What do David Bowie, Cocteau Twins, Bootsy Collins, Elvis Costello, Dead Can Dance, Devo, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Hicks, Nils Lofgren, Mission Of Burma, Yoko Ono, the Residents, Robyn Hitchcock & the Soft Boys, Ringo Starr, Pete Townshend, and Frank Zappa have in common?
Over the past four decades, Rougvie has been instrumental in various aspects of the music industry including an American music producer, music consultant, DVD producer, record label founder, artist, writer, publisher, collectibles expert, DJ, music historian, and partner in Supermegabot, a company that produces & sells limited edition CDs, Art Toys, Novelties & other collectibles.
And now, he’s fulfilling another goal; comic book writer. His book, the music business crime thriller Gunning For Hits, published by Image Comics and featuring art by Moritat, is set in the shady New York City music scene of the mid-80s, focusing on Martin Mills, a record company talent scout with an inscrutable past who attempts to sign a rock band that’ll conquer the world.
Jeff took some time to discuss his passions, his background and the genesis of the book.
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FOG!: Congratulations on your book. I thought Gunning For Hits was fantastic, but I was also fascinated by the back matter in the book. Let’s start with what happened on March 4, 1990.
Jeff Rougvie: The record company I worked for had done a deal with David Bowie, and I was assigned to work with him. We’d talked on the phone since the previous June, but March 4th, 1990 was the day David & I met face-to-face for the first time and began a friendship beyond our working relationship. It was also my birthday, so pretty great birthday!
It seems that personally you have been driven for much of your life by both comics and music. What was the genesis of Gunning For Hits?
My original career plan was to become comic book artist, but I dropped out of art school to work in the music business. No complaints, it all worked out, but I’ve always wanted to make a comic book. I’d been toying with the idea of the story we’re telling in Gunning For Hits since ’89, but I was always really busy with other stuff. Then when Bowie, Prince and Darwyn Cooke died in 2016, I realized life is short and I had better get my ass in gear.
How did Moritat get involved with the project?
Eric Stephenson at Image put us in touch. I was a huge fan of Moritat’s Jonah Hex and Spirit work, but had never imagined I could get him on board. He totally gets it and has been a huge help solving problems and helping me navigate the comics world.
Is Billy, the series’ musical talent, based on an actual person that you dealt with, and how accurate is the industry breakdown to the business in 1987?
Billy is a composite of lots of people, some of whom I dealt with personally, but others I did not know.
That’s a fairly accurate, if cynical, take on the 1987 music biz.
In the backmatter for issue two, I mention a couple of things that aren’t presented in the breakdown. For instance, these labels had lots of overhead (much of it wasteful, but I think that’s true of every big company).
So even though the cash distribution we show is about right, the labels had lots of costs I brushed over.
In the end of the first issue, there’s a shocking twist with talent scout Martin Mills, which concludes with a cliffhanger. Is this based on any person or incident?
Yeah, I used to do that all the time when negotiations got onerous – just kidding! The music business – like any marriage of art and commerce – relies a lot on luck. No matter how hard you work certain projects, no matter how much money you throw at it, if timing and other factors don’t fall into place, those projects may fail. And of course, it’s art, so there are emotional connections to that music, or comic, or movie, or whatever.
The idea behind Martin is that he takes luck out of the equation, so that all those great projects that failed are successes and actually get their due.
What do you like best about both comics and music?
That’s an enormous question – I love how comics work as a medium, all the little tricks you can use, playing with time and imagery. From a creator standpoint, it’s great to be able to build worlds and tell stories visually with complete freedom.
Plus, I can’t read any foreign language competently, but I have loads off bandes dessinées that I largely grasp, so there’s a universal language there. And music is the same thing, it touches the soul and we all share human connections through it.
Who are your biggest influences in both mediums and industries?
These things change all the time for me, but in comics I am in a huge Darwyn Cooke phase right now, but it could just as easily be Jaime Hernandez or Asaf Hanuka. In music, it’s Bowie, Prince and Tony James. I think everyone knows the first two, but in case you don’t know Tony, he was a co-founder of Generation X and played in many of my favorite bands, including Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, Sisters of Mercy and Carbon/Silicon. He’s also one of the smartest and most thoughtful musicians I’ve ever met. His interviews are just full of great quotes.
What are you currently geeking out over?
I can’t stop watching or reading about Kubrick lately, same for the Mad Max films. Odyssey, about the making of 2001, is a perfect example of the kind of in-depth, behind-the-scenes book I love and the Taschen book about Kubrick’s failed Napoleon film is mind-boggling.
Can Marvel make a Daredevil movie using the style of Into The Spider-Verse? Thanks. Comics I’m really digging are Die!Die!Die! (so insane), getting caught up on Rich Tommaso’s work, dying for a new issue of The Fix, super-happy Criminal is back and re-reading Parker, like I always do.
In music I’m tripping on Bowie, Retirement Party, Ex-Hex and old Hanoi Rocks. Looking forward to the new Wildheart album and (plug, plug) 10 More Rock Super Hits, the Jeff Whalen album I’m releasing on my label, Supermegabot, is the greatest album of the decade. If it doesn’t make you smile and think of summer, you’re dead.
Gunning For Hits #2 is available today in comic book stores and via digital.