Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your graphic novel, Murder Ballads, from Z2 Comics! For our readers who may be unfamiliar with the story, how would you describe its premise?
Gabe Soria: Thank you for that! In a nutshell, Murder Ballads is a noirish tale about lowlifes in the lower ranks of the music biz set in the South sometime in the late ‘90s, concerned with love, redemption, race, and the nebulous and sometimes ruinous concept of “authenticity.” It’s about how far someone will go to make a piece of art that they think the world needs, damn the consequences, and the havoc that that sort of unchecked, blind ambition can wreak on lives.
BD: How would you describe your creative process in working with artists Paul Reinwand and Chris Hunt?
GS: The short answer is emails. Lots of emails. The longer answer: heavily annotated scripts accompanied by list upon list from me containing suggestions for movies to watch and comics to read that have aesthetic elements I’m thinking of, records and mixtapes to listen to that match moods of scenes or reflect a character’s internal life. So, that would be me, sending all of this stuff off, and then getting pages back and saying, “Looks awesome to me!” because those guys are both utter professionals and know how to take my scribblings and make them better.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from the graphic novel, both in their understanding of the music industry as well as the personal impact that music can have on our lives, especially given your experience as a music journalist?
GS: First off, I hope that folks understand that the music business is NOTHING like Murder Ballads; it’s probably a lot worse. But seriously, Murder Ballads is not meant to be a documentary; it’s meant to be like any other tale about so-called “ordinary” folk who find themselves slipping into darkness. It’s more about that push that sends them down that path. The fact that it’s about the world of music isn’t accidental, though, because one of the themes running through the book is how deep of an impact music can have on our lives, how our perceptions of the lives behind the music can be clouded by what we project on the music makers, what we think they’re supposed to be like (and how they actually ARE like, sometimes). One of the main characters of the book is swept away by meeting a blues musician who, to paraphrase the old gospel song, seems to be living the life he sings about in his songs. And that sort of encounter can really inspire and excite a person – it’s happened to me interviewing people – only in Murder Ballads, that excitement veers off into darker territories.
BD: Z2 and Mondo have partnered to release a limited edition original soundtrack 10” vinyl record release by bluesman Robert Finley and Grammy-Award winner Dan Auerbach in conjunction with the release of Murder Ballads. What can you share about the joint effort and the manner in which the graphic novel and soundtrack complement one another?
GS: Everything that Dan and Robert and the crew of musicians at Easy Eye recorded was directly motivated by the story itself, so I’d like to think that the music and the book are completely intertwined. While you don’t have to listen to the music to enjoy the book and don’t have to read the book to dig the music, they are forever linked. But the music was made basically by me handing a baton to Dan – I had a document that explained the emotional beats in the book and what type of song would be played where, and it was his job to take that – a description of a mood and possible lyrical content, maybe a title idea and some other songs that fit the style I was thinking of – and write something that he thought fit. And surprise, surprise, Dan’s instincts as a songwriter are PRETTY. DAMN. GOOD.
BD: What makes Z2 Comics a great home for Murder Ballads?
GS: They were kind enough to say yes to releasing the book after a few years of it getting rejected by publisher after publisher. Ha! But seriously, the guys there were excited about the story I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell it with Dan’s music, so that makes them ideal from a creator’s point of view.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
GS: There’s always the hope the fellows at Z2 will greenlight a couple of other music-oriented projects set in the same world as Murder Ballads that I have on their desks, and lord knows that, like any other comics writer, I have lots of creator-owned projects percolating, pitch upon pitch out to many editors, all of them waiting for that elusive thumbs-up. You name it, I’m working on it, or trying to. But I also busy myself with a lot of other projects, including writing role playing games, playing in bands, writing films…the list goes on and on.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Murder Ballads and your other work?
GS: One of these days I should probably put together a website of some sort, but for now I can be found on Twitter as @bitchinville.
*The standard edition of Murder Ballads may also be pre-ordered from Amazon. Murder Ballads cover art (above) by Paul Reinwand.