There are only a few types of people who receive huge cheers wherever and wherever they appear. Certain politicians are seemingly followed by booming applause and superheroes like Spider-Man and Superman are constantly depicted being stopped by adoring fans whenever they touch down on the ground. There’s one category that receives more screams and cheers than all the rest though: Rock Stars, and David Bowie is one of the biggest, most influential rock stars who ever lived.
David Bowie’s larger than life persona and incomprehensible impact on pop culture makes him the perfect figure for someone to write a biography about; his experimental attitudes and eye-popping, science-fiction influenced fashion make him the perfect individual to create a comic book around. Co-written by Steve Horton and Michael Allred, who also penciled the book, and colored by Laura Allred (Madman), Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams is a wonderful love letter to the pop prince that touches on and ponders what made him such a unique, inspirational artistic force.
An origin story of sorts, Stardust, Rayguns and Moonage Daydream follows the now iconic musician from his early days, where he played with multiple bands as Davy Jones, to the closing night of his spandex-infused Ziggy Stardust era. Touching on everything from his decision to change his name (he was a fan of Jim Bowie, the American frontiersman who was depicted on TV) to his random association with figures like Freddy Mercury way before either one of them made it big, the narrative is constructed so tightly that everything feels interconnected and pre-ordained despite the fact that these are all real, random events from someone’s life.
The story does jump around a bit from page to page, straining to highlight key moments from the artist’s life in a somewhat disjointed way that occasionally includes Bowie’s modern retrospective commentary, but it does an incredible job showing the actual passage of time. With uniquely shaped panels layered on-top of magazine covers, the creative team meticulously highlights his long road to fame and shows how each road bump and obstacle crumbled in the face of his powerful work ethic and devotion to pushing his own artistic boundaries.
I truly don’t have enough positive things to say about the art in Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams. Despite the fact that each page is packed full of information, the unique layouts and overlapping images perfectly guide the reader through everything and ensure no panel or page feels overstuffed. Since the book is comparable to a memoir, a fantasy-infused version of Bowie’s real life, the Allred’s bring a vibrant, psychedelic energy to the page that perfectly fits their subject’s personality. To match Ziggy’s otherworldly demeanor, random aliens are intercut throughout the book in crowds, making it seem that David Bowie, channeling the intergalactic messenger that is Ziggy Stardust, is actually a galactic icon.
It can’t be understated just how talented Michael is at drawing real life figures. Everyone from Iggy Pop to Andy Warhol makes an appearance in the book, showing just how embedded and influential Bowie was in pop culture at the time, giving the artistic team ample opportunity to stretch their muscles and present recognizable figures in an exquisitely detailed manner.
As the book reveals to the reader, Bowie — like many edgy children of the ’50s — was a huge fan of Elvis Presley‘s music and larger-than-life fashion sense, and the book does a great job at showing their parallel tastes and highlighting how The King of Rock and Roll influenced Bowie. Not only do the Allreds do a great job focusing in on his unique physical features, one blue and one green eye, but they do a great job bringing his multicolored, flowing
The poppy art may catch your eye, but it’s Horton’s engaging writing that kept me turning each page. Bowie has such a unique way of expressing himself and Horton expertly zeroes in on his voice and makes sure everything on the page either feeds into or comes from Bowie’s own illustrative imagination.
Structurally, the book is all framed around one fateful concert in 1973 — the final time Bowie ever performed with the Ziggy Stardust persona in public — and Horton does a great job constantly cutting between different points in Bowie’s long history and that fateful concert without making anything feeling disjointed or out of place. Unfortunately, the graphic novel doesn’t really explore the psyches and thought processes of the people around Bowie, but Horton does a great job channeling everyone’s voices and showing why they are worthy of mention in Bowie’s story whenever they are on the page.
People who are only casually familiar with David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust persona may have trouble connecting with the book’s detailed narrative, but the flowing format and psychedelic art makes this an incredibly engaging, easy read. David Bowie was actually my first concert, so I have a strong connection to his music and personality that made it impossible for me to put the book down.
Even if you’re not a Bowie fan, or someone who dislikes music in general, this masterfully orchestrated graphic novel — filled with some of the best art I’ve seen all year — is still a must read for anyone looking for some experimental, intriguing storytelling.