Yesterday the world lost one of it’s most original and eccentric artists, David Bowie.
I will admit that I am not personally a big fan of his music, although I do really like his song “Heroes”
And although I may not like his music all that much it is impossible to ignore the influence his voice, style, and sound had on modern music. You do not sell over 100 million records and achieve tremendous commercial and critical success sustained over a career spanning three decades and change without doing something right.
So why am I talking about David Bowie on a blog series dedicated to comic book history? Well, believe it or not you could actually make a strong case that David Bowie actually played a huge part in shaping how we view and think about comic books today. But in order to do that we need a brief history lesson.
In the early 1980’s, right around the time David Bowie was undergoing a second career peak with songs like “Ashes to Ashes”
The comic book world decided to copy the music scene from the 1960’s with their own British Invasion. Most people point to this guy paving the way.
That is comic book legend and Lord of Snakes Alan Moore, who is responsible for creating some of the greatest comic book stories of all time.
After Moore’s string of massive successes DC comics introduced even more British comic book writers and artists to American audiences such as Neil Gaiman
and Grant Morrison
In order to accommodate these new writers and their penchant for deep, complex, and often mature themed works DC created an imprint called Vertigo that would go on to become one of the greatest names in modern comics.
What’s interesting is that music, especially British pop music of the 70’s and 80’s, would play a huge part in influencing a lot of these writers. Jamie Delano would become famous for his work on the long running Vertigo series Hellblazer which explored the life and exploits of the Alan Moore created occult magician John Constantine.
What’s funny is that the character of Constantine was modeled after British singer/songwriter and front man for The Police: Sting.
Grant Morrison had a more direct link to 1980’s British rock n’ roll, he was in a band called the Mixers who weren’t half bad.
As for Neil Gaiman, well he came out with a little known comic book series called Sandman which I have mentioned before is one of my favorite comic book series of all time.
One of the most famous recurring characters in Gaiman’s epic was none other than Satan himself, Lucifer Morningstar the Fallen One.
Gaiman made sure that this version of the prince of darkness was modeled after the appearance of David Bowie,
which probably makes this David’s greatest contribution to comic books.
The fact that British comic book culture in the 1980’s took so many influences from British music at the time really isn’t that surprising. They were both engaged in a period of tremendous change an upheaval. The 1970’s and 80’s were a time when a lot of previously long standing conventions were being overthrown and new ideas were being brought to the forefront. For music this meant the rise of countless genres like electronic music, glam rock (a genre that Bowie helped pioneer), soul, funk, disco, new wave, psychedelic, stadium rock, and so much more. For comics it meant the final death of the long established Comics Code and the ability to tell meaningful and complex stories again.
The 1970’s and 1980’s were tremendous times for music and comic books and we were fortunate to have David Bowie in the middle of it. Out of all the crazy and wonderful acts that came out of that time period Bowie was able to stand out as one of the most unique and longest lasting of them all. His accomplishments and influence will be felt for generations and he will be sorely missed.
If you would like to explore some comic books that are more directly about or influenced by Bowie there is a comic book series called Fame! which publishes comic books about the lives and works of famous musicians and Bowie’s book can be found here. Also, Bowie’s first hit and one of his most famous songs, Space Oddity, was made into a children’s book which you can read about here.