The life and career of David Bowie was something that, even as it was happening, seemed by design larger than life. The late musician (and actor, and artist, and all-round creative polymath) cycled through personas, sounds and outlooks at a dizzying pace, turning himself into a series of fictional characters perfectly suited for the era in which they emerged.
With this background, it’s no wonder that Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, a graphic novel biography centering around Bowie’s early career, feels entirely fitting — in many respects, he was a comic book character waiting to happen.
The book, to be published early next year by Insight Comics, is the creation of Madman and iZombie’s Mike Allred and Steve Horton, with colors from Laura Allred, assisted by Han Allred, and covers everything from Bowie’s earliest days in the music industry through the legendary last gig of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars in 1973 — with an extended epilogue hinting at everything that followed. Clearly a love letter from the creators to the artist himself, it’s a book for Bowie fans by Bowie fans, while having enough to satisfy those who don’t know their Major Toms from their Nathan Adlers.
Heat Vision spoke to Allred and Horton about their love for Bowie and how it played into the creation of the book, accompanied by a preview of the book’s opening pages.
What made the Spiders era the ideal choice to be the endpoint of the narrative? Selfishly, it’s my favorite era of Bowie, but I’m wondering if there’s more to it than personal preference.
Steve Horton: That farewell speech at the Hammersmith Odeon is legendary and an ideal point for Bowie to look back on his long career up to that point. His career was very different after that, so it made sense to end the narrative after the rise and fall of Ziggy.
Mike Allred: It’s where it all began, right? The origin story to David Bowie’s leap into superstardom. And it’s the era that I was introduced to in a tidal wave of pure rock and roll joy! If we were limited to one big bite to start, this was it.
One of my favorite things about the book is the casual way it draws the many connections Bowie had to other iconic figures in music history. If Bowie was a superhero — and you can certainly make a case for that — then his origin story already feels like the best crossover imaginable. How fun was it to fit in all the cameos from everyone from Marc Bolan to Lou Reed to Freddie Mercury and beyond?
Allred: Pure bliss! I discovered David Bowie completely independently as a kid in 1974 when I was looking for comics at the local drugstore and the very alien image of Bowie on the cover of Creem magazine jumped out at me from the magazine rack. I had to have it, almost as if hypnotized!
It had a “Diamond Dogs” poster centerfold, and was jam-packed with other artists that immediately started connecting the dots to Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, T.Rex, Marianne Faithfull and her relationship with [Mick] Jagger and The [Rolling] Stones, Slade, Steve Marriott’s Humble Pie, Badfinger. … Back issue ads for Iggy Pop, Elton John, Led Zeppelin and future issues would introduce me to Queen, The Who, The Kinks, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground.
Until this explosive pre-puberty deep dive introduction, my rock and roll obsessions were largely limited to The Beatles and The Monkees, who were simply ever-present throughout my entire childhood.
Horton: Cameos are a super fun way to both provide context and showcase Mike’s amazing renditions of Freddie Mercury, Frank-n-Furter, Monty Python, Elton John and the rest. Bowie’s peers were the some of the best entertainers in history. Why not have them be guest stars or cameos?
Mike, I’m curious — how quickly did you go from that magazine to Bowie’s music? Was there a delay where he was as much a visual entity as an audio one? That feels like it might feed into how the book was constructed, somehow.
As I leafed through the magazine on the walk home, I was pulled into Rickett’s Music Store, where I found and purchased the “Rebel Rebel” 45” single with “Lady Grinning Soul” on the flip side. When I got home, the indoctrination locked in as I played each side over and over and over again.
From there, I spent all my paper route money hunting down every Bowie album, going backwards starting with his most recent Diamond Dogs album, Pin-ups, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, The Man Who Sold the World and, of course, Space Oddity. Those seven albums rolled through my brain in one consolidated rush. Never before or since has a single artist dominated my time in such a powerful and inspiring way. And I’ve never tired of hearing any of that music. I get the same thrill with each listen, always taking me back to that original high of discovery.
Each new David Bowie would be a celebratory event, but a painful wait between each new project in contrast to that initial burst.
I asked about Bowie as a visual entity because the book draws on his own iconography, of course, but also influences from elsewhere in the era and beyond. What was the thinking behind this kind of larger-than-life visual approach? It does feel like something Bowie would have approved of.
Allred: I almost did something officially with Bowie several years ago, through a rep who told me he’d enjoyed my Red Rocket 7 book where I documented the history of rock and roll through the eyes of an alien clone. This was my take on a veiled Ziggy Stardust comic book, and Bowie actually appears throughout. I was told the lyric from his “New Killer Star” was Bowie’s reference to RR7: “See my life in a comic…” Obviously, nothing ever came of it, and I never heard from Bowie directly. But I always daydreamed about doing something more.
And, from day one, David Bowie’s music always inspired visual interpretations that always influenced my art and storytelling. It was easy to imagine larger-than-life imagery to tell his story, and to make pop culture, as well as pop art connections every step of the way.
Horton: My favorite recent example is Rocketman, the Elton John biopic. That movie would not be nearly as much fun without the surrealist, imaginatory quality of many of the scenes. Biographies to me should be much more than what happened. What did it feel like, visually, to experience Bowie’s life?
You mention Rocketman, which leads me to wonder, does the book leave you with the desire to do more work in a similar vein — either more with Bowie, or other musicians? It feels like an extension of Red Rocket 7, as you hinted at before, but also like a reinvigoration of the old musical biography comics of yore. It feels like there’s so much more to explore here.
Allred: I’ve already started outlining other musical obsessions — two entities in particular among those I’ve already mentioned, ’nuff said. But I’d very much love to document David Bowie’s entire life and creative output in detail. I hope my closing montage documenting the rest of his life serves as a kind of preview trailer for what could follow.
Horton: I would love to do another music graphic novel, whether nonfiction or fiction. I have nothing in the works just yet, but if any famous musicians wanted me to tell their story alongside an amazing artist, they should get in touch!
Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams is set to be published Jan. 7.