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Get to know Dee Snider in conversation with Frank Maraffino over HE'S NOT GONNA TAKE IT

Dee Snider of Twister Sister made an indelible impact on the fight for free speech and artistic expression in his historic Senate hearing on Sept. 15, 1985. Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin is joined today by Frank Marraffino, who has worked with Dee to relate his story, before and beyond, in a new graphic novel from Z2 Comics.


 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Frank, thank you for making some time to drop by the Yeti Cave and discuss He’s Not Gonna Take It. How’s everything going so far this year?

 

 

FRANK MARRAFFINO:  So far, so good! (and I’d add “So What?” but then we’d be referencing a different band…)

 


CBY: Glad to hear it! Between Haunted Tank with Vertigo, Dark Goodbye with TokyoPop, and Marvel Zombies, you’ve taken dark and supernatural turns at some of the biggest comics publishers in the game. What led to the change of subject matter with your work at Z2? How did you end up getting involved with the Z2 team initially?


FM: Brandon Montclare, the co-creator of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, opened the door for me to join him in experiencing the exciting things happening at Z2. Brandon’s done everything in comics from owning a retail store to being an editor at DC, so when he said that there was something unique going on at Z2, my ears perked up and I eagerly jumped aboard. Dealing with the specific subject matter, not to mention the artists who are the subject matter, is grand fun of the likes found nowhere else. Also, one of my favorite steps in the process is the research, and boy do the Z2 gigs afford you the opportunity to deep dive into particular catalogues and back stories. Spending weeks getting lost in Beethoven’s work and the literature he loved was a rare treat and an absolute joy. Rantz, Josh, Jasminne and the entire team at Z2 are all passionate about making the best books possible. I’ve been super lucky to be able to hash out stories with them and the artists they line up.

 

 

CBY: So after covering Beethoven in The Final Anthology, and Melissa Etheridge in Heartstrings, you have pumped up the volume a bit by taking on the challenge of helping Dee Snider tell his story. Beethoven, obviously, is no longer with us, but Melissa Etheridge had an active role in the Heartstrings anthology. Can you speak a bit about the collaboration with both Etheridge and Snider, and how you’ve found working with musicians outside their customary medium?

 

 

FM: That Beethoven guy was a dream to work with!  But seriously… both Melissa Etheridge and Dee Snider have delved into a multitude of mediums and they’re always ready to flex their creative muscles trying different things. I think their only hesitation about doing graphic novels would be over their satisfaction with how it all worked out, and they have each expressed their satisfaction - to put it mildly!  My collaborator on Heartstrings, Steve Hochman, has a working relationship with Melissa Etheridge that spans decades, so he did a lot of the heavy lifting of sharing chapters of her story almost in real time over the years. This was a chance to tell her whole story in a really special way that can only happen in comics, including the searing nuances in Manuela’s wonderful art. You can’t stop Dee Snider from telling his story his way. He is a rocket of a raconteur - you just hold on tight and hope you don’t get shaken lose! Both artists are funny and endearing with very compelling life stories, and that makes the work a pleasure.



CBY: I went back and watched the full 1985 Senate Committee hearing in which Dee Snider was called to testify, which is reproduced in large part within the comic. I’d seen clips of it in the past during other programs discussing the parental advisory labeling standards, but it demonstrates how value judgements associated with political posturing superseded the role of due diligence in governance decisions. In the nearly forty years since Snider’s testimony, the quality of political discourse has degraded precipitously, and countless politicians have been mired in scandal for engaging in a whole range of behavior they were castigating the music industry for promoting.  How did Dee recall the rest of the experience surrounding that hearing that wasn’t captured on tape, and what went into capturing it on the page?

 

 

FM: First, I should say that Steve Kurth did a stunning job making the Senate hearing visually compelling. He took something that could have been staid and boring and made it come alive with his differing page layouts and great storytelling choices. We didn’t want to play around with what was actually said on the record, so what we wanted to emphasize had to be indicated visually in the mise-en-scene and with expressions and in the panel progression.

 

Some of Dee’s off-camera memories are included, such as his dad meeting Frank Zappa, but there’s one scene that will have to wait for the movie version: after the hearing, Dee held a free-wheeling press conference where he supplied pizza to the journalists and pretended that his dad (the unknown stiff in the suit) was giving him secret strategy advice after each question was posed to him. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite fit into the flow of our story, but I hope an audience at some point is able to experience that joyous and hilarious coda to Dee’s Capital visit, especially as an exuberant exhalation following the tense grilling he underwent inside.

 


CBY:  Yeah, the tone was admirably captured throughout. Funnily enough, I’d just mentioned Tipper Gore’s pearl-clutching behavior in my interview with Tina Horn and Lisa Sterle over their new comic, DEPROG, and she didn’t even appear in that comic. She’s framed as one of the central antagonists in this book as a core member of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which called Snider, Frank Zappa, and John Denver into the aforementioned hearing. When dealing with depicting actual public figures - who appear en masse in this comic - as a writer working with an editorial team, how do you walk the line to ensure the depiction is accurate to the public record and you don’t expose yourself to any legal liability that wouldn’t potentially arise when working strictly in fiction? What does the due diligence and clearance process look like for a title like this?

