What does death/dying and punk rock have in common? (Aside from black clothes and the application of far too much eyeliner.)
Turns out, both are wildly inaccessible.
That is, these are two huge areas in life where people have over stratified, building walls that keep people and ideas from flowing naturally. With their new graphic novel Coady and The Creepies, Liz Prince (Tomboy) and Amanda Kirk (Nation of Amanda) attempt to break down those very barriers. The end result is a touching tale about love, coming to terms with change, and the value of taking a stand.
The Creepies is a punk band comprised of 16-year-old triplets Coady, Corey, and Criss, who’ve set about completing Pinmaggedon, which is like every Pokemon game if you replaced gyms with dingy clubs and badges with, well, pins. The siblings, joined by driver/roadie Jose, embark on a cross-country journey, where they encounter jockey bro-punks, a bevy of chimichangas, creepy ghosts and monsters, and the terror of no cell service.
Part road trip story, horror comic, and coming-of-age tale, the book’s most important asset is Kirk’s unique illustrations. The artwork is reminiscent of Regular Show or Adventure Time, in that it alternates between deeply real images and and utterly improbable portrayals of the world and reality (not to mention the size of people’s heads). But Kirk’s efforts aren’t mere rehashings – she’s cultivated an aesthetic that feels like a perfect synthesis of indie art and Saturday morning cartoon, lending an air of magic to a gritty rock band and some depth to a decidedly goofy adventure.
It’s that one foot in, one foot out approach that’s essential to Prince’s storyline that deals with death in a way that’s accessible but nonetheless impactful. We join The Creepies one year after their own brush with death, leaving Corey with a Harry Potter scar, Criss in a wheelchair, and (SPOILER) Coady as a ghost/revenant deal. That accident looms over the entire book, as death hangs in the brains of most real folks at any given time. Everything the band does – working so passionately to complete their punk journey – comes in response to those feelings. They’re rebelling against their own mortality with every crunchy cord, embracing life at every turn because they know they might not have another chance. In this way, it feels very much like a narrative about countering gloom and doom with the gusto of life, a punk rock exploration of one’s own humanity and the likelihood that it won’t last once the final curtain closes.
Yet given her undead status, it’s Coady who experiences a hero’s journey of sorts as it relates to coping with death. It takes a similarly ghost-ian friend, Shil, to help her recognize what she is, and try to make peace with her final fate. Through a long, complicated series of events – which includes nearly being outed by a terrible gossip hound named Devin and a spooky gig in The (actual?) Underworld, Coady is able to share her news in a way that feels real and organic, unabashedly telling her sisters of her new life journey as a half deceased soul.
To some extent, Coady’s arc adds to and enhances the greater notion of coming to terms with the prospect of death – that we can only do so when we’re truly ready and willing to accept life’s limitations. This idea that death is a thing we face on our own terms, and all the guidance and love and magic in the world won’t make it easier until you can let it come of your own volition. We see that lesson by the end of the book, and there’s a sense that The Creepies may have finally found the power to overcome their hang-ups and find a new level of rock goodness.
At the same time, Coady’s issues are also a greater meditation on accessibility. Her death, much like Criss’ wheelchair and even The Creepies’ status as an all-girl band in a male-dominated scene, is seen as a reflection of pure outsider status. There are things about us and how we exist in the world that make us different. The ultimate power of punk, then, is to break down those walls and let people express themselves not in spite of their differences, but often in celebration of them.
One could make the argument, then, that we can experience a similar freedom when we accept our fate and come to terms with mortality. The more we as people can transcend petty boundaries and ley lines, the better equipped we’ll be to enjoy life and build worlds we can all inhabit freely and openly. Death and punk aren’t a direct parallel, but so many of the issues with each stem from people’s stereotypes and the toxic levels they’ll reach to perpetuate those mostly dumb ideas/safeguards. The fact that everything is so brightly covered, and perpetuated with minimal seriousness, makes the kitschy tome all the more raw and effective.
Despite a story involving punk rock zombies, souls in bottles, and drowned children, things end well enough for the sisters and their lil’ Scooby Gang. But that’s what makes me feel nervous for the future of the series (future books make sense given all the threads laid out). Subsequent stories/books may only complicate the narrative, throwing off the delicate balance between humor and depth, quirkiness and emotion. In turn, that could harm the characters’ ability to provide stories and insights into issues like death and inclusivity.
While time will tell The Creepies’ final fate, volume one is a story so delightful and charming, it’s practically scary.