Comic Book Tattoo elaborates graphically on Tori Amos' narratives

It's seldom that two parts of my personality are reconciled in one medium, especially the highly questionable parts.

It's seldom that two parts of my personality are reconciled in one medium, especially the highly questionable parts. I wear many of my tastes and opinions directly on my sleeve, but I choose not to air all of my dirty laundry for fear of being branded "one of those guys."

If the world knew I was a closeted comic book enthusiast in addition to being a rabid Tori Amos fan, I would probably implode with shame and horror.

Oops.

In all honesty, Tori Amos is quite possibly one of my favorite artists for several capricious reasons: she's brilliant; she has passed the longevity test, having been a mainstay in the musical lexicon since 1988; and of the nine albums she's recorded — beginning with 1992's Little Earthquakes — only one, The Beekeeper, has sincerely pissed me off. But Amos redeemed herself with 2007's American Doll Posse, so all is forgiven. At least for now.

In July, Image Comics released Comic Book Tattoo, a 480 page anthology of 51 separate comics, written and illustrated by different artists and all inspired by Tori Amos songs. With an introduction by Sandman creator and Amos' personal friend, Neil Gaiman, and contributions by David Mack (Kabuki), Omaha Perez (Holmes, Periphery) and Pia Guerra (Y: The Last Man), Comic Book Tattoo represents a pantheon of imaginative graphic novelists working today.

One of the reasons Amos's music lends itself so well to this kind of interpretation is that the stylings of her songs are vastly different from many artists'.

While the music industry is fraught with overly-emotive songs dripping with glee or rage or horniness and strapped to a frenetic drum beat, Amos songs are typically tight, colorful and idiosyncratic narratives in song form and are ostensibly easy to spin into longer, more coherent stories.

It's interesting to see how many classic Tori Amos songs are interpreted by graphic novelists. The anthology opens with "The Flying Dutchman" — featured originally on the "China" single — as interpreted by David Mack. This song about the wonder and potential in young children is chronologically mapped — frame by frame — and can be followed by the reader from the onset of the child's creative genesis to the twilight of his unimaginative old age. Each page represents a stage in the emotional maturity of the child and is adorned with a silhouette of his omnificent mental state, concluding with a boxed-up, withered profile where a once vibrant imagination stood. The text of the song gilds each page, finally ending with the phrase "So afraid he'll be ... what they never were."

Like Supreme Court Justices, there are many strict constructionists and loose constructionists at work within Comic Book Tattoo. Some stories follow the general path the song has mapped out while others deviate greatly from their original framework.

Some of the strictest interpretations lie at the start of the book and seem to loosen up as they progress. "Bouncing Off Clouds," by Josh Hechiner, is an example of a strict construction. The story basically revolves around a Futurama-esque FedEx where the mail people's method of delivery is the employment of special boots that quite literally bounce off of the clouds.

The story "Girl," by Jonathan Tsuei, takes its meaning quite directly form the song's original chorus: "She's been everybody else's girl/ Maybe one day she'll be her own." The story centers on an overworked professional, simultaneously taking flak from her boss for the mistakes of other co-workers while her mother ostensibly blames her for the death of her father. While working late, she encounters two angels that offer her the chance to be an angel as well, to shake of her mortal coil and her 401k at God's insistence. She refuses coyly, stating in one of the final frames, "Tell him I said thank you, but I'm done being everybody else's girl."

The loose interpretations in the anthology are often the most amusing. "Mr. Zebra" by Rantz A. Hoseley, is an example of a disjointed tale that compliments the original song successfully. Originally on Boys for Pele, "Mr. Zebra" is quintessential Amos, a fractured and wonderfully confusing song about the life and times of a fictitious Mr. Zebra, absolutely dripping with superfluous accounts. The devil is often in the details, and so is Hoseley in this comic; he sops up every hanging description and morphs the song into a Kafka-esque short story where a drunken zebra game-show host is poisoned with Strychnine-laced ratatouille by a devilish Kaiser Wilhelm.

However, the interpretation of "Caught a Lite Sneeze" might be the most annoying because of the decision to employ both loose and strict interpretations. The story revolves around a fairy that sneezes lightly and then subsequently catches it. She then carries it briskly away in order to make it into a broth. Highly disappointing.

Many Amos staples show up on Comic Book Tattoo, such as "God," structured like a Tarantino film's philosophical dialogue. Others include "Jackie's Strength," "Father Lucifer" and "Cornflake Girl."

However, many songs are regrettably absent from the collection, such as "A Sorta Fairytale," "Playboy Mommy" and "Professional Widow," which is reportedly about Courtney Love and her marriage to Kurt Cobain. Now that could have been fodder for a great story.

Comic Book Tattoo reinforces the bond that exists between varied art forms, acting as a bridge connecting narrative and noise and highlighting the notion that inspiration and imagination are often circuitous and symbiotic. One could view the comic and then find something in the original songs they hadn't before encountered. Or feast on the songs first and allow the book to fill in the gaps in your imagination. In either direction, the two are prefect compliments.

Scroll to read more Music Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.