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.


Fare Thee Well, Happy Harbor

Me in a Shawna Roe and Jay Bardyla sandwich, just after midnight on New Year’s 2019 at Happy Harbor Comics. Photo: Dean Welsh.

Just before Christmas, Happy Harbor Comics announced that it would be closing. A few days later, it made a second announcement. The plan to close the store was reversed: Happy Harbor had been bought by a northern Alberta games and comics retailer called Wonderland.

These few days prompted a flood of emotions for me. I’ve survived other comic shop closings, and I’ve switched comic shops due to moves by the store or by me. But Happy Habor has been more than a store: it’s also a community, which I hope will continue after the store changes hands.

Under the ownership of Jay Bardyla and Shawna Roe, Happy Harbor has promoted local talent, organized 24-hour comic jams, established a school visit program, created Canada’s first artist-in-residence program for comics, tossed huge parties and celebrations for Free Comic Book Day and other events, hosted readings, talks, autographs, and group gatherings for all things comics and related nerditry.

They also organized an exhibit called Visions of Comics to showcase comics-inspired artwork. After the death of my best friend, arts journalist Gilbert Bouchard, a Happy Harbor supporter and a great promoter of comics as art, the store added the name “Gilbert Bouchard Memorial Art Show” to the title. Thanks to Wonderland keeping the store open, this year’s show will go ahead as planned in March. The theme of the show is Mentors, which is what Gilbert was to me, and what Happy Harbor has been to many a comics artist and fan in Edmonton and beyond, as the store* started in Jasper, Alberta, and ships far and wide.

(*Originally, I committed a typo so this sentence read: “The story started in Jasper, Alberta”. The store *does* have a story, and I’m glad that it will continue in the form of the art show, the artist-in-residence program, and any other activities that will go on in the Happy Harbor corner of the “new” store.)

I have also come to count Shawna and Jay as personal friends of mine. They’ve supported me through some tough times. I’m thrilled that they will be able to turn over their business to a group that has committed to continuing their legacy.

Finally, I thank Jay and Shawna for creating so many excuses for me to write about Happy Harbor or Happy Harbor events. I’ve collected them all in the list of links below (let me know if I’m missing any!). When you look the photos I’ve taken, you’ll notice a familiar background: the Happy Harbor store.

The last official Happy Harbor party takes place tonight. This will be the last gathering of the community the store has built over the past two decades. But it will also be the first celebration to welcome the new owners: Happy Harbor Comics will become Wonderland Edmonton. I think of it as a regeneration event.

About Happy Harbor

Happy Harbor Volume 3, Edmonton, Alberta: From creating a niche to developing a comics community
May 12, 2008

Pop Print 2008: Bridging the Fanboy Brain and the Academic Brain
November 10, 2008

Artist Appearances

A Modern Historical Murder Mystery: Interview with Ben Rankel
July 16, 2018

Developing a Photobooth Biography: Meags Fitzgerald
November 10, 2014

The Nostaligist: Ray Fawkes
July 18, 2011

Friends and Heroes: Nat Jones
June 6, 2011

Andrew Foley Writes Things: On Creepy Comics, Alien Movies and More
November 22, 2010

Visualizing a Pioneering Legend: James Davidge and Bob Prodor
May 17, 2010

Artist-in-Residence Program

From Horses to Horror: Cindy Gauthier
July 30, 2018

Making Her Own New Thing: Catherine Dubois
December 11, 2017

Joanne Wojtysiak: A Gothbunny Recharges as an Artist-in-Residence
January 30, 2017

Comic Book Artist-in-Residence: Daniel Schneider
September 12, 2011

Name Check

I’m including this link as an example of one of the things Happy Harbor has done to support local comics creators: carry their books. Independent artists and publishers can sell their wares online, but it’s important to have the printed works in stores. For a reader looking for something new to check out, the experience of perusing a display of comics, picking them up, flipping through them, and talking to staff about them is invaluable.

The Anthology Project: Joy Ang and Nick Thornborrow
June 28, 2010

Happy Harbor / Wonderland Edmonton

Btw, here is the store’s website!

Comics, Interviews

What if…?


Great stories inspire lasting questions. For artist Cindy Gauthier, watching The Night of the Living Dead as a child left her wondering, “What if there’s something coming back from the graveyard down the road?” Now, Cindy is creating horror comics. She’s wrapping up a term as the artist-in-residence at Happy Harbor Comics. I got to interview her about her inspirations and about her work for Sequential Tart: