Michael Allred talks about BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

I have been a life long David Bowie fan. It all started with my parents. When I was a child my parents went to a David Bowie concert in Los Angeles. They liked it so much the drove to San Diego the following night to see it again. This journey continued night after night until they were on the east coast, I wasn’t sure when or if my parents would ever return home to me and my little brother. Ultimately the David Bowie tour left the United States and we were reunited with our parents. So, I heard David Bowie music my entire life. Michael Allred is also a life long David Bowie fan and he has been able to share his love for David Bowie in his latest project BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams.

First Comics News: How did you get interested in comics?

Michael Allred: They were always around, thanks to my older brother, Lee Allred. One of my earliest memories is waking up in a hospital bed, blanketed in comic books. Turns out I was dancing on a card table, but not fast enough to Lee’s liking. So he shook the table causing me to fall on my head and get a concussion.

1st: When did you start drawing your own comics?

Mike: Our parents were always great about encouraging us to draw and tell stories, so Lee and I were making our own comics and telling stories with pictures from as early as I can remember.

1st: You were working in radio and television, how did Dead Air come about?

Mike: Working in broadcasting, seeded an “end of the world story”, where events start at a radio station. I originally thought of it as a film. While working on the screenplay I started drawing storyboards. My friend Charlie Custis suggested that I draw it in comic book form. Which I did. And it became my first published work.

1st: When did you first discover David Bowie?

Mike: It was just as his Diamond Dogs album was being released. I know this because I was looking at comics on the spinner rack at the local drug store I regularly walked to. Something from the magazine rack jumped out at me. It was Bowie looking every bit the rock’n’roll alien on the cover of CREEM Magazine. It had the Diamond Dogs cover as a pull-out poster centerfold. I bought the magazine and on my way home I went into Rickett’s Music Store and found the “Rebel Rebel” 45 single with “Lady Grinning Soul” on the flipside I played both over and over and over, and I was hooked. From there, I bought every Bowie album up that point with my paper route money and was completely indoctrinated with everything he’d done up to that point in a very condensed period of time. All those albums are one massive explosion to me.

1st: What impact did David Bowie have on your life?

Mike: Immeasurable. Beyond music, he inspires my creativity in art, film, fashion…a bottomless tank of inspirational fuel.

1st: When did you begin drawing David Bowie?

Mike: I was probably drawing outer space rock ’n’ rollers from that very first day after bringing that magazine home.

1st: When did you first decide you wanted to make a David Bowie comic?

Mike: Some aspects of a Bowie or Ziggy Stardust comic were always in my pipeline. Red Rocket 7 is my unofficial version of a Ziggy Stardust comic. It’s pretty obvious without me acknowledging it, especially when I literally draw David Bowie in the “real life events” intermixed with the fictional aspects of the book.

1st: What happened to that original David Bowie comic concept?

Mike: It just kinda evaporated, but I continued to daydream about doing a biographical Bowie graphic novel, but any serious approach kept its distance with overlapping projects that took up all my time.

1st: Did David Bowie ever learn about Red Rocket 7?

Mike: I’d been approached about doing something official through a Bowie rep… This is when I was told Bowie’s lyrics in “New Killer Star”, “See my life in a comic” was in reference to him seeing me draw him in Red Rocket 7. Obviously, nothing came of it. But it was a crazy thrill to learn he knew who I was and dug my stuff. Around the same time, we became great friends with Courtney Taylor-Taylor and The Dandy Warhols who knew, worked with, hung out with, played with Bowie and got extra confirmation. The Dandy Warhols are heavily featured in Red Rocket 7 too. You’ll see Courtney with David near the back of BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams.

1st: What made this the right time to try again at producing a Bowie comic?

Mike: I guess Steve Horton was paying attention. He emailed me out of the blue with great confidence that he and his agent could put a deal together that would give me everything I needed to get it done. He and his agent came through hooking us up with Insight Editions. And from there found a perfect simpatico relationship with my editor, Mark Irwin. I enjoy Bowie’s music and my parents were super fans, but there was so much information I didn’t know about him.

1st: How much research when into this project?

