa Park, the home of football, in 1983 that even saw them feature prominently on the cover and centrespread of an Aston Villa match programme; the music video for ‘The Wild Boys’ debuting on the BBC on Hallowe’en night in 1984 as they tried to compete with MTV; the sounds of ‘Arena’, the album from which that classic single came, pumping out of my sister’s bedroom… on cassette. This column, of course, is dedicated to pop culture collectables and, though a tsunami of wholly unofficial merchandise swirled around the band’s success – annuals, postermags, badges, photo patches, those particularly classy screen-printed silk scarves – actual official items were in shockingly short supply. Topps, famed trading card producers, released a 33-card Duran Duran card line in 1985 complete with stickers and stick of gum (I have a sealed pack in my collection, 35-year-old bubblegum forever calling to me, siren-like, in a quest to snap my teeth at the friggin’ roots), but it would take The Milton Bradley Company, the American board game manufacturer founded in 1860, to be brave/cool enough to dip a tucker-booted toe into the depths of the band’s chart success to produce the ultimate official piece of Duran Duran merchandise.

‘Duran Duran: Into The Arena’ was released by MB Games in 1985 and it remains one of the ultimate pieces in any rock ’n’ pop memorabilia collection. A true objet d’pop. Right up there with 1978’s KISS on Tour, this board game, if you are lucky enough to have one (guilty, sorry), will mean so much to you, like a birthday or a pretty view. Getting one of these games these days, though, is about as easy as a nuclear war. If you’ve already Googled how much they go for you’ll already understand what I’m on about. This is not a pop pissing contest, however – this is a celebration!
Almost every Internet search for ‘Into The Arena’ for research purposes furnished me with beige articles about the actual gameplay of this vintage toy par excellence. That, my friends, is even too nerdy for someone like me! To me, this board game is one of the ultimate shelf pieces – meant to be looked at, to be adored, marvelled over. Okay, I’ll admit that a games night where chauffeur-driven chums laden with cans of Tizer and Top Deck limeade and lager arrived for an evening of Eighties pop-related faux combat sounds appealing, but until then I’ll just look at this game and love the fact that I have it.
That aforementioned gameplay? Go on, then. Two to four players start off in the outer circle of the game board. The aim is to collect five matching pairs of disc cards – the cards featuring the group’s most popular singles! Each matching pair provides the player with a matching video card for the respective song. Once the player has made their five matches, they are bumped-up, good-looking girl at a concert-style, to the inner circle. There, they must collect and play band member cards (Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Taylors Andy, John, and Roger for those
readers new to Planet Earth), each with a different scoring value. There’s a Duran Duran Wild Card in there too, and a points subtraction thing, with the winner being the lucky mofo whose added video- and band member-card totals are the highest.
Actually playing a vintage board game aside, the thing looks fabulous: Arena-like graphics everywhere; classic singles artwork reproduced on their respective cards; stills from epic music videos captured on theirs; the band members in all their teen idol glory on crescent-shaped cards that just feel more decadent than the usual oblong cards in your common or garden board game, somehow. There’s even a cardboard insert featuring a great band shot from ‘The Wild Boys’ photo shoot which doubles as a place to pile the game cards, but also carries a great little history of the band from 1980 to the end of 1984.
Rule #32: Enjoy the little things. You don’t need me to tell you that we are currently living in unprecedented times. People that have been a part of my story are no longer with us and, no matter how or why, we find ourselves in an uncertain place where every day feels like a fucking test. If you surround yourselves with the things you love then life, in any circumstances, always seems that little bit more manageable. And it’s never too late to start accumulating stuff – any stuff, just stuff that makes you feel better in whatever way. Trust me, I’m a master of stuff.
When this shit is all over we’ll have ourselves a Duran Duran board game night – you bring the Tizer…
Stay safe, stay sensible, stay beautiful.
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Author: Gaz Tidey

 

POP CULTURE SCHLOCK at RPM: Exhibit H – Murder Falcon

Greetings, RPM-people! Thanks for checking out my latest Pop Culture Schlock column for RPMonline; a cool collectibles catchment area if ever there was one… and now in its second year!

With the mention of years comes a slightly belated Happy New Year wish from yours truly. 2020, eh? Proper science fiction that number is, right? But we got here when many didn’t so for that we have to raise a horned salute and treat every day like it harbours the opportunity for awesomeness.

