When Ziggy Played Guitar – An Advanced Review Of ‘Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams’

by Rachel Bellwoar

Here’s what I was concerned about going into Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams. Michael Allred’s artwork is amazing. He’s been doing a lot of promotion for the book on Twitter, posting mouth-watering previews of the art, and if there’s one thing you can be assured of, there’s nothing affected about his love for David Bowie. It’s a love that’s gestated for years (you can read about how he discovered the star in the afterward) and buoyed by Laura Allred’s colors (and color assists by their son, Han Allred), there was never any question that the book would look spectacular.

Which made it a matter of the script. Michael Allred co-wrote Bowie with Steve Horton and the book traces the steps that culminated in Bowie taking on his Ziggy Stardust persona. That means the book covers some of the same material as Néjib’s graphic novel, Haddon Hall, which was similarly concerned with Bowie’s early years and gets mentioned as a source. Bowie surpasses Haddon Hall, however, in that the first scene in Allred and Horton’s book is Bowie about to announce that the Hammersmith Odeon won’t just be the end of their tour but the end of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

From 1973, Allred and Horton jump to 1962, and you’re allowed to forget about the framing device for a while. Events are recalled in chronological order but there are two instances where you’re reminded that this reminiscing is taking place within a small pocket of time – between Bowie saying “Because,” and “Not only is it,” to be exact – and that playfulness is consistent with the way this book deals with time overall.

Nothing occurs in a bubble and Bowie’s influences are brought up constantly, with both narrational and visual references to what the future will bring for the musicians he meets. Usually these glimpses of the future appear in the background or overhead, a secret we’re let in on, made possible by the story being set in the past. The benefit of making these connections right away is that you can pay attention yet it’s also apparent that no one knew if they would make it or not, or which introductions would end up being lifechanging. Songs that could’ve faded get re-released and the reception is night and day, while a few too many near-death experiences get related as well.

Allred is an artist who uses the entire page and piece by piece (starting with Bowie’s eye), you start to see Bowie’s Ziggy persona come together and get origin stories. While the story deals with facts and research, Allred doesn’t always restrict himself to being realistic (there are a couple of moments where Ziggy appears as a disembodied figure and when Christopher Lee wants to collaborate with Bowie, he appears as Count Dracula). Every biographer picks different moments to feature and one that was nice to see highlighted for a change was the moment Bowie encouraged Mick Ronson to join him at the mic. If you’ve seen enough Bowie videos then you’ll remember the day you finally had to look up that guitarist, who was always next to Ziggy on stage.

Allred and Horton don’t portray Bowie to be beyond fault, either. Sometimes you’ll see him stick to his guns and he’s right. Another time, he accepts a gig without asking his band mates and, having recently stopped riding with them, too, they skip the event. Bowie doesn’t act like they were wrong to do so. His reaction is very calm – “Solo it is then,” – but it’s a moment that feels very precedent of how Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars will break-up. While Allred ends the book with a series of collages that cover the rest of Bowie’s life, they don’t really get into the fallout of that break-up for the Spiders (the documentary, Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, is worth a watch if you’re interested in that).

In a way it would be nice to see one of Bowie’s other personas get this treatment (and you can read the afterward  both ways — that this book is definitive or that a sequel hasn’t been ruled out), but the appeal of Ziggy Stardust is undeniable.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams goes on sale January 8th, 2020 from Insight Comics.

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