Oct 12, 2016

Still Another Different Kind of Album

Is it wrong for me to admit that I only picked up the Students of the Unusual Music Special because it came with a free CD? It’s playing in the background as I compose this piece. If the following wanders a bit, it’s my mind wandering over to the music.

It’s been a long, long time since I wrote about the links between music and comics. Life happens, I suppose.




This package presents an interesting contrast to my first piece on the relationship between music and comics, specifically the notion that the comic is the secondary aesthetic vehicle if it's used as cover art - in this case, the comic is initially the secondary vehicle due to my primary interest in the music. Having read the comic and listened to the CD, the question I'm forced to ask is is that hierarchy still maintained?

Before I attempt to answer the question, let's look at the two pieces of this publication. Students of the Unusual is produced and published by 3 Boys Productions, (yep, IMDB is the most official site I could find for them) a South-Florida based comics studio. This particular issue comes after a series proper, so I'll admit that I was a little lost as far as who the characters were, what their motivations might be, and who it was that they were having a wake for. I'm getting more and more used to this kind of dissociation as I make my way through my collection. It would be impossible for me to fully immerse myself in every single ongoing story that intersects with every comic I will read over the next 40 years. And this comic has to rank amongst the most obscure that I have. This issue isn't even in the Grand Comics Database (which I'll be remedying shortly, I promise), which only lists the series proper. As such, the amount of understanding I leave this comic with stands as a testament to either the blatancy of a recap or the skill of a creator's use of the form how well one can come to understand a story which one is dropped into part way through.

As far as I can tell, the stories were well-crafted, both scripting and art, but how they compare to their predecessors, I've no idea.

The music in this package is remarkably interesting. The CD is a compilation of songs inspired by the series itself and written and performed by independent South Florida bands. As such, the whole package gives us a snapshot of a very particular subculture from a very particular time (i.e., around the time of the comic's publication).

Unlike Break the Chains, the stories contained herein are not standalones. Each is dependent completely on knowledge of the previous issue. The argument could be made that this is a mark of very bad comics storytelling. But, as I note above, the stories seemed to be well-told, even if I had no idea who anyone was and how they knew each other. So I don’t think it’s a question of the comics being bad – what I think is happening with this issue is that it’s being produced for a very, very specific demographic. Consider that the album features 12 different, talented bands who have written songs specifically for this obscure comic – a comic that therefore must have been quite popular in its formative space. And if a band, local or otherwise, that one enjoys demonstrates that kind of reverence for a piece of writing, one is inclined to look into it. It worked on me when I first listened to Rush’s 2112, and read Ayn Rand’s  Anthem. Rand gets a bad rap, perhaps deservedly, but it was one of the first philosophical texts I read and thought about, so I have a soft spot for it.

I think this is a package designed specifically for mid-2000s, Melbourne, Florida comics and indie music scene people.

What this does to my personal reading of both of the components of the text is to force me to use solely technical knowledge in my assessment of which is primary aesthetic vehicle and which is secondary aesthetic vehicle. But I’m not sure I can make that distinction without being able to perform a contextual analysis from my own personal perspective, my personal knowledge of the context of a comic’s production. And I have none, save that I bought the comic in a comic store. I can’t even make the claim that the fact that the comic was procured thousands of kilometers from South Florida, but none of those bands may have ever made it out of their own area, as I haven’t researched each and every band. Perhaps one did make it even further than this comic. To achieve a proper reading of this comic, I’d have to have either been from or have deep knowledge of South Florida in the mid-2000s, understanding which parts of which subculture fed off one another, what the pecking order was.

What I’d like to do is track down the other issues of the series, so that I can at least gain a narrative understanding of the series. And considering that a few of the songs on the album appear to be about specific events in the comics, it will be interesting to be able to contrast the comics version to the song version.

I’ve a couple of other pieces to look at in coming weeks. One is this Dr. Seuss-style adaptation of the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song “Red Right Hand.” Delineation of primary versus secondary aesthetic vehicle in this one is very similar to the Static X situation, dependent almost wholly on whether you bring with you a knowledge of Cage or of Seuss, or of both. The other album I’d like to look at is called Secret Broadcast, and came packaged with an issue of Oni Double Feature. But I don't think anything else that I look at in this series will come close to matching the Students of the Unusual Music Special for its obscurity, and that, in and of itself, is reason enough to pay attention to it.

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