It’s been over two decades since the day I got my first (now archaic) DVD player – multi-region, of course; I’m no savage – and that is further away from the present than when I got my first VCR was from that day: a scary thought if you can even make sense of it! The future of our past threatened us with tales of Moonbase Alpha being knocked out of orbit by a nuclear waste explosion and of blade runners tracking down replicants: the reality today is of a space force decked out in woodland camouflage and repulsive cunts, so escapism remains the ultimate luxury.

 

You all know about escapism, though, right? Your sanctuary, whether it be at a sweaty club gig losing yourself to the righteous sounds of a band never heard of by a listener of Planet Rock, or melting into a corner of your world surrounded by physical media? That’s reason for living right there, bruthas and sistas.

 

As you have probably figured out if you have checked out any of my previous seven columns for RPM, I have a physical media obsession. Streaming is basically Skynet in my world so, if you saw that shitty Terminator sequel at the tail-end of last year, you know how badly that is gonna end. And reading comic books on an app? Go and stand in the corner and re-evaluate your wannabe-cool life, ya monster! I still buy comics every week; still crack open the pages, flare open my nostrils, and smell that fucking glorious art on every page. It’s an addiction, I know. A money pit (sadly not the 1986 Tom Hanks movie that featured White Lion). But it is still one of the easiest and most rewarding collecting experiences. You get new, über-cool entertainment every week of the year that is instantly collectible, and, as stated previously, it smells frigging great. Also, it is metal… as proven below.

 

If you’re reading RPM then you’re already cool, I know this. You know your music, but you also strive to find new music that echoes the cool shit that is already in and will never leave your collection. With that in mind, this month’s featured Pop Culture Schlock item (I had to get there eventually!) is relatively new, but with a foot, a talon maybe, in the past…

Daniel Warren Johnson is a Chicago-based comic book writer and artist who created the Eisner-nominated Extremity series, the web comic Space-Mullet, and, the subject of this month’s column, Murder Falcon.

 

Released by Image Comics/Skybound (with the first issue dated October 2018), Murder Falcon is an eight-part comic book series that fuses the worlds of heavy metal and monsters – it’s fantastical… and it shreds!

 

Jake is a metal guitarist in a downward spiral. With a heartbreaker of a back story, the long-haired axe-wielder is without band and seemingly without hope. That six string hasn’t been picked up in a long time. Meanwhile, his city is being ravaged by monsters!

 

Magnum Khaos is the king of all hatred and fear who has fashioned a portal into another dimension; negative energy from human cruelty and anxiety is sucked into his dark world via the monstrous attacks that he has been planning for centuries. All hope, it would seem, is lost. But…

Jake’s guitar, gathering dust, is suddenly transformed and Murder Falcon, a monster-killing machine (with feathers) has travelled from The Heavy to the city to take down the Khaos creatures. He can only do so, however, when Jake plays his forgotten axe! Man, when he shreds Murder Falcon shreds… monster bodies! By getting the old band back together – the other members’ instruments similarly invoking badass battle mofos – maybe the Earth as we know it can be saved.

 

With similarities in serious content to I Kill Giants (and if you know that comic or subsequent spin-off movie then you’ll have a clue as to where the heartbreak comes into play here), Murder Falcon adds melancholy to the metal to great effect and, with superb artwork from Johnson coupled with eye-popping colours from Mike Spicer, this book comes highly recommended by my good self.

There is more to this than meets the eye, however. Y’see, every one of Murder Falcon’s eight issues came with a “Heavy Metal” variant cover by guest artists paying homage to classic album artwork. I have every one, of course and, to be honest, these are the reasons that I wanted to feature the comic in my collectables column.

 

Issue 1 came with a variant cover paying homage (via artwork and Murder Falcon logo) to Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’. Issue 2 took on Iron Maiden’s ‘Somewhere In Time’, while issue 3 went a little more left field with a homage to Bolt Thrower’s ‘War Master’. Pantera’s ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ was the basis for issue 4’s variant, while it was all about the shred for issue 5 with Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s ‘Trilogy’ honoured. Issue 6 saw Megadeth’s ‘Rust In Peace’ feature, followed by issue 7 and its Dio – ‘Holy Diver’ tribute. The final issue, number 8, was a real ‘Shout At The Devil’, based on the second album from Mötley Crüe (yes, when they were still good), complete with logo umlauts.

