Elvis Sighting: Rich Koslowski talks "The King"

If there's an Elvis convention held anywhere in the U.S., you can count on your local news stations covering it. Years after his death the fascination with and popularity of Elvis continues to remain high and sightings of the man regularly find their way into the supermarket tabloids. Elvis impersonators are plenty. There's even a Thai Elvis who does a popular weekly show in Los Angeles. And thanks to the film "Ocean's Eleven," which featured the song "A Little Less Conversation," a new generation of fans were introduced to the King's music.

That fascination comes to comics this July in the 208-page original graphic novel "The King" by Rich Koslowski from Top Shelf Productions. For those not familiar with Koslowski, he's a regular artist for Archie comics, the creator of the popular "Three Geeks," featuring the adventures of three very enthusiastic comic book fans, and the graphic novel "Three Fingers, a "documentary" style graphic novel that tells the "true" story behind the cartoon industry. We sat down with Koslowski to learn a bit more about his latest project, "The King."

"'[The King's] the story of an enigmatic Elvis 'impersonator' who wears a shiny gold helmut, that's taking the Vegas strip-- and the world-- by storm," Koslowski told CBR News. "There are claims that he is, in fact, the God of Song, that he was once Elvis Presley, but transcended the mortal plane and, well, I don't want to give away too much. Anyways, there's this old, kind of washed-up reporter who used to do a lot of 'Elvis Sighting' type stories back in the eighties--he worked for the Enquirer and got a lot of mileage out of the whole Elvis phenomenon--now he's been assigned to find out who this King character really is and what he's all about. He goes in with a kind of crummy attitude and discovers quite a bit more than he bargained for.

It's an offbeat story with some mystery, some religious debate, some drama, and, I hope, a little bit of humor."

The two main characters are The King and reporter Paul Erfurt. "These two are central and the story really is equally about both of them and what Elvis meant to them and means to them now," explained Koslowski. "But it really is about more than just Elvis. There's a lot of soul-searching here.

"There's also a very interesting cast of supporting characters. There's the Private Investigator friend of Erfurt's who has helped him with stories in the past. He plays a pivotal role. And he adds a bit of grisled humor.

"And then there's the King's New Memphis Mafia!' His inner circle of friends/confidantes/bodyguards. This crew of six intriguing characters all have their own stories to tell and are an integral part of the mystery that develops. And finally, there's the girl! There's always a girl and well there should be!"

While working on his previous graphic novel, "Three Fingers," Koslowski got to know his Publisher Chris Staros at Top Shelf and was fascinated to discover that Staros is an Elvis fanatic. "And I mean fanatic in the true sense of the word," said Koslowski. "He's one of these guys who does the 'pilgrimage' to Elvis' grave and has a shrine in his house dedicated to Elvis. So, I heard he was an Elvis nut and started probing him about it. I was, like I said, fascinated--I've always been fascinated by the Elvis fan phenomenon--and asked him if he'd publish a story about Elvis if I could come up with an original idea. His eyes lit up! Within about three weeks I submitted a proposal, he loved it, and here we are two years later."

As for why Elvis, Koslowski says he's always been fascinated by Elvis fans, more so than even Elvis himself. "I've always liked a few of Elvis' songs, and never disputed the fact that Elvis was a talented performer, but I was never a 'fanatic.' After Elvis died (or did he?) he was front-page news on all the tabloids for years. And my grandpa used to buy those and bring them over every Sunday when he visited our house. I remember being absolutely engrossed by these terrible, ridiculous stories. I just loved them. The reporter, Paul Erfurt, is named after my grandpa as an homage.

"The whole Elvis mythos, his fanatics, his legacy, the controversies, this is what I was more interested in. This is the aspect of Elvis that inspired me to write a story about him. But, y'know, as I started researching the story and listening to his music (I 'invoked' a lot while working) a funny thing happened-- I realized what a true genius Elvis was. I've become quite a fan. He really was a special performer. He had that certain 'X-Factor' that separated him from all the other talented singers of his day and since. I mean there have been a lot of talented performers over the years-- guys with great voices, good looks, charisma-- but he had all these attributes and more. He's that once-in-a-lifetime character that becomes more than he is. A Babe Ruth, a Muhammed Ali, a Marylin Monroe...a God!

