Jeff Smith noon, March 8
New Kids on the Block Versus Revolutionary Comics
Boy Band's litigious history with local company
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK VS REVOLUTIONARY COMICS
(Here's one of the very first published comic stories ever drawn by superstar artist Stuart Immonen, later famed for his work on Superman, Supergirl, etc.)
Film trailer for "Unauthorized & Proud Of It: Todd Loren's Rock 'N' Roll Comics"
IMDB.COM FILM REVIEW: Unauthorized and Proud Of It - Todd Loren's Rock 'N' Roll Comics
In 1989, Todd Loren's Revolutionary Comics ("Unauthorized And Proud Of It") launched Rock N Roll Comics to spin unlicensed biographies of rock stars. Some, like Frank Zappa and Kiss, were supportive, while others like The New Kids On The Block considered his comics akin to bootlegs and sued. Loren was convinced the First Amendment protected the journalistic rights of his "illustrated articles" and he took the matter to the California Supreme Court, who agreed.
In June 1992, at 32, Loren was found dead in his San Diego condo, brutally murdered --- the case remains unsolved, though recent clues researched by the FBI link his death to serial killer Andrew Cunanan.
BulletProof Film spent years interviewing Loren's family and surviving Revolutionaries, comic book colleagues, adversaries and supporters and even past and present rock 'n' roll stars featured in Revolutionary Comics.
The filmmakers also confront San Diego police about their supposed "investigation" into Loren's murder, in clips interspersed with those closest to Loren who say they weren't even interviewed and/or who had to forcefeed possibly vital evidence and information to investigators who seemed uninterested (police disinterest is explained in the film, tho I won't reveal here). A lot of people disliked Loren and his comics, with initial suspects including Axl Rose and members of the New Kids On The Block.
The fact that "Unauthorized And Proud Of It" is told by those who lived it gives the docu the same kind of "You Were There" feel as Loren's own comics. Video footage of Loren from the late 80s shows him giving a tour of his office, just as he was forming the rock comic line. Outtakes show both Loren's humor and his apparent controlling presence ("It's my video and we'll shoot it my way").
Edited alongside recollections of the few people who were close to the private Loren, it's a fascinating insight into a guy whose death, coming just a few days after Mad founder William Gaines, was overlooked by the comic industry that Loren helped Revolutionize (his win against the New Kids established, among other things, First Amendment rights for comics for the first time).
The film uses actual drawn scenes from Revolutionary's comics to illustrate some segments, animating pages to great comic effect (spit flying outta Axl Rose's mouth as he threatens to sue, Pete Rose angrily chasing Loren's minions from an autograph convention, backstage groupie foreplay, etc.)
Interviewees include Alice Cooper (who pitches a Keith Moon comic - "there could be 100 issues") and others who weren't as enthused about Loren's unauthorized biographies. Gene Simmons refused to be interviewed on camera, saying he considered Loren's comics "bootlegs" even though he and Paul Stanley worked with Revolutionary on four true-life Kiss Comics.
(Gene Simmons with “Unauthorized & Proud Of It” director Ilko)
However, Simmons manages a cameo via a recording of a phone conference with Revolutionary's crew, during which he both threatens them with a lawsuit over their earlier unauthorized comic AND praises them ("the work is excellent") with an offer to "do something together" (later resulting in the aforementioned Kiss bio comics).
When Revolutionary Managing Editor Jay Allen Sanford tells Simmons "and hopefully we'll all make some MONEY," and Simmons cheerfully pipes in with "That's the MAIN thing!", it provides a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of exactly HOW comic books and rock and roll were intertwined by Loren's ingenious antics. (after Simmons hangs up, you can hear the Revolutionary crew whooping and hollering and patting each other on the back for having apparently made a deal with the devil-tongue).
Comic biz celebs include underground publisher Denis Kitchen. The middle aged Kitchen comes across very professional compared to the shaggy looking, proudly DIY Revolutionary crew (none of whom look to have had a haircut in decades). However, we find Kitchen's disparaging comments about Loren ("I have to say I did not like the man...") are sour grapes when it's revealed that his own company Kitchen Sink had paid for the OFFICIAL rights to do Grateful Dead comics, while Loren's "bootleg" bios of the Dead pummeled Kitchen's in the marketplace.
Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth is clearly nonplussed over a rival whose "shoddy and exploitative" comics broke most sales records for indie comics in an era when Groth's own company had to launch a porno line just, by his own admission, in order to survive.
The fact that, so many years after his death, Todd Loren is the topic filmmakers are asking him about, seems to bemuse and pester Groth (who once wrote an editorial for Comics Journal entitled "Todd Loren: First Amendment Advocate Or Lying Sack Of S***?").
"Stickboy" creator Dennis Worden balances the Loren-bashing by praising his former publisher and saying Loren paid him four times as much as Gary Groth at Fantagraphics. Underground artist Mary Fleener and Rock 'N' Roll Comics creators Jay Allen Sanford, Steve Crompton and Spike Steffenhagen share revealing and moving stories about what Loren was like behind-the-scenes.
