The Devil Rocks Out

There are dark forces at work in This Damned Band, Dark Horse’s new hor­ror com­edy. Will Salmon talks to Paul Cor­nell about mu­sic, mag­ick and the mythic ap­peal of comics

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

This Damned Band writer Paul Cor­nell talks magic, mu­sic and the vi­o­lent ’70s.

Some­thing strange was afoot in the 1970s. As the previous decade’s dreams of peace and love crum­bled be­neath a wave of po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, a strange new trend took hold – some­thing that cul­tural his­to­rian Matthew Sweet calls the “age of Black Aquarius”. Sud­denly mag­ick, Sa­tanism and the oc­cult were in vogue and ev­ery­where, from books to fash­ion and even chil­dren’s TV (what other decade could spawn the se­ri­ously strange Sky or Chil­dren

Of The Stones?). But nowhere were they more preva­lent than in the heady, cash-bloated world of rock.

There was poor old David Bowie, lost to drugs and para­noia, im­mers­ing him­self in the kab­balah and try­ing to ward off witches. Led Zep­pelin declar­ing their al­le­giance to Lucifer and carv­ing Aleis­ter Crowley quo­ta­tions into their vinyl. And, as the decade went on, the se­ri­ously sin­is­ter sounds of self-con­fessed in­dus­trial oc­cultists, Throb­bing Gris­tle.

To this list, add Mother­fa­ther, the fic­tional pro­tag­o­nists of This

Damned Band, the six-part se­ries from Paul Cor­nell, Tony Parker and Lovern Kindzier­ski. The big­gest rock band of 1974, they are self-pro­claimed Satanists – and com­plete frauds. What they don’t ex­pect is for Lucifer to then ac­tu­ally show up at one of their gigs… It’s all fun and games un­til some­body loses a soul.

“I just wanted to look at peo­ple who sud­denly find out that some­thing they’d taken to be a fic­tion is hor­ri­bly true,” Paul told us. It’s the day af­ter Ti­tan’s Doc­tor Who Day (see page 87), the first is­sue of This Damned Band has been on sale for a few weeks, and it’s al­ready drawn an en­thu­si­as­tic re­sponse. “We’ve had bril­liant re­views. I think peo­ple have re­ally cot­toned on to what we’re do­ing.

“My model for this was the way that, for a brief pe­riod in the mid ’70s, loads of peo­ple in rock

bands were sup­pos­edly gay. Mick Jag­ger used to in­sist he was gay and hav­ing an af­fair with David Bowie! And Bowie him­self – whether or not he was even vaguely bi­sex­ual is open to ques­tion. But what if one of their other pre­ten­sions turned out to ac­tu­ally be true?”

Mother­fa­ther don’t seem like com­mit­ted devo­tees of the dark arts. There’s space cadet front­man Justin, do­mes­ti­cated gui­tarist Kev, sex pest bassist Alex, ar­che­typal drum­mer Bob and side­lined orig­i­nal mem­ber Clive. “The sheer amount of money slop­ping around in rock in the 1970s meant that ev­ery small ges­ture be­came ex­ag­ger­ated. Band mem­bers’ per­son­al­i­ties were ex­ag­ger­ated too.”

In hind­sight, the oc­cult fad feels like a blip in his­tory. “You could buy a black mass as a two vol­ume LP set! It was ex­tra­or­di­nary. And Dennis Wheat­ley, who was this 1920s pot­boiler au­thor, sud­denly be­comes an in­ter­na­tional best­seller. You just can­not imag­ine Marvel do­ing a comic called Son of Satan now, can you?”

But why did the cul­ture turn in­wards to the es­o­teric? “I think it was a re­ac­tion to the vi­o­lence of the decade – ev­ery­thing from Viet­nam to Baader-Mein­hof. Peo­ple were see­ing in their liv­ing rooms, for the first time, scenes of ex­treme vi­o­lence. And judg­ing by the lev­els of lead in the air back then, a lot of peo­ple have said that there might even be a chem­i­cal ba­sis for that vi­o­lence.

