Music and comics may not seem to go together, but a lot of people make both.

Gerard Way — formerly of My Chemical Romance — wrote UMBRELLA ACADEMY and THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS before stepping into comics full-time as curator of DC’s Young Animal imprint. He now pens DOOM PATROL on top of his curation duties.

Max Bemis of Say Anything also wrote his own book called POLARITY in 2013, which came with a 4-song EP. He’s also written EVIL EMPIRE, OH, KILLSTRIKE, X-MEN: WORST X-MAN EVER, MOON KNIGHT, and more.

Most recently, Lights released a 6-issue series called SKIN & EARTH to go along with her album of the same name. She wrote, drew, inked, colored, and lettered the book herself. It was honestly freaking incredible.

A section of Lights’ first issue of SKIN & EARTH, when the words match lyrics in one of her songs, from Dynamite Comics

These are just a few examples of this phenomenon. From Good Charlotte guitarist Billy Martin to BATMAN artist Greg Capullo, passion for these mediums tend to overlap a lot.

So why is that, exactly? Music and comics seem to have nothing in common at first glance. One outlet is completely auditory, and the other is completely visual. They’re both forms of expression and creative outlets, and they’re both art. But that seems to be where the similarities end. But it was the words of Gerard Way that helped me to realize how similar the two really are.

During a conversation I had with him back in November — as well as during panels and other interviews over the years — Way likened making comics to being in a band. He said that the collaboration it takes to make a comic is like writing a song or making an album. And it totally makes sense. Everyone has a different part to play, and the end result wouldn’t be the same without the full team.

But before jumping into that, the similarities in how these two mediums are presented to their audiences are certainly worth exploring.

Music Structure

There seems to be an interesting connection in the composition of both music and comics.

Think about a good comic arc. It lasts about six issues, right? Well, that’s about the length of a good, solid EP a band or artist would put out in between albums. An event, however, could be anywhere from 10-12 issues. (They usually last about a year, coming out monthly.) That’s also how many songs are in the average album.

So when thought of as part of a whole, a song is pretty much like an issue of a comic. It has to have a beginning, middle, and end, but it’s also part of a larger story.

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Now, this numerology can probably be chalked up to coincidence, but I think differently. I think it goes back to the theory and structure of storytelling. We know the best song-writers are good storytellers — hell, there’s a whole television series based on the concept. We just seem to like stories told in installments, whether it’s in the issues of a comic or the songs on a record.

This structure also allows for variations in tone throughout the story, which both music fans and comic readers seem to like. And just like a record needs its single, every comic arc or event needs a standout issue — one people will be hyping up until the next book comes out.

But even if you don’t buy this similarity, the real connection is in how these pieces of art are composed. Because it’s the most common makeup of a band, I’ll be comparing a comic team to that of a five-piece group consisting of a singer, two guitarists (rhythm and lead), a bassist, and a drummer.

The Singer

We’ll start with the easy one. Many tout this person as the most important part of a group. They’re the big star, the headliner, the one who speaks when a project wins an award.

Think about Paramore, for instance. You’re probably thinking about Hayley Williams. (The number of times I’ve heard this band referred to as “her” instead of “they” makes me want to throw up.) People are (still?) often shocked that Pete Wentz isn’t the singer in Fall Out Boy because they are actually aware of the bassist’s name. Some groups, like Bon Jovi, are even named after the singer. If you aren’t familiar with the names of anyone else in the band, there’s still a chance you know who the singer is.


This is the same with comic writers. You may not recall who drew the last issue of BATMAN, for example, but you probably recognize Tom King as the writer. Writers are first in a lineup, and reviews often focus on their work.

People seem to know (or at least think they know) how to criticize writing, just like they “know” how to criticize singing. Everyone’s uncle thought they knew more than the judges on AMERICAN IDOL, and everyone likes to talk about how writing in their favorite books could be better.

It also doesn’t hurt that often singers write the lyrics (and sometimes music) in their songs. That definitely makes this connection the shortest of the leaps in the analogy.

A couple of people that fit into this are Gerard Way and writer Cecil Castellucci (SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL), who used to play music as Cecil Seaskull.

The Guitarists

To overly simplify the difference between a rhythm and lead guitar, let’s say that the lead guitar provides the melody while the rhythm guitar plays the chords that are the basis of the song — the groove and foundation the song is built on.

In this way, a penciler is like a lead guitarist. They’re playing the part that most people who are untrained in the medium can easily pick out and pay attention to. Pencilers are listed just below the writer and are often just referred to as the “artist,” even when they’re not the only member of the art team (which is often the case). This is the “sexy” role in the art team, just like being a lead guitarist in a band.

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The rhythm guitarist is a little bit harder to place. But it’s clear to me that this guitar really sets the tone of the song, just like colors do in a book. They’re often a little less appreciated than lead guitarists. For example, Angus Young is the more famous guitarist in AC/DC; he played lead while his brother, Malcolm, absolutely slayed on rhythm guitar.  Slash is another example of a super famous lead guitarist who outshines the rhythm guitarists (there have been a few, including Izzy Stradlin). These are phenomenal artists with a tendency to be unfairly overshadowed. Sounds like a colorist to me.

And before you point to a black and white book like THE WALKING DEAD as an example of a book that doesn’t need a colorist, check again. There is a colorist, they just work in greyscale.

There are some amazing comic artists are also guitarists, including Greg Capullo and Billy Martin.

The Rhythm Section

There’s a common way musicians describe bassists. They often say that you only notice their work when it’s either really good or really terrible. Comic lettering is similar.

Very few people know how to appreciate a letter’s work, and that’s pretty upsetting. They’re the backbone of a comic. For most people, their work is literally what you spend a lot of the time staring at — the thing that lets you read the comic. Have you ever heard a full-band song without a bass line? It’s just completely off, as would a comic without lettering.

What happens when a great team comes together; DOOM PATROL, DC Comics

Lastly, we have inkers and drummers. A drummer is there to keep the beat and make sure everyone else in the group sticks together. That’s the basic function of their job, but they also add undeniable flair to their work while they’re keeping everyone on point.

Now, imagine a comic book that’s just pencils and colors. Everything about it falls apart, just like a song without a drummer would.

The similarities are even clearer when we look at the rhythm section of a band (rhythm guitarist, bassist, and drummer) compared to their comic artist comrades. These three artists form the true foundation of books just like these musicians hold songs together. They’re all criminally underappreciated in spite of being absolutely essential.

But none of these artists exist in a vacuum.

Bringing It All Together

So now we come back to the key message — collaboration is key. Books are truly successful when all members of their creative team are on the same page. When artists of all kinds come together to be better than the sum of their parts, true magic happens.

That synergy exists in both music and comics. When there’s a shared vision, and a team finds a way to bring out the best in each other, great things can happen.

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Additionally, the success of both kinds of projects depends on a slew of other people. An editor in comics, for example, is like a mixer or producer on a record. Both have publicists and similar sorts of people working behind the scenes. Long story short, there’s a lot more to these teams than many people realize. From going to conventions to going on tour and beyond, there are many hands at work in both of these creative endeavors.

So it seems to make sense that musicians would choose comics as another creative outlet to explore. Through they seem wildly different, that basic structure and collaboration are consistent.

Besides, the real trick to comics is to make your audience feel something with your work — to elicit some sort of emotional reaction. And few people know how to do that as well as musicians.

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