 

 

FM: I’ll leave the clearance questions for the lawyers!  But I will say that it would be unfair of me, let alone irresponsible, to play fast and loose with what real people really said. Dee Snider is very funny, but this book (for the most part) isn’t a satire. We’re telling the tale of how it really went down. Sure, it’s from Dee’s perspective and that might not fully jive with Tipper’s view, but the aim is to make each and every quote exactly how it was rolled off a tongue or written on a page. The accuracy of the quotes should be unassailable, so that exposure to liability never enters into the equation. And I think for the most part that the visual representation of public figures is at least respectful in the actual circumstances that occurred. There are a few flourishes in the story from Dee’s viewpoint that might be considered satirical, but other than that, if certain people “look bad” in this book, it’s because they brought it on themselves.     

 

 

CBY:  I can certainly agree with that assessment. I mentioned the editorial team, but I’d love to turn attention to the creative team behind He’s Not Gonna Take It. Steve Kurth did a fantastic job creating a consistent, expressive depiction of a world changing over the years with Dee Snider at the center of the story, laying down a foundation for a team of colorists. Can you share a bit more about the process of working with such a diverse, broad team of artists? How long did it take to get this comic to completion from when the idea was first given the green light, and what went into putting all the pieces together?

 

 

FM: A book like this has so many moving parts and grows through so many stages, starting with Z2 generating the concept to Dee Snider giving his thumbs up, that it gets a green light well before I’m invited along. In fact, I think Steve Kurth might have been on board before me - Dee’s son recommended him as the artist. So the short answer is that it takes a long time! Definitely over a year. The pieces are all put together by Rantz and Josh as they build the working group like a sports team. Z2 HQ is full of artists and writers, so not only do they have a strong sense of what’s needed, they pitch in as well.

 

Of course, the most important player on this team is Dee Snider. He’s the ace and the MVP and like the all-star he is, he always delivers. He’s a gamer, always ready to mix it up. Dee has such a defined sense of who he is, what works for him, and what he wants to say. He knows why this story is important and how it should be represented. Plus, his recall is amazing and the details included in his anecdotes put you right there in that time and place. I was overjoyed to discover how funny he is. With comedy, he’s a 5-tool player. Not only did that make our chats an absolute riot, but it informed the voice of the book: unorthodox and very much rock and roll. 

 

Steve is fantastic! He’s a well-traveled veteran who can do anything and his storytelling chops are off the charts. His layouts and page designs lead the eye effortlessly through every scene and across the entire narrative. For a reader it’s not always obvious, but believe me, the time and consideration that he put into offering up the best possible portrayal of each moment is awe-inspiring. Steve wrung every last ounce of insight and emotion available out of this tale. He also added a ton of ideas that not only brought the story to life, it made everything pop wide open. When you’re working with an artist of his caliber, it’s best to just get out of the way. My biggest suggestion to him was, in the spirit of rock, to try to have fun with it. Now that’s not all that easy with a bunch of pages based in a Senate chamber! But when Steve rocks this hard, it makes it so much easier for the colorists to roll with it.

 

I’d like to highlight the stellar lettering by Troy Peteri. His fonts are spot-on and his SFX choices are amazing – but it’s in his design work that he really shines, employing perfect word balloon and caption box placement. That effort is an artistry in itself. Troy leads the eye so naturally across every balloon and box that he literally makes this book an “easy read.” That’s no small effort with how wordy it is! Troy’s lettering is like a dance partner within Steve’s art. Each compliments and resonates off the other, and together they carry the narrative and the reader forward. Troy’s supremely impressive work succinctly showcases how important the total team effort is in making comics and graphic novels.

 

 

CBY: Everything certainly came together in a seamless manner for the finished publication. It was a pleasant surprise seeing Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and Prophets of Rage) provide a foreword for the book, particularly given his outspoken positions regarding the value of socialist principles and grassroots activism, particularly in response to imperialism and authoritarianism. You and Snider encapsulate the growing solidarity shown over the years as Snider’s position around government censorship has reached a wider audience. Comics, as a medium, were subject to the same sort of restrictions during the Comics Code years, and largely baseless government intervention had the capacity to make or break careers. Are there any creators you’ve seen compromised through self-censorship in response, or pushed out of the industry due to external censorship impacting their market access? From your conversations with Dee in putting this comic together, what sort of remedies arose that you’d care to share with our readers to ensure we don’t see a recurrence of this damaging practice of censorship going forward?