"Hence, my story."

While the book is completely fictional, Koslowski did a good bit of research into the legend and history of Elvis outside of just listening to his music. "I purchased, and read four different Elvis biographies/books: 'Elvis Speaks' by Elizabeth McKeon & Linda Everett; 'The Elvis Encyclopedia' by David E. Stanley with Frank Coffey, 'Elvis, the Kind of Rock N' Roll' by Rupert Matthews; and 'Elvis, The Kind Remembered' by Susan M. Moyer. Extremely beneficial to me in the sense that it gave me an idea what Elvis's mindset was during his rise and then fall. It also gave me more insight as to the level of fanaticism that surrounded him and still surrounds him to this day. Aside from wanting to gain insight in those two areas the rest of the story was completely fictional and already crafted for the most part. The books and his music were tools I resourced purely to get a 'feel' for who Elvis was."

But what about the hard core Elvis fans? How does Koslowski think they'll respond to his story? "Well, It was always my intention-- and Chris Staros made it perfectly clear-- to remain respectful to Elvis's legacy," explained Koslowski. "Elvis had some problems-- I don't think that's a secret-- and they are discussed in the book, but never as a way to degrade or diminish him. His downfall is an integral part of my story, so it has to be mentioned, but I think what I suggest happens as a result should please any Elvis fan. At the very least, I don't think any Elvis fan will be offended. Chris Staros is one of the world's biggest Elvis fanatics. Trust me, if it was offensive or disrespectful in any way he would not have green lit the book."

"The King" is actually a year late getting out into the market. It was originally supposed to be published last summer, but a severe eye injury suffered while playing basketball took Koslowski out of commission for an extended period. "Another player, who I just met and played with for the first time, was more than a bit reckless and poked his finger up into my eye socket," said Koslowski. "The pain was terrible! Without a doubt the most painful thing I've ever felt (and I've had kidney stones and a root canal). I thought a bullet had come through a window somewhere and hit me in the eye. I had no idea it was a finger in the eye until they told me later. I didn't see it coming because the guy who poked me did so from behind me. Anyways, I went to the emergency room and they assured me that the double vision I was experiencing would go away within a day, or two. It didn't. I then saw several other eye specialists over the next two weeks, each one assuring me that the double vision would go away in a few days. It didn't. And it was terrible double vision. Imagine walking around cross-eyed all day every day. Just try and do it for five minutes. It's bad. I was suffering headaches and nausea, and was sleeping 14-16 hours a day as a result. Well, finally, after about six weeks a specialist determined that a muscle in my eye was torn by the finger and my eye was damaged beyond repair. One of the six muscles that control the movement of your eye wasn't pushing the eye like it was supposed to. The only viable alternative was to 'adjust' the good, uninjured eye. In reality, damage the good eye to match the damaged eye. But they wanted to wait at least six months to perform the surgery just to make sure that the damaged eye didn't improve on its own. So for six months I lived a nightmare. And couldn't work more than two hours a day. I had to wear a patch and work with one eye. The headaches were, by far, the worst.

"I had surgery and it was successful for the most part. Before the surgery I would have graded my vision at about 20% and now I'd give it a strong 80%. I still have trouble when I look in a certain direction, and still suffer from fatigue if I work too long or go for a long drive, but it's much improved. I also have permanent 'floaters' that will never go away. Little black spots that float around in your field of vision.

"Moral of the story-- wear goggles if you play basketball. My injury was one-in-a-million, but it happened. And yes, I'm playing basketball again-- I refuse to give up-- and yes, I wear goggles."

Getting back to Elvis, with all this exposure to the King, we had to find out which are Koslowski's favorite songs by the musician. "It's really impossible to answer," admitted Koslowski. "I face this same head-scratching dilemma every time someone asks me what my favorite comic book is or who's my favorite creator. It's the old 'apples and oranges' thing. But, I won't cop out on you here and evade the question. I'll say that today (and it might change if you ask me next week) it would be 'Suspicious Minds.' Fantastic song! I really love the remix of 'A Little Less Conversation' [by JXL] as well, but since this latest version of that song was released well after Elvis's death I'm not sure I can fully consider it a 'pure' Elvis release. I need to know that Elvis would have approved."

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