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Crank Up the Colors : Armed with blazing six-strings and super power amps, Metallica, Ozzy and other rock 'n' roll heroes are leaping from the larger-than-life concert stage to a whole new fantasy world: comic books

February 06, 1994|CHUCK CRISAFULLI | Chuck Crisafulli is a free-lance writer based in Los Angeles

For generations, rock 'n' rollers have dreamed of being the Beatles or Stones. But now some of them are trying to out-muscle Batman and Superman.

No, Metallica hasn't started wearing capes and Ozzy Osbourne can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they've each got the one thing that certifies super-hero status: their own comic book.

In an ambitious appeal to rock fans and comic fans alike, the first four issues of Rock-It Comix have swooped upon comic book shops, music stores and newsstands. The magazine-size books are the newest series from Westlake Village-based Malibu Comics.

Most of the company's non-rock comics take place in an "Ultraverse" populated by well-muscled heroes with names like Sludge and Firearm, as well as fiendish villains such as Bloodbath and Bruut. Rock-It stories are more likely to begin on a tour bus, and might describe the adventures of a wailing guitarist beset by fiendish censors.

In the first batch of rock comics, the exploits of Metallica, Ozzy and metal queen Lita Ford are all detailed in explosive, full-color artwork, while the story of upstart record company World Domination is told with striking black-and-white paintings.

The current release of the first four titles gives Rock-It its kick-off, and monthly releases are now planned throughout 1994. Metallica's historical retrospective will be spun through three special issues, with Part Two coming in March. A Black Sabbath book is scheduled for release this month, with a Megadeth book also coming in March.

In all, nearly 30 bands have become interested in working with Rock-It, and confirmed forthcoming titles will cover such diverse acts as Santana, Pantera, Pharcyde, the Doors, Yes, PM Dawn and the Lemonheads. Many groups have provided exclusive photos and interviews to for their comic sagas.

The flesh-and-blood rockers depicted in the Rock-It line couldn't be happier about being rendered two-dimensional--they helped to create their books.

Ex-Runaway Ford even helped write her own story, in which she, her band and her faithful dachshund Chili Dog do battle with the oppressive forces of Libby Snore (almost rhymes with Tipper Gore)--leader of the PMRC and commander of some zombie-like Young Republicans.

Ford also oversaw the artwork for her book, which was done by respected comic illustrator Jim Balent. She's thrilled with the results.

"It's almost like having an album out. There's the same level of excitement. Fans are coming up and saying, 'We love your comic,' and asking me to sign it, just like they'd do with a record."

Ford is not only proud of her comic book, she's actually a bit envious of her penciled and inked self. "It's fabulous and wild-looking," she says. "I'm putting some of the artwork on one of the guitars I'll use in concert, and I also hope to wear on stage the costume that the artist created for my character. But I keep looking at the breasts he drew for me, and I wish the real ones looked as good!"

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Comics have been good to Scott Rosenberg, the founder and president of Malibu Comics. He became an entrepreneur at 13 when, having exhausted his meager savings buying up comics, he promptly began selling off his more valuable titles.

"That's the only way I could make enough money to keep buying more comics," says the 31-year-old self-described comic fanatic. "I started renting tables at conventions and began my own mail-order business. In 1986, having graduated college, I decided it was time to become a legitimate publisher. The way I funded the company's start-up over the first few years was again by selling off half of my comic collection."

Rosenberg is extremely happy to be producing a rock 'n' roll comic book that the rockers themselves can enjoy.

"We only wanted to work with bands that really wanted to bring their creative vision to an illustrated form," he says. "A lot of what goes on in music merchandising is distanced. Somebody buys a license to use a band's name or image and then goes off and makes widgets using that name and image. The bands aren't involved. But we want the bands to take pride in their comic book."

The story lines in the Rock-It series will range from straight bio to phantasmagoria, and the artwork may be presented as traditional comic panels, stylized paintings, or something in between. But Rosenberg explains that the process of putting a Rock-It title together is always the same.

"Our creative people begin by brainstorming about the bands they want to cover," he says. "It doesn't have to be an act from the pop charts, but it does have to be somebody who will be exciting on the page--somebody could sell a million records and still not be a good choice for a comic book story."

Through a partnership with the Gold Mountain Entertainment management firm, Rosenberg has access to a wide range of musicians, whom he hooks up with appropriate writers and illustrators.

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