The Lady Gaga Comic Is Not Very Good
Last week, pop star Lady Gaga joined luminaries like JK Rowling and Rush Limbaugh as one of the celebrities to have a comic book biography with the release of the first issue of "Fame," the series that keeps the allegedly grand tradition of Revolution's early '90s "Rock 'n' Roll Comics" alive for a new generation.
I've had some fun with Bluewater's bio-comics before -- most notably their utterly incomprehensible take on the life and times of "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer, as narrated by Dracula -- and while I've been alternately amused and appalled by them, this is the first time that I've been utterly mystified.
It all comes down to the fact that as a biography, "Fame" #1 is just not very good. In 22 pages, there are roughly 2 pieces of actual information on Lady Gaga: One, that her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (which, pretty hilariously, is revealed when the main character looks it up on the Internet), and two, that she went to Catholic school. That's it. I'm pretty sure I learned more about her watching "Glee," and half of that episode was about KISS.
So no, not much in the way of a biography. What's on offer instead, however, is a surreal look at fame that reads more like an EC horror comic than anything I've read in years. And guys... it is kind of amazing.Originally, I was hoping that Lady Gaga's biography would also be narrated by Dracula, because seriously, I would buy a line of celebrity biographies written by Dracula in a heartbeat. But this, unfortunately, was not the case.
If you don't count music videos and hallucinations -- yeah, I'll get to those in a minute -- Lady Gaga herself appears on exactly one page of the comic, showing up right at the end. Instead, the story focuses on a guy best described as a shlub called Lester Bangs. It's been pointed out to me that the real Lester Bangs was a rock critic who died in 1982 and that his lady friend is probably being a little sarcastic when she calls him by that name (like when you call a dumb guy "Einstein," as my pal Mark Hale said), but as that's the only name he's ever given in the comic, I'm sticking with it. He's got a menial data entry job, he eats a lot of McDonald's, and his girlfriend rocks a bathrobe for more than half the book despite the fact that it takes place over the course of several days.
He's also of fairly indeterminate age. He looks pretty young, but when he's introduced, he's railing against These Kids Today and the music they listen to and lamenting the lack of acts like Queen and David Bowie, and he's got a blog devoted to early-90s power pop band Jellyfish. It's also worth noting (for me, anyway), that while I originally thought he was wearing a t-shirt featuring Louis Riel, the Canadian politician and resistance leader who has been referred to as "Manitoba's Malcolm X," it turns out that it's actually Freddie Mercury:
I'm pretty sure this makes me the first person in history to confuse Freddie Mercury and Louis Riel, but in my defense, I actually do own the "Keepin' It Riel" version of that shirt.
Anyway, as you might expect if you know anything at all about Lady Gaga, her glamrock theatricality catches Lester's eye, and he begins to obsess over her. And not in the "oh hey, I just heard my new favorite song" way, either. This is more of a "my dog told me if I shoot the Mayor, Lady Gaga will become the first of my Jesus wives" situation.
It starts off with him buying a copy of her album, stuffed underneath a Big Star box set and covered with a lie about his niece wanting it in order to ameliorate his shame. This is really the only part that I don't quite buy, as I can't really see a dude who is really into David Bowie and power pop being embarrassed about buying a pop album, but there you go. Regardless, his obsession quickly moves into his subconscious, and he starts hallucinating himself in her videos, eventually becoming her in a triptych drawn from "Paparazzi":
The psychological implications of Lester both destroying and becoming Lady Gaga are pretty obvious, but I'm pretty sure that unlike a lot of the weirdness that shows up in these comics, this was fully intentional.
I remember when that video came out, there were a bunch of articles that made a big deal about how the opening scene and Lady Gaga doing a dance routine on crutches as she played at being paralyzed were controversial, and whether you buy into it or not, one of the key selling points of her relentless marketing engine is that she challenges notions of gender and society. But giving her the head of a balding Jellyfish fan while she talks about being bisexual? That's challenging.
But believe it or not, it actually gets even more surreal as the issue builds to its climax. Lester's obsession builds from disrupting work by belting out lyrics, to the point where he puts on a wig and performs "Bad Romance" on the street. At this point, it becomes clear that Lester needs psychiatric help a little bit more than that new Big Star boxed set -- not because he's slowly transitioning into becoming a full-time Lady Gaga impersonator, but because he is literally having a schizophrenic break and can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality:
Instead -- and this is my favorite part -- his wife puts the video on YouTube, and Lady Gaga sees it and decides to absorb him into her art collective:
This, incidentally, is the only time Lady Gaga shows up in her own biography, and is notable because she's in an outfit that is improbable even by her standards and rocking out with a microphone in what I assume is her own house:
Anyway, this is one of the only things in the book that I'm not sure if it's intentional, but there is nothing about that sequence that doesn't seem one lightning crash away from being the most ominous thing I've read. Seriously, they might as well have replaced "Haus of Gaga" in the balloon above with "Vault of Horror" and gone all the way with it.
Another notable aspect I noticed while reading through the issue is that there's a lot of product placement for 22 pages:
Again, I'm not actually sure if this is meant to represent another faux-controversy (this time the product placement in the video for "Telephone"), but I've got to assume it's in there for a reason.
The point I'm getting at here is that rather than trying to pad a biography that can be summed up in six words ("she's the world's most famous hipster") out to 22 pages, writer Dan Rafter is working with the underlying themes that people like about her music and the way she presents herself: glamor, identity, the lure of fame, the malleability of gender, irony in modern society. It's a first-year psychology textbook, yes, but it has more to do with Lady Gaga and her success than knowing she went to NYU, and it's presented in a way that actually layers it into a fictional narrative. And that makes it easily the smartest biography Bluewater's produced.
Especially considering that the last time they needed to pad things out, their answer to "what is the underlying theme that people like about Stephenie Meyer's work?" was "Draculas!"