21 October, 2011

You know, in one particular context, "rock opera" is not a dirty word.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that a lot of you, my little illiterati, have made staggeringly different life choices than I have. I'm going to reckon that a lot of you probably don't have a nostalgic sci-fi bent that manifests itself in doing things like, say, hunting down old Heavy Metals from the 70s and 80s. And you probably don't really dig on a serial comic called Rock Opera.
There's not a whole lot about Rock Opera around on the internet, which makes it even more alluring to track down. If it weren't for the series' author, Rod Kierkegaard Jr., having a blog (with a page dedicated strictly to his work on Rock Opera), I wouldn't have known that the serial originally ran in a Washington DC paper called The Unicorn Times before getting picked up by Heavy Metal. I wouldn't have known that the main character was named The Golliwog (interesting bit on the etymology of that name at Wikipedia that kind of shows how the explanation for the name in the comic to the left isn't that far off) and that his adventures involved two women, Patti Hitler (who I never knew a damned thing about) and Quintana Roo (who appears in some of the old issues I have).
Beginning in January 1980, Rock Opera man monthly in the pages of Heavy Metal, with the exception of November 81, January and May 83, July 84, and February, April, June, and August 1985, which was the last year it appears to have been featured in the magazine; 1986 also being the year that Heavy Metal from a monthly to a quarterly format. Of course, without having the original issues here in front of me, it's hard to tell if any other months were missing, given that Kierkegaard changed it up some here and there; August 82's installment was Rock Operetta, February 83's was Sergeant Rock Opera (I have that one), so, when it comes to the January 85 installment, Scorchin' Peppers Burned My Hard Love Gland, I'm fairly confident that that's an installment of Rock Opera II: The Rise & Fall Of Rocky Starzborne (which ran from April 84 until March 85, then it became Rock Opera again in May 85). However, I can only guess that the March 84 installment between Rock Operas one and two, Roc-Man was a series related piece because it has the word "rock" in it. Two other pieces Kierkegaard did, February 84's "An Unmarried Pillsbury Doughperson" and May 84's "Alien"? Yeah, I can't tell if they're canon.
The thing that I dug about Rock Opera was how hard it sucked 80s pop culture into its story lines, coupled with surrealism and pop culture iconography from eras past. You ever see an air plane of panda guerillas get up and start chanting for I Love Lucy? I don't think so. But Kierkegaard saw that in his mind, you know, all the time. E.T., Mickey Mouse, Warhol, Star Wars, Brian Eno, the Beatles, even Prince...

... as Frankenstein's monster...
... none of them were safe from Kierkegaard's imagination that shuttled the Golliwog and his female companion from planet to planet, skirmish to skirmish, all in search of... Well, I guess if I had the whole series in front of me, I could tell you what the story was about. But I've been subjected to snippets, little vignettes that stand alone, on their own. That's what makes Rock Opera so brain-gratingly awesome: Each installment was its own thing but you knew it was part of something bigger. You kind of wanted the something bigger but you could be satisfied with the morsel. And every morsel was as bonkers as it was coherent, as captivating as it was jarring.
Also, if anybody has a line on a complete stack of Heavy Metals from 80 to 85, let me know. Or, easier, if anybody knows if there was ever a collected edition of Rock Opera, let me know.
Oh, and there's also this, which is still my favorite thing this week:

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