SÖNGR #1 by Arye Dworken and Anthony Chelette
SÖNGR #1 is a successful start to a series, especially for its inventive plots, gorgeous illustrations, and meditations on the nature of art. A great read for musicians and fans who love the classics, are worried about pop fads and care about the future of music.
89 %

Is Taylor Swift the best thing that’s happened to pop music? Millions of fans would say yes. Or, the skeptics ask, is Swift emblematic of the lack of originality we see in so many recent music industry stars? Through thinly veiled parody Sophie Quick, SÖNGR #1 investigates these kinds of questions about popular music and music criticism. It does so with passion and nuance. The first “track” of this comics series is at once a lament for the music of past decades, as well as a plea not to give up on the new music coming out today.

Created by former music critic Arye Dworken and artist Anthony Chelette, SÖNGR #1 follows entitled superstar Sophie Quick and jaded music critic Evan Rosen. In different ways, each of them strays from the righteous path of music. While Sophie sells herself for fame and fandom, Evan watches pop music decline, losing faith in music altogether.

As a result, both characters meet the mysterious deity Müsik, a bodily manifestation of sound itself. In a snakeskin jacket and jaunty bowtie, Müsik leads the two protagonists on a journey to the alternate world of Söngr. There, they encounter musical legends like the giant hawk Freebird and a heroic hooded version of Kurt Cobain. And only in Söngr can they redeem themselves from the pitfalls of pop culture.

Image courtesy of Arye Dworken and Anthony Chelette.

SÖNGR #1 offers a host of thought-provoking questions about art as well as clever references from the canon of popular music. With beautiful artwork and visual innovations, SÖNGR #1 uses the medium of comics to interrogate the art of music.

SÖNGR #1’s Art Steals the Show

Above all, the highlight of SÖNGR #1 is its artwork. Not only do the visuals delight the eye, but the story also presents an ambitious view of art. In fact, the entire plot of SÖNGR #1 hinges on the belief that art has the power to shape the world. Indeed, the parallel world of Söngr exists as a result of human musicians. In the story, this creative power extends to everyone associated with art, including its critics and producers.

Absurdism and Millennials: A Love Affair

To illustrate this concept, one brilliant panel from SÖNGR #1 frames the music critic as a creator of worlds. As Müsik narrates the recent demise of the land of Söngr, an accompanying drawing depicts music critic Evan typing furiously into his laptop. In the image, the ink of Evan’s words floats up and merges with the crumbling bedrock of the alternate world. His praises and critiques are the ground upon which Söngr is built. His belief in music created the world of Söngr. Likewise, his cynicism is killing it.

Through this kind of storytelling, SÖNGR #1 puts a tremendous amount of faith in art. Thankfully, Chelette’s illustrations justify this message. A collage approach dominates the comic, layering photographs, textured backgrounds, and streaky strokes of ink. The spectrum of sources and styles in the illustrations echoes the many genres of music.

Throughout SÖNGR #1, Chelette’s art evokes a nostalgia for printed material, like zines. The illustrations take advantage of those beams of light you get from a printer out of toner. In this case, the streaks of gray evoke a time gone by. Is print media, like music, better off with the small-batch imperfections of zines, rather than the artificial gloss of mass-produced publications? Through its art, SÖNGR #1 argues yes.

Image courtesy of Arye Dworken and Anthony Chelette.

SÖNGR #1 Is More Than a One-Hit Wonder

Aside from its art, the plot and characters in SÖNGR #1 comprise a strong foundation for a new series. The characterization of Evan Rosen is particularly strong. The tortured musings of the disillusioned music critic are well-crafted and pleasantly surprising. Perhaps Dworken’s own experience informed the psychological insight into this character. The comic tells us that Evan “used to love music,” but has since become “a bitter old man.” Will we watch him regain his former passion, as promised by his journey through the world of Söngr? The prospect of character growth should keep readers engaged.

Image courtesy of Arye Dworken and Anthony Chelette.

