There are a lot of artists out there vying for consumer’s attention, but no one was able to capture and harness an audience’s attention quite like David Bowie. A man with many names- Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke- his out-of-this-world attitude and passion for life makes him the perfect individual to showcase in a graphic novel.
Co-written by Steve Horton and Mike Allred, who also provided some beautiful artwork alongside his colorist wife Laura Allred, Bowie: Stardust Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams tracks the artist’s life from his childhood to the closing silos of his Ziggy Stardust era. Packed full of details and intimate knowledge about Bowie’s life and relationships, the book is an in-depth examination at what made the artist tick. With musical biopics resurging as of late, it’s refreshing to see an artist celebrated in a different visual format that respects the zaniness and mentality of its star.
David Bowie’s music has always been a huge part of my life- in fact, he was my first ever concert- so I jumped at the opportunity to talk about the legendary figure with the creators of this book. Horton and Mike Allred took the time to answer some questions about the muscians’s mythical life, what draws them to Bowie and the power of graphic storytelling via e-mail.
Kazden: Can you describe your first David Bowie memory? What still stands out to you the most about that discovery?
Mike Allred: One of the clearest memories of my life. I was looking for comics on the local drugstore spinner rack and Bowie on the cover of Creem Magazine. His alien rock star appearance was so compelling that I bought the magazine and then bought his “Rebel Rebel” 45 at the record store walking home. Like discovering a vein of gold in a mine shaft!
Steve Horton: Listening to Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” as a little kid on the radio. Still the best Christmas song ever recorded!
Kazden: In your opinion, what is it about David, and particularly his Ziggy Stardust persona, that makes him a compelling lead character for a story?
Horton: He was always an extremely visual performer: working in dance, mime, puppetry, multiple costume changes, and so on. This colorful visual element makes for great comics, especially the Ziggy look, which makes Bowie look like an alien superhero.
Allred: So many things! Who is more simultaneously enigmatic and ever present as David Bowie? He’s endlessly fascinating. He was so prolific, but always mysterious. And for me, the whole “Ziggy Stardust Rock Star from Outer Space” persona is one of the greatest and most iconic creations in all of pop culture. A bottomless well of stuff to work with and explore.
Kazden: With the resurgence of biopics about musicians – one about David is even currently in the works – can you talk about why you think a graphic novel is the best format to tell this story?
Horton: There have been a few graphic books about Bowie’s life, but nobody has done it with this level of care and detail. It seemed like exactly the right time for something like this, and the fact that we both love music and Bowie helped immensely.
Allred: You can take a much deeper dive and amplify the authenticity. And the reader controls the experience.
I always loved lying on the floor and studying the album cover and liner notes when listening to records. And listening to music while reading comics always provided a nifty soundtrack. A Graphic Novel offers that deep dive experience, creating your own playlist while taking your time drinking in the text and images at your own pace.
Kazden: The art is lovely throughout the book and I really enjoyed the psychedelic energy bursting throughout the whole thing. Mike, can you talk a little bit about your influences and how you went about actually studying David’s ever-changing aesthetics?
Allred: Thanks! For this, I tapped into that kid who started drawing pictures of Bowie from day one. He has ethereal features that can be very difficult to accurately and faithfully capture. But I’ve been practicing for most of my life. This may be the most instinctual approach I’ve ever taken on a project. I just had to let it flow. There are moments I had to create the compositions from the ground up. And there’s also the opportunity to recreate classic photographs and album covers. Here I was able to tap into the sheer joy of drawing cool stuff in my notebook in the back of class.
Kazden: Everyone’s love for Bowie and that era of music stands out on every page. I loved seeing him interact with people like Iggy Pop or Lou Reed. What was it like revisiting that era and bringing other iconic individuals to life?
Horton: It was really fun fitting in as many contemporary cameos as we could, because Bowie really did go see Elvis mid-tour and really did meet Freddie Mercury and Elton John and the rest. The late ’60s, early ’70s were a time in music and pop culture that will never be replicated.
Allred: [It was] indescribably fulfilling. When I first discovered Bowie and started reading every rock magazine I could get my hands on, an interconnected map of artists revealed themselves. And the book shows how interconnected pop culture in general was then.
The comic book world was like that when I started. Going to a lot of the same shows. Publishers, editors, and even the folks in the shops become inspiring and influential collaborators. The comic book convention has grown into the pop culture convention where all forms of entertainment intermingle. It can be overwhelming. In David Bowie’s time, these legendary interactions seemed to happen in a magical bubble.
Allred: The epilogue rapidly and wonderfully touches on all the other iconic eras across David’s musical career. Outside of the Ziggy persona, is there another version that stands out to you as quintessential Bowie or worthy of a closer look?
Allred: All of them. I won’t ever deny I’m an unapologetic rabid fan fascinated with every era of Bowie’s creative output. But if pushed, I’d focus in on his “Thin White Duke/Berlin” transition.
Horton: I like his comeback tour with Nine Inch Nails and the music video Bowie did with Trent Reznor for the remix of “Afraid of Americans.” That would be a lot of fun to explore.
Kazden: In the era we live in, where anyone can become a celebrity overnight, what do you think it is about David that has given him so much staying power and relevance in society?
Allred: He was truly unique. An artistic master. Creative super talents like Bowie are such a very rare thing, so when it finds a spotlight it becomes undeniable. When it catches your eyes and ears it locks you in and keeps a grip on you. Prince would be another example. You can’t look away. The miracle of The Beatles was the accumulative chemistry of four super talents merging. It rarely happens. The kind of art that is timeless and re-discoverable for each new generation.
Horton: He was not an overnight success. It took years and several albums and several personas and band member changes and intense writing to arrive at something that the public responded to. And then he struck gold again several more times post-Ziggy.
Kazden: Why do you feel like Insight Comics was the right publisher for a story like this?
Allred: I was cautiously optimistic going in, if not a little skeptical, but they offered a deal that allowed me the space and support needed to do the project justice. And going forward working with my editor Mark Irwin erased any doubt that we were in the most absolutely perfect place! We share the same vision. And Melissa Meszaros, James Faccinto, and everyone else we’ve worked with at Insight has gone above and beyond sharing their enthusiasm, amping up the wattage, screaming from the rooftops getting the word out. It’s been a fantastic experience working with them every step of the way!
Horton: It helps that Mark Irwin is a huge classic rock fan and a huge Mike Allred fan. When I brought it to his attention, there was immediate interest and we went from there. Plus, Insight’s oversized hardcovers are top notch. Nobody else would have treated the subject matter with as much respect. Insight is definitely the right place for us and for BOWIE.
Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, by Steve Horton, Mike Allred and Laura Allred is available now. If you want to know more about the creative team, you can follow Steve Horton and Mike Allred on Twitter!