Club Forteana, a Review by Alasdair Stuart of Elvis Must Die by Neil R. King
Don your blue suede shoes and erase all suspicion from your minds. Ninth Art has got some good rockin' tonight as we join the court of the King for a mess of blues, in Alasdair Stuart's ongoing series on comics and Forteana.
Writer/Artist: Neil R King
Publisher: Bold Faced Comics
Collecting Elvis Must Die #1-3
Web site: www.elvismustdie.com (defunct)
Bold Faced Comics web site: http://www.boldfacedcomics.com/
Elvis Aaron Presley. If the rock and roll lifestyle has a patron saint it surely must be this man. From his gleaming jacketed youth, through the remarkably long stream of movies and his final, fast food ridden years, Elvis embodies the rock and roll lifestyle. He is the King. He's also intimately connected to Forteana.
Fortean phenomena or Forteana is a descriptive classification term for writings of the type related to the works of Charles Fort. Fortean phenomena and Forteana publications are works characterized by a "distinctive blend of mocking humor, penetrating insight, and calculated outrageousness." Charles Hoy Fort (1874–1932) was an American writer and researcher into anomalous phenomena. Fort's writings sold well from the outset and have remained in print to this day. In contemporary usage, the terms "Fortean" and "Forteana" are most frequently used to characterise various anomalous phenomena.
Elvis is part of an elite group of individuals who have either inspired religious-level devotion or simply will not die quietly. There were, at last count, around three thousand Elvis impersonators worldwide, and arguably as many theories surrounding his death. My personal favourite has him and Jim Morrison running a bar in Florida and jamming together every evening. Whether you believe them or not, there is something otherworldly about Elvis. He has become something more than a skinny white boy with some good tunes. He has become a phenomenon, a cultural Banquo's ghost. A member of Club Forteana.
And, unsurprisingly, he has made more than one appearance in comics. The splendid White Trash by Alan Grant and Dean Ormston for example, sees a young man who bears a striking resemblance to Axl Rose hooking up with "The King" and leaving a trail of destruction across the states. It's savagely violent, ugly as hell and incredibly funny. One of the pin-ups in the trade paperback sums the book up perfectly. The young man is slumped against a ten-foot tall tower of speakers, guitar on, exhausted, grinning from ear to ear. The King is standing to one side of him, saying:
"Okay, we're going to do this again and this time, I say this time, we're going to slow it the f*ck down!"
White Trash indeed. However, there is one appearance by Elvis Aaron Presley that sums up perfectly both his place as the once and future king and as a Fortean ghost. Elvis Must Die.
The title itself is evocative, and oddly acute. For Presley's immortality to be assured, he had to die, and do so in the frankly bizarre manner that he did. Presley had done everything, covered everything and even survived well into the Disco decades, a rock and roll relic in a barren wasteland of boogie. For him to live, he had to die. Similarly, the characters in Elvis Must Die must put their lives on the line to have them completed.
The idea is elegantly simple, and oddly compelling. The hundreds of thousands of Elvis impersonators across the world are all part of an unofficial secret service. Trained and run by The King himself, it picks any one of them at any time to carry out suicide missions for the good of the country. And they do it, filled with honour and pride. After all, to die in the service of one's country is honour enough, but to die in the service of the King? There is no higher honour.
What makes Elvis Must Die genuinely interesting, aside from the central premise, is how it's approached. Elvis Must Die is an anthology title, detailing the individual stories of these men and their date with final destiny. As a result, the title slides into the same American myth hinterland that the Nevada UFO bases of The X-Files, or closer to home, the urban horror of Midnight Nation occupies. This is what America looks like in the places where no one notices. This is the secret hierarchy that keeps the country running and inspires men to defend their country with their lives.
Midnight Nation is an American comic book limited series, created by J. Michael Straczynski. It is about a man who sets out on a a journey to save his soul. The main character is David, a Los Angeles police officer Lieutenant. While tracking down a possible lead for a brutal murder, he is investigating, he is attacked by strange creatures. He recovers consciousness in a hospital to find that he has been plunged into a sort of parallel shadow world in which he can no longer be seen by the living. A mysterious guide named Laurel appears and informs him that the attackers have taken his soul. She then offers to lead him on a journey to recover it. He must travel by foot to New York City where his soul is being held by 'The Other Guy' aka Satan. Laurel warns him that no other human she has attempted to guide on this journey has succeeded. David sets out on his quest, encountering various tests of his character as he makes his way east. Once he arrives in New York, after confronting 'The Other Guy', David decides to sacrifice his soul to Laurel so that she may escape the parallel shadow world and be reborn as a human.
