Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams
Created and Illustrated by Michael Allred
Written by Steve Horton & Michael Allred
Colored by Laura Allred (with Color Assists by Han Allred)
Edited by Mark Irwin
Published by Insight Comics

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns and Moonage Daydreams (Bowie for short) is an absolute pickup for any fans of David Bowie (his music, his life, his personality). It’s a gorgeous graphic novel (illustrated by the husband and wife team of line artist Mike Allred and color artist Laura Allred, and written by Mike Allred and Steve Horton) telling a creatively imagined story about Bowie’s life, with its primary focus from the beginning of his career as a musician, to the end of his “Ziggy Stardust” phase. 

Bowie is an informative, engaging read. We first meet Bowie through a framing device. It’s 1973 and he and the Spiders from Mars are performing the last concert of their tour, but Bowie is also anticipating that this will be his last performance as Ziggy Stardust. We see him as he’s addressing the crowd, and this takes him back to where it began. We’re in the in the early-to-mid 60’s, and Bowie is an up-and-coming rock musician, living in an exciting time of musical and social change. The book really conveys the sense of a lively music and cultural scene, where something big and important is happening. The story then moves through the next 6-7 years, as we see Bowie’s success and transformation into a musical, fashion and cultural icon.

Horton and the Allreds convey a lot of information in Bowie. This is an exhaustively researched book that covers Bowie’s life on an almost-daily level. However, Bowie never feels bogged down by minutiae, because the story moves along nicely, providing interesting and relevant details. Also because Bowie is an absolutely gorgeous book.

Mike has clean, dynamic line work and every page of the story flows very nicely. And Laura’s colors have an incredible texture and variety, as we move from the mundane to the psychedelic from page to page, from panel to panel. This is a biographical story, but first and foremost it is a work of art. So, there are all sorts of imaginative flourishes on every page. The layouts are often handed in interesting and varied ways, with differing panel layouts, splash pages, and other techniques. Discussion of a movie will lead directly into a scene set within the world of that movie. People in brightly colored clothes dance and end up leaning against a smiling crescent moon. Laura’s colors throughout bring life to the story. Even the more mundane scenes jump off of the page, as the colors are true to the world of the story but also feel brighter than our mundane world. Her color palate is perfectly suited for the exciting world of the 60’s and 70’s. And when the story gets surreal, Laura really gets to cut loose, bringing weird and cosmic scenes to gorgeous life.
I’ve loved the Allreds work for many years now. I just find everything they do to be filled with such joy and life and imagination. They’re such gifted storytellers, they such honest conveyers of emotion. I’ve always said that Mike’s line work and facial acting has hate unique ability to convey both joy and sadness at once. Their ideas and art just explode across the page. So, given all of that, I will check out any new project they work on as they make good ideas great, and they make great ideas transcendent.

Over the course of decades, the Allreds have shown a love of big, cosmic ideas, and also of music and the joy and sense of transcendence it can bring. So when I heard that they would be publishing a graphic novel about David Bowie, I realized that I could not imagine a better merger of artist and subject. I mean, Bowie felt like an Allred creation brought to life. And Mike Allred had been an enormous fan of Bowie’s music for decades, and had even tried to create a comic about him (which turned into Red Rocket 7). [Note: See below - Bowie would fit right in!] 

Mike adopts a slightly different art style for this story than he uses in his other work. This is particularly true with regard to character portrayal. The Allreds portray the characters with accurate facial likenesses, which differs from their usual style (which features more exaggerated, stylized faces). For longtime fans of Mike’s work the style is a little bit of an adjustment. However, the likenesses are done in a skillful and “big picture” way such that while you know who you are looking at, this still feels like art from the Allreds and not just some sort of photo-realistic reproduction.
As I've noted, this book is very much a love-letter to Bowie. It's not a comprehensive biography, nor is it intended to be a hard-hitting exploration of his life. If you want that, this isn't the book for you.

At the end of Bowie, the character of David Bowie remains somewhat inscrutable. Which feels appropriate as Bowie’s whole Ziggy Stardust persona was the story of an alien who fell to earth, and Bowie often seemed like he was from some other, cooler planet. What’s clear throughout the book is that he’s someone who was seeking new sounds, new looks, and new ideas. He needed to push boundaries, whether through music, clothing or otherwise.

Bowie brings this quest to life in gorgeous and fascinating detail. Horton and the Allreds do wonderful work in transporting the reader to another place and time, and I highly recommend joining them on that journey.

[Note: Bowie's famous performance on Top of The Pops is very much worth checking out.]