FEATURE: Comic Book Tattoo: Rantz Hoseley

When Davecat first found out about Comic Book Tattoo, the Tori Amos-inspired story collection written and illustrated by over eighty of the best and brightest working in comics today, underneath the elation and jumping and clapping there was a tinge of something else. Like being watched, almost.

Do you ever have the feeling that someone you don't even know has made something especially with you in mind?

Davecat likes comic books. Davecat likes Tori Amos (okay, Davecat loves Tori Amos). But Davecat likes a lot of things separately that haven't panned out when combined, like acting and Quentin Tarantino, or bicycles and jousting. Video games are pretty good, but when combined with movies they wind up being not so very good (looking at you, Silent Hill).

However, none of those things, even jousting, are as near and dear to his heart as art, writing, and music. But all three? Together? What if something went wrong? The more you love something, the more of a potential there is that changing it, or adding to it, or combining them all into one big smoothie, could make it all go terribly wrong.

Of course, as soon as he picked the book up, he realized all the worrying was for nothing. Especially (and this is where you come in) since he talked to several of the artists and writers of Comic Book Tattoo beforehand and interviewed them for Globecat's first big feature! There's nothing like good discussions with the smart, talented people behind a project to wash away any doubts about it, and Davecat talked with a lot of them for this feature.

Over the next week or two, Globecat will be sharing these interviews with you, starting today with the man who put it all together, Comic Book Tattoo's editor, Rantz Hoseley. A long-time friend of Tori's, Rantz also wrote two of the stories in the book, based on the songs "The Waitress" and "Mr. Zebra," and was instrumental in helping us put together many of the interviews with the other artists and writers, for which we are extremely grateful.

It is our great honor to present to you: Rantz Hoseley! And please check back over the next few days for the rest of the feature, featuring the lovely and talented:
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick
  • Ming Doyle
  • Tom William

>>>> In the press release for the anthology, you say that "Comic Book Tattoo is the pure distillation of how these two art forms [music and comics] inspire and feed off of each other across all the classifications, genres and styles of comic storytelling." The phrase "pure distillation" definitely stands out for me as the key: What about the collection and the way it came together makes it transcend just "art about music" or "comics inspired by songs" and become something so refined as to be a distillation of arts?

I think a large part of it comes with Tori’s and my ‘mission statement’ for the book... that the book reflect how one form of art inspires and fuels another, and that this not just be a case of ‘videos in comic book form’. Tori’s been inspired by comics for years... the most obvious reference being Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but she’s certainly had music and songs that were sparked and inspired by more comics than just that one. The thing with the arts, if they are well done, is that the inspirations aren’t always apparent on the surface when someone takes it in. Movies and film can inspire music, which might inspire a work of prose, which in turn might inspire a series of paintings, which in turn might inspire a graphic designer, and so on. In that same way, we wanted the creators who contributed to Comic Book Tattoo, to really get to the emotional essence of the songs, to use the themes, the tones, the cadence and pacing, to be that inspirational springboard to fuel their creation, rather than being hung up in the whole notion of worrying about whether or not ‘this is what Tori meant with the song’. To Tori and I it was more important to show how one form of art can inspire different types of reactions in creators and how those inspirations become something wild and wonderful when you get so many creators who all have their distinctive styles and artistic ‘voices’. Tori herself said in another interview that it’s an ‘endless cycle potentially’, since the stories produced in CBT have inspired new songs in her, new directions for her to riff on musically. I think that whole approach and the resulting book, is what sets it apart.

>>>> You've been friends with Tori for a very long time, and comic books are a big part of your life. What made now the right time for Comic Book Tattoo, as opposed to, say, ten years ago? What was the final impetus that got everything rolling for what would eventually become this anthology?

