Never underestimate the power of a gift horse in the mouth from one Yes fan to another.
Perhaps my reasoning for this gift will serve you all as an opportunity (no experience necessary, if you pardon the pun) to amalgamate the best of my both possible worlds for me: progressive rock and comic books.
And with the help of couple of friends in the comic book business, we’re going to explore something unique and different: a very rare unseen look at a couple of unfinished cancelled comic books based on telling the biographical story of Yes.
Now we’ve always known that Yes had some sort of aesthetic appeal to the average wandering science fiction book fan by either the palpable eye-catching Roger Dean largely alien world painted covers or by the cryptic machinations of post apocalyptic societies in search of peace and tranquility in Jon Anderson‘s lyrics, or the lavish futuristic set designs also by Dean and his brother Martyn – it’s a positive no brainer that some of the band’s concepts could cross pollinate with comic book inspired bookworms. After all, it’s what attracted me to the band in the first place, other than singing along as an eight year old to the mellifluous tonal quality to the ‘Roundabout‘ harmonious backgrounds playing on my AM transistor radio.
So it would make perfect sense to take some of Yes’s concepts to be shared amongst the four-color communities. The phenomenon of Kiss getting their first Marvel Super Special in which members of the band had samples of their blood mixed into the ink used to print the first issue was the first out of the gate to get this special kind of genre treatment up and rolling after making a surprise guest appearance in an issue of Howard the Duck that sent alarm bells to collectors to start manning the torpedoes. In this issue, They even got to hang out with Doctor Doom, main antagonist of the fabled Fantastic Four. Months later, in that same titled series, Marvel also told the story of the Beatles to capitalize on the success of the Broadway play Beatlemania– but unfortunately, it wasn’t as much of a bigger selling behemoth as it was with Kiss.
By the time after a handful of Kiss related specials ran their course (with the band years later reverting their likeness to Todd McFarlane for a series of action figures and comic books) or the right to license though Marvel , Marvel would experiment with other musical acts in comic book form, most notably with Alice Cooper in a three issue series in junction with a concept album of the same name based on a storyline written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by painter Michael Zulli. With the publication of that mini-series, the appetite for high quality comics based on rock acts were high in demand.
However, half a decade prior, a small imprint named Revolutionary Press begun in San Diego by a lone kid who just moved in from the Midwest kid named Todd Loren went and got the presses rolling on pile of unauthorized biographical comic books based on sports figures, famous politicians, and most especially, classic rock acts and boy bands were the real ceramic molds that got comic books into the media masses with placements in head shops, college book stores, and flea markets. Their popularity got so overwhelming, that attorneys for some of these bands began to take notice, and therefore Todd Loren possibly became the first kid on his block to be sued by the LAWYERS of the New Kids on the Block and Guns & Roses for unauthorized biographies and likenesses.
Nonetheless, Revolutionary Press got the world’s attention with their line of “unauthorized and proud of it’ seminal biographies and sales went through the proverbial ‘black light poster’ roofs of most head shops around the country with comics based on Gun & Roses, Led Zeppelin, & Pink Floyd, to name a collected few. I distinctly remember back to the time I lived in the lucid sleepy San Diego community known as Ocean Beach and seeing stacks and stacks of these comics being sold at all places, The Black – a very popular smoke and gift shop along the town’s boardwalk.
Later on, through correspondence and essays published in the weekly comic book newspaper called the Comic Buyer’s Guide, I struck a very valuable friendship with Jay Allen Sanford when he particularly started to switch gears into publishing comic books based on the lives and fantasies of adult film stars. Through Jay, I got hooked up with artist Larry Nadolsky, who had worked with Todd Loren on the very first issue of Rock N’ Roll Comics with Guns & Roses and we went off to produce eight issues of my own anti-social political super being series entitled the Deposit Man together, and also I became e-mail pen pals for a while with Native American adult actress Hyapatia Lee. I’ve written in a couple of letters and editorial content to the Oh So? section of The Comics Buyers’ Guide in defense of Jay’s right to display his rock’n’ roll/pornography comics at most major comic book conventions after family complaints were lodged with San Diego Comic Con Board of Directors. It was certainly a fundamentally First Amendment right bash on Jay and his company way before the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was still in tax exemption leak proof pampers.
Now that was the unauthorized portion, let’s pause briefly to talk about the ‘authorized authentic comic book magazine that had some involvement in production from the subject artists themselves.