If those “Heavy Metal” variant covers aren’t reason enough to have your digits scurrying to your secondary market seller of choice than I don’t know what else I can do for you. This is cool new shit based on cool old shit, and I know you guys love cool shit. If you don’t fancy searching for eight individual comic books but still think that Murder Falcon is for you, have no fear because a trade paperback/graphic novel that collects all eight issues was released last year and Amazon will deliver it to you TOMORROW… but they’ll probably leave it outside in the rain.

 

So, keep doing what you do, keep liking what you like, and I’ll catch you all again next month, possibly with less mention of Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Possibly.

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POP CULTURE SCHLOCK at RPM: Exhibit F – Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare

Roll up, roll up; get your hastily-typed feature on a long-forgotten piece of RnR history here! It’s good to be back among the virtual pages of RPM once again as I dust off another rocking relic from the Pop Culture Schlock archive for your reading pleasure. This month I make my first foray into the physical media section of said collection and, as you’re reading this, I’m speculating that you too love collections of physical media…

‘Twas a late Eighties afternoon when I found my hetero-life-mate, Chris Greaves (velvet- fingered axeman extraordinaire famed for his work with seminal acts such as Judgement, Gangland, Big Guns, and Gallini), wide-eyed at the news that ‘The Edge of Hell’ now graced the shelves at one of our many (now, sadly, long-lost) video shops. ‘The Edge of Hell’, to the uninitiated (not us, obviously), was the alternate title given to the UK video release of 1987’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’, one of two entries for director John Fasano in the (much too short) list of Eighties Heavy Metal Horror Movies – the following year’s Carmine Appice-starring Black Roses being the second. It was another name on the credits, transformed into a painted, muscle-bound warrior on the VHS cover art, that piqued the interest of us Eighties metal kids, however…

Jon Mikl Thor was the first Canadian to win both the Mr. Canada and Mr. USA bodybuilding titles. He was also the first Canadian to wrap a micstand around the neck of a pretend milkman live on UK Saturday morning children’s television show, No. 73. An infamous performance at the Marquee paved the way for Thor’s manly explosion over British pop culture – singles ‘Let the Blood Run Red’ and ‘Thundra on the Tundra’, plucked from 1985’s ‘Only the Strong’ long player, making a bicep-shaped dent in both the UK charts and consciousness – before North America caught on and he was cast in his first movie role; playing Thunderhead in Police Academy rip-off, ‘Recruits’. His next two movie roles are the ones that he is truly remembered for, though.

 

‘Zombie Nightmare’ starred Tia Carrere and Adam West and found Thor as a slain baseball player resurrected (via voodoo!) to avenge his death. The soundtrack featured Motörhead, Girlschool, Fist, and Virgin Steele and, as an indicator to the movie’s quality, it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’, however, that really put Jon Mikl Thor on the movie map. Thor played John Triton – frontman of the band, Triton – who travelled to an isolated Canadian farmhouse to record some new music par excellence not knowing that said location was littered with demons! The twist at the end of the flick, as Satan himself (a big friggin’ ant thing – who knew?!) appeared, was that John Triton was in fact the archangel known as the Intercessor. Forget your Keyser Söze reveal – this is the real shit! Anyway, the Intercessor showed El Diablo the four corners of the farmhouse and a Heavy Metal Horror Icon was born. Seriously, you need the Synapse Films special edition DVD release of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’ in your collection.

 

So, the Heavy Metal Horror Movie subgenre is woefully short of quality entrants. ‘Trick or Treat’, ‘Black Roses’, ‘Hard Rock Zombies’, ‘Rocktober Blood’, the Easy Action-featuring ‘Blood Tracks’, the Traci Lords-starring ‘Shock ‘em Dead’ are the essentials alongside ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’; wannabe flicks like ‘Death Metal Zombies’ and ‘After Party Massacre’ honoured to join them, nevergonnabe movies like ‘Queen of the Damned’ and ‘Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal’ desperate to be considered in the same cult movie circles as Sammi Curr, John Triton, and Billy “Eye” Harper. BUT, and it’s a big ol’ but, did you know that one of those notorious metal movies actually had a sequel that limped out into the ether almost two decades after the original movie’s release? Of course you didn’t because it was filmed straight to digital video, released straight to home video, and did as much business as The Wild Family’s album. That movie is, drum roll please, 2005’s ‘Intercessor: Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’.

