Book Reviews

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams

As one of the most magnetic icons of modern pop culture, David Bowie seduced generations of fans with his music and counterculture persona. While Bowie’s legacy as a musician is remarkable and genre-defying, as a visual performer he obliterated stage theatrics with his psychedelic aesthetics, larger-than-life image, and way of hovering on the border of the surreal. Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams chronicles the rise of David Bowie’s career from obscurity to fame, as well as the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s historic alter ego. Ziggy accompanies Bowie on his rocky ride to the top, but when the Spiders from Mars finally implode and Bowie leaves London for a nomadic life abroad, he must lay the Ziggy persona to rest for good. The end of Ziggy not only changes Bowie but the world itself. Featuring graphic storytelling by New York Times best-selling artist Mike Allred and critically acclaimed writer Steve Horton that is as colorful and diverse as Bowie’s many personas, this graphic biography tells the story of one of the most celebrated and beloved musicians like never before.

To get this out of the way, my review of Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams (henceforth referred to as simply Bowie, despite its beautiful subtitle) is a little different from my usual fare. It is not an independent book that I am reviewing to bring (admittedly limited) attention to—while it is indeed published by an independent publisher, Insight Comics, writer/artist Mike Allred, writer Steve Horton, and colourist Laura Allred don’t need me to bring attention to their work. Neil Gaiman, who wrote the foreword might, because nobody’s heard of him, have they? But as much as Gaiman would appreciate my help, this is already a New York Times bestseller.

So, why am I reviewing this book? Simply, I’m a David Bowie tragic, and Bowie is the latest in a long line of books I own about him. I’m also a comic book tragic, and Bowie is the latest in a long line of comics (or graphic novels, if I want to up the pretentiousness) I own. But Bowie is the only comic I own about David Bowie. Add in the writing by Allred and Horton, and particularly Allred (and Allred)’s stunning art, and Bowie is a sight to behold, and a worthy addition to any David Bowie collection.

I could easily spend this entire review waxing lyrical about David Bowie, but I will instead focus on the book—but please note that I do retain the right to wax lyrical about Bowie over in Unpopular Opinion. And one day, believe me, I will get to it.

So, how is this book, then? In a word: great. I am refusing to watch the Stardust film (not to be confused with the Neil Gaiman book/movie that has nothing to do with David Bowie), a shameless cash grab that covers similar territory. The book is far from cynical, and treats its subject matter with respect. Something, that by all accounts, Stardust fails miserably at.

Covering the years from 1962 to 1973, Bowie tells the story of the Starman’s journey from struggling artist to the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust; from his failed self-titled album from Decca, through to the success spawning from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. At only 160 pages, the book covers a lot of history from these eleven years, leaving very little about this period of Bowie’s career untouched. It is a wonderful, economic use of the text, however, it doesn’t provide a huge amount of detail about much of this.

As the book’s subtitle, Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams indicates, Bowie‘s focus is on the creation of his most famous character, Ziggy Stardust, and his relationship with the character… until Bowie decides to retire him. This is told through the lens of Bowie meeting his creation, and the inspiration to bring him to life. Carrying through until the official retirement of Ziggy Stardust, the book also provides glimpses of the creations of other Bowie characters, Aladdin Sane, from the album he shares a name with; and Halloween Jack, from Diamond Dogs, originally intended as an adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. The book also covers his relationship with Hermoine Farthingale, his marriage to Angie Bowie, the birth of Zowie Bowie (who film fans would know better as director, Duncan Jones), his relationships with producer Tony Visconti, and the members of the Spiders from Mars. It is nothing if not thorough, however I would have personally preferred it if it provided more detail. Still, there are plenty of biographies and documentaries that provide this information.

While Allred and Horton’s script is solid, as is the way with just about anything he draws, the star of the show is Allred’s art (aided by his wife, Laura Allred’s stunning colours). Allred has provided art for many comics, some he created, and some that others created, including Red Rocket 7, an homage to Bowie himself. You may be familiar with his most famous creation, Madman (you’ll never convince me the exclamation mark is not intended as a reference to the Aladdin Sane lightning bolt), or his art on iZombie (the comic, however the TV series did feature some images from him).

Allred has never been an artist to hue too closely to reality, with his art being exaggerated and larger than life. In Bowie, Allred reins his art in somewhat, with amazing likenesses of Bowie and those around him. Posters and album covers are recreated throughout the book, and are absolutely flawless. However, that is not to say that Allred’s art forgoes what makes it special. David Bowie was a larger than life figure, and Allred’s art brings this to the fore beautifully, especially when it spends some time in Bowie’s head. A special shout-out should go to Laura Allred for the colours, which, as always, elevate Mike’s pencils and inks to another level.

Bowie is a magnificent tribute to David Bowie, a truly wonderful artist (I’d call him the greatest musician of all-time, though I don’t want to draw the ire of (wrong) people who disagree) who was taken from the world too soon. As a writer, David Bowie is my greatest influence, and Bowie does him justice.

If you’re a fan of Bowie, check it out. If you’re a fan of comics, check it out. If you’re a fan of Mike and Laura Allred, check it out. If you’re a fan of Steve Horton, check it out. Hell, if you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman, check it out for his poignant foreword. And, if you’re none of the above, there’s no hope for you, but check it out, anyway.

Now, if only Mr. Horton, and Mr. and Mrs. Allred would give us another five or so volumes covering the rest of David Bowie’s career…

Favourite Panels

David Bowie meets Ziggy Stardust

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