Gonzo San Diego rocker Mojo Nixon - who helped create Loren's first AUTHORIZED rock comic and was a guest at this film's world premier during the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con - stresses that Loren's outspoken willingness to be "outlaw" was not only the secret but the purpose of his success.
The documentary later concentrates on Loren's unsolved murder and growing links to Andrew Cunanan. It makes a compelling case for Loren possibly being Cunanan's first victim, years before the killing spree "officially" started.
The film never quite answers the question "Who Killed Todd Loren?" and it paints a picture that is clearly yet to be completed, but the story that unfolds is memorable. With an ending yet to be written - - - -
VARIETY MAGAZINE REVIEW - Unauthorized and Proud of It: Todd Loren’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics, 6-5-06
“Unauthorized and Proud of It" chronicles the brief life of Todd Loren, whose San Diego-based Revolutionary Comics made a feisty early 1990s low-end cultural contribution while infuriating those mainstream comics and music industryites it thumbed its nose at. A clever if unscrupulous businessman, self-righteous First Amendment crusader, die-hard fanboy and oft-obnoxious personality, Loren is a problematic subject. Details of the private life he kept well-hidden seem to have died with him, and, since they likely factored in his (still unsolved) 1992 murder, docu suffers from their lack. Rep-house theatrical exposure is possible, boutique cable and DVD likelier.
In love with rock music and comics from an early age, Loren, nee Stuart Shapiro, the driven entrepreneur had bought a house from his profits in the comics convention trade by age 19. He later built up a successful storefront and mail-order biz hawking "import" (i.e. bootleg) rock memorabilia, then abandoned it to start the comics publishing label whose primary focus on rock star "biocomics" flaunted their "unauthorized" nature.
Recording companies, agents, managers and sometimes musicians themselves were not at all happy about these unaffiliated products; Revolutionary was hit with myriad lawsuits.
The often shrilly combative Loren cried censorship, but settled out of court -- until he decided to fight one case filed on behalf of boy-band New Kids on the Block. Surprising many, a federal judge ruled in his favor, basically saying that commenting on acts who'd permeated the greater public consciousness fell within freedom-of-speech guidelines.
While media corporations took exception to Loren's run-around merchandizing of their properties, musicians were often delighted at becoming "comic book heroes" --most notably KISS' Gene Simmons.
At the same time, Loren remained widely despised by the established comics industry. Many considered his artistic standards shoddy. Others saw his low-balling payments and hardball contracts for graphic artists and writers as exploitive. Opinions from former confreres run a very wide gamut.Old video clips where he jokingly plays the bad-boy bizman reveal less than the interviews with past collaborators both loyal and bitter. After an hour, the pic suddenly springs the fact that Todd was gay -- something he evidently kept from everyone, save "other friends" pointedly not interviewed here. Docu doesn't even address the irony of an attention-thirsty man who cashed in on the scandalous lives of celebrities while keeping his own life deep in the closet.
Sense of rich psychological veins passed up is furthered when it's noted that Loren's 1992 murder from 15 stab wounds -- which many feel was under-investigated as "just another homosexual murder" by San Diego police -- might well have been committed by free-traveling party boy Andrew Cunanan, who'd later notoriously killed Gianni Versace and other well-connected gay men.
As a result of these dangling threads, "Unauthorized" doesn't justify its feature length in terms of emotional and intellectual depth. Still, its plentiful visual energy is well-exploited in (occasionally animated) comic book imagery, and interviewees are a colorful lot.
Editing and use of music is a little too in-your-face snarky at times, but the approach undoubtedly echoes the subject's sensibility. A stronger directorial stamp would have been welcome.
THE RETURN OF ROCK 'N' ROLL COMICS!
The Pink Floyd Experience: All five issues of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics series The Pink Floyd Experience have been out of print and in demand for over fifteen years. As showcased in Pink Floyd’s own official box CD set Shine On, the Floyd comics chronicle rock’s most enigmatic psychedelic warriors, from their early dayz with stoner icon Syd Barrett, through their split (and later reformation). With art by Marvel and DC star Ken Landgraf (Wolverine, Hawkman, Nightwing & Flamebird, etc.), the collection also includes update material, bringing the saga up to 2010.
Hard Rock Heroes: What goes together better than comics and rock music? With almost 300 pages of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics, Hard Rock Heroes goes WAY beyond Behind the Music, to tell the real life, behind-the-scenes stories of rock’s most heavy hitters. Creators include Stuart Immonen (Superman: End of the Century), Ken Landgraf (Wolverine), Jay Allen Sanford (Overheard in San Diego..), Todd Loren (Beatles Experience), Scott Pentzer (Razor), Mike Sagara (Ninja High School), and many others.