 

Yes, RPM-people, a sequel to one of the most infamous rock-related movies of all time was released over a decade ago and hardly any of us knew about it. The shame!

 

In the so-bad-it’s-good stakes, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’ is right up there with the classics. After importing ‘Intercessor: Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare’ from the States, paying way too much for it, and forcing myself to sit through it twice, I’m not even sure that it reaches the heights of just bad. It is, in fact, diabolical. But, as I learned from cribbing all John Waters’ writings, there is such a thing as good bad taste… and I needed to give my good bad tastebuds a treat that they wouldn’t forget in a hurry…

‘Intercessor: Another Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare’ is a no-budget flick that makes Thor’s appearance on No. 73 look like Emmy Award-winning television. The late John Fasano got a producing credit, and as for acting credits – well, I’m sure every single one contravenes the Trade Descriptions Act. The plot revolves around a feud between Zompira, King of the Undead, and Mephisto, a dark sorcerer from the depths of Hell. A spell has allowed these miscreants to come to Earth in order to corrupt and devour the souls of the innocent. Caught up in all of this is Harry, a long-haired loner with a crutch, arm brace, and a penchant for drawing muscle-bound comic-book heroes. He has a crush on his neighbour, Julie, and keeps in contact with her via walkie-talkie. This was 2005, remember! He lives with his sewing-obsessed aunt and, POW, there’s a zombie attack where she gets turned, Julie gets abducted, and the world is in danger. I know this because I gave myself a migraine struggling to hear what the fuck was going on due to the movie’s terrible sound. Harry dresses up like a member of Raven – shoulder pads, gridiron helmet with ‘Tritons’ logo (tenuous link to previous flick) – and starts offing the undead with his crutch. I’ve actually made this all sound quite good. DON’T trust me on this one!

 

Meanwhile, a muscle-bound loner in a Man from Del Monte hat duffs up a rude customer in a coffee shop – “I’m just trying to enjoy my coffee…” – and you’ll never guess who it is. It’s John Triton, the Intercessor; cursed to wander the Earth as a mortal! Cursed, that is, until Harry is offed and his NFL helmet morphs into the Intercessor’s Crimson Glory-esque face mask. Now, bedecked with cape and mask, and with a weapon that looks like a dog-dick-dildo, the Intercessor is ready to take on all nefarious ne’er-do-wells! He keeps the dogs away by fighting a vicious canine (complete with ludicrous dubbed-on human doing dog impression sound) – “Stop hound!” – then gets attacked by a tree branch. He takes on some am-dram witches – “I never wanted to hit a woman but… thou is not!” – and gets involved in some chopsocky fighting that makes vintage British Saturday afternoon wrestling look like the Bolshoi Ballet.

The special effects look like they came from a shitty iPhone app – not unlike a video I made years ago that showed Adam Bomb getting blown up by laser missiles as he shredded onstage at the Doll’s House in Abertillery – and, even though I have a penchant for bad movies, I struggled to get through this one mentally unscathed. I suggest that the only way to truly enjoy this one is via a house party where Absinthe imbibing and marker-sniffing is rife. You’re all invited – Adam Bomb is playing. Bring a pretend missile.

 

I’ll be back next month, souring the festive season with another nostalgia-driven column. Feel free to join me – I’m sure that I’ll luck out soon and one of these articles will actually be interesting! Remember, look them in the eyes, knock them down to size, no-one must oppose the Metal Avenger…

 

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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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It would have been hard to imagine, back in the mid-eighties, that a Dayglo explosion of music television that would forever change the way that people got their daily dose of hit music would be reduced, some three-and-a-half decades later, to the fingering of musty pages in salvaged vintage magazines; but that’s where we find ourselves as I prise open the doors to the music memorabilia section of the Pop Culture Schlock archive for the third of my monthly columns for RPM.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll,” was how MTV introduced itself to the world, or parts of it at least, when it launched in the US at the start of August 1981. The first video played was, quite appropriately, ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ by The Buggles. Originally using Adult Orientated Rock radio as a template, this newfangled Church of the Cathode Ray, whose altar all with eyes and eyes would come to worship at, would, in three short years, transform into something more in keeping with a standard Top 40 radio station. This fusing of rock and pop, blurring the lines between the biggest chart hits and the heavier duty hard rock anthems, buoyed by Quiet Riot becoming the first heavy metal band to score a Number One album on the Billboard chart with 1983’s ‘Metal Health’, paved the way for a new publication, the existence of which is the very reason that I sit here on a sunny August morn with typing finger set to stun.