Well 10 years ago, I don’t think the market was ready for it. It (the comic industry) was going through a bit of financial problems due to growing pains, and a general lack of direction. Also you had a lot of creators leaving comics at that time. God knows I did. It just seemed like a place that wasn’t really open or accepting of anything different or unique and the few singular voices in comics were stand out exceptions, rather than the rule. Not that there was anything wrong with comics as a form of creative expression... just that the market was going through one of those cycles that all art forms go through where it wasn’t growing, where it was repeating a lot of the same old same old, and just was kinda boring.

By comparison now, there are so many exciting creators making comics with very unique and different approaches and styles. Those creators have made such an impact that now you have companies like Marvel and DC, who historically are a bit resistant to anything ‘different’, now hiring these creators to take on some of their highest profile books without expecting them to change their style... Just look at a writer like Matt Fraction. He has his creator-owned book Casanova, which is one of the most kinetic, surreal, and brain-f’ing comics to come out in years, and now he’s the guy writing Marvel’s X-Men and Iron Man. I don’t think I’m being too cynical when I say it seems unlikely that would have been the case 10 years ago.

So comics now I think are ripe and ready for something as ambitious and different as CBT. That assessment had kinda been building in the back of my head for a couple years, but really the trigger point was seeing Image put out so many books with a music-themed element. From Phonogram, to the back matter in Casanova where Matt explains the soundtrack of the book and compares the panel pacing to the Phil Spector wall of sound, to Amory War (the Coheed and Cambria comic) and so on... that just kept building until finally I talked with them about it last San Diego comicon. They agreed that the time was right, and that the project sounded great, so... off we went.

>>>> There has been a lot of crossover between the music world and the comic book world over the past couple years: MF Grimm's Sentences, Gerard Way's (of My Chemical Romance) The Umbrella Academy, Phonogram: Rue Britannia, PopGun, the Belle and Sebastian book, The Hold Steady and Subtle (among others) including a graphic novel with their latest albums, etc. etc. What do you see as the driving force behind the large number of music-related comics recently? Is this a new trend, or is there just more attention being paid to the music-comic interplay now (and if so, why do you think that is)?

Well, it’s always been there in one form or another. Look at the 50’s... you had comics based on pop music stars, in the 60s you had people name-dropping Bob Dylan, in the 70’s you had Marvel putting out the KISS comics, the 80’s had those... um... interesting... ‘Rock n Roll’ comics that were bios of various bands and so on. I think now, you have more ‘back-n-forth’ between the two forms, because what used to be geek culture has become the mainstream. Look at the two big films of the summer, Batman and Iron Man. That’s not even getting into the rest like Hellboy 2 or the X-Files movie... The geeks and nerds who used to watch Star Trek after school and read comic books have become the people who make entertainment these days. Frank Miller’s making movies, Joss Whedon’s writing comics. That kind of reciprocal relationship between art forms carries through to music as well, and so you’ve got a generation that grew up loving comics, now demonstrating that love back through their own respective art forms. I think it’s only going to get stronger, and the blurry line between the art forms is just going to get fuzzier over time.

>>>> What made you choose "Mr. Zebra"? What about that song spoke to you more than any other?

I’ve always had a fondness for Mr. Zebra’s Dadaist structure... When James Stokoe became available at the last minute, I knew it had to be a short story in order to fit his schedule, and it also had to serve his art style, which is this wonderfully manic-yet-stoned, detail-oriented surrealist style that always references cooking in some way. With that in mind, "Mr. Zebra" seemed to be an obvious choice.

>>>> "Mr. Zebra" is a delightfully strange song: whimsical in tone, with a surreal -- and sometimes dark -- lyric about animals and whirlpools and burying someone alive, all in just over one minute. What struggles did you have in taking such an odd piece of music and then building into a whole different art form? How difficult was it to match tonally?

