Comic books and rock and roll have been strange bedfellows for nearly 20 years. First, there was KISS: Marvel Comics Super Special #1 rendered the Knights in Satan's Service in glorious four-color artwork back in 1977. KISS was so popular that they warranted a second go-around in Super Special #5 — plus a cameo in Howard the Duck #12. In 1981, Marvel once again delved into the world of music with Dazzler, a fictional young singer whose mutant powers activated whenever she belted out disco tunes. Since then, everyone from Cheap Trick to Metallica to Alice Cooper has been featured in the pages of a comic book.
Recently, the hiphop community got into the act, represented by Public Enemy, Kid-N-Play and Hammer. Late last year, rapper/edutainer KRS-One joined forces with comic artist Kyle Baker (of Why I Hate Saturn fame) to create Break the Chain, the first “psychosonic” comic — one that comes with a tape of music and dialogue to play while you read. Other rappers with Marvel comics in the works include Onyx, Chuck D, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Enter Glenn Danzig: The beefcake demonthraller has grown weary of the heavy-metal throne and is out to expand his empire. Danzig formed Verotik Publishing (as in, “very erotic”) in 1994 to create his own line of original comics. But unlike his contemporaries, Danzig doesn't want to be just another musical superstar reduced to superhero caricature; his comics don't cross-promote his music or the industry. Danzig is more ambitious: He plans to usher in a new era of underground comics. Already, his fledgling company has released two titles that quickly sold out across the country: the bimonthly anthology Verotika and Illustrations Arcanum, a 72-page tome showcasing new work by Frank Frazetta, the classic swords-'n'-sorcery graphic artist whose work appeared on the covers of two Molly Hatchet albums. Satanika (based on a character created by Danzig) has just hit the stands, and Deathdealer — jointly created by Danzig, Frazetta and hot U.K. artist Simon Bisley — is soon to come.
But this “new era” Danzig touts looks suspiciously like the old: Verotik's titles are a retro recharge, a throwback to the male-centered fantasies that flourished in the late '50s and early '60s. Frazetta's book is rife with big-breasted damsels in distress, who are menaced by thick-jowled, reptilian behemoths only to be rescued by weapon-wielding barbarians. The title character of the Satanika series, a G-string-clad half-woman/half-demon, is hellbent on hunting down and destroying her Stygian-born father. And the premiere issue of Verotika features a blind, sex-mad blonde who undergoes an extensive S/M initiation rite.
Like his turgid pop-metal music, Danzig's comics operate on a Grand Guignol scale. Verotik's cast of characters are larger than life: They exist in a realm where melodrama, tension, horror and shock are the norm, sex and violence rule, and evil is the ultimate seduction. It's all strikingly similar to the quasi-satanic bombast and gothic undertones that adorn Danzig's live perform-ances.
To realize his dark, hallucinatory visions on the page, Danzig handpicked some of the best talents in the comics business, including Grant Morrison, Jae Lee, novelist Nancy Collins and Eric Kinetti, who's done work on MTV's Liquid Television serial Aeon Flux. Renowned artist Mike Kaluta is working on a line of Verotik trading cards; later Danzig plans to release unpublished work by his all-time favorite — the late, great Marvel Comics pioneer, Jack Kirby.
A comics connoisseur since the age of five, Danzig got into the business because of the “crap” that's been flooding the market. Danzig wants his comics to rise above the pack of leotard-clad, goody two-shoes heroes and cookie-cutter storylines that have dominated the mainstream scene recently. “There's nothing wrong with Superman or The X-Men, but I remember back in the mid-'70s underground explosion — with Richard Corben and all that — there was some serious storytelling going on,” Danzig recalls. “Those were comics for adults, and radical for that time, although what we're doing now makes that stuff look kinda tame.
“Nowadays,” he snarls, “it seems like everyone just wants to put out these PG- or G-rated characters, make money and sell them as a TV series. There's a whole market out there that loves comics, but doesn't want to read that stuff anymore. We're just trying to give people great stories, great artwork and cutting-edge topics.”
Danzig's storytelling aspirations are where Verotik's real innovation lies. His writers reach beyond the spectrum of ordinary comics literature. Gone are the traditional Good vs. Evil plot lines; in their place Verotik lays out a shadowy, moral gray area. “We use short-story and horror novel writers like Nancy Collins, who won the Bram Stoker award for her female vampire book, Sunglasses After Dark. See, I didn't want the usual comic-book writers, because for the most part they have really big egos, which I think are entirely unwarranted,” Danzig laughs. “That'll probably make me a lot of enemies, but I'm not using those people anyway. I don't like their style — it's too wordy, definitely egotistical and it borders on the corny.
“When I read a story, I don't like seeing 18 million word balloons on the pages. American comic artists have the tendency to just draw pinups of people posing. In European and Japanese comics, it's different. The artwork is supposed to tell half the story. When I write for us, I work through the whole story with the artist panel by panel, page by page, so we don't clutter things up with too much narrative. I learned a long time ago that the simplest things are the most complex,” Danzig explains. “So many things can be read into these simple stories.”
Verotik's other goal is an important one: preservation. Danzig wants to impart a sense of the history behind comic books, hence the Frank Frazetta and Jack Kirby projects. “We're also gonna put together a reprint book of Blue Bolt, the classic strip by Kirby and Joe Simon,” he says. “It seems that no one cares about history at companies like Marvel and DC. For us, it's a labor of love, a way to pay back a debt. We want to preserve the stuff before it turns into pulp and you can't even read it anymore.”
As for whether or not Danzig will ever tie his music into the comics, who knows? “Maybe eventually,” he says. “I've got a few ideas, but it won't be anything like a comic with a tape. If I ever tie the two together, you can be sure I'll surprise you.”
Glenn Danzig and his band perform with Marilyn Manson and Korn Fri, March 24, at the Warfield in S.F.; call 775-7722. Verotik comic books can be found at Comics & Comix, Comic Relief and Comix Experience.