Writing Music

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Can Comics Sing?

Maaheen Ahmed, Ghent University


It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but comics do sing. Perhaps they sang more often in the past, especially in comics for children, but they continue to sing. They don’t necessarily sing well, if we take Bianca Castafiore from the Tintin adventures as an example, but perhaps this is also a question of taste. Two comics from the 1980s are particularly intriguing in this respect, not the least because they combine original music and, sometimes, even dance.

In Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, a grim comic set in a police state established in the wake of a nuclear war in the 1990s, protesting against Margaret Thatcher’s brand of conservatism and the dismantling of the welfare state is also punctuated with music. For the anarchic, Guy Fawkes figure, V, the iconic four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are one of his theme songs. They also translate into V in Morse code. More noteworthy is the original five-page-long song written and composed by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. “Vicious Cabaret” becomes the prelude for Book Two in the graphic novel version and carries the central message of protest against an unjust and repressive society (see Fig. 1).

 
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Striking a brighter note that is not without irony, Katherine Collins’ (then Arn Saba) Neil the Horse comics often bear the slogan “Making the World Safe for Musical Comedy”. Its three main characters, Neil the Horse, Soapy, a cigar-smoking cat and Poupée, a young woman who resembles a doll, are often seen singing and dancing. The page below is from “Welcome to the Show”,  one of many stories about Poupée struggling to get a regular job on stage. We see her auditioning, stressed but constantly smiling, in the image below (Fig. 2). It ends like many Neil the Horse stories with a full score of the title song (Fig. 3). This story came out in Neil the Horse #11, one of the first of a two-part Fred Astaire tribute which includes elaborate dance sequences between Poupée and Fred Astaire.

 
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