“I re­mem­ber that feel­ing. I re­mem­ber sit­ting in my dad’s in­sur­ance of­fice in a tiny town in Wiltshire and be­ing sur­rounded by threat­en­ing skin­heads – who’d pre­sum­ably come in to check their life pol­icy! The gen­er­a­tion that came along af­ter World War II, the hip­pie gen­er­a­tion, thought utopia was on the way, and that went sour so fast and those ideas just hit the ground. With that and the eco­nomic col­lapse and the vi­o­lence, you can sort of see why a lot of peo­ple started look­ing into the darker cor­ners of the oc­cult.”

Dab­blers and devo­tees

Was there any­thing more to it than just a bit of spooky glam­our? Were any of these bands sin­cere in their be­liefs? “I find the oc­cultism of those times quite charm­ingly naive and ro­man­tic, ac­tu­ally,” Paul laughs. “They’re cer­tainly wor­ship­ping a Lucifer who is mis­un­der­stood. They’re ba­si­cally wor­ship­ping a good god, a god of light who they have clothed in a Lu­cife­rian dress to al­low them­selves to feel slightly cooler. But then there were also peo­ple like Crowley, whose work I’m fas­ci­nated by and who I think is a gen­uinely in­ter­est­ing stu­dent of the hu­man psy­che. A con­man, to a cer­tain ex­tent, but a good one, and those

two things are not in­com­pat­i­ble with each other.

“Do you know about the Oath of the Abyss?” Paul asks, sud­denly. “It’s an oath that Crowley made cer­tain peo­ple take, which he said was guar­an­teed to send any­one in­sane. It’s very sim­ple: you swear to find mean­ing in ev­ery­thing that hap­pens. I don’t think I would last a day! But isn’t it in­ter­est­ing that he con­ceived and for­mu­lated and cod­i­fied some­thing so sedi­tious and dan­ger­ous in the hu­man psy­che as a ques­tion? That sums him up, re­ally. He’s a gen­uinely in­ter­est­ing fig­ure.”

Comics them­selves have a long his­tory with the oc­cult. There’s Grant Mor­ri­son, per­haps the most out­spo­ken writer of his gen­er­a­tion on the sub­ject and Alan Moore who, on the eve of his 50th birth­day, de­clared him­self a prac­tis­ing ma­gi­cian. And as a sub­ject mat­ter it’s ev­ery­where. You’ll rarely find an is­sue of 2000

AD these days with no oc­cult themed strip; Kieron Gillen’s

Phono­gram mixes mu­sic with magic, and Marvel’s Dr Strange is soon to con­quer cinema screens with Sher­lock him­self, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, ful­fill­ing the role of the sor­ceror supreme.

The power of archetypes

What’s the link? “I think it’s the busi­ness of archetypes. So many of us have had en­coun­ters or con­tact ex­pe­ri­ences with what we think of as oth­er­worldly pow­ers, my­self in an Angli­can con­text. I was also a Wic­can prac­ti­tioner and I never fell out of love with that. They are very much about us­ing the power of archetypes to heal one­self. It’s not as sim­ple as ‘I wish I was Su­per­man and could beat the bul­lies’. It’s read­ing Chris Clare­mont’s X-Men when I was in par­tic­u­larly bad places as a kid. That healed some­thing in­side of me us­ing the power of archetypes. Su­per­hero comic writ­ing and mag­ick are not very far di­vorced from each other. I think that ex­plains a lot about Grant, Alan and maybe me too.” Is the devil in This Damned

Band the Chris­tian devil? Has Cor­nell worked out the cos­mol­ogy to this uni­verse? “To some de­gree. I asked for some­thing scary and not horns and a tail and all that from Tony. And I men­tioned mul­ti­ple faces, be­cause I was think­ing of one of the an­gels from Rev­e­la­tion who has a sword for a tongue. He’s pro­vided the vis­ual of that devil very well. I don’t my­self be­lieve in a sen­tient form of evil. I think

there are peo­ple who are shit. But in fic­tional terms I wanted to present the band with some­thing that was much more than they were ex­pect­ing and ac­tu­ally dis­con­nected enough from fic­tional ver­sions they would have seen.”