After the Alice Cooper comic book experiment with Marvel ran its’ course, Marvel had soon acquired Malibu Comics, a blossoming comic book company known mainly for their state of the art West Coast computer coloring facility in Calabasas, California, the border on which the San Fernando Valley ends and where Ventura County begins. In addition to their special line of super-heroes such as Prime, Prototype, and Hardcase, they were looking to venture out with comic books based on real authorized biographies of rock musicians told by the actual artists themselves.
Portions of the next six paragraphs were lifted from a Wikipedia entry:
The first comics company to latch onto the new confluence of popularity was California-based Malibu Comics. In 1993, they partnered with music powerhouse Gold Mountain Management and launched Rock-It Comics, an imprint for new series devoted to popular musicians. Among the handful of titles they released were a Metallica biography comic, an issue of “Lita Ford: Heavy Metal Queen” (featuring the former Runaway as a guitar-wielding super-powered avenger), a Pantera comic full of demonic insanity, companion volumes devoted to Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, a book devoted to World Domination Recordings. In May of 1994, they issued a Santana biography by noted artist Tim Truman, detailing the guitarist’s views on his life, career, and search for enlightenment through psychedelically-illustrated interview transcripts. The Rock-It imprint folded shortly thereafter when Malibu was acquired by Marvel Comics; announced but never released were to be one-shots featuring The Doors, Anthrax, Megadeth, Primus, Soundgarden, Yes, The Smithereens, and hip-hop acts Naughty By Nature, P.M. Dawn and The Pharcyde.
John C. Anderson of the marketing and promotion company International Strategic Marketing liked the Rock-It concept enough to sign on as a third partner. His company will have the finished books selling alongside the X-Men in comic book shops, and alongside Rolling Stone in music outlets and at newsstands. Future plans may have the $3.95 comics sold at concerts as inexpensive alternatives to tour programs.
It’s a great cross-pollination,” says Ron Stone, president of Gold Mountain, whose acts include Nirvana, the Lemonheads and Bonnie Raitt. “Comic book culture and rock ‘n’ roll culture head toward each other anyway, and both are taken very seriously by some people. Comic books are no longer the domain of pimply-faced 12-year-olds. A lot of people read them, and a lot of those people listen to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Stone and Jack Jacobs, Gold Mountain’s director of acquisitions, began discussing a blending of rock ‘n’ roll and comic books two years ago when they were looking for a novel way to publicize World Domination, Stone’s newly formed alternative record label.
In all, nearly 30 bands have become interested in working with Rock-It, and confirmed forthcoming titles will cover such diverse acts as Santana, Pantera, Pharcyde, the Doors, Yes, PM Dawn and the Lemonheads. Many groups have provided exclusive photos and interviews to for their comic sagas.
The flesh-and-blood rockers depicted in the Rock-It line couldn’t be happier about being rendered two-dimensional–they helped to create their books.
The one featuring Yes was solicited in Diamond Comics Catalogue in March of 1994 for a June 1994 newsstand/ comic book specialty store release to coincide with the release and tour of the album Talk, so the comic book wouldn’t have sported a Roger Dean logo, but rather the updated Peter Max painted logo that served as the album cover. For those not familiar with the retailing side of the comic book business, Diamond Comics Distributors serves (to this very day) mostly the supplying of monthly comic books, graphic novels, and all assorted related collectible merchandise that includes apparel and poseable action figures.
I personally remember seeing the solicitation for the Yes issue and ordering five copies for the now long defunct Rookies Allstars Cards & Comics, a store I used to manage in the mid-nineties out in North Hollywood, CA on the promise from one of the owners that I would ‘eat’ them if they weren’t sold, even though we had good luck with selling out the Ozzy Osborne and Metallica.
Rock-It-Comix editor, Robert V. Conte recalls his experience in putting the official Yes Comic into motion. Both Robert and I were hoping to find some artwork for that Yes Special in Robert’s files, maybe a reproduction of the cover, but Robert was unfortunately unable to turn them up in time for this blog’s posting as he has said that ‘they are buried deep in storage’ ( and knowing me – I am my own worst pack rat enemy myself, so I can definitely relate), but Robert however did sit down with me for a few minutes to reminisce about that unpublished issue:
These two pages of an unauthorized condensed history of Yes are the only comic book version of the group ever made available to the public. Cover to Rock ‘N Roll Comics issue 65 is seen below.
And now Jay Allen Sanford talks about his unpublished Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics Yes Comic Book Story:
Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics #61, about the band Yes, was scheduled for a July 1993 release, BUT was reported to be blocked from publication due to an injunction from Great Southern Management.
Of which Jay immediately disparages that a lawsuit from the band management had actually occurred during his tenure as editor.
