David Bowie and comics are a perfect fit. The man who sang that we’ve “got to make way for the homo-superior” has appeared in his own Marvel comic (the Labyrinth adaptation written by Sid Jacobson and illustrated by none other than John Buscema) and his music is featured on the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy. His ex-wife Angie once owned the rights to produce a movie adaptation of Daredevil and his son Duncan Jones has just published the graphic novel Madi. He is now the subject of the illustrated autobiography Rebel Rebel: Chapter One by Con Chrisoulis.
Publisher: Con Chrisoulis
Writer: Con Chrisoulis
Artist: Con Chrisoulis
Price: £1.59 from ComiXology
As title suggests, Rebel Rebel: Chapter One focuses on the roots of Bowie, exploring his school days, family and his musical first loves. The research is impeccable and there’s plenty here that a lifelong Bowie-fan like myself (I’m listening to Bowie as I write this…) didn’t know. We find out how his older brother Terry’s passion for jazz, particularly Coltrane and Mingus, broadened young David’s musical horizons and how his father’s job in promotions meant he got to bring home lots of new records before they were released, much to his son’s delight. We also find out, however, how much his mother who abandoned her career as a singer to raise her children resented her son’s early success: “It was thought that I’d have a career in music. Then you came along.”
Chrisoulis mixes his telling of Bowie’s story with archive interviews with Bowie himself, family members and other who knew his at the time. He links events from Bowie’s childhood to songs that he feels they inspired in footnotes. At times there is too much information with pages containing Chrisoulis’ narration, excepts from interviews, illustrations and family trees. Some of the information seems a little bit tenuous. Do we really need a full page on the life of Little Richard just because he was one of Bowie’s favourite singers? Or family details like “Excited by Gamal Nasser’s reforms in Egypt, (Bowie’s half-sister) Annette’s fiancé persuades her to move with him to his home country”? And is Bowie’s hometown of Bromley really the “motherland of dystopian sci-fi”? By the time Rebel Rebel: Chapter One is over Bowie is still only ten years old. Seeing as the cover features Bowie in full Diamond Dogs Halloween Jack attire, many readers might have expected to be further on in a life story with so many twists and turns.
Chrisoulis also illustrates Rebel Rebel as well as writing it. His cartoonish black and white art is quite striking, mixing realistic renderings of 1950s and sixties suburbia with flights of fancy such as an imagining of brother Terry’s schizophrenic episodes and infant David’s reality-warping perception of the world around him. At times moments of colour invade his monochrome existence, hinting at what’s to come.
If you want a comic that covers the life of Bowie in one volume your best bet is probably Steve Horton, Michael Allred and Laura Allred’s Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns and Moonage Daydreams. Arguably Rebel Rebel: Chapter One has got more in common with Dylan Jones’ definitive David Bowie: A Life biography in terms of its attention to detail and use of interviews with Bowie and those who knew him best. Book One implies that there is more to come and I’m looking forward to seeing how Chrisoulis brings to life the rest of an incredible story. Whether you are in your Golden Years of being a Bowie fan or whether you are an Absolute Beginner (sorry…) it’s certainly worth investigating Rebel Rebel.