Comics and music. On the surface, they seem a strange combination—it’s not like you can weld music to print the way you can build a soundtrack into a film. Still, in the past few years the two have been intersecting more and more.
High-profile musicians like Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance) and Claudio Sanchez (Coheed and Cambria) have become popular comics writers. Soundtracks to comics—like local band Tracker’s score to Portlander Craig Thompson’s wildly successful graphic novel Blankets—are popping up. And there’s also comics inspired by music, like 2006’s Belle and Sebastian anthology Put the Book Back on the Shelf.
But the most prominent comics/music mashup yet is Comic Book Tattoo (Image Comics, 480 pages, $29.99). Measuring 12-by-12 inches (just like the sleeves of your LPs), it features 50 stories inspired by the songs of well-known comics fan Tori Amos. It also marks the return to comics of new PDXer Mike Dringenberg, one of the creators of seminal ’90s comic series Sandman (one of Amos’ personal favorites).
Although the book isn’t available for review (most comics aren’t distributed in advance the way regular new releases are), Image has confirmed that it will feature well-known Amos songs like “Cornflake Girl” and “Crucify.” Five of the book’s 80-plus contributors are based here in Portland: Sara Ryan, Jonathan Case, Drew Bell, Leif Jones and Dringenberg, who moved to town from Salt Lake City last summer.
Back in 1988, Dringenberg helped get Sandman off the ground. He served first as the book’s inker and then took over when original penciller Sam Keith left the project. Dringenberg’s art helped set the tone of the series; he even designed Delirium, a personification of insanity that writer Neil Gaiman based on Tori Amos herself. Gaiman and Amos have a well-publicized friendship, the writer himself provides the introduction to Comic Book Tattoo.
Tattoo features the first comics work in 12 years by Dringenberg. He chose the 1994 B-side track “Honey” to inspire his story—basing his work on its name and theme. “It’s all about leaving, the freedom to leave,” Dringenberg says. The result is a lusciously painted story that forgoes the usual panel borders of a comic for a style more at home on the walls of an art gallery.
Dringenberg knows the freedom to leave well. He was 22 when he got the job on Sandman, but after making his mark on the most important and lauded comics series of the ’90s, he quit the industry. “It became a ‘job’ of the worst order,” Dringenberg says. He’s been doing book illustrations ever since (including covers for editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels for Ballantine Books), but with “Honey” under his belt he says he’d like to do more comics again. So perhaps Comic Book Tattoo will end up being a milestone in the Sandman legacy as well as common ground between comics and music.
READ: Comic Book Tattoo debuts at local comic book stores on Wednesday, July 23.