Relatedly, the concept of Söngr, an alternate world created by humans’ music, is one of the greatest delights of the comic. At its best, the plot is imaginative and thought-provoking. For instance, the character Müsik is supposedly a “physical embodiment of Earth’s vibrations.” SÖNGR #1 proposes that the forces of sound birthed a living being, in a miracle akin to the development of a human from a single sperm and egg. Dworken pulls off such lofty comparisons with skill.

Similarly clever, the map of Söngr’s world pays tribute to the many bands the creators admire. The quotations dispersed throughout the dialogue and references hidden in the illustrations will reward classic rock fans. To further entrench SÖNGR #1 in the musical canon of decades past, it takes many jabs at millennials. However, these jokes about millennials and their infamously short attention spans are apt and funny.

Image courtesy of Arye Dworken and Anthony Chelette.

Critiquing the Critic: Where SÖNGR #1 Falls Short

While most of SÖNGR #1’s characters and storylines succeed, a few moments gave me pause. First of all, the self-publishing resulted in a number of typos and spelling errors, which are distracting. At risk of me, a critic, growing jaded like Evan, I hope to keep my other critiques closer to suggestions.

One area where the plot of SÖNGR #1 lulls is the long interlude into a Led Zeppelin-inspired battle scene. The comic launches readers abruptly into this scene, which feels less inspired than former ones. In title, SÖNGR #1 alludes to Old Norse culture, much as Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore” alludes to Celtic or Anglo-Saxon history.

Unfortunately, the comic fails to tie these references together coherently. Instead, the battle scene recycles every Middle Ages cliché at once, mixing horned helmets with chain mail armor and furry ogres. Elsewhere, SÖNGR #1 succeeds most in its imagination of entirely new worlds and fresh ideas. By avoiding conventions, SÖNGR #1 could engage more readers with its inventiveness.

Sound & Vision: Depression in the Music of David Bowie, Radiohead, & Kendrick Lamar

Additionally, the character of Müsik presents a fruitful opportunity for the creators to explore the topic of gender expression. Throughout SÖNGR #1, Müsik refers to herself intermittently as both a “god” and a “goddess.” Müsik is often compared with David Bowie, who famously exercised his freedom of expression through various performance identities.

It’s unclear, however, whether the characters or the creators are poking fun at Müsik for her gender expression. Over the course of SÖNGR #1, they call Müsik such epithets as “lady-man” and “she-Bowie.” I’m curious to see if the creators of SÖNGR #1 take a more explicit stance in defense of Müsik’s identity, or if she continues to face disparagement.

Image courtesy of Arye Dworken and Anthony Chelette.

If You Care About Music, Read SÖNGR #1

In conclusion, the successes and fumbles of SÖNGR #1 will make it an exciting new series to follow. Of the many themes it raises, it takes none more seriously than the nature of music in the 21st century.

WHO KILLED KURT COBAIN? Review: Peace, Love, Empathy

Although SÖNGR #1 is a comic, it presents itself as a musical album. It refers to its first issue as a “track.” Likewise, its title derives from an Old Norse word for “song.” Clearly, the comic is aware of its own commentary on music, as well as visual and narrative art. As such, SÖNGR #1 presents one central question: should we be excited about the arc of music’s progress, or are we witnessing the 21st-century degeneration of an art form?

In the end, SÖNGR #1 comes dangerously close to outright prescribing good and bad music to readers. Will the story alienate readers who aren’t familiar with the “truly deserving” bands such as Led Zeppelin and Nirvana? Likely. However, the parallel storylines of Sophie and Evan promise to critique not only pop culture itself but also the harshest pop culture skeptics. What kind of music will remain “good” when both the new and the old are dismissed?

SÖNGR #1 has the potential to wipe clean the musical slate and offer readers something fresh. Instead of coming down on one side or the other, I hope it takes the opportunity to do something new.

Buy and read the self-published SÖNGR #1 here, and watch out for coming installments of the series.

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!