Stevie Kaye talks to the editors of Sonic Comic, a multi-media compilation of music, sounds and events, opening this weekend in Auckland.
This weekend sees the launch in Auckland of an intriguing new multi-media compilation that bridges the visual and aural, the physical and the digital, art and noise: “Sonic Comic is a collection of works that are both comics and sounds; a publication, playlist and exhibition; a celebration of musicians who make comics and comic artists who make music.”
Sonic Comic was shepherded into being by co-editors Indira Neville, Beth Ducklingmonster and Chris Cudby. Depending on how you squint at it, is thirty-five comics (12″ vinyl-sized!) with their own digital soundtrack, or a thirty-five song Bandcamp compilation with an accompanying comic.
In an era where there’s fewer big-tent/high-concept compilations, it’s a breathtaking achievement, but the compilers have a history in this format. Neville was one of the editors of 2016’s Three Words: An Anthology of Aotearoa/NZ Women’s Comics, and Ducklingmonster was responsible for the three Deep & Meaningful compilations from 2014-2015 – Auckland underground music that took the form of gorgeous postcards with an attached Bandcamp download code.
Sonic Comic‘s dual-media nature makes it seem even more sprawling and multifaceted than most excursions of this kind. Bek Coogan’s appropriation of Palmerston North real estate advertisements is mirrored by field recordings from the site in Savage, while Dean Ballinger’s ‘Bande Dessinee In C’ depicts musical notes and facial expressions, which you can “follow the bouncing ball” over the track’s 21 seconds; Strange Stains’ ‘Hysterical Attitudes’ matches a rumbling hymnal with a comic about WWI-era New Zealand safe-sex pioneer Ettie Rout, “the wickedest woman in the world”; Toby Morris’ gentle ‘Quiche’ needs the song to unlock his comic’s deadpan duelling pronunciations.
“With the Deep & Meaningful project being both a digital download and a postcard, I was really vibing on the idea of compilation being a form of correspondence,” says Ducklingmonster via email. “Music and comic making can be quite private or ‘bedroom’ practices and an inclusive compilation can break down the isolation that may result from that. I really believe that compilations/mixtapes are a tool for community building.”
“Sonic Comic gives people an excuse to talk and a subject to talk about, a scaffold for initial conversations,” adds Neville.
Music has historically been illustration-adjacent – t-shirts, posters, album covers, even animated music videos – so I was curious as to where illustration ended and comics began. Neville teased out the definition they’d used as editors.
“The definition of ‘comic’ we used for Sonic Comic, which was the same as that for Three Words, and is also my personal favourite, was that if the person who made it says it’s a comic, then it’s a comic,” she says.
“Comics are, I think, an inherently liminal medium, a place where lots of things can legitimately meet and happen – text, image, print, digital, stillness, movement, colour, black and white, single panel, multiple panel, funny, serious. In some comics, one attribute might be way more prominent than the others but the notion of multiplicity or boundaries meeting and the cumulative effect of this remains. And if you think of it like this then adding music, another form of expression, is really no big deal … With Sonic Comic, we conceived of the comic and music as two aspects of a single work, equally crucial with individual artists determining the exact form of the relationship though.”
Sonic Comic‘s overall architecture, Cudby clarifies, was that “we asked musicians that we knew, then ordered the book visually, then arranged the compilation based on page order.
“It’s a project that draws the dots between some distinct personal music networks. [It’s] still fairly subjective in its organisation … like, ‘ordered by music’ or something, and a bit defined by who was available, and an attempt to be vaguely consistent visually.”
It’s surprising just how much the interplay between the comic and the musical compilation encourages engagement with both sides of the works, rewarding close readings and listening.
Neville and Ducklingmonster are firm on how Sonic Comic is a snapshot of the here and now, not a historical project. “We are really clear that Sonic Comic is a very subjective collection of musical comic-makers we like and/or respect and/or want to see the work of. It is in no way intended to be any kind of survey or history,” says Neville.
“I think there is scope for a big archival historical [project] there but my fear is it would turn into a run of Hallensteins tee shirts,” Ducklingmonster adds. “The nostalgia is tiring.”
As well as the physical + digital object – available from their Bandcamp – Sonic Comic is also an exhibition at Auckland’s Audio Foundation, opening Saturday 18 March with performances by 7 Keys, Big Fat Raro, Strange Stains and Vampires, and closing Saturday 1 April. Copies of the Sonic Comic publication & music compilation will be available for the special launch price of $25.
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