The rock club CBGB is now a legend, an ideal, a hallowed foundational stone, but it wasn’t always thought of so reverently. In its heyday, the club was just a claustrophobic, graffiti-covered, piss-soaked downtown NYC dive bar that had two things going for it: a great sound system and a stage where any up-and-coming band could give it a shot.
This led to the creation of a by-God, authentic, once-in-a-lifetime scene, a place where “street rock” became punk rock, new wave, and everything since. A place where the Ramones, Talking Heads, Televsion, Blondie and Patti Smith transcended the Bowery. A place where people found love and salvation in music.
“CBGB: The Comic Book” is a four-issue anthology limited series from BOOM! Studios that attempts to take the lightning and capture it on the page. Stories of the people in and around the club; the die-hards and the dilettantes, the believers and the bartenders, the guitarists and the gutter-dwellers. The passion, the music, and the fuck ups.
I’m Sam Humphries, a contributing writer to “CBGB: The Comic Book,” and welcome to the fourth in a series of interviews with the creators> bringing CBGB to life on the page. This month I chat with Kelly Sue DeConnick, a longtime writer of comics in multiple forms, and lately a rising star in the firmament of Marvel creators. She honed her instinct for storytelling and razor-sharp ear for dialog as an English rewriter for literally stacks of manga from Tokyopop and Viz. Now she’s tackling stateside heroes in venues such as the recent Marvel one-shots “Rescue” and “Sif.”
Kelly Sue’s CBGB story, illustrated by the hand of doom of titanic metal god Chuck BB, appears in “CBGB: The Comic Book” #4, also featuring a story by R. Eric Lieb and Dave Crosland. Check it out in stores this Wednesday, October 20.
Up next, DeConnick tackles Marvel’s big boss turned big baddie turned big jailbird, Norman Osborn, with artist Emma Rios in “Osborn” #1, due in stores November 17th.
CBR News: Almost immediately, I recognized more elements from your personal life in this story than any other written by you, which was a surprise. Did it surprise you?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: No, but only because I originally pitched this as a piece of – what do they call that? – “Creative Non-Fiction,” I think. It wasn’t until I was knee-deep in the outline and just couldn’t get my story to hold together that I realized I needed to abandon that idea in favor of – forgive me my drama – the greater Truth. So a lot of what remains is my life, but, obviously, a lot isn’t.
CBGB is barnacled by decades of legend and lore, which was my go-to when coming up with ideas for stories. Did you decide to draw from your own life first, or did that bubble up in the process of writing about the club?
Barnacled? Very nice, Mr. Humphries.
â€¨â€¨I lived in New York for about a decade, 1993 through 2002. I went to CBGB a few times, but not enough to feel any real ownership of the experience. I’m not sure that makes sense to anyone but me, but there you go. I remember I saw a play there once – I think that girl from “The Sopranos” was in it? It was awful. Well-meaning, but dreadful.
â€¨â€¨A friend of mine was a door guy at the Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom and if I recall this correctly, he had club privileges at CBGB. I saw a few bands – I was still drinking back then and I honestly don’t remember much. I can’t tell you who I saw for sure. The Bouncing Souls maybe? I think that was CBGB but I could be wrong. The only events of which I am certain are the horrible play and Cornelius. I couldn’t tell you what year it was but I do remember that [penciller] Wil Rosado took me to see Cornelius.
â€¨â€¨Oddly enough, just before [BOOM! editor] Ian Brill contacted me about the anthology, I’d had the moment that I write about in “Count 5 or 6.” My son, Henry, was watching”Yo Gabba Gabba” and Cornelius was a musical guest. I don’t even know exactly how to articulate my reaction. I was deeply nostalgic for a moment. It was very touching, this bookending of time. Humbling, sad, celebratory… I’m not sure what word to use. I was moved. It moved me.
Some creators would balk at investing so much into “just” a licensed story. What made you feel comfortable enough to “go there” in this book? Do you even draw distinctions like that?
Oh, goodness. No point in hoarding stories. I could mine the ones I’ve got for a lifetime and while I’m doing that, time’s arrow ensures I’m making more. If anything I’m embarrassed by how deeply fascinated I am by my own revelations. I want to believe that in sharing these things I’m acknowledging some kind of communal experience and participating in something, I dunno, bigger somehow.
My fear is that I just have my head up my ass. But then, if there’s someone out there who can’t relate to that, I have yet to meet them.
You’ve made remarks in the past to the effect that in person, or in your stories or on your blog, you are very open about your private life. Something I might describe as a combination of courage and compulsion. What would a Kelly Sue autobio comic look or feel like?
Oy. I’m not sure.
I keep a list of projects – things I hope to do, or bits of ideas that may or may not end up using somewhere, stuff I want to revisit, whatever. Anyway, on that list is a project whose working title is “Girl Farts,” much to the horror of just about everyone I know save, I think, Steve Niles and Laurenn McCubbin. It’s a series of stories and essays based around the body – or, more specifically my body and my relationship with it/experience of it. I’ve considered writing it as a one-woman show, a series of monologues, illustrated prose, a hand-made chapbook and an autobio comic, but I’ve never settled on a form. But yeah, that’s what I’ve got that fits under the auto-bio heading: a series of stories written from the body – from dead-Yorkie bikini wax to miscarriage scratch lotto; cringe to gallows humor, that.
