A pop star is much like a superhero, just not as believable. The two biggest ever of the former, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, were too weird by half, making Batman a totally reasonable proposition in comparison. And so it’s no surprise that the Canadian R&B singer Abel Tesfaye (who works professionally as the Weeknd) has parlayed his fame and persona into Starboy, a new Marvel Comics series he created, based on his 2016 album of the same name.
At the very least, the comic book Starboy is fresh product for the Weeknd’s serious merchandise catalogue. At the very most, it’s a new artistic avenue for a musician who from the start of his meteoric career has cultivated a mysterious vibe. So, in his spare time, Drake goes to basketball games. The Weeknd? He’s superpowered, going toe-to-toe with a cannibalistic criminal mastermind who terrorizes the megacity of Alphatron.
The Weeknd isn’t the only pop act venturing into the world of comics this summer. The Beatles’ surreal 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine is set to sail as a graphic novel. Adapted and illustrated by Bill Morrison (current editor of Mad magazine and co-founder of Bongo Comics), the Pepperland-set book will be released on Aug. 28 by Titan Comics. Advance copies of The Beatles: Yellow Submarine, fully authorized by Apple, were a hit at last week’s Comic-Con 2018 in San Diego, Calif.
Morrison, by the way, illustrated the 2010 comic book Lady Robotika, a short-lived space opera written by the Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin. Other musicians who have written comic books include My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, Rob Zombie, Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez, Percy Carey (a.k.a. MF Grimm) and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.
Courtney Love co-created and co-wrote Princess Ai, a manga series illustrated by Ai Yazawa that was whimsically based on the Hole singer’s life. “Princess Ai is a great character, because she feels like my alter-ego, but in a fantasy setting,” Love said in 2003.
No musician is more devoted to sequential panels and speech balloons than Canadian electro-pop singer Lights, who a year ago released a conceptual album (Skin & Earth) that tied into a comic series of the same name written and drawn by the Drive My Soul singer herself. Set in a postapocalyptic future, the outcast heroine is a Lights-lookalike in pursuit of romance and identity. After the album went on to earn a Juno Award for top pop album, it was announced that Lights had signed a deal to further develop Skin & Earth for video-game content and a television series.
Of course, music’s most enthusiastic comic-book crossover is Kiss, the seventies-born hard rockers and prolific merchandisers whose whole act was built for lunch boxes as much as it was for music. Wearing make-up and futuristic costumes, the members took on superhero personae: the Starchild, the Demon, the Spaceman and the Catman. Among other illustrated Kiss affiliations, the 41-issue Marvel Comics Super Special series kicked off in 1977 with an adventure story that had the grease-painted four pitted against villains (Doctor Doom and Mephisto) who weren’t fooling anyone with their nicknames.
Not every pop star needs to create a superhero persona. Neither do they need to ever appear in a comic book or graphic novel at all. But, as Lucy van Pelt (of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts fame) once asked about the genius of Ludwig van Beethoven, “How can you say someone is great who’s never had his picture on bubblegum cards?" In the same vein of that inarguable logic, how can a pop star truly have made it if they’ve never had their own cartoon-y offshoot?
So, your move, Beyoncé. Or is that Single Ladies superheroine Sasha Fierce?