On Tuesday, the first issue of This Damned Band, written Paul Cornell (Doctor Who) and art by Tony Parker (Mass Effect: Foundation), went on sale. It’s the tale of a famous seventies rock band whose fake Satan worship has very real occult consequences. We talked to Cornell about how he managed to put all of this on the page.
io9: There are a lot of genres and conventions at work in This Damned Band — 70s, mockumentary, rock music, the occult — how do you make all those elements work?
Paul Cornell: They seem to me to naturally fit together. I like stories about professionals in one area getting blindsided when they encounter something from another field, leaving them completely out of their depth. For a bunch of very un-self-aware rich musicians, pretend Satanists, to actually run into Satan, that seems like a rich seam to mine, for comedy, satire, and emotion.
The mockumentary aspects lets us see the enormous gap between what our heroes say and what they do. There’s a little distance between us and Spinal Tap, apart from the supernatural element, in that I’m trying to get readers to connect with these characters, not just laugh at them. There’s also a lot of pain in here, particularly concerning the role of women in touring rock bands of the time. It’s satire with a heart, I hope.
What is it about 70s rock bands that’s so thrilling? What has rock music lost since then?
Money. Even the most famous acts don’t, these days, make the sort of global power incomes the biggest ones of the 1970s did. Having to manage that much cash, while out of one’s mind and believing your own hype, isn’t that interesting? Such bands acted more like gangsters than governments, aware that their audiences encouraged and enjoyed their excesses. Only gangsters have some thought to how it all might end.
What are the challenges of taking a world partially built on audio into comics?
I was determined not to make a mistake I’ve seen duplicated often in comics: we don’t ‘hear’ any lyrics. The music is entirely suggested by the poses Tony Parker (who is the most incredible, adaptable artist), has the band adopt onstage. The soundtrack is kept where it belongs, in the head of the reader.
You’re also adapting a style famous in TV and movies — the mockumentary — into a comic. Why choose it?
It’s something I think works really well in comics, and I’ve never seen it done. The grammar of cutting between various different kinds of scene comes naturally to the page. In This Damned Band we’re got to-camera interviews, concert footage, handheld footage following the band around, and, most wonderfully, for sequences where ‘no camera was present’, the narrative continues as if ‘drawn by a local artist’ to whom the band have recounted their testimony, for instance the internal worlds revealed during a magic mushroom trip. In the first two issues, they’re in Japan, so Tony’s adopted a manga-influenced style for those, and in the second two, we move to France, so he’s done his best Herge. It’s beautiful stuff.
When you do comics in established worlds and established characters, a lot of the worldbuilding is already done. What are the benefits and drawbacks to building a new comic from scratch?
It’s wonderful to be absolutely in control of introducing a new bunch of characters, getting people to care about them, and be absolutely in control of what the ending is, and what might follow. Also, I get to write lovely back-up material, like a discography for the band, complete with album covers, and their rock family tree!
This Damned Band #1 is available as a digital comic through Dark Horse.
Top image: Teaser image by Tony Parker
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