Comics, Reviews

Yamamoto and Bowie

The fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto died this week.

He became a global superstar after designing David Bowie’s wardrobe for the Ziggy Stardust era. The clothes defied gender, ethnicity, and norms for stage wear and streetwear, and would be forward-looking today.

Yamamoto made a cameo appearance in a graphic novel about early 70s David Bowie, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, written by Steve Horton and drawn by one of my all-time favourite artists, Mike Allred. A friend asked about it, so I’m sending her a link to the publisher and my review:

Review of BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams
(Originally published in Sequential Tart, December 16, 2019)

News that Michael Allred was working on a graphic novel about David Bowie had me, erm, dancing in the street! In the afterword to BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, Allred writes that he had planned to do a Ziggy Stardust comic in the 1990s, but was told by reps that David Bowie had plans of his own […] so I turned my Ziggy Stardust comic book into the graphic novel Red Rocket 7, in which I told the history of rock and roll through the eyes of a red-headed alien clone.”

Allred’s Ziggy Stardust comic finally became a reality when writer Steve Horton approached him with an idea for making it so. Using the last Ziggy Stardust concert as a framing device, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams traces how Bowie built and rebuilt identities and created innovations that affected music, art, fashion, videos, and even financial products. For example, it suggests that the visions experienced by Bowie’s half-brother while having psychotic episodes may have influenced Bowie’s interest in altered perceptions (although, curiously, there is no mention of the heavy drug use that characterized much of this phase of Bowie’s career, something that had been acknowledged in Red Rocket 7). Bowie’s unwillingness to deal with the business aspects of his career in the 1970s explains why he later took the reins of management, going so far as to issue “Bowie bonds“.

Horton and Allred bring significant milestones in Bowie’s career to life, and provide insight to some obscure or overlooked aspects of his life and work. The dialogue is perfunctorily casual at times — STEVE MARRIOTT: “I hear tell you’re old mates with Pete here.” DAVID BOWIE: “School mates.” PETER FRAMPTON: “My dad was even David’s teacher.” — but helps to create (or perhaps reflect) characterize the London music scene as being far larger in influence than its actual size, with all the camaraderie and rivalry endemic to tight-knit groups. It’s a delight to see so many future superstars, but Horton and Allred also credit those behind the scenes who helped shaped Bowie, from stylist Suzi Fussey, who created the Ziggy haircut, to Mott the Hoople leader Ian Hunter, who had several musical intersections with Bowie, and who gave him the heads up about the management side of things.

The documentary nature of such passages is matched by the close likenesses Allred has drawn of major figures in music, some based on the heroic rock and roll photography that has memorialized moments such as The Who and Iggy Pop in concert, Bob Dylan and Elton John album covers, and, of course dozens of memorable Bowie album covers, newspaper photos, concert snaps, fashion shoots, and music videos. Still, the drawings are recognizably Allreds’ (I’m including colourist Laura Allred in this assessment), with instantly intelligible pictures, clean, bold lines, and vivid colours– iconic artwork for an iconic subject.

As befits a book with such strong visuals about a man who led such a cinematic life, the artistic credits are given as if the comic were a movie: “Screenplay by Steve Horton and Michael Allred. Technicolour cinematography by Laura Allred. Directed by Michael Allred.” (The book was edited by Mark Irwin. Hans Allred provided colour assistance and Neil Gaiman contributed the foreword.) It also has bonuses of pencilled pages and Pin-Ups (see what I did there) by the Allreds.

Below: an interior page from BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams.