In MPLS Sound by Joseph P. Illidge, Hannibal Tabu, Meredith Laxton, Tan Shu, Troy Peteri, and Ryan Lewis, with a cover by Jen Bartel, readers follow the musical journey of Theresa Booker, the front woman for the fictional band Starchild. The graphic novel is available at your local bookstore today, April 13th, 2021, and at your local comic book shop tomorrow, April 14th, 2021.
The Beat caught up with writers Illidge and Tabu and interior artist Laxton over email to find out more about the complicated process of capturing 1980s Minneapolis on the comics page, which comics were inspirational for MPLS Sound, and what it is like to convey music through the panels of a graphic novel!
AVERY KAPLAN: What was the genesis of this graphic novel? Was there a specific influence or inspiration for Therese?
JOSEPH P. ILLIDGE: Humanoids and MPLS Sound’s first editor, Fabrice Sapolsky, came to us with the premise for the book, which was both daunting and exciting! Creating a fictional history between the raindrops of Minneapolis’s real music history. They were committed to having Black writers tackle this story, which I will always applaud them for, the insight behind that decision.
Theresa is the fusion of a number of people in my life as well as celebrities. My mother and Prince are two of the core inspirations. My mom never gives up and Prince never gave in, even when the world thought corporations beat him.
HANNIBAL TABU: Theresa Booker is very specifically modeled on a woman named Theresa that I worked with at Image Magazine in the early 1990s. Both visually and in terms of the ambition there, the graphic novel adds musical talent (the Theresa I knew was an editor), but in many ways, it’s the young woman shyly surprised when people spoke to her at the magazine’s launch party.
KAPLAN: In addition to Prince, we also meet other real-life musical legends over the course of MPLS Sound. Was there any other musician who was particularly important or exciting for you to include?
TABU: I’m a huge fan of Morris Day, so seeing his part in the book, as well as learning that Alexander O’Neal was the Peter Gabriel to his Phil Collins (both drummers turned vocalists, too) was a big deal for me. It was a particular hoot to learn that O’Neal, like the Rock, referred to himself in the third person, which was about the funniest thing in the world to me while I was writing.
ILLIDGE: Definitely, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. For people who know Prince’s history and the great players in music that came from his camp, there are at least two people who we had to put in MPLS Sound. When you see them, it’ll be important even though they’re not “on stage” for a long time.
KAPLAN: Did any of the characters present a specific challenge during development?
MEREDITH LAXTON: My biggest concern was getting Prince right in each of his scenes. He’s such an iconic character that his look and body language had to be convincing, especially for readers who are long-time fans of his music. It was also just important to me, personally, because Prince has been an influential part of my life and I desperately wanted to do him justice in this book.
KAPLAN: There are several splash pages over the course of MPLS Sound that give a visual representation of the sound of the band. Can you tell us a bit about the (possibly magic) process of conveying music through images?
LAXTON: Making comics about music is super challenging but, luckily, we were working with a genre and era that has a recognizable look. I took a lot of inspiration from funk groups such as Parliament and Lipps Inc. to start the design of the musical spreads in question and tried to make them as flashy as possible. My favorite aspect of MPLS Sound is that these scenes feel like they take place in a different universe from the real world.
KAPLAN: Comics and music have a long history together. Is there any particular “music comic” that was especially inspirational for MPLS Sound?
ILLIDGE: The biggest inspiration for MPLS Sound from my perspective is the film “Purple Rain,” in terms of capturing the feeling of a musical and music videos in a quasi-biography romance. If you come away from MPLS Sound feeling like you’ve been through a funk music ballad drama romp through history, that’s what’s up.
Since you mentioned it, though, much respect and reverence to Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix by Martin I. Green and the visual Godfather Bill Sienkiewicz, Prince: Alter Ego by Milestone co-founders Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, and KRS-ONE: Break The Chain by the legendary KRS-One and the number one stunna’ Kyle Baker.
There wouldn’t be a MPLS Sound without the groundwork laid by those books, and others.
TABU: I can’t say there’s a music specific comic, but I clearly had a lot of V For Vendetta in mind in terms of how Theresa discovers her own power and her own definition of success, despite the comparisons that were easy to make.
LAXTON: When I think of “music comic” I instantly think of Solanin by Inio Asano. I wouldn’t be surprised if I took a bit of subconscious inspiration from that manga.
KAPLAN: What was the process of capturing 1980s Minneapolis like?
ILLIDGE: It was a LOT of work. The thing about research is that you need multiple sources to align before you can consider anything history. The timeline between Prince’s 1999 tour and the introduction of The Revolution is tricky and full of anecdotes from various sources, so building an infrastructure under that in which the paths of various people aligned was very helpful.
TABU: I pursued two avenues of investigation. First, I contracted with two people born and raised in Minneapolis – one a white woman in her forties whose child went to the same school my daughter attended, and the second, a Black woman in her late thirties who still lives on the south side of the city. I did extensive interviews with them to try and understand the detail and nuance of their disparate experiences.
Concurrently with that I did a lot of reading, books published about the era and the personalities therein. I read the book that talked to Prince’s high school music teacher, who implied Prince wasn’t even the most talented student he had. I also listened to interviews, such as the amazing Jimmy Jam coverage Questlove did on his podcast, and that gave so much detail (like the club where Jimmy Jam used to DJ, and how he’d leave a long record playing so he could go check out other things happening, something I’ve done as a DJ).
LAXTON: For me, it was collecting a lot of historical photos and magazine/news clippings for reference. Taking a trip to Minneapolis wasn’t available to me, especially in 2020, but the internet provides.
KAPLAN: Is there any comic, album, or other media that you have enjoyed lately?
ILLIDGE: That’s a big question with so many answers! The graphic novel Infinitum by Tim Fielder was a breathtaking experience and I recommend it highly. I’m digging back into Jaden Smith’s work from the last few years, and “Icon” is on replay when I’m editing for Heavy Metal. The “Small Axe” anthology of films by filmmaker Steve McQueen showing on Prime is one of the most heartfelt mic drops I’ve seen on film. I’m Jamaican-American, and seeing the historical portraits of Jamaican life in the UK is both familiar and new.
TABU: Far Sector is breathtaking. I read an indie book called Cello which was one of the most unexpected things I’ve ever seen. Jed McKay is doing some subversive, fun work at Marvel these days. The Geoff Thorne Green Lantern book is really effective.
LAXTON: I just got the first volume of Dryad, drawn by Justin Barcelo, and recently contributed to a kickstarter for Young Offenders, drawn by Mike Becker. Two very talented friends of mine.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to be sure and include?
ILLIDGE: Kudos to some of the invisible players in the MPLS Sound band: Editor Rob Levin and Publisher Mark Waid, the World’s Finest gents behind the scenes.
TABU: This week, my twelve issue run on Time Corps from Wunderman Comics hits the 1/3 mark, a cross-temporal science fiction adventure that I had so much fun writing. Later this year, another Wunderman Comics release will be a supernatural western three issue mini series called War Medicine, I just got pencils back from Roy Allan Martinez for the first issue. Finally, this November, Second Sight Publishing will bring Project Wildfire to comic book stores everywhere, so I’m very hyped about that.
You can find MPLS Sound today at your local bookstore and public library, and tomorrow at your favorite LCS.