So this isn’t a Ham­mer hor­ror evil? “He com­mu­ni­cates with the band, but he’s ob­vi­ously a step up from what they can deal with. And he re­mains very much in the back­ground un­til the aw­ful things play out, so they’re never quite sure of the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion they’re in un­til too late.”

Hell is (not) other peo­ple

Aside from the cos­mic weird­ness,

This Damned Band is a very char­ac­ter-led comic. There’s the band, of course, and also the women who sur­round them – wives and groupies, mostly, but well de­vel­oped, and deal­ing with this sit­u­a­tion very dif­fer­ently from the band. “They’re hugely ig­nored by most of the band mem­bers. Sum­mer­flower, the groupie who is into the mys­tic, she knows what’s go­ing on way be­fore the band do, but they con­tin­u­ally ig­nore and don’t even reg­is­ter what she’s say­ing to them. This is all about men miss­ing their bet­ter judge­ment and miss­ing the bet­ter judge­ment of other peo­ple. Sum­mer­flower’s magic comes to be re­ally im­por­tant, es­pe­cially in the haunted chateau scenes...”

And how about the cam­era crew who are film­ing all of the crazi­ness as it goes down? To what ex­tent will we get to know them? “We’re go­ing to see them when things get re­ally fraught. We al­ways re­mem­ber that they’re there and that they might be af­fected by what’s in front of them.” Cor­nell has spo­ken in the past of sitcom Parks and Recre­ation as a di­rect in­flu­ence on the se­ries. “In Parks and Rec they let them­selves do im­pos­si­ble things from time to time, like hav­ing scenes with peo­ple alone in the mid­dle of the for­est, but we don’t do that. We re­mem­ber that peo­ple are there hold­ing the cam­eras. Tony is very good at re­mem­ber­ing how many cam­eras they’ve got and how many dif­fer­ent an­gles they can take and things like that.”

How did their col­lab­o­ra­tion come about? “Dark Horse gave me a se­lec­tion of three or four artists and I loved what they showed


me of his. He looked in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile and that’s turned out to be the case. You should hear Tony talk about his fash­ion re­search and the way peo­ple looked then. He’s gone for ’70s beauty as well. Aes­thetic stan­dards have changed in peo­ple as well as fash­ion. Not only have these guys been clothed cor­rectly, they are also the sort of peo­ple who would have risen to fame on the ba­sis of their looks at the time. And Lovern, the colourist, the way that he can add to a scene with a very ’70s pal­ette...”

Will Mother­fa­ther end up in heaven or hell? Paul’s not say­ing. But he’s ex­cited about what’s next for him: a new graphic novel set in the World Of War­craft movie uni­verse. Bonds Of Brother­hood comes out in mid 2016, drawn by Mat Broome and pub­lished by Le­gendary Pic­tures’ own im­print, Le­gendary Comics. “I re­ally en­joyed do­ing that. It’s the pro­logue to the movie and fea­tures char­ac­ters who are in it. I can’t say who they are!”

The big ques­tion about that film, of course, is: will it be any good? Af­ter all, video games adap­ta­tions haven’t ex­actly had a stel­lar hit rate so far. “I’ve seen the movie in an early ver­sion and it’s in­cred­i­ble,” Paul


re­veals. “It’s got a Star Wars- y vibe to it. It’s a re­ally ac­ces­si­ble, highly emo­tional, highly char­ac­ter-based fan­tasy movie – and how of­ten do you get that? It feels ready. It’s got that whole­ness, that sat­is­fy­ing­ness of some­thing like Lord Of The

Rings. It’s Dun­can Jones, who I met and talked to briefly about this. Mat’s had won­der­ful ac­cess to draw the var­i­ous char­ac­ters and mon­sters in­volved.” This it­self could be seen as a ten­u­ous link back to This

Damned Band – well, if you squint a bit. Dun­can Jones is, of course, the son of David Bowie.

