With his ripped jeans, lank hair and sinewy, tortured frame, Kurt Cobain is not your average superhero. But that hasn’t stopped a graphic novel based on the Nirvana frontman’s rock ’n’ roll rollercoaster of a life from becoming something of a cult classic. Originally published in 2003, and translated into six different languages, Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic is now being republished in a smaller, Manga-style format for a new generation of fans to pore over.
Chris Charlesworth, editor at Omnibus Press, came up with the idea for a Cobain comic when he was pitched a graphic novel based on The Beatles. Uncertain that the Fab Four would appeal to the fanboys, he began casting around for a more youth-friendly protagonist. Cobain’s short life – crammed with domestic conflict, global success, addiction and, ultimately, tragedy – offered the credible rock star drama he was looking for. He drafted in Barnaby Legg and Jim McCarthy, a long-time 2000 AD employee who had worked on its Judge Dredd stories for over a decade, to write the story and Flameboy to provide the images. And so, replacing Lycra with lumberjack shirts and heroism with heroin, a new slacker Superman in worn-out sneakers was born.
The cover image, which casts Cobain as fallen angel – on his knees in a torn T-shirt, tattered wings drooping, with tears streaming from his eyes into a puddle on the floor – is typical of Flameboy’s apocalyptic, inventive visuals. It took the Yorkshire-based graphic artist (whose real name is Steve Beaumont) eight months to complete them, “locked away in a room with no windows and just the music and videos of Nirvana plus a copy of Kurt’s journals for company”. Flailing limbs and bloody noses at gigs, the deathly, lonely glow of a heroin hit and violent rows with a nightie-clad Courtney Love, against a backdrop of jagged swear words, all feature. “You know when rock stars say they just went with the flow?” he told NME at the time. “Sometimes I look at these pages and think, ‘Did I draw that?’ I can’t even remember drawing it.”
The writers took a similarly dream-like, impressionist approach to the rock star’s troubled life. No ordinary biographical trawl, McCarthy and Legg go into Cobain’s burgeoning childhood “relationship” with his imaginary friend, Boddah (to whom the singer would eventually address his rambling suicide note), his depression following his parents’ divorce and his teenage battles with his sexuality and so-called “suicide genes” (his uncle Burle also killed himself).
More happily, it covers the first flowerings of musical talent, the euphoric early gigs, love and fatherhood. “Writing a graphic novel is different from writing a script. With really good comic art, you can do things you can’t do with other art forms,” says McCarthy. The book is topped and tailed with imagined scenes around Cobain’s suicide, in the greenhouse of his Seattle home, aged 27 – artistic licence which drew death threats from fans. – The Independent