Stephenson on "This is a Souvenir"

Continuing its efforts to meld indie rock with graphic storytelling, Image Comics will in February publish "This is a Souvenir: The Songs of Spearmint and Shirley Lee," its third anthology of music-inspired stories. The first collection, 2006's "Put the Book Back on the Shelf," focused on Scottish stars Belle and Sebastian, while "Comic Book Tattoo," released earlier this year, was a gorgeous (and giant) anthology based on the oeuvre of Tori Amos. CBR News caught up with editor Eric Stephenson to discuss the latest volume and the music behind the comics.

Given that the musical stylings of Spearmint are not quite as famous as Tori Amos's haunting and eccentric songs, or even the bouncing rhythms of Belle and Sebastian, the band might seem a strange choice for translation into comics. "Honestly, Spearmint probably isn't all that familiar to anyone who isn't a fairly obsessive fan of British pop. They're an indie act from Britain - that doesn't always translate to huge commercial success here in the States," Stephenson told CBR News. "Singer/songwriter Shirley Lee's lyrics are incredibly good, though, and that's why I felt Spearmint would be a good subject for another music-related anthology. In fact, the album that introduced me to Spearmint, 'A Different Lifetime,' was originally intended to feel like a novel. That album chronicled the cycle of a relationship, from the point a couple first falls in love through the happy times and then into the period where love fades and beyond. It's something of a pop masterwork, I think, and lyrically, it just succeeds on so many levels.

"A lot of Shirley's songs are like little stories, so I wrote to him and asked if he'd be interested in seeing them translated into comics. As it turned out, he was a fan of the Belle and Sebastian book, so he was very interested in doing something that would focus on his work in the same way that book did with Stuart Murdoch's lyrics."

Despite or perhaps because of the somewhat obscure reference point, Image has attracted some of independent comics' top talent to contribute to this book--the solicitation text mentions "Phonogram's" Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, Chynna Clugston-Flores ("Blue Monday"), Jamie S. Rich ("Cut My Hair"), and CBR's own Rich Johnston, among others.

Asked how songs were divvied up to individual creators, Stephenson said he does not assign songs but allows each contributor to adapt whichever song he or she most "connects with." "With Belle and Sebastian, we had loads of writers and artists who were already familiar with the band and everyone came at me with different songs they wanted to do," he explained. "This time around, not everyone I approached was familiar with Spearmint, or at least not as familiar with the band as I was. Shirley and I compiled a list of songs we felt would translate best into comic book stories, though, and I made the audio files and the lyrics available to everyone interested in contributing."

The short stories included in "This is a Souvenir" are mainly relationship-oriented, coinciding with the songs that inspired them. "There are lots of stories about love lost, love found and love confused," the Stephenson said. "If you've ever been crazy in love or if you've ever suffered through a soul-crushing break-up, there's probably a story here you'll instantly relate to.

"And if you've ever had a girlfriend who also happened to be a hired killer, there's a story about that, too."

"This is a Souvenir" will be an oversized book with the same dimensions as the Tori Amos-inspired "Comic Book Tattoo," which Stephenson described as essentially LP size. "I actually wish we'd done 'Put the Book Back on the Shelf' in that format, but that wasn't something that occurred to me until after artists had started drawing their stories for that book," Stephenson confessed. "Reformatting artwork from comic-size to LP-size would have been a real pain and it would've looked bad.

"The benefits of this format--which Mike Allred's recently reprinted 'Red Rocket 7' trade kind of went with, albeit in the 7" single format--are that it immediately sets the book apart from everything else, while directly linking it to the source material in a really natural and logical way. It's a book you can slide right in next to your vinyl."

"This is a Souvenir: The Songs of Spearmint and Shirley Lee" drops February 18. Though Spearmint's albums are hard to come by in U.S. stores and unavailable through iTunes or emusic in the US, fans of the book who become interested in the songs can purchase digital downloads through the band's web site, www.spearmint.net.

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