Tak­ing comics se­ri­ously

Cor­nell’s ca­reer has been long been di­verse. There’s Doc­tor Who, of course, of which he re­mains a pas­sion­ate fan. Af­ter a cou­ple of early false starts, his nov­els have bro­ken through with the Shadow

Po­lice se­ries, Lon­don Fall­ing and its se­quel, The Sev­ered Streets, win­ning a new fan­base. But he keep com­ing back to comics.

“I like work­ing with a small team,” he ex­plains. “You can

make tiny ad­just­ments at the last mo­ment – chang­ing a lit­tle bit of di­a­logue to suit an ex­pres­sion. It’s you, the artist, the colourist and the edi­tor, and that’s a re­ally good feel­ing. I love get­ting pages of art in my in­box and see­ing how an artist has built on what I have de­scribed.”

But what is it about the medium that’s so spe­cial? What keeps him ex­cited about comics? “If tele­vi­sion and film are pared­down life, are tak­ing a se­lec­tion of scenes out of what might be seen as the stream of re­al­ity and cut­ting in the right places to cre­ate an ef­fect, then comics are even more pre­cise. You have to choose sin­gle im­ages and cut be­tween them at the right points. I think that with ev­ery move­ment down to a finer grain, some­thing is gained. So, from stream­ing re­al­ity to long cuts in cinema and tele­vi­sion to sin­gle im­ages in comics, I think our brain is en­gaged in a dif­fer­ent way. You can feel the beat of the num­ber of pan­els per page in a comic, as Alan Moore proved so fa­mously, and you can in­flu­ence the reader in many un­con­scious ways, such as set­ting up in the last panel [on a page] an ex­pec­ta­tion of what’s go­ing to be the first thing on the page turn.

“I re­ally en­joy artists who will break the un­con­scious vis­ual gram­mar of a page setup in or­der to dis­turb the reader. One of the eas­i­est ways to do that is to have char­ac­ters run off into the dis­tance on the right-hand page, in the bot­tom left-hand cor­ner. It feels dis­turb­ing, there’s a sense of wrong­ness about it! I think there’s a level of con­trol that’s pos­si­ble in comics that you get in very few places. The more we un­earth of what comics artists in par­tic­u­lar are do­ing in­stinc­tively and un­con­sciously and the more we bring into open skill sets, the bet­ter. There may be a lot more to dis­cover and a lot more ways of do­ing things.”

Above: This Damned

Band is told as if we’re see­ing a film crew mak­ing a documentary about the band. Dark Horse is pro­mot­ing it as “Spinal Tap meets

Ghost­busters”. It’s rude and funny and def­i­nitely not for kids.

This page: Paul Cor­nell says this black com­edy takes swipes at spe­cific tar­gets, “with our band as avatars of many dif­fer­ent rock leg­ends.” Any re­sem­blance to per­sons liv­ing or dead... is purely satir­i­cal.

This page: Paul is full of praise for artist Tony Parker’s skill at de­pict­ing char­ac­ters who fit the place and time. “Tony’s wry, ex­pres­sive char­ac­ter work, sense of comic tim­ing and abil­ity to change styles con­trib­ute hugely to the ef­fect.”

Above: The se­ries is “a de­pic­tion of how ex­treme the life of a tour­ing band was back then, with some big emo­tions at its heart,” Paul says. “It’s also of­ten very

silly. As well as some­times dis­turb­ing, and some­times quite ten­der. I hope it rocks.”

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