Neil Young’s stirring Greendale started life in 2003 as a crunchy concept album about the enviropocalypse, and quickly became an indie film. The inevitable graphic novel arrives in bookstores Wednesday, viralizing the War on Terra for comics geeks and new adopters.
“Neil gave us a lot of freedom to interpret the story, so I think of our Greendale like a cover song,” artist Cliff Chiang told Wired.com in an e-mail. “[Greendale writer Joshua Dysart] and I wanted to create something that readers unfamiliar with the music could appreciate, but also give fans an alternative look at the album.”
What the comic distinctly offers, as one can see in the exclusive panels above and below, are hazily nightmarish specters of environmental dread and lost innocence. Young’s epic rock opera, recorded with his long-time collaborators in Crazy Horse, conjured dark pictures of a rural community torn apart by oil wars and dumb media. Chiang’s subdued, surreal art delivers an arresting visual dimension to the rock legend’s spiral narrative that’s as whimsical as it is fearsome.
“The CIA did studies on different media and their effectiveness in transmitting propaganda,” Dysart told Wired.com in an e-mail. “And it turned out that comics were cheap to make and distribute and caused a lasting impact in the mind of the reader. We’re a hypervisual animal, and you don’t need anything to receive the message in a comic but functioning eyes.”
The same applies to those comics — like Dysart, Chiang and Young’s Greendale, published by DC Comics’ mature imprint Vertigo — that would employ hypervisuals to critique the new millennium’s mounting ills.
“I would say comics are a perfect vehicle for that,” Dysart said, “if only because we’re egalitarian in our mode of production and consumption. Much of the medium is stuck in a spandex ghetto. But that’s largely due to the limited perception the American consumer has of comics. The truth is we are limited only by our readership, not by our ability as a medium.”