The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 229 | Bee and PuppyCat takes the comics soundtrack to the next level

Leaving Proof 229 | Bee and PuppyCat takes the comics soundtrack to the next level
Published on Friday, June 13, 2014 by
In this week’s Leaving Proof: We look at how the latest issue of Bee and PuppyCat incorporates music in its storytelling. ALSO: We share the latest concept art from The Last Devil, discuss the recent changes to our site, and talk about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

- Actor, comedian, and musician Martin Mull

BeePuppyCat_02_coverAIn Bee and PuppyCat #2 released earlier this week by kaBOOM!, creators Natasha Allegri and Garrett Jackson make a bold creative choice, using the silent medium of comics as a platform to deliver music.

In the issue’s main standalone story, the eponymous leads are recruited on a mission to repair an extradimensional client’s broken music box. The client isn’t home when they get there, however, and the pair end up having to go through the house’s collection of music boxes and listen to one after another to figure out which one is broken. Instead of relying on the usual stylized visual sound effects or the more rare chord diagrams (like those used by Bryan Lee O’Malley in Scott Pilgrim) or actual musical notation (such as that used by Alan Moore and David Lloyd in V for Vendetta‘s “This Vicious Cabaret”) to portray the sounds issued by the music boxes, Allegri and Jackson use QR codes, those handy two-dimensional barcodes used in everything from car parts tracking to advertising, to direct readers to an unlisted YouTube video that contains the music in each music box (check out the last page in the preview gallery below to see and scan one of the music box QR codes).

femforce50

FemForce #50 came with a flexi disc of “The FemForce Theme.”

What makes this use of actual music in a comic quite novel isn’t the employment of digital technology to link readers to an online sound source. Marvel, through the Marvel AR app, has been using machine-readable optical labels to provide online DVD-style bonus features to its comics for a couple of years now. The tactic of providing actual recorded sound with comics isn’t even unique to the digital media era—older readers may remember getting comics with flexi disc inserts. Fantagraphics’ Critters #23 (April 1988) for example, came with a flexi disc that had Alan Moore and the Sinister Ducks playing a song entitled “March of the Sinister Ducks” on one side and comics artist Ty Templeton and April Wine guitarist David Henman (credited on the record as Teddy Payne and the Bluebears) playing an original Templeton composition called “Everybody’s got a Right to the Blues” on the other. AC Comics’ Femforce #50 (June 1992) was shipped with a flexi disc record of “The Femforce Theme” by a band called The Keys. Before that, throughout the 1970s, several Mad magazine specials came packaged with flexi discs as well, featuring songs and comedy sketches. And there are likely dozens, if not hundreds, of other examples of comics from the 1970s and 1980s that came with flexi disc inserts.

critters_23

Critters #23 (left), published by Fantagraphics in 1988, included a flexi disc insert (right) that had an Alan Moore song on one side and a Ty Templeton song on the other.

Rather, what makes Allegri and Jackson’s use of music in this issue of Bee and PuppyCat different from that of its predecessors is that the experience of listening to the music is integral to the comic’s storytelling. In all the instances I can think of where a comic was issued with recorded music or featured musical notation and other visual representations of music, the music itself is somewhat extraneous to the comics experience, a dispensable addition to a work that doesn’t really require a soundtrack to be enjoyed on a basic level. Yes, being able to sight-read and imagine the sound of V for Vendetta‘s “This Vicious Cabaret” (or alternatively, listen to an actual recording of the song) makes for a somewhat richer reading experience, but a musically disinclined reader can just read the song’s lyrics and still get a sense of the sequence’s narrative.

