Who says musical influences have to be musical? In Reading List, artists curate lists of books and literature that inspire their music. Today, Deltron 3030 turntablist Kid Koala discusses five graphic novels that inspire his own art.
Farting old men everywhere swore into their apple sauce when Watchmen - a dern comic book - was named one of the best novels of the 20th Century by Time Magazine. It probably wasn't any surprise to Kid Koala: the turntablist behind hip-hop supergroup Deltron 3030 has been an avid fan of graphic novels since childhood. Grown up, he's authoured his own graphic novel/soundtrack/touring projects Space Cadet and Nufonia Must Fall, and allowed his taste and appreciation for all kinds of comics to broaden, while maintaining the wide-eyed wonder anyone who's experienced his vivid live shows and hyperactive scratching can vouch for.
Koala is kurrently touring behind a new Deltron album Event 2, with bandmates Del the Funky Homosapian, Dan the Automator, and a 26-piece orchestra to round things out. Like the record that spent 13 years in development, the show is an event. I managed to catch its first ever iteration last year at an outdoor festival in Toronto, where despite heavy rain, Deltron turned out a performance aimed at creating a gravity comparable to the group's legendary status. But on his downtime, the Kid likes nothing more than to kick back, put those aching hogs up, and chat with a music journalist about comic books.
Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Before this one I didn’t bother too much in comics because I was already deep into DJing and trying to find records. Any money I’d have I’d spend on vinyl and equipment. Some of my friends had stuff like DC and Marvel so I’d just look at theirs. But I was in 6th grade and they showed me this book, TMNT, and that’s when it changed for me. It was darker and weirder and the style of drawing… I guess when you’re that age you’re already really into ninjas. And it was a very compelling story, amazing characters and artwork, and this shadowy underworld. And I’m dating myself because you say TMNT now and people think the after school show.
I was heavy into ninja. All my favourite movies are ninja movies, and as a kid we watched all of them. There was a movie called Return of the Ninja or something, and there was this entire subplot about them trafficking drugs, but I didn’t get that. Like, “Oh there was a doll that cracked open and there was all this white powder, but when’s the ninja stuff back on?” Because in Grade 6 I didn’t know what cocaine was, so how is this adding to the film? I recently re-watched it and it’s funny, just hearing how corny the music is and seeing the sets. Like, the final battle is on a tennis court. Can you think of a cheaper set to have a final battle on?
Adrian Tomine – Shortcomings (2007)
It’s so nuanced and [has] really engaging characters that get all involved. It’s definitely one of those books that you can’t stop reading. Once it’s got its hooks, you really sit through it like a film. That’s what I love about it. It’s not a coffee table book.
So as an Asian-American, did it speak to anything particular about your experiences?
Yeah, he’s able to tap that. A bit of that feeling of Asian guilt.. But I found that book very compelling and surprisingly so, raising emotional stakes on what is considered a “normal” comic book experience. It got deep into the drama.
Jean "Moebius" Giraud – Mœbius 4: The Long Tomorrow and Other Science Fiction Stories (1987)
He’s just an artist to me. His drawings are very detailed and very… lookable? There’s a lot of detail in the background.
I heard he had this quote that I always kind of carry with me now. It’s something to the extent of “No matter what the restrictions are, there’s always room for artistic expression.” I always loved that. I’ve been given a lot of leeway in being indulgent, but this quote is saying no matter what the restrictions are there’s always that minuscule part that allows you to express yourself. Even if you have a client, and I’ve had that with music for hire and had all of these parameters that would’ve sucked out the fun, but when I heard that quote I was like, “Oh, right.”
Jhonen Vasquez – Squee's Wonderful Big Giant Book of Unspeakable Horrors (1998)
We met at Comic-Con a few years ago. I was a fan of his before even then. Great dude, very talented. Very funny, obviously. Just got one of those insane brains that’s fun to be around. I like all of the Johnny the Homicidal Maniac ones, even the Fillerbunnies, you know. He just kind of marches to his own drum. The graphics are sometimes cute and horrifying at the same time, which is kind of hard to do. He’s just great.
We’re working on a project together. It’s going to be a travelling concert/theatre experience. It's essentially a Faust tale about a man that sells his soul to the devil to save his failing ramen shop. So I’m scoring it with John Carpenter-esque synths. We’re still years from it hitting the road, but I can say that Mike Patton will be doing the voice of the devil. We’re working on it with Jenny Goldberg. She’s this phenomenal talent from L.A. and a good friend of Jhonen’s. It’s gonna be a zombie/ramen live horror show, but done with puppets.
You’ve done a lot of experiments with the format of live performances.
I get bored easily. Nowadays it’s like, why would we leave the comfort of home and your downloadable videos? I’m tired of going to show where you just stand for three hours. It’s part of the motivation behind stuff like Space Cadet, where I wanted to get away from the club and dancefloor scene. I wanted to see if people would come to a show where you’re lying on inflatable pods and wearing headphones and you don’t leave with your ears ringing and the music is really down-tempo. And we’ve been able to find an audience for it.
Chris Ware — Building Stories (2012)
I could stare at one panel for longer than the seven seconds a page, or whatever is the average. It kind of reads to me very poetically, in terms of time, in terms of stretching time. It’s always a very meditative experience. But in terms of those moments of simplicity in the panel, it’s something you feel. What I always loved as a kid was the loot bag, and it was like the party kept going. [Building Stories] is kind of, to me, it’s the whole loot bag. It’s something that draws you in. That feeling is, when I package my album, I try to have that too. There’s the music, but there’s also room for booklets, or with the last record having a little gramophone kit. It’s just extending the adventure.
Do you find your concerts are a loot bag too?
Yeah, and I think it’s not so much about finding a new format so much as to be contextual with the music I’m promoting, trying to be more honest in the live show toward what it was like to make the music. With Deltron 3030, there are very cinematic symphonic moments but also psych-rock moments, so it ended up being 26 people on stage. Horns and strings and a choir, guitar, bass, drums… all those things are elements that were in this recording.