THAT NEW STYLE. Story by Joshua Dysart. Art and Coloring by Ryan Kelly.

Some time ago Liquid Comics approached the amazing Ryan Kelly (Saucer Country, Northlanders, Local, Lucifer) and I to do a short comic about Elvis Presley for a collection that was being commissioned by Graceland (I think). Excited to work with Ryan, who I’ve been a fan of since way back in the days of Lucifer, I lept at the chance.

Sadly our comic, and the others in the book, have yet to be seen by the larger public as the book turned out to be a special collector’s edition with a limited print run and a prohibitive price tag ($195. Now priced down to $120 for this month only, according to their website).

Anyway, quibbles aside, it seems there’s finally a more egalitarian way to get at this material now. You can download a free LITE DIGITAL INTERACTIVE APP here. As well as buy the physical book, if you’re so inclined. It does look beautiful. Though, I can’t say for certain whether our little comic story is in the app as I’m still rolling on a flip-phone from 2002.

The story itself, called THAT NEW STYLE, is one I’m pretty proud of.

I tried to write it as more of a “comics poem” than a straight narrative. A sort of collage of images and words that builds to a central theses about Elvis in particular and Rock-and-Roll in general. I think comics are more like poetry or music than anything else, so I always drift to this poetic style when given the chance.

The premise of the story was simple in concept, but slightly complex in execution. It’s October 14, 1954 and a 19-year-old Elvis is about to play live over the radio for the very first time. KWKH-AM’s “Louisiana Hayride” Country Western show is a national spotlight, and he’s just a nervous kid. At this point he has a single record out that sports THAT’S ALRIGHT MAMA on its A-side, based on the legendary blues tune. Frank Page, the announcer, claims the record is rising to the top of the charts across the country, but at this time that’s just hyperbole. The album is doing very well in certain parts of the south only, however, Elvis is literally months away from going nation-wide. It’s arguable that his recording of THAT’S ALRIGHT MAMA is the actual birth of Rock and Roll, though others say it’s the single Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner recorded three years earlier.

Regardless, whether it’s because he’s palatable to white audiences or because he embraces a sonic synthesis that none had before him, Elvis steps up to the mike – dressed like a “Brother” and about to dance like one as well – and ushers in a new dawn in music history.

While he plays, Ryan and I explore the roots of Rock through Elvis’ personal history with music. The white Gospel he heard in the womb. The Honky-Tonk and Country Western he grew up with in Mississippi. The Black Gospel he was exposed to with its bouncier rhythms and unadulterated joy. And finally the race music (blues) of Beale Street, where he would often hang out.

All these things went into the mix to create a new, raw, indignant and joyful sound that would soon be termed Rock-and-Roll. Our story tries to be about this… so there are quite a few flashbacks and scene changes. Music is happening in virtually every panel, though we never really get to hear any of it, because, well… it’s comics.

This was a difficult little piece precisely because it’s about music and time. Two things comics don’t really do well. But I think Ryan did an amazing job with it. I’ve always been happy with the way it turned out and wished more people could see it. The roots of Rock-and-Roll, particularly the black roots of the music, is a story that’s very close to my heart.

So if you’re feeling it, check out the book in either its digital or artifact form. Here’s the link again.

And here’s a Youtube video of the actual radio broadcast that our comic is based on…

Posted on by Joshua Dysart Posted in Comic Books, Home, Music

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