By Steve Guntli
With the summer season upon us, it seems nearly every movie, television show and Broadway production these days is based around some kind of costumed hero or another. While superheroes are great, comic books and graphic novels go far beyond capes and explosions, and their influences can be felt even in music.
“My Friend Dahmer” (2011)
By John “Derf” Backderf
Would we know evil if we saw it in our daily lives? That’s one of the questions posed in John “Derf” Backderf’s strange, touching illustrated memoir, “My Friend Dahmer.”
Backderf attended the same high school in rural Ohio as future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the late ’70s. The two were casual acquaintances who bonded over Dahmer’s bizarre sense of humor and willingness to do anything for a laugh.
As they got older and Dahmer grew stranger, the two drifted apart. Backderf went on to have a normal adolescence, made lifelong friends and went on to college. Dahmer grew more isolated, his thoughts increasingly dominated by his dark obsessions.
In the early 1990s, when details of Dahmer’s horrific crime spree started making the news, Backderf began to reflect on the strange kid he went to high school with, wondering if he ever saw the darkness within him and if there was anything he could have done.
This isn’t a true-crime narrative or tabloid exploitation. The details of Dahmer’s horrific crimes are largely left out of the story. What gives “My Friend Dahmer” its power is the way it casts banal interactions into stark relief. The simple, cartoony artwork captures the style of the era, while making the creepier elements all the more effective.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010)
Directed by Edgar Wright
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” represents the perfect confluence of a director and a source material. Edgar Wright, best known for bringing a kinetic energy and brilliant structure to British comedies like “Shaun of the Dead” and “The World’s End,” was the absolute perfect choice for Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series.
Scott (Michael Cera) is a shiftless 20-something musician looking for love in Toronto. When he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he knows he’s found his soul mate. The only problem is, she comes with baggage: namely, seven evil exes who he must face in a series of increasingly ridiculous showdowns.
The battles include a skateboarding challenge against a cocky movie star, a Bollywood-inspired dance number and a Godzilla-like showdown between two gigantic monsters made of music.
The movie is every bit as crazy as it sounds, but it’s incredibly fun to watch. Taking his visual cues from comic books and early ’90s video games, Wright packs every frame with visual innovation. The nerdy, gangly Cera makes a surprisingly compelling action hero, and for all the chaos onscreen, the movie shows a surprising amount of insight into maturity, relationships and perseverance.
“Demon Days” (2005)
Plenty of music has been inspired by comic books characters, but only one band can actually claim to be comic book characters. Gorillaz is the brainchild of Blur front man Damon Albarn and comic book artist James Hewlett. The pair felt pop music had become so artificial they could create an animated band and no one would know the difference. Seven platinum albums later, and their hypothesis appears to have been confirmed.
But while the group may have been founded as a cynical experiment, they’ve had surprising longevity and have shown a strong level of artistic growth.
The band’s second album, “Demon Days,” remains their best. Powered by the ubiquitous, unstoppable hooks of “Feel Good, Inc.,” the album took the group beyond the novelty of its creation and into the realms of pop legitimacy.
Built on a failed script idea for a Gorillaz movie, the album has a loose storyline, charting the group’s travels through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But the danceable rhythm and hip hop hooks (courtesy of collaborator Del the Funky Homosapien) offset the grim thematic material.
Each of these titles is available through the Blaine Public Library. To reserve a copy, visit the library or go to wcls.org.