The stories themselves are a fascinating mixture of humour and genuine tragedy. Jailhouse Rocked (editor's note: Jailhouse Rocked: Elvis Must Die issue one) follows Del, a plumber by trade, who receives the call to break into a prison and retrieve the false tooth of Inmate 152. It would be all too easy for the story to fall into lazy comedy violence and become little more than a novelty gunfight between Elvis and some cops. Instead, we're shown Del as a well-rounded and happy human being, with a love sufficiently fanatical for his work that he's prepared to give up his business, the woman he loves and his life for the cause.
Del is so desperate for something more than the life he has that he's fully prepared to be a martyr to the King after just one phone call. Over the space of the two issues, we see Del suffer a crisis of faith, realise exactly how small he is in relation to the bigger picture and still carry out his job. He's a good man, but a man fixated on the rock and roll lifestyle. It may be better to burn out than fade away, but the damage that the King causes isn't shied away from.
Instead, the first story in particular has a distinctly sinister tone to it. Del's martyr complex emphasises over and over again that here is a healthy, intelligent young man throwing himself into near certain death for the ideals of an American that may no longer exist, on the orders of a man who should be dead. Here, Elvis is less a Fortean ghost and more the living embodiment of the New World Order. He knows where his troops are all the time, and is prepared to use them in any way to get the job done.
For the members of his group, a call from the King can mean redemption. It's analogous to a practising Catholic having God come round for tea. The man whose life they have based their whole existence on is asking them for a favour, the man who created them, shaped their mindset wants them to lay their lives down for him. For these men, the only answer can be yes. The fact that they are viewed as lunatics at worst and fools at best only reflects on the state of Elvis' legend today. The price one pays for Fortean immortality seems to be a near total dissection of one's life and work.
Everything, from how he treated his wife and staff to his dietary eccentricities has been intimately explored. The King has been pulled apart on every level, his later years continually parodied and held up as the embodiment of rock and roll excess. However, "Elvis" can still mean dangerous and sexy as well as old and mad. This is where ELVIS MUST DIE comes in, reinventing Elvis as a shadowy New World Order spy and in doing so, making him dangerous again. The King of Elvis Must Die may be old in body, but he has the razor sharp instincts and mind of his younger self. Physically, he's "Torch Song Trilogy&" but mentally he's "Blue Suede Shoes" all the way.
Of course there's also a healthy dose of humour in here, as there was in much of the King's style. The "E-Men" finish most of their sentences with "Thank you verruh much", while at one point, Del's girlfriend finds herself grimly thankful that they've not had kids, fearing that they'd call her "Momma". The humour is easy, unforced and neatly stops Elvis Must Die from taking itself too seriously. More importantly, it also serves to counterpoint the most tragic moments of the stories, bringing them into stark relief.
But Elvis died, and so did the series. At present, Elvis Must Die stands at three issues collected in one volume, and two uncollected issues. All five issues can be downloaded for a dollar each at JamBooks.com. (editor's note: JamBooks is defunct but the Elvis Must Die series, issues one through five and Collected Edition (issues one through three), are currently described as in print and available from Bold Faced Comics, Neil R. King's business website (see below). It's unfortunate that no further material has yet been produced, and yet also oddly fitting. A rock-and-roll fate for a rock-and-roll series. Besides, somewhere in America right now, the odds are that an Elvis impersonator's phone is ringing, and an impossible favour is being asked. Hail to the king, by any means necessary.
Thank you verruh much.
Alasdair Stuart is the manager of Travelling Man comics in York, UK and writes for the Manx Independent newspaper.
Ninth Art endorses the principle of Ideological Freeware. The author permits distribution of this article by private individuals, on condition that the author and source of the article are clearly shown, no charge is made, and the whole article is reproduced intact, including this notice.
Neil R. King at Lambiek.Net
Bold Faced Comics, Neil R. King's company and current distributor of Elvis Must Die
Elvis Must Die issues one through five and collected edition ordering information
Elvis Must Die issues one through five synopses, covers and PDF download links
The JamBooks web site (defunct)
Charles Hoy Fort at Wikipedia
New Lands: More Unexplained Occurences by Charles Hoy Fort at Google Books
The Book of the Damned by Charles Hoy Fort at Google Books
Midnight Nation at Wikipedia
About the Elvis Must Die comic series
The King of Rock and Roll trains Elvis impersonators in espionage and sends them out into the world's communities to live ordinary lives where they wait for his call to do their duty for the King and their country.
from the Elvis Must Die web site (defunct)
"In 1972 Elvis Presley met with Richard Nixon and representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Weary of the absurdities of his fame and eager to use his many talents, Elvis and U.S. Government representatives developed a secret undercover group of agents trained in espionage. In Elvis' image, individuals were trained and sent out into the world's communities to live ordinary lives until called upon by the King of Rock and Roll himself to serve their country. On August 16, 1977 Elvis Presley left public life for good. At last count, there were over 3,000 Elvis Impersonators across the globe waiting for the call."
from the SequentialArt web site
"Looking for a quirky, laugh-out-loud funny indie book? Elvis Must Die is a surprisingly hilarious look at the real reason why there are so many Elvis impersonators in the world. Each story tells the tale of an Elvis impersonator, and the larger plot ties it altogether. As befits the special agent theme, the stories deal with intrigue, action, and spies. And yes, baby, there's more than one homage to the King. Amen, brother."