The instrumental music pieces in Bee and PuppyCat #2 don’t offer that option, which could potentially be problematic since the progression of the story hinges on the reader finding which music box is broken alongside the protagonists. There are enough visual cues framing the QR codes to provide a sense of the music’s emotional tone—the QR code reproduced in the last page of the preview gallery above links to a song called “Cloud City,” for example—and the dialogue fills in the minimum exposition needed to advance the plot, but as actor and musician Martin Mull observed all those years ago, describing music in words fails to capture its sensory essence. It may seem that Allegri and Jackson are needlessly limiting the audience of this issue with its reliance on QR codes and a third-party like YouTube to provide the full Bee and PuppyCat #2 experience—not everybody has a QR code scanning-capable smartphone or knows that just about any modern computer can be equipped with free software (like the CodeTwo QR Code Desktop Reader for Windows) that can decode QR codes off of its screen—but I think it likely that Bee and PuppyCat‘s core audience is more online and tech-savvy than the general comics-reading population, given that the comic is a spin-off of an animated web short that broke the Kickstarter record for animation project funding.

Bee and PuppyCat #2’s QR Code music boxes rise above being mere gimmicks because they actually add a new sensory dimension to the comic’s storytelling, and I can’t wait to see what other tricks Allegri and Jackson have up their sleeves in future installments.

The latest on The Last Devil

Below is the latest color test for The Last Devil, featuring the waterfront of late 19th century Manila:

LastDevilManilaWaterfront02

Late 19th century Manila waterfront non-photographic blue pencil sketch (left) and the color test of the same image (right). We’re aiming for a deliberately limited palette for the comic.

To learn more about The Last Devil, the comic I’m co-developing with my brother, check out the Unwilting Bros. Tumblr.

Digressions

• On Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: I’ve been binge-watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood on Netflix lately, and I’ve already made my way up to the show’s third season. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (launched in 2009) is a curious series, in that it’s basically a do-over of the first Fullmetal Alchemist animated series, which debuted in 2003. Both series are based on the manga by Hiromu Arakawa, but Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood more closely follows the manga’s storyline and characterizations, whereas the writers of the original Fullmetal Alchemist animated series were given a lot of latitude to reinterpret Arakawa’s story.

Being able to compare how the writers and animators of both shows translate the comic is an interesting exercise, and at this point, I think Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the better overall show. It’s not just because it’s more faithful to the source material—the pacing is better overall and the technical animation seems tighter. I don’t know where I’d rank Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood among my favorite shonen anime, but it’s somewhere near the top of the heap. It reminds me of Avatar: The Last Airbender in the way it is able to package complex themes regarding war, politics, and ethics for younger audiences without resorting to moralistic absolutes while balancing genuinely affecting character interactions.

We’re going through changes: It’s been a crazy, crazy week, and we’ve had to do some major maintenance of our site’s database, hence the minimal number of new posts. You may also have noticed that our native URL is now thegeeksverse.com instead of thecomixverse.com. That’s not a mistake. This is something we’ve been planning for a while now to represent our soon-to-expand coverage of action figures, animation, nerdcore music, cosplay, video games, and other non-comics specific geek interests—I think I actually mentioned our plans to transition to the new URL in a column last year—but don’t worry, we (and by we, I actually mean webmaster Jason Thees) have ensured that the old Comixverse addresses for our articles will automatically redirect to their new Geeksverse incarnations, much in the same way we did when we changed our name from the original Kitty’s Pryde to the Comixverse. Keep an eye out for further changes in the near future.

On WolfCop: After a successful industry screening during the recently Cannes Film Festival, Canadian film production WolfCop has acquired financial backing for a sequel. Hooray! The indie film has drawn a rave review from the National Post‘s Chris Knight. The film has been screening in select Cineplex theaters in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Moose Jaw, and Saskatoon since last week, and it debuts in select Cineplex theaters in Toronto, Winnipeg, Halifax, and Hamilton today (June 13, 2014). Get your tickets here. Directed and written by Lowell Dean (Dust Up13 Eerie), the film stars Leo Fafard (I Heart ReginaMoccasin Flats), Aidan Devine (A History of Violence, Outlander), Amy Matysio (Just Friends, Single White Spenny), Jonathan Cherry (House of the Dead, Final Destination 2), and Sarah Lind.

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