When I designed the tour programme for Boys for Pele, I had different comic artists and painters do one page illustrations to go with the lyrics. For "Mr. Zebra" I had my and Tori’s friend Andrew Brandou, who does this wonderfully dark-yet-whimsical style, paint a riff on the ‘dogs playing poker’, except it was painted with Zebras. I’ve always seen "Mr. Zebra" in my head... this cynical, haggard Zebra who really is kind of put-upon by life... kind of a mix between Ricky Ricardo and Krusty the Clown. So, in writing the story for CBT, I just let the stream of consciousness-nature of the story dictate it out. Of course Mr. Zebra’s a burned out hack of a talk show host. Of course he has recurring guests, and of course one of those would be the chef Kaiser Wilhelm. It came incredibly easy and was a blast. Perhaps, given the nature of the story, that should worry me somewhat...

>>>> What was the most obscure song someone chose to illustrate? Which stories surprised you the most (in terms of style, approach to the project, relationship with the song the artists chose, etc.)?

Probably "Pirates," to answer all of those questions. Ivan Brandon and Calum Watt said that they wanted to do it, and I just thought they were pulling my leg for a minute, since it’s a little-known song off Tori’s Y Kant Tori Read album, which she has understandably distanced herself from. Ivan’s a ‘cutting edge’ kind of writer... he’s always on the look out for the next cool and inspiring thing... god knows he’s turned me on to a ton of artists and writers who ended up becoming huge, and yet he’s wanting to do a song from Tori’s ‘hair band years’?!? I really couldn’t wrap my head around it, but I also trust he and Calum’s chops, so I let them run with it. The end result is something I couldn’t have imagined in a million years, and is really stunning. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Laurenn McCubbin also took a very different kind of approach with one of Tori’s mainstays “Silent All These Years" that will surprise a lot of people, but Tori and I loved the approach, and the nerve it took for them to go that route.

>>>> When the average persons hears the words "comic books," they think of the DC and Marvel superhero rosters: Batman, Superman, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk. Is that a hurdle you think Comic Book Tattoo will have to overcome in drawing in new readers who may not go for superhero stories, or have never picked up a comic book or a graphic novel before?

We were very aware of that fact from the beginning, so all of the choices that were made, the book dimensions (12” x 12”), the art-reproduction-quality paper stock, the book design, the artist we chose for the cover... all of those were made to give the book more of a feeling of being a coffee table art book instead of a comic book. Everyone loves comics, they love the format. There’s a reason newspapers have a comic section. But at the same time, as you said, there’s this hang up that many adults have about buying a ‘comic book’, so we gave them a book that with its format and packaging, not to mention the lush art inside of the book, that they could subconsciously justify it as ‘oh, I’m buying a art book for my coffee table... it’s not really a comic’. Based on the reaction from people at BEA, who are ‘book folk’ moreso than comic fans, I think we’ve hit that sweet spot dead on.

>>>> In the same vein, what does the anthology have to offer those who love superheroes and science fiction more than anything?

There’s a hugely wide variety of styles and genres in CBT. Traditional comic fans... those who love the more action-driven elements, will find a lot to love in CBT, as will the kind of comic fans who like more of the ‘human drama’ element found in the more ‘indie’ comics.

>>>> There are some very big names in this collection, and then there are some artists and writers who are perhaps a bit lesser known. Who among the less-famous contributors really blew you away and left you excited to hear more from them in the future?

It was funny, because the lesser-known creators on the project were creators that I had come across on various comic forums... people who were trying to ‘break in’ to comics, but hadn’t had their ‘big break’ yet. I picked them because I felt, looking at the work they had done, that was up on their sites... each of them was going to be huge. That wasn’t in question, it was just a matter of *when* it would happen. The funny part comes in that, every one of these creators, in the time it’s taken to complete CBT and get it out, has gone on to do other comic work, and in some cases gotten quite a bit of noise for their efforts. I consider myself very blessed to have Ming Doyle draw the story I wrote for "The Waitress," because she’s going to be so big, so quickly, I’ll probably never be able to get to work with her again because companies will be throwing oodles of money at her to draw their ‘hot’ book. Across the board, I’m confident that in five years times if you look back at CBT you’ll see every one of these ‘new kids’ being major forces in comics.