How Prince's handwriting, cult rap cinema and DC Comics came together for one funky new video.
When you think Prince and comic books, what's the first thing on your mind? Many will likely hark back to the Purple One's soundtrack for the 1989 Batman movie, with its front cover splash of the movie's classic logo (getting a cool looking purple variant for one of the later singles).
Not so well-known is that the Batman TV show theme was the first song Prince learnt to play; even less-known is that Prince was the lead hero of two different comic book series from the 1990s, official DC publications that have managed to find a second life almost three decades later.
The occasion is Prince-written song Holly Rock, originally performed by Sheila E. in 1986 and recently released for the first time in Prince demo form on the posthumous Originals album. Tapped to make a promo for the song was London-based director and animator Aaron Lampert, an animation industry veteran whose credits include Wes Anderson classic Isle of Dogs.
"I've been working on projects with Electric Light Studios for some years," Aaron tells me by email. "I'm an animator who grew up in the 80s, loves rap, comic books and good music so the project was right up my street."
For possible stylistic reference, the deceased legend's estate sent Aaron a copy of comic book Prince: Alter Ego, a 1991 release in which a musical superhero version of Prince goes to war against a brainwashing fiend.
Its writer, another late great by the name of Dwayne McDuffie, would go on to pen Prince and the New Power Generation: Three Chains of Gold in 1994, Prince's last comic book outing until Aaron and team set about with their animated tribute.
"I wasn't familiar with the Alter Ego comic prior to working on the project," Aaron explains. "I really like the artwork, so I started out exploring ideas that were closer in look to the comic. The saturated colour palette was definitely an inspiration, but the overall tone of it is darker and moodier than what we were going for with Holly Rock.
"In the end, the main thing I took from Alter Ego was the more general concept of a Prince comic book, which was the inspiration for the use of comic-style captions and panels."
The animated panels show Prince in various iconic costumes, along with graffiti renditions of the song title in various funky fonts.
"We aimed to be as authentic as possible when it came to sourcing reference material for the designs for his outfits, hairstyles and instruments, all of which were based on images from around 1985 when Holly Rock was originally written and recorded.
"A couple of the graffiti pieces in the video that I drew up were inspired by fonts used in cult rap film Krush Groove (below) and general mid-80s graffiti styles.
"Lots of the other graffiti is Prince's actual handwriting; his estate sent through a hi-res scan of his original handwritten lyrics (below), so I isolated certain words and processed them to look like neon graffiti."
Aaron is no stranger to comics himself, he tells me, having worked as a comic book artist straight out of college, with a long-found love for Akira, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comics, 2000AD and the work of Moebius, Dave McKean and Taiyō Matsumoto (the manga artist behind wonderful books such as GoGo Monster and Tekkonkinkreet.)
"I have a lot of respect for Prince as an artist and musician who had a unique style and vision, too. Unfortunately we didn't make a Holly Rock comic, but that would have been cool if there was more time!"
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