Unlike some friends and colleagues, music hasn't become less important to me as I've grown older. Admittedly, I see much less live music than I used to fifteen years ago - it's an effort to get off the couch, find parking and stay up past midnight anymore. However, I still constantly search out new music and bands, dig in the discount CD bins, and listen to steaming radio stations. If they ever implemented a "no headphones" policy at work, I'd either have to (a) quit; or (b) grow my hair long to hide the earbuds. As much of a retro tech aficionado I am, it is so nice to carry around a couple of hundred songs on something the size of a cigarette lighter.
While I've always loved music, my interest in comics only developed over the past ten years or so, but it's a strong, constantly growing passion, with a special interest in small press and self-published minicomics. A few years ago I really enjoyed the anthology SIDE A: The Music Lover's Graphic Novel from Poseur Ink press. Two years later, the flip side is here, SIDE B: The Music Lovers' Comic Anthology, and it's one of those rare cases where the B-side is even better than the A-side.
Usually in a comic anthology, there are contributions not up to the quality of the rest of the book, stories that make readers wonder "Why did they include that?" However, I can totally, completely, honestly say there are no clunkers in SIDE B. Sure, there were comics I enjoyed more than others, but none that were lacking merit, talent, or substance. It's a great selection of comics, and it's obvious that the editors at Poseur Ink curated this collection carefully and lovingly. This is a fantastic book from start to finish, all bound up in Lucy Kinsely's wraparound cover (with nifty spot varnish, too!).
The comics in SIDE B cover situations and emotions familiar to music junkies, and many of the stories are autobiographical.
As to be expected, there are comics about mix tapes: remembering the days of sitting by the radio, one finger on the record button, just waiting for a real DJ to play that particular song ("Play My Song", Andy Jewett). Some comics are about finding long lost mix tapes, such as the simply titled "Mixtape" by Nicole Miles, and "Ya Know, Yeah, No" by Jon Chad.
Cristy C. Road ("Redemption Day") and Katie Shanahan ("Musical Misfit") contribute comics about music shaping their teenage identities. I really enjoyed "So Closer to the Wall, It's Witchcraft so Do It!" by Jason Marcy and Joe Meyer, especially discovering that after years of trying to decipher Peter Gabriel's lyrics, "Only to learn, years later... that he was fascinated back then with the sounds of the words as he put them together? Most of these songs... meant nothing?" Joshua Rosen ("Same Old Songs") ponders how relationships with music changes as we get older: "We don't start to outgrow music, do we? I mean... God, that sounds so dismissive. But why don't we relate to it in the same way anymore?"
Some artists write and draw about music as a way to cope when someone close to you dies - Liz Baillie's "Radio Radio Radio" (from the Rancid song) is a lovely tribute to a friend who died way too soon. In "A Beggar's Banquet" by Box Brown, family members remember a cousin through his favorite song, The Rolling Stones' "Salt of the Earth". Ed Choy Moorman recalls the musical tastes of his late cousin on a drive in "Dear Dave".
Certainly not all of SIDE B is downbeat and contemplative. Lucy Knisely loses her entire digital music library and lots of musical memories in "The Clean Slate". (Okay, that is depressing - remember to do backups, kids!). In the particularly thoughtful "Out of Step", John Isaacson tries to understand the complexities of Straight Edge, including a response from Ian MacKaye to a frustrated letter he wrote. Jim Mahfood introduces us to the obscure, slightly outsider musician Gary Wilson in "You Think You Really Know Me?". In "A (Yankee) Rose by Any Other Name" by Dino Caruso and Joshua Kemble recalls sneaking down onto the floor of a DLR show in '86 in Toronto, something that is nearly impossible to do anymore.
Of course, there's non-autobiographical selections in SIDE B. In "Torso", a lead singer finds redemption in karaoke after being kicked out of her band, written by Kat Vapid and distinctively drawn by Ryan Kelly. A deceased opera singer saves the cutest little kitty in "The Tale of Tinycat" by Elizabeth Gearhart, and Steve Orlando spins the story of an elementary school kid wants to "Rock and Roll All Fifth Period".
Both indie comic fans and music fans will enjoy SIDE B. Those that are BOTH indie comic fans AND music fans will find it more exhilarating than a perfect three-minute pop song. Highest recommendation.
(Visit the SIDE B site for samples, links to all artists, and more information.)
Note of interest: A discussion with Karl Erickson, Director of MoCCA, about some of the problems that happened at this year's MoCCA Fest. Also, check out episode of #158 of Indie Spinner Rack, where Charlito and Mr. Phil talk with Fred Van Lente, MoCCA board member, and exhibitor at the Fest.
(See the mocca2009 tag for all reviews.)