You are hella nerdy on any number of subjects, but not so much on music (though perhaps by marriage.) In contrast to myself, “CBGB” writer Kieron Gillen, and editor Ian Brill, who are practically mentally immobilized by music minutiae. Was this on your mind as you wrote the story? Do you feel like you came at it from a different angle?
Yeah, you could say I’m nerdy about music but you’d be using the word in the old-fashioned, unhip way. I’m a square, I guess. I like Neutral Milk Hotel and Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, but I’m also unironically fond of KISS, Stone Temple Pilots, ELO and the Funny Face soundtrack. My favorite band might well be AC/DC. Or the Violent Femmes or Concrete Blond. Am I supposed to be embarrassed by those two? I suspect the former no, but maybe the latter? I dunno. Whatever. But just because my playlist isn’t all that hip doesn’t mean the music doesn’t hold an emotional connection for me. Does that make sense?
I’ve seen Tori Amos live five times. Twice I went by myself. I still feel very connected to her music. There’s a Helen Reddy album that my mom owned when I was a kid – it’s pretty much the soundtrack to my youth, ages seven through nine. The mix we used as a favor at our wedding – any one of those songs I can feel in my chest. And there’s a song now – Tallulah Moon, it’s called. I made a mix for my daughter, Tallulah, and I find myself idly singing it to her often as I’m sure I will do for the rest of my life. So while I may not be wired for the minutiae, I don’t keep up with the latest and I often can’t tell a “good” song from a “bad” one, it’s not like I think music doesn’t matter. It’s not as though I’m unaffected by it.â€¨â€¨Regardless, you’re right – I did not approach the project with music in mind. Honestly, as soon as CBGB was mentioned I knew basically what I wanted to do and that it would be a piece about moving on. The “Suede” piece I did in the Tori Amos anthology is very much the same theme. It’s about being dragged kicking and screaming into the Next Thing; building a new chamber in the nautilus.
Both you and the main character in your story are mothers of two young children. Beyond pulling from your experiences as a mom, did Henry and Tallulah play a part in the themes of this story? It seems like underneath the surface elements there is a letter to their future selves in there. Is that something you think about with any story, what they might get from it when they’re old enough to read it?
Oh man. I wish I were that good a parent. I suspect it’s more a letter to Past Me than Future Them. But your way seems more altruistic. Let’s pretend it’s what you said.
Do you think any other club in the world could justify an anthology? Or is there something special about CBGB?
I love anthologies and all kinds of exercises on theme, so I don’t know that it has to be justified as a concept, it just needs to be interesting in execution. That said, I do think there was something special about CBGB, but I think by the time I got there that Magic Moment had passed. It’s like… have you ever been to Memphis? Matt [Fraction, DeConnick’s husband] and I went a few years ago and we did the tourist thing – we went to Sun Records and Graceland and the civil rights museum, and while I absolutely recommend visiting all of those places and that trip fed something in me that was hungry, there was also this… what word do I want? This ordinary-ness. I don’t think that’s a word, but I’m going with it.
What I’m trying to say is that we fetishize the place but it wasn’t really about the place. CBGB was a shitty little space with some bad sight lines, you know? But the people made it into something magical, something Bigger and Better for their their having been there. Graceland without Elvis is somehow… smaller than it ought to be. The Jungle Room just looks like some hick kid’s idea of “exotic.” The civil rights museum reduced me to tears but part of that was an epiphany that the Lorraine Motel wasn’t remarkable as a place. It matters to us because it’s the spot where a great man died. And something about that ordinariness of the Lorraine, the ordinariness of Sun Records made me realize that any spot has the potential to be a Magical place.
If you could summon a comic series based on any location into being (realities of the direct market be damned) what would you generate?
See, I love exercises in theme – so for me, it would be less about picking a specific place, and more about how I could utilize the place to tell a good story. That said, I think someone could have a lot of fun using The White House to make an anthology. Randomly assign people rooms – someone could tell a story that takes place in the Oval Office, but someone would get the Lincoln bedroom and someone else the kitchen pantry. That could be fun. I’d really like to do a random draw kind of thing. I miss having the time to write purely for fun and exercise. I need to figure out a way to fix that.
What would be your dream CBGB lineup? Three bands, from any era. Plus your dream date for the show.
Johnny Cash, with David Johansen and Robert Johnson. My daughter, Tallulah.
I asked a similar question of Kieron…there are no less than five creators on this book from the Warren Ellis Forum, including your artist Chuck BB. As we talk, comic store shelves are chock full of at least a half a dozen more, at the minimum. You and I met on the WEF. If it wasn’t for the board, I don’t know if I would be “here.” Would you? What’s was it about that place? Want to take a stab at the legacy of the WEF?
Wait, Chuck BB is from the WEF?! How did I not know that? I remember him from Steve Niles’ board. Wow.â€¨
â€¨And no, I would not be “here” (wherever here is) if not for the WEF. I mean, Jesus, I met my husband on that board. My entire life would be different. I owe Warren Ellis for a great many things, my job is only one of them.â€¨
â€¨We just had to cancel our plans for NYCC because of a family emergency and there were at least a half dozen reasons I was disappointed but the top of that list was that I wouldn’t get to participate in Kevin Thurman’s documentary on Ellis.
Oh, you’re right. He wasn’t in the WEF proper, he just haunts my memories of it, apparently.
Most important question, save for last: What is your all-time favorite musical guest star spot on “Yo Gabba Gabba?”