If you’ve followed AIPT enough, you’ll hear us discuss all the biggest and best heroes. But this time around, we’re not talking about Captain America or Batman, but another, similarly larger-than-life paladin of power: Prince. Yes, the Purple One himself is the inspiration for MPLS Sound, from co-writers Joseph Illidge and Hannibal Tabu and artist Meredith Laxton. (The trio are joined by colorist Tan Shu and cover artist Jen Bartel.) The full-color OGN “charts the career of the fictional band Starchild and paints a vivid picture of the rise of a musical genius, and the rebirth of [Minneapolis, Minnesota.]” It’s a touching, deeply magical tribute to a man, a musician, and a myth (and the Twin Cities).
Ahead of today’s bookstore release (the OGN is in comic shops starting Wednesday, April 14), we spoke with Illidge, Tabu, and Laxton about recreating Prince in comics, their favorite moments from the book, and much more.
AIPT: What for you, personally, makes Prince such an important and influential artist/creator and a cultural vanguard?
Hannibal Tabu: Prince saw the world around him and decided it wasn’t good enough. Through talent and more importantly force of will, he created his own lane and invented a means to in many ways decolonize spaces that had been denied to people of color. Jimi walked so Prince could run.
Joseph Illidge: Prince was a person of uniquely high ambition and standards, in everything he did, going back to his high school days. His striving for an elusive perfection gave his work a sense of perfectionism. It made him the summit of a mountain he convinced many musicians to endeavor to climb. Perfectionism is both a gift and a curse, and its effects on people are both inspirational and painful. There never was, nor will there ever be, another Prince.
Meredith Laxton: Aside from his own phenomenal body of work, Prince backed so many other artists and really influenced the music industry like no one else. To me, he was the first musical artist to create and promote himself as a brand and not just a singular artist and I think that paved the way for how a lot of musical artists operate today.
AIPT: What are the challenges or complexities of adapting Prince’s rich life into a comic/GN? And what about some of the creative opportunities?
JI: The greatest challenge was really communicating the essence of Prince through the character of Theresa Booker, the bandleader for Starchild, while maintaining her own agency and having her be in conflict with Prince from time to time. MPLS Sound is a musical melodrama in graphic novel form, and it had to have echoes of Prince to work well in the atmosphere alongside him for this secret history we’ve crafted.
With that, you get the creative opportunities of using Minneapolis history to enrich the story and characters. Where they eat, where they meet. Who Theresa and the members of Starchild meet along the way. Using these things to help create a story that takes the reader back into a very specific time and place.
Prince is a catalyst in the story of MPLS Sound, so when you see him, it matters. The things he says and does propel our characters in ways they aren’t always comfortable with.
HT: My biggest anxiety was the idea of putting words in his mouth. Are we gonna get sued? Can I match his cadences from the era? We found a clever way around it that matches his aesthetic very closely, I think. From an opportunity sense, I was very excited to expand the idea of the complexity of the town. The idea that a huge amount of the cassette tapes in the world were manufactured in Minneapolis, that from Husker Du to Brown Mark, there was such a scary amount of talent in this town that it made me wonder, what are we missing in Biloxi and Lakewood, Washington and so on.
ML: I think the hardest aspect of any comic that’s about music is translating an auditory artform into a visual (and silent) one. As an artist, you have to rely on the reader’s nostalgia for certain images and art styles, hoping the visuals remind them of the kind of music they would be hearing if MPLS Sound were, perhaps, a film rather than a comic.
AIPT: What’s your favorite moment (or maybe two) that’s depicted in the book? Why?
JI: That’s a tricky one! I love the sequence of vignettes showing how Theresa recruits the members of Starchild. You’ll get a sense of who each of these people are and where Theresa finds them in their lives.
ML: My favorite scenes are the ones where Theresa is on stage and reality kind of bleeds away. Particularly, when she first plays for Prince there is a spread where Theresa is so in the zone that nothing matters except her and her guitar. It’s very magical, I think.
HT: There’s a moment where Theresa sees herself on stage, in a super 1970s kind of way, that was very cinematic to me and I enjoy quite a bit. It’s one of the things I could most easily see on the big screen exactly as Meredith visually conceived it, which is an amazing bit to do something so effective that it works responsively in whatever container it finds itself.
AIPT: What sorts of insights or lessons (about Prince, pop culture, making art, Minneapolis itself, etc.) do you think readers might pick up on?
JI: Prince was a generous person when it came to writing songs and seeding the music industry. He may have understood in a unique way how ideas thrown into the world go through a special metamorphosis, depending on who is the change agent.
There are also ways in which Prince wasn’t at all charitable, and the collision of people in his orbit with Prince’s adamant positions have sent ripples throughout contemporary history and the music industry.
HT: Prince was far meaner than many people would suspect. As someone who many people consider mean, I saw that and saw how the “real” work he did in many ways overshadowed that, but despite eventual philanthropy and literally making opportunities for dozens of people, he followed a Microsoft model of making it harder for others who did not find his favor. All our faves are, indeed, problematic in one way or another but I believe the good from this era far outshines the bad. That may be privilege, as I wasn’t negatively affected by it.
ML: I think the important lesson in MPLS Sound is to be true to your art. No one can tell you how to make YOUR art, you have to find it through a lot of trial and error. Theresa has the wherewithal to choose her own path and she’s much better for it in the end.
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