If you’re anything like me watching a documentary turns you into a super sleuth. Even before the film is over I’ve got my internet browser up opening tab after tab – Google, Wikipedia, IMDB, you name it. Even then, I still feel I’ve got at least 100 unanswered questions. I want to talk to the director and everyone that appeared in the film, get in their minds, and ask them anything that didn’t fit into those 90 minutes. “The Story Of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics” DVD release party and theatrical screening was the ultimate in documentary indulgence: a director, writer and artist signing, and three movie viewings followed by Q&A!
The release party began on April 23rd at Forbidden Planet with an artist signing. Jay Allen Sanford, Spike Steffenhagen, Scott Jackson, and Robert Conte, the original writers and artists of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics”, and Ilko Davidov, the director of “The Story of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics”, were on site. The so-called “bad boys of Comic-Con” were as nice as can be, signing DVDs and comics, talking to fans, giving interviews, and reminiscing about their experiences with Todd Loren and the days of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics”. It was the first time the guys had all been together in years and as a visitor it was like being part of a special reunion.
Fans and comic enthusiasts were given a chance to step back in time and hear first-hand the story of how it all went down. It began in 1989 when Todd Loren, a young entrepreneur who loved music and comics, had the bright idea to combine the two and start up Revolutionary Comics. In stepped the aforementioned writers and artists who believed they could do it better, and did. Along the way they began to realize what they had signed up for. Loren was a great businessman to work with, as long as you weren’t crazy about getting paid your worth, being treated fairly, or getting real close to your boss. Robert Conte, who was only 19 when he penned his first comic was so excited to live out his dream, that he simultaneously endorsed his first check and signed over all his rights to royalties. When he asked for the raise he’d been promised, Loren published his work without crediting him. (Don’t worry, he’s got his own comic store now and he’s doing just fine.) Despite what others might refer to as being exploited, most of Loren’s friends and employees stuck around.
And why would they leave? “Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics” took off. People who weren’t comic fans were going to conventions just to buy multiple copies of the books. As Spike Steffenhagen will tell you, “The paychecks, or lack thereof, were worth it… and we got hotter chicks.” The boys became outlaws in the realm of comics printing unauthorized stories about rock and roll legends. They were getting the chance to rub elbows with their heroes. As you can imagine, some of these artists weren’t too psyched to have their lives on display for the reading public.
The venture quickly turned into a Supreme Court fight for their first amendment rights as groups like The New Kids On The Block began to sue them. But Loren was feisty, and he and his crew of comic outlaws began to fight back. They defended their right to free speech and the case was dismissed. When Tipper Gore (the wife of then Senator Al Gore) was busy slapping everyone with censorship labels Revolutionary Comics created a new series called “Tipper GORE’s Comics and Stories”. The series wasn’t exactly an ode to Mrs. Gore and was meant to taunt her and anyone else looking to sue. As Jay Allen Sanford put it, Revolutionary had a “F–k them if they don’t like us” attitude.
While Todd Loren had created quite a few enemies and plenty of controversy around himself, it was still a huge shock to those closest to him when he was found stabbed to death in his bed in 1992 at the height of the publisher’s success. His death came around the time of the Andrew Cunanan murders and some believe Loren may have been his first victim. The murder still remains a mystery and the documentary will leave you with your own theories. For that, and other reasons, the documentary and the story of Revolutionary Comics will stay with you. You’ll watch Todd Loren describe his experiences on home video, musicians like Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons weigh in, reporters tear him apart, colleagues grapple with their love/hate relationship for him, and a father try to make sense of the untimely loss of his son. Somewhere in the mix the key players watch their dreams come true; some have to be fought for with tooth and nail, and one in particular ends far too soon.
Worth checking out!:
Custom Artwork by Scott Jackson:
Robert Conte’s Comic Store: