Comic books and rock and roll have a solid relationship. There's a lot of crossover between the two creative worlds including comic artists drawing album covers and musicians writing comics. "Clockwork Angels," by Rush drummer/songwriter Neil Peart, novelist Kevin J. Anderson and artist Nick Robles will continue that tradition when BOOM! Studios releases a 6-issue "Clockwork Angels" miniseries beginning March 19.
"Clockwork Angels" began life as a Rush concept record that was then turned into a novelization written by Anderson and Peart and is now making the jump to comics. Everything seems all right in the steampunk world of Albion, but a young man named Owen Hardy wants to step out of the highly regimented schedule put in place by the mysterious Watchmaker.
Peart took a few moments out of his busy schedule to talk with Comic Book Resources about his history with comics before Anderson went into more detail about the series. "When I was growing up in the '50s and '60s, comic books were a very important part of my life. I devoured hundreds of them, I realize now -- all of the superheroes, and everything else from Archie and Veronica to 'Classics Illustrated,'" Peart told CBR News. "On a family car trip, I might be allowed to select two new comic books from a drugstore rack, and that was about as thrilling as could be for a suburban Canadian boy. Over the years, I shared all the typical flashlight-under-the-blankets experiences.
"Comic books entertained me, delighted me, inspired me, and definitely taught me a few things, too," Peart continued. "In Grade 8 I won a public-speaking medal for a speech about General Douglas McArthur that was 'researched' in one of the World War II comics that were also popular in that era."
Peart then analyzed his relationship with comics and how that led to this latest adaptation of "Clockwork Angels." "It occurs to me now that not only have I grown up with comic books, but comic books have grown up with me," he explained. "The rise of the graphic novel has been a wonderful evolution, and I am very pleased that 'Clockwork Angels' will be appearing in that genre. Kevin's words and Nick's art are making my visions live and breathe -- a phenomenon I call 'artificial reality' -- and it is exciting to be a part of it."
CBR News spoke with Anderson at greater length about his history with Peart and Rush, the decision to bring the story to comics and what benefits the new format offers.
CBR News: This is actually the second time you've adapted "Clockwork Angels," which started out as a record and was then adapted into the novel you wrote. How did you get involved with the band in the first place and what was that process like?
Kevin J. Anderson: Neil and I have been friends for about 25 years. After my first novel "Resurrection, Inc.," which was inspired by the Rush album "Grace Under Pressure," Neil first started talking with me about a steampunk fantasy background he was developing even before he had the first lyrics written. I've written some steampunk novels that Neil read, and we brainstormed a little about the story. But as Rush really started to get to work on the album, then Neil envisioned an even bigger project -- and that's how the novel came about. The novel is one of my very best works, I think, and it became a bestseller and an award winner.
How did the idea come about to translate the material once again into the realm of comics?
The world and story of "Clockwork Angels" are very visual. Hugh Syme, the artist who has done the cover for all of Rush's albums over the past few decades, did interior illustrations for the novel. It was a natural to adapt the novel Neil and I had developed into the comic format. When I approached BOOM! with the idea, they immediately got it. So then I had to go back to the book and pull out all the coolest images and tell the story through a different set of lenses.
The story focuses on Owen Hardy, a young man who realizes that his seemingly perfect world isn't as great as it seems. Where does his journey for truth take him?
It's a fabulous journey across a bucolic and fantastic landscape to the big city where the Watchmaker lives in his high clock tower, as well as the famed and ethereal Clockwork Angels. It's a highly ordered world which is also preyed upon by the Anarchist, who wants to destroy all the Watchmaker's careful plans. Owen's journey takes him to an exotic carnival, entangles him in the Anarchist's plans, across oceans to Atlantis, riding aboard airships, to lost cities, fighting pirates. You know, the usual.
Speaking of the world, what can you tell us about Albion and the steampunk elements that abound there?
There are steamliners -- like train/zeppelin combinations -- and everything runs on "coldfire," an alchemical power source invented by the Watchmaker. The Clockwork Angels are large constructions, half alive, half mechanical; there are fantastical airships, steamer ships that churn across the ocean.
Were there specific challenges taking this story from its initial auditory presentation, turning it into something more mental like a book and then again into the more visual medium of comics? It seems like art and style might take the place of music when it comes to conveying tone.
The story in the novel and the songs in the album gelled at about the same time. I was reading the lyrics as Neil wrote them, and we knew the structure and plot of the tale, so that was an organic process. Now though, the album has been completed and released, the novel has been issued in hardcover and is about to come out in paperback, and the concert tour has wrapped up. However, that gives us a chance to step back and revisit "Clockwork Angels" with a fresh eye. But the scenes are all so vivid in my mind, converting them to comic format is a very comfortable and exciting process. I've finished the first three scripts -- half of the novel -- and it's going extremely well.
What about Nick Robles' style made him the right artist for this project?
It was colorful, imaginative, and it seemed to glow off the page. I didn't know anything about Nick beforehand, but when BOOM! sent us the samples of his work both Neil and I thought he was the right guy for the job, and so far his work has been outstanding.
Hugh Syme created the album artwork, did illustrations for the book and has contributed covers for the comic. Was his art referenced for the comic?
Hugh was definitely part of the creative team when Neil and I were developing the novel. His images and his imagination drove a lot of the scenes. How can you look at those paintings and not get inspired? I reference the art when I'm writing the script as well as many of Hugh's other album paintings, for little visual easter eggs that we're adding to the comic, and Nick is using it as he draws. These are marvelous comics.
"Clockwork Angels" from Kevin J. Anderson, Neil Peart, Nick Robles and BOOM! Studios debuts on March 19.