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Pop Stars Rock-It Onto Pages of Comic Books : Publishing: Lita Ford, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and World Domination transfer their images to a new stage.

August 21, 1993|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN DIEGO — Clark Kent, alias Superman. Bruce Wayne, alias Batman. Peter Parker, alias Spiderman. Lita Ford, alias Heavy Metal Queen?

Comic books and rock 'n' roll, prime manifestations of pop culture, would seem as complementary as burgers and fries. With a new, artist-authorized line of products, the Pasadena-based Rock-It Comix, a subsidiary of Malibu Comics in West Lake Village, is exploring the possibilities of such a union by launching a new series of rock 'n' roll comic books at the San Diego Comic-Con.

Lita Ford and Jim Balent, the respective subject and artist of one of the new books, will appear today at the comics convention (which began on Thursday and runs through Sunday) to sign autographs at the Rock-It booth. A free, 16-page preview comic promoting the series will also be distributed.

"What we want to do is create albums by rock artists, albums of words and pictures rather than albums of music," said Rock-It editor Robert Conte in a phone interview. "We want to set a standard in the industry; we want to produce the highest quality comic book possible. We don't do anything the bands don't want, and we will not compromise our professionalism on anything we do."

Conte's comments appear to be a thinly veiled snipe at San Diego's Revolutionary comics, the first company to market rock biographies in comic form. Revolutionary's product--which the kinder critics describe as amateurish in quality--has resulted in a number of lawsuits from artists inflamed by Revolutionary's unauthorized use of their images and logos. According to Conte, who once free-lanced a Led Zeppelin biocomic for his current rival, Revolutionary has won all of its court battles based on First Amendment rights, but Rock-It is out to improve upon and define Revolutionary's formula.

"What makes us different from Revolutionary is that we're full-color, fully authorized, and we use some of the top professionals in this business," Conte said.

But while Rock-It promotes its new line as the first rock comic books in which the subjects had creative input with the artists and writers, Wisconsin-based Kitchen Sink Comix, a company with roots in the underground comics scene of the '60s and '70s, for years has been releasing authorized books that illustrate the lyrics of the Grateful Dead, using some of the top names in alternative comic book art.

What sets apart Rock-It's product is story lines, which sometimes put artists into fantasy scenarios. Of the four initial releases--books about Ford, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and World Domination--only Metallica chose a straight biography. World Domination's book will deal with the trials and tribulations of an alternative record label battling the system. Osbourne's comic will be based on a dream the singer had, and hard rocker Ford decided to be a super heroine in her book.

"In the comic, I start out just Lita Ford; I play guitar in a band," the singer said in a recent phone interview. "But when I get (angry) I turn into Lita Ford, Heavy Metal Queen. Everything sort of changes. You should see the outfit they've got me in--pretty amazing! My guitar starts kind of vibrating and giving me superhuman strength."

While "Lita Ford--Heavy Metal Queen" is unlikely to challenge the work of Harvey Pekar, Art Spiegelman or Gilbert Hernandez for literary contributions to the comics medium, Ford doesn't worry about the book damaging her image or making the public perceive her as a cartoon character.

"I was always a Kiss fan, and Kiss had their own comics, which I thought were great," she said (in the pre-AIDS '70s, Kiss released a book in which their own blood was reportedly mixed in with the red ink). "I think a lot of rock 'n' roll fans see their heroes as characters anyway--I know I always did when I was younger. I think our fans are really going to appreciate this. Sure, I'd like to be known as a supernatural hero--why the hell not, you know?"

Rock-It Comix could turn out to be an effective merchandising tool for the artists, with marketing planned for concerts, direct mail, retail record chains and music stores, college bookstores and traditional newsstands as well as comics specialty outlets.

Coming months will see Rock-It produce titles about Megadeth, Pantera, Anthrax, Black Sabbath, the Doors, Santana, Naughty by Nature, Pharcyde, P.M. Dawn, Primus, the Smithereens, Soundgarden and Yes. The company eventually intends to produce books appealing to many segments of the music world, including classical, pop, hip-hop and country.

The future may also see cross-marketing of the books' titles with recorded music, television and movies. "We've got a few things like that in the works, but nothing concrete yet," Conte said.

"Heavy Metal Queen--The Film," anyone?

* The San Diego Comic-Con continues today, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the San Diego Convention Center, 111 W. Harbor Drive, San Diego. Lita Ford will appear for autograph signings today. Single day passes for adults are $18; $9 for children under 16 and seniors over 60; children under 7 get in free. Parking at the convention center is $4. (619) 491-2475.

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