Starlog Press (later Starlog Group), publishers of classic magazines such as Fangoria, Future Life, and, of course, seminal science fiction magazine Starlog itself, saw a mullet-sized gap in the magazine market and launched Rock Video magazine in 1984 to cash in on the MTV boom. The first I ever heard of this new title was via a full-page advert in the blood-drenched pages of Fango – the David Lee Roth and Cyndi Lauper covers of issues 3 and 4 respectively offering a taste of this hip new mag, alongside an offer for a suitably tasteful T-shirt design. Typically, this American tome was harder to find in the UK than a Dodo beak necklace so it was some time until I finally managed to acquire some choice examples for my collection.

Issue 1 of Rock Video featured Duran Duran’s John Taylor as its cover star, was indicia-dated April 1984, and immediately pinned its rock and pop cross pollination flag to the mast. But this was nothing like the teeny bop magazines of the Seventies where hard rockers like KISS rubbed glossy paper shoulders with the likes of David Cassidy and Andy Gibb: Rock Video presented serious articles on the making of music videos, on long-form home video releases, and on the hardware responsible for the production of these ever-more-flamboyant video clips. Sure, the magazine included pull-out posters that covered both bases – The Police and Def Leppard; Thompson Twins and Scorpions; Duran Duran and Ozzy Osbourne – but even these pin-ups destined for the bedroom walls of teenage sanctuaries were backed with television set-shaped images from the band in question’s music video back catalogue. The Judas Priest example I have from Issue 7 is pure molten metal machismo backed with 4:3 analogue awesomeness.

Rock Video’s news pages – the “Video Lowdown” – featured production notes on upcoming music videos, details of new video-related soft- and hardware, teasers of future celebrity guest MTV veejays, and a healthy spattering of news on forthcoming tours and releases from artists both new and old. A more “grown-up” music magazine this certainly was: Lisa Robinson’s exclusive interview with Quiet Riot frontman, Kevin DuBrow, opened with a no-holds-barred question on the rumours that his onstage bottle of Jack was, in fact, filled with herb tea; agony uncle Doc Rock gave intelligent, well-informed answers to reader questions -“where did the term ‘Heavy Metal’ originate?” – on all manner of music-related subjects; and the video reviews pulled few punches – Sparks’ ‘With All My Might’, excellent; Billy Squier’s ‘Rock Me Tonight’, poor; Georgio Moroder’s ‘Reach Out’, awful.

Just flicking through the aforementioned Issue 7 that I have before me – Nick Rhodes cover, Judas Priest and The Go-Gos posters – offers a fine selection of page-turning articles. ‘Satanism and Rock Videos’ asked if Pseudo-Satanic Heavy Metal bands were responsible for the corruption of impressionable youths. The murder of Gary Lauwers earlier in 1984 by his friend, Ricky Kasso (the “Say You Love Satan” killer who became the bleak inspiration for songs by artists as diverse as Big Audio Dynamite, Faster Pussycat, and Wheatus), was the catalyst for the article – Kasso was wearing an AC/DC shirt when arrested and was a fan of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Ozzy – but it also questioned the “Satanic” intentions of Mötley Crüe, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Prince, and the “one true Satanist in rock,” Mick Jagger. The feature merely scratched at the surface of the controversial subject, but reading it instead of the usual record label-endorsed hyperbole is refreshing even now. Add to that a two-page spread on the making of Wendy O. Williams’ ‘It’s My Life’ video – “[people] are getting tired of being served pablum, they want some music with the teeth still left in it.” – and Phil Collins’ problems with the ‘Against All Odds’ video (shame) and you are in possession of potential game-changer of a music magazine.

