Thursday, December 11, 2008

Justin Melkmann: GG Allin, World War IX Comics

Live photo and text © Robert Barry Francos; artwork © Justin Melkmann

World War IX is a fun New York based hardcore band, whose latest release, Brown Bagging It is reviewed by me at But this blog is not about WWIX, but rather the personal output of their guitarist, Justin Melkmann.

For a number of years now, Justin has had his own comic strip column in the New York City underground artist newspaper – which I wish was easier to find – The New York Waste. Some of these have now been released as self-published comic books at $3 apiece (not sure of the S&H). Addresses are listed below.

Justin’s style is simple line drawing that is sort of a cross between John Holstrom, Sergio Aragonés, and Wally Wood. Though to the point, he also manages to add a bit of detail, inserting emotion and “flavor” to the action (or in some cases, stupor). Like Aragonés, much of the comics in the first book have drawn images of people around the narrative boxes that reflect the stories they inhabit.
The first collection is called World War IX Presents… Earaches and Eyesores. There are three ideas that run through this particular book. The first is fiction in a strange sort of storytelling, such as “Shit Job,” which tells a first-person humorous tale of woe about the menial job of being a Guillotine repairman (it hints at being Medieval, but of course the Guillotine was first implemented in 1789 during the French Revolution… yes, I just happen to know that!). Another is the futuristic “Lastronaut! The World’s Last Astronaut.” Like all the pieces in this book, they are short and funnily angst-ridden. Yet, most readers can identify with it.

The second aspect is life as musician in general. This is covered with some hysterical pieces including “People I’m Glad I Don’t Play in a Band With” (dissects archetypes rather than specific people), “Drunken Planning,” and “To Be in a Band…” (what it really means).

The last, and probably most obvious considering the name of the book, has to do with Justin’s band, World War IX. He humorously discusses the formation of the band, and then does his version of “On the road with…” There are the first gig, good gigs, and even those disastrous gigs. We see the band stoned beyond comprehension on the radio, and filled with both braggadocio and fears. Anyone in a new or even road weary band can identify with Justin’s stories, and those of us not in one can be amused in an “Oh, hell no!” way.

There have been some personnel changes to WWIX since this book was initiated, and I look forward to Volume 2.
For those who are not aware, Justin has been obsessed with GG Allin – the person, his music, and his legacy – since the 1980s. Justin even started a long-form strip-by-strip biography of GG that was nearly complete after years of work and research, when GG’s brother and bandmate, Merle (who initially was in favor of it to the point of personal involvement) put the kibosh was put on the project by inexplicably changing his mind.

Since Justin could no longer write about Allin, he cleverly wrote around him, by turning it into an autobiographical look at how GG’s music changed his life, and how he researched the project. He calls it Slap in the Face: My Obsession with GG Allin, and it is based on Justin’s New York Waste columns from 2003 to 2005. The book’s title is actually quite clever, depending on whose face you see getting slapped: GG’s to the world, Merle’s to Justin to make him stop, or Justin to whomever gets in his way of this multi-year project.

Justin does not just show his own life through the music, but goes into much detail of his own obsessions and short-comings, as well as victories and meeting goals (e.g., talking to GG’s mom and then dad). In this amusingly self-deprecating way, Justin tells of how he played with the post-GG version of the Murder Junkies, abused substances, worked in the real world to support his obsessions, and started a film about Allin that was thwarted by Hated! .

While text heavy, this comic is inventive and has a strong indie feel to it. Although an autobiographical theme binds these two books together, I strong recommend getting them both. As they both follow two separate paths on the same life, however, one does not rely on the other, making them both enjoyably autonomous.

When you’re done reading the books, don’t forget to listen to a healthy dose of World War IX.

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