Hard Rock Heroes is a book-length pictorial history, covering bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen, Motley Crue, Poison, Megadeth, Pantera, Anthrax, Motorhead, Sammy Hagar, and more. The cinematic stories are realistically drawn, researched from countless photo and video archives, with an encyclopedic eye toward visual accuracy, dramatic flair, and journalistic depth.
Also includes the never-before published “missing” Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics #8 from 1990, on Skid Row. The lack of an eighth issue has vexed collectors and catalogers for years – exactly 20 years later, the story can finally be told, and collectors can finally own ALL the Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics!
As a bonus treat, Hard Rock Heroes also features the Motley Crue comic story from their official box CD set Music To Crash Your Car To II, released in 2004 and written and drawn by original Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics creators Lyndal Ferguson and Larry Nadolsky. Shipping February 2010.
"Great ideas, like the marriage of rock 'n' roll and comics, have the half-life of Uranium and will always be popular," says series co-creator Jay Allen Sanford, who has worked on over 200 reality-based comic books and thousands of similar cartoon strips for the San Diego Reader, as well as for magazines like Rip, Spin, and Oui. "The folks at Bluewater clearly have their fingers on the same pop culture pulse that enabled the original Rock 'N' Roll Comics to become one of the top-selling indie comics of the '90s. Truth is often stranger than fiction...and certainly much more interesting!"
The Beatles are bigger than ever, now available online for the first time digitally, on the Vegas stage in “Love,” and in the new Beatles: Rock Band video game. Now comes the most comprehensive and encyclopedic illustrated Beatles story ever, the Beatles Experience! Over 200 pages, dramatizing one of the most compelling tales in pop culture history, drawn from thousands of photos and interviews, meticulously researched and featuring stunning art by Mike Sagara (Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics) and Stuart Immonen (Legion of Super Heroes, Ultimate X-Men).
Covering the Beatles’ lives from birth and beyond their breakup, dramatized in dialogue and scene recreations more akin to a film bio than a mere documentary, the Beatles Experience also includes a Chronolog timeline going down each page, with encyclopedia background and footnotes detailing related events happening at the same time in the world, in music, and in the Beatles’ own tumultuous and extraordinary lives.
The Led Zeppelin Experience:
The Led Zeppelin saga is one of the wildest in rock history, and this graphic novel pulls no punches in dramatizing the backstage, behind-the-scenes story. From their early days as the New Yardbirds on through their rise to superstardom (and controversy), all five issues of the original Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics series are collected in one rockin’ volume, with art by Scott Pentzer (Razor), Marshall Ross (Deepest Dimension), David Neer (Sports Superstars), Francois Escalmel (Frank Zappa: Viva La Bizarre), and others. The collection also includes update material, bringing the saga up to 2010.
ROCK 'N' ROLL COMICS: THE INSIDE STORY - In 1989, local Revolutionary Comics ("Unauthorized And Proud Of It") launched Rock 'N' Roll Comics, featuring unlicensed biographies of rock stars, most of which I wrote. Some performers, like Frank Zappa and Kiss, were supportive, while others like New Kids On The Block considered our comics akin to bootlegs and sued. In June 1992, publisher Todd Loren was found dead in his San Diego condo, brutally murdered...
THE KOMPLETE KISS KOMIX KRONICLES - Comprehensive collection of stuff I’ve done about working with Kiss on a comic book series, along with a bunch of never-before-seen artifacts from the Kiss Komix archives AND an article by Kiss comic author Spike Steffenhagen, offering his own very-different take, ala Rashomon, on the same events I describe in my essay...
OVER A MILLION CARNAL COMICS ARE IN PRINT - Here's how and why we made some of the top-selling erotic comics of all time, right here in San Diego, including what Gene Simmons has to do with it all, backstage tales of porn stars, and more confessions of a comic pornographer...
THE ROCKETEER AND OTHER FAMOUS '80S COMICS BEGAN RIGHT HERE IN SAN DIEGO - Here's a detailed history of local Pacific Comics, who recruited comic superstars like Jack Kirby to create one of the first successful indie comic book lines. Pioneers in the fight for comic creators' rights and royalties, former employees and operators reveal how they did it, and what went so terribly wrong...
COMICS AND CENSORSHIP - DON'T BE AFRAID, IT'S ONLY A COMIC BOOK - A local-centric history of comic book censorship, and the fight for the rights of comic creators...
TWILIGHT ZONE AND STAR TREK WRITER GEORGE CLAYTON JOHNSON PRESENTS - The inside story of a local horror comic book series featuring Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, plus sci-fi king Larry Niven, Zap Comix co-founder Spain Rodriguez, Matthew Alice artist Rick Geary, Vampire Lestat painter Daerick Gross, yours truly JAS, and many more...
THE BIRTH OF IMAGE COMICS: INSIDE STORY OF A LOCAL PUBLISHING POWERHOUSE - Illustrated tale revealing how Spawn creator Todd McFarlane and local comic artist Jim Lee (the Punisher, etc.) conspired to create the ultimate creator-owned comic books...
Like this blog? Here are some related links:
OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/
FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/
SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic
JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford