It’s always great when two different genres cross over and produce a wonderful piece of art. A great example of that is Z2 Comics and Rhino Music’s origin story of the Grateful Dead, written by Chris Miskiewicz and illustrated by Noah Van Sciver in comic book form. Now, this story won’t take you to the stage right away; instead, it will show you how these six musicians came together to create some strong bonds and amazing music that lives on today. Let us take a long, strange trip into this story.
I don’t know how you may have come across the Grateful Dead, but I vividly remember how they came into my life: my dad had a copy of their best-of album, Skeletons from the Closet, and the cover stuck with me for life. That skeleton spinning a record on his middle finger, the beautiful woman using a rose as a needle, and a devil holding her hand steady…maybe I was too influenced by Ghost Rider, but this was some music that I had to listen to for sure.
This graphic novel opens on a page with a car full of people doing some LSD before they go check out a live band in a bar. Right away, we see that this story will stay very true to the wild ways of some of the band members. That really helps me to appreciate the story as it is raw in its scope; no punches will be pulled. Once this group finally gets into the bar to listen to the Warlocks (pre-Grateful Dead band), we are treated to a great mix of graphic art and musical notes hitting the air to give the page a nice vibe. I don’t know if it was just me, but I really enjoyed how the musical notes were used — it really felt like it drove the page from just being static art to something that was lively and moving, like it had its own pulse.
Noah Van Sciver has a style that is caricatured but not way off base. His layouts are great, as they flow nicely and have an interesting vibe to them — they move along in a structure, but when the musical scenes happen, the panels get bigger and livelier. I really appreciate Aladdin Collar working on the colors as it helps to evoke that free spirit, counter-culture feel that these guys embodied. Those colors really bring Noah’s art to life, especially when the story takes us to the Monterey Pop Festival back in 1967. These are some wicked looking visuals that could only be enhanced by listening to the actual music being performed.
Chris Miskiewicz does a great job telling a story that makes us feel like we are there. You’re seeing these tales in live moments as they go with the story, and I love that the flashbacks are also in the moment — that may sound weird, but it’s like when a friend tells you a story. You can picture what they are saying and how it looked while exiting that moment and then coming back to the here and now. Chris also does a great job showing all the highs and lows that Grateful Dead went through, with some struggles from outside and inside influence.
This is a great graphic novel musical mash-up that does more than any Wikipedia page can do. So whether you’re a seasoned Dead Head, a student of musical history, or just somebody looking for an entertaining read with great art, go out and get yourself a copy of this. You’ll learn a lot about these guys as the story takes you on their long, strange trip.