Mike: To begin with I already had a backlog of events I wanted to document. And, of course, I made use of all my former journalism training from when I was a TV reporter in Europe. (Side note: my last story as a reporter was interviewing East German refugees and then watching the Berlin Wall come down before returning to the states in January of 1990 for a full-time career doing comics.) Steve had done a draft which I went through and double checked and triple checked everything. We both found things the other had misconstrued. So while my ego was convinced I could have done everything all by myself, Steve’s contributions were invaluable and eye opening. Some events had to be amalgamated from the varying perspectives. For instance, how and why Woody Woodmansey left The Spiders From Mars. As I dove deeper and deeper, I often surprised myself at little discoveries that had missed my radar entirely. The biggest thing that was confirmed is that there’s always more to add to any single person’s story. Finally, I had to make hard choices as to how much space I would give to any particular event, or if I would include it at all. Early on I took a photo of all my Bowie books stacked up. It came up at around my knees. By the time I was done with my draft of the script, the stack had at least doubled, as did the content to what I wanted to be included in the book.

1st: What did you discover about Bowie during your research that surprised you?

Mike: I think the interactions with other future legends, in general, were the most surprising, as well as missed opportunities like knowing Freddie Mercury before he was “Freddie Mercury”, or auditioning for the musical HAIR with pre- Rocky Horror Richard O’Brien and Tim Curry.

1st: Bowie’s sexuality was part of his shock value in the early 70s, how do you deal with it in the comic?

Mike: Just a matter of fact. Most directly with his famous “I’m Gay…” Melody Maker article. But then I also followed up with a few Bowie quotes decades apart. Was it smart? Was it brave? Was it cynical? Ultimately, everyone is left with their own perspective. For me personally, at a very early age, it created awareness where I had to decide as to whether someone’s sexuality should be of any concern at all. Where I grew up, ignorance ruled the day. So being a David Bowie fan had the potential of putting a big target on your back. So, even if Bowie had just made that announcement to get attention, it drew a line. It created a very valuable conversation. Could you reject someone’s talent because of their sexual preference? I’m convinced that a lot of the progress, tolerance, and advances like legalizing same-sex marriage was helped enormously by people and artists like David Bowie. To this day, I have no idea where his preferences could be scaled or measured beyond his marriages to women. Bottom line: it shouldn’t matter. So, ultimately, if it was done for shock value, it was a good shock that helped contribute to and even celebrate tolerance and acceptance.

1st: There are a ton of celebrities included in this project, some of them with strong lifelong connections to Bowie and others with only tangential. How did you decide who to include?

Mike: Ultimately, I included the ones that meant the most to me personally. I admit that this may be my most selfish project ever. So, while I was constantly aware of what would be most interesting or pleasing to the general public, all in all, this was an exercise in obsessive self-indulgent fandom. Wink.

1st: Do you enjoy drawing celebrity likenesses?

Mike: I used to… years and years ago. Throughout puberty, I probably drew more rock stars and movie stars than comic book characters. Then for most of my career, I’ve been happy to keep a consistent simplified look to my comic book characters, with no other concern to specific likenesses. Then capturing celebrity likenesses came roaring back in a mad rush of coincidences. If you don’t count Red Rocket 7 , it probably started with doing all the Adam West Batman ’66 comics, packed with celebrity likenesses, and the spin-offs with Steed and Peel, Green Hornet with Bruce Lee, Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman…, a Star Trek cover with Nimoy, Shatner and Co., a BEATLES promotional poster for a project that has yet to lock in, lots of projects for THE MONKEES, like their very first Christmas album, videos, and an Archies crossover, and then an Archies/B-52s cover…It’s so weird how these have all come at me in a relatively short period of time. So, even beyond the Bowie book, that fun fandom vibe has been re-ignited big time!

1st: What makes 1974 the right place to end the graphic novel?

Mike: Well, technically it doesn’t end there. Bowie’s entire life is represented in this volume even if just teased, but the main focus is David Bowie’s initial burst into superstardom, and that was through Ziggy Stardust who was officially retired in 1974. That made it the perfect place to end this big bite. There’s so much more story to tell, and it’d be thrilling if this is successful enough to be begged for more and go into the same kind of detail for all the other amazing phases of David Bowie’s infinitely fascinating creative life.

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