The cover to where the above two page story originally appeared.
According to Jay, the above two-pager is only what remains left of the artists that originally turned the original artwork in before Jay decided that Ross give it a try to redo the 38 page unauthorized opus from the other artists who didn’t do a bang up job before the entire line got shut down.
In Jay’s words:
Thumbnail sketched two page spread detailing the Roger Dean stage design of the Relayer tour with Patrick Moraz.
Note: Yessongs II eventually became the bootlegged concert video Yes Live 1975 at Q.P.R.
And that’s where it cuts off. If Carl and Marshall had gone around to finish the originally intended 38 pages, we probably would have caught up to the 1991 Union tour and covering all events in between such as guitarist Trevor Rabin elevating the band into number one status with 90125 & their first number one hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart“, the brief acrimonious splitting the band into two different factions, the formation of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, & Howe, and then later, the imminent emergence of the two into one to form Union.
Since Jay doesn’t publish much in the way of comic book magazines anymore, he sold the rights to a mutual friend, Steve Crompton, but keeps a steady hand in reprint rights such as souped up and remastered editions of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and multiple volumes of pages pulled from other issues to serve as the general over all history of rock music were marketed by Bluewater Press and maybe are still available through Amazon and other related online outlets.
In 2005, BulletProof Film released a documentary film titled Unauthorized and Proud of It: Todd Loren’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics. The film features interviews with Loren’s family, surviving “Revolutionaries,” comic book colleagues, adversaries, supporters and past and present rock ‘n’ roll stars featured in Revolutionary’s comics. Appearing in the film are Alice Cooper, publishers Gary Groth (Fantagraphics) and Denis Kitchen (Kitchen Sink Press), famed groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster, underground painter and RevCom cover artist Robert Williams (known for his controversial album art for the first Guns N’ Roses LP), Jay Allen Sanford, Gene Simmons (audio only), and more.
The film also details the San Diego police department’s investigation into Todd Loren’s 1992 murder; interviews with Loren’s coworkers and family members suggest that the police failed to follow-up on all available leads. The film was released on DVD in April 2012 by Wild Eye Releasing, under the title Unauthorized: The Story of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics. The DVD includes over two hours of bonus footage, interviews, news footage, and art galleries, and liner notes by long-time Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics writer-editor Jay Allen Sanford.
Currently in terms of rock comics in general, a gentleman by the name of Mel Smith keeps the subgenre going by publishing a series of Rock and Roll Biographies based on the newer crop of current bands such as Opeth, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, and Exodus through his publishing venture called Acme Ink. Another good friend of mine in the LA area, writer and artist Michael Aushenker penned the Exodus issue.
The new wave of mergers between unauthorized rock ‘n’ roll biographies & comic books, same as the old wave of mergers between unauthorized rock ‘n’ roll biographies & comic books.
And if you’ve been a dedicated reader of this blog, you would’ve known, I myself have once tried my hand at conceptualizing the fabled 1974 Genesis double album, The Lamb Lies Down at Broadway into a four-issue opus until it got shut down by Genesis and Phil Collins’ manager, Tony Smith, who wouldn’t give the project his blessing. However, mine wouldn’t have been a biographic effort, rather I was going for telling an original story based on the characters created by Peter Gabriel. The funds raised for the pitch to my lawyer Paul Levine, who also handles some of Jack Kirby’s estate was co-financed by my deceased best friend, Harry Perzigian, who, if were still alive today was going to help me write pitches for a Frank Zappa project and a David Bowie project based on their concept albums. The only sole exception of this format was a mini-series based on Rush’s Clockwork Angels published by BOOM! Entertainment in a written collaboration with sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson and the band’s drummer, Neil Peart.
That’s a step I think some publishers like Jay (if he should rejoin the fray) & Mel should take, rather than write and draw their life stories, but to instead, rework what the musicians are trying to convey through their lyrics and cover artwork to try to clarify clearer the stories that they’re meaning to say through their music.
I’m sure there’s an epic four issue mini-series somewhere in either Yes’ Fragile or Relayer. I’m sure Jon Anderson, wouldn’t bulk that’s there’s an epic graphic novel in his first beloved 1976 solo effort, Olias of Sunhillow. But I doubt it would sell a billion or so copies like the latest Batman or Superman that you would find out on the newsstands.
Next: our year round-up in our second annual IN THE CRAZINESS OF STATS, IN THE CRAZINESS. And once the new year arrives, it will be time to start researching those crazy L + 3 & L +7 November sweeps numbers of all our favorite comic book genre shows.
Be well and happy holidays to all.