Change is feared, though, right? After a brief dalliance with the Rock Video Idols name, the monthly magazine, in the Fall of 1985, rebooted itself as Hard Rock Video. “Yes!” I hear you cry as you raise a horned salute, Ronnie James Dio-style, to the Artex in celebration. It’s not hard to understand why: hard rock and heavy metal was HOT! This outsider art, the product and lifeblood of the wild, the weird, the warriors, was now the popular music of choice. Whether you complimented your teased hair with as little as a shark tooth earring or as large as a sawblade codpiece, you were a member of the high class clientele that frequented heavy metal parking lots and the top of the hit parade. Power ballads were the new hymns, the new Gods mixed animal print with leather. Not everyone got on board the crazy train, however…

As I flick through Issue 17 of Hard Rock Video magazine (Rob Halford/Angus Young cover), dated November 1985, it is clear in no uncertain terms that heavy metal/hard rock was the enfant terrible of the mid-eighties. “Ban Metal!” was a four-page article obviously inspired by the infamous PMRC witch hunt of the decade. W.A.S.P., Twisted Sister, Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest were all namechecked as expected, but, wait… Prince? Sheena Easton? Yes, while Hard Rock Video amped up the denim ‘n’ leather, the magazine still mixed the pop with the rock, albeit in a manner that simply pushed the latter to the forefront, as opposed to the opposite effect that the mag in its former guise executed. So, the Rick Springfield/Nikki Sixx cover of Issue 16 also featured cover stories on Wham, Marilyn, and Ultravox; Issue 17 backed AC/DC with Talking Heads on a poster, and followed a lengthy Rob Halford interview with a two-page introduction to Go West. The pop might have been mopped up in regular features like ‘The Flip Side’ – Thompson Twins, Madonna, Bryan Ferry, The Power Station, Sandra Bernhard, and Boy George making up the contents of Issue 17’s article – but it was still there, and still written about passionately.

A major Hard Rock Video shift was the content provided in the “Video Lowdown” news section. The pop/rock blurring of the lines was still prevalent – King Kobra alongside Sting, Madonna alongside Y&T – but the information was more of upcoming releases/tours than the video clip news of the not-so-distant past. A full colour feature on headbanging horror movies ran alongside a photo gallery of Boy George’s New York birthday party proving that the eclectic nature of the publication wasn’t washed away with the former name(s). Doc Rock was still prescribing excellent advice, and the video reviews were still telling it like it is/was – King’s ‘Love and Pride’, very good; Heart’s ‘What About Love’, fair; Night Ranger’s ‘Sentimental Street’, awful. A noticeable shift was the coverage of more hardcore/punk bands: a three-page Black Flag article featured in Issue 17, as did an introduction to Kraut (!), the hardcore band that got Pistol Steve Jones to play on their debut and whose guitarist, Doug Holland, would later play with the Cro-Mags.

The intelligent probing of musicians in interviews continued in Hard Rock Video, with a Scorpions interview subtitled “No Feminists in Germany!” having the German legends quizzed on their dubious album covers. The ‘Virgin Killer’ cover detailed the mental virginity of 11 or 12 year olds, apparently. A great four-page interview with Robbin Crosby from Ratt asked the question, “Why do you think MTV cut back on heavy metal?” and that, subtly, summed up the problems that the magazine had going forward. “They’re changing their format and they’re trying to please somebody,” Crosby replied, and that pretty much predicted the future of Hard Rock Magazine.

Music video became the norm. Pop metal became the pop music. Rock magazines became as common as the teeny bop magazines. A change of publisher came with another change of name; Rock Fever Superstars fashioning itself more on the original Rock Video model – Poison alongside Madonna on the cover; Duran Duran alongside Mötley Crüe; Beastie Boys alongside Bowie. It didn’t last, though, and soon the magazine went the way of music videos on MTV, deader than disco, robbed from its grave occasionally by heavy metal hoarders…

That a major publication was produced to detail things that lasted just over three minutes and were readily available in another, easier to access format may seem remarkable in an age when MTV exists on a diet of scripted “reality” shite, but exist it did… and the magazine world was a better place for it. In 2011 MTV launched a new channel named “MTV Music” – this basically means Music Television Music. I don’t think that the clowns who thought/think that was/is a good idea could even read a magazine…

I’ll be back next month with more Pop Culture Schlock: I might even dip a cowboy-booted toe into the murky waters of the notorious Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics…

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