Titles in the Elvis Must Die series
Jailhouse Rocked, Elvis Must Die #1
Secret agent, assasin, Elvis impersonator, Del Giannotti, is ordered by the King of Rock and Roll to recover secret microfilm from an inmate at a maximum security prison.
Rattle and Roll!, Elvis Must Die #2
Secret agent, assasin, Elvis impersonator, Del Giannotti, makes a daring escape from a maximum security prison while attempting to deliver important microfilm forthe King of Rock and Roll.
Ain't Nothin' but a Hounded Dog, Elvis Must Die #3
The King enlists a karaoke singer to whack a notorious mob boss.
One Night, Elvis Must Die #4
Kate Costello is on the craziest date of her life when she hooks up with Pete, an Elvis assasin.
Some Things Were Meant to Be, Elvis Must Die #5
Pete and Kate race across the city ducking bullets and one-liners.
Long Live the King, Baby!, Elvis Must Die The Collected Edition
This collection reprints the first three issues of Elvis Must Die.
7"x10", black and white, 88 pages.
White Trash resources
Tundra Publishing (publisher of White Trash) at Wikipedia
White Trash review and some cover images
Gordon Rennie, the White Trash writer, at Wikipedia
Martin Emond, the White Trash artist, at Wikipedia
Martin Emond obituary at the New Zealand Listener
Martin Emond artwork at Illicit Clothing Company
An original splash page for White Trash by Martin Emond
White Trash series titles
King of the Road: White Trash #1 (January, 1992)
Welcome to the Terrodome: White Trash #2 (1992)
Apocalypse Wow: White Trash #3 (1992)
Viva Las Vegas: White Trash #4 (March, 1993)
Martin Emond aka Marty F. Emond
from Heritage Auction Galleries
"Martin Emond gained notoriety for his high-octane illustrations in the nineties comic book series White Trash, written by Gordon Rennie. Emond also worked on the UK comic 2000 A.D., DC's Lobo mini-series, and created album covers for heavy metal rocker Glenn Danzig. He lived in Los Angeles for the last eight months of his life before his untimely death at age 34."
from Life in Legacy
"Martin Emond - Comic creator and artist from New Zealand who created the punk character Switchblade and the internationally acclaimed series White Trash, whose career included work in Marvel and DC Comics and album cover art for bands Shihad and Danzig, and whose Rolling Red Knuckles strip gained a huge cult following in Japan and was being negotiated to become an animated series, committed suicide in Los Angeles on March 15 at the age of 34."
from The New Zealand Edge
"Martin Emond, internationally renowned comic-book artist, illustrator, and tattooist, died in LA on March 19 aged 34. Emond created the popular character Switchblade (star of NZ clothing brand Illicit) and the acclaimed White Trash and Rolling Red Knuckles series, the latter of which earned him a cult following in Japan. An inspiration to his Kiwi contemporaries, Emond worked with US giants Marvel and DC Comics, and collaborated with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman, hardcore rocker Glen Danzig, and Tundra’s Gordon Rennie. He was working on an animated version of Rolling Red Knuckles for Pirate.Net, a subsidiary of Fox TV, when he died. Silver Bullet described him as “a prolific creator who worked to support up and coming artists and never let success go to his head.”"
from Comics Bulletin
"The news that the comic creator Martin Emond is reported to have died yesterday in Los Angeles has stunned the New Zealand and international comics communities."
"Known as a prolific creator who worked to support up and coming artists and never let success go to his head, Emond came to international prominence when he worked with Gordon Rennie to produce White Trash for Tundra. The comic was hot at a time when hot meant hot, and Martin went on to several high-profile assignments in the comics business; he co-created Accident Man with Pat Mills for Toxic, worked on several Lobo titles with Alan Grant, had work published in Heavy Metal, and did one 48-page issue of The Punisher with Gordon Rennie, which remains unpublished."
"After starting every comic creators' dream career he changed tack, shifting from comics to illustration work, painting covers for Glenn Danzig / Verotik. He was also heavily involved with the New Zealand clothing label Illicit, which has almost become the unofficial street-wear uniform in New Zealand, and had sell-out shows in LA."
"Splitting his time between living in the US and New Zealand, his illustrations could often be seen in several gig guide and magazines in New Zealand. His Rolling Red Knuckles strip gained huge cult following in Japan, and several of his creations were reported to have been in the process of being adapted as an animated series by companies such as Piratenet and Fox."