 

 

FM: It’s a different world today where most artists wouldn’t care too much if Walmart didn’t carry their album because of “explicit lyrics.” However, Dee and I did talk about how aspects of cancel-culture operate a lot like old-fashioned censorship. Whether or not that’s baseless is often up to individual interpretation, but it certainly is an intervention that can break careers. Like censorship of yore, it can get silly quickly. We had a good laugh about people who are not even aware that they got canceled, or would-be cancel-ers who don’t have a big enough platform to get the word out about their intended cancellation. But there’s a much sadder side to the dynamic. A lot of venomous invective online and through social media can lead people to self-censor not only their work, but even their lives. And now partly because of that you see government stepping in to try to regulate social media use. Is that safety or censorship? I’m not wise enough to profess knowing a proper remedy, other than what Dee proposed: get involved, be heard, and line up behind what’s important to you.

 

 

CBY: ...and that's a remedy that needs to continuously be administered, for sure. Now, I grew up with Dee Snider in my periphery as a pop culture icon, and as an indie rocker (I admit, I’m not a metalhead), I had grouped Twisted Sister in with the hair metal genre alongside Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot, and the like. I didn’t realize how deliberate an image had been cultivated, and how the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” lifestyle was largely absent the wanton sex and drugs for Snider. I thought some of the most touching and amusing parts of the book were those scenes capturing his interaction with his wife, Suzette. They’ve been together for over forty years at this point, and as a married man, I know my wife has some opinions that are impossible to ignore, particularly as they pertain to her. So as you were working on the book, did any of Suzette’s opinions or ideas slip into the notes Dee was bringing to the table?

 

 

FM: I’m sure she shared ideas and advice, but I wasn’t privy to them. Dee explained to me that he is an unmitigated narcissist, which has served him well while he’s in the spotlight, but… Suzette has no time for that in their private lives. When Dee is home, the family comes first, of which he is but a single member. But this book really is all about Dee in the spotlight, or several different spotlights even, so while working on it he may have plunged head-long into it, all alone with his impulses and artistry in the confident rock superstar personae that works best for him when he’s in show-and-go mode.

 

 

CBY: Regarding other key influences in Snider’s life story, the anecdote attributed to his longtime friend, Doug Steigerwald, around not letting anyone dissuade Snider from pursuing his passion echoed an earlier account of this story in Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, his 2012 memoir. What sort of advice have you received that has guided your career path, and what guidance might you share with our readers around your journey as a writer?

 

 

FM: This is a familiar tale, but I’m one of those people who seemed to get nothing but questionable pointers from authority figures who should have comported themselves with a bit more grace. My guidance counselor told me that I had a better chance of making it to the NBA than doing work in a creative field.  A poetry teacher said I was a fraud because I preferred doing short form work instead of multi-page screeds. My creative writing teacher tried to prevent me from graduating high school. On the flipside of all that negative energy, the best piece of advice I ever got may have come from my dad, an electrical engineer experienced in underground atomic testing and early microelectronics, who told me the secret was to “stay goofy” which was his way of saying keep it loose and don’t take yourself or anything else too seriously. That’s not a bad bit of business.

 

 

CBY: At least you got some good advice from the most important source of all. Frank, I’m sure you found yourself pushing the play button on a whole lot of Twisted Sister’s back catalog as you went through the process of writing this comic with Dee. Beyond He’s Not Gonna Take It, what other comics, music, and other media would you recommend our readers make sure they don’t miss? What’s been keeping you inspired lately?

 

 

FM: Dave Chisholm’s book on Miles Davis, The Search for Sound, is beguiling in its use of visual flourishes to embody all the varied musical sounds it explores. Dave did a bonus story in the Final Symphony Beethoven book which conveyed the sensation of finding yourself inside the music when you’re truly feeling it. He represented that immersion in such an elegant and simple way that perfectly mirrored the elegance and simplicity of the Beethoven piece being examined but also, just like that Beethoven music, after you experience it, it seems so obvious - but it’s actually rather cleverly executed. I’ve been again working through the oeuvre of Norwegian cartoonist Jason, whose clean lines and concise storytelling often belie inscrutable meanings open to interpretation. His newest anthology book Upside Dawn plays with narrative form in some really intriguing and also surprising ways, which is so valuable and rare in any forum these days.

And speaking of valuable and rare, not to mention surprising…since you asked, I encourage everyone to track down the Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution - Live from the Orpheum Theater concert album. The band’s influences incorporate everything from ska to spaghetti western soundtracks, and here they’re backed by a live orchestra. The unabashed raw gusto with which they attack the songs combined with the incredibly tight and bright musicianship gives you a sense that anything is possible and by gosh, there’s no excuse for not trying to reach out and achieve it.

 


CBY: Frank, you've given our readers plenty to digest (and I'll second your recommendation on Chisholm's The Search for Sound, as we expect his interview to take place on the title soon!) We encourage everyone to check out your work on He's Not Gonna Take It, and look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

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