Writers: Joseph P. Illidge & Hannibal Tabu
Illustrator: Meredith Laxton
WHAT IS IT?
In this musical fiction graphic novel, a female-led band inspired by rock legend Prince attempt to attain stardom in the '80s Minneapolis music scene.
MPLS Sound reads like a fictionized version of a biopic music film, in the vein of the drama, Jimi: All Is by My Side.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In 1981 Minneapolis, young guitar player, songwriter, and powerhouse singer Theresa Booker feels called to pursue a future as a musician after attending a life-changing Prince concert. Theresa forms a band with her brother Ellis, her best friend Esmerelda, and recruits several other women of color – and a few white musicians – to take the stage as a funk-rock band called Starchild.
After building a reputation and performing at some local music scenes, His Royal Badness, Prince, decides to push Starchild across the threshold of success. Theresa accepts the opportunity of a lifetime. Inevitably, conflict arises between Prince's vision and Theresa's creative goals for Starchild. How does Theresa deal with the pressures of newfound fame? Will her dynamic with Prince stand firm against those who seek to bring down her band?
As a veteran editor, Joseph P. Illidge's keen eye for pacing, layout, and general narrative direction is evinced through the seamless storytelling in MPLS Sound.
Hannibal Tabu's background in the world of professional music journalism is equally as transparent in the writing.
Illidge and Tabu relate accurate music terminology and industry practices with skill, but convey the knowledge in an accessible way for any reader to comprehend.
Meredith Laxton's photorealistic art declares the in-your-face boldness experienced at an actual live music concert. Contrastingly, Laxton's softer lines are well-suited when dialing back the intensity in less urgent scenes.
Tan Shu's color palette rains shades of purple throughout the graphic novel, pictorially alluding to the Prince's background presence in Starchild's growth as a band.
Troy Peteri & Ryan Lewis's dual lettering efforts merge together harmoniously. Dialogue boxes and speech balloons follow a left-to-right, descending design on the page critical to directional reading.
The realistic representation of the late '70s/early '80s music era, generation-defining artist Prince, and Prince's influence on the coined term "Minneapolis sound" construct a plausible narrative entrenched in history. MPLS Sound harbors a conversational tone without feeling like an information dump.
Framing the narrative through the perspective of a resilient Black woman drawing inspiration from Black singer Prince in a time of racial conflict perpetuates authenticity.
Two-fold splash pages like p. 27-28 will have you marveling at Laxton and Shu's artistry. Band members perform on their instruments atop a background of descending piano keys. Shu channels the musical aura of soul, funk, and rock through psychedelic purple, blue, and black crosshatched gradient colors.
Braxton dresses the Starchild members in illustrious outfits entirely reminiscent of the '80s rock era. Each characters' wardrobe on and off the stage acts as a visual aid analogous with their personalities while Shu's aesthetic color palette evinces tone.
Illidge & Tabu round out Theresa's character in her journey through the music world. They refuse to skip over essential parts of the expedition for success like showing the effects of Theresa's time spent taking voice lessons.
I want to compliment the Starchild logo design. The logo evolves as the comic progresses, paralleling the evolution of the band members' growth. Pages 80-81 boast a two-fold splash with a reinvented "Starchild" design atop one of my favorite speech balloon shapes I've ever seen in a comic!
Salient words spoken by Theresa appear on page 72: "We're not supposed to win. People like you and me. Minneapolis has been telling me that for years. Full of men and men musicians. Because this town is more rock than soul. More white than black. So I wanted to make a band that could beat the system. By being the system. Prince made his way up by fighting every day."
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
MPLS Sound could have used some additional pages to flesh out the characters of the other band members more. While Theresa spearheads the events of the graphic novel, I feel like the rest of the Starchild members – including Theresa's brother, Ellis – were slightly underdeveloped.
While the name remains a spoiler, Theresa's relationship with a specific band member is hidden for shock value and summarized by some poignant pages at the comic's close. Although I understand this information being withheld from readers, I feel the developing relationship could have been hinted at more directly throughout the course of MPLS Sound.
Beautiful splash pages appear often, but some back-to-back two-fold splashes followed by either a single splash page or page with sparse dialogue slightly lessen the emotional resonance.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Pioneered by Prince, "The Minneapolis sound" is a common term and style known to any musician. Prince's influence and guidance for up-and-coming musicians in the Minneapolis music scene had a life-long effect on those touched by his artistic genius. Despite being a fictionalized account of Theresa and Starchild's journey in MPLS Sound, this story mirrors the real stories of artists who worked with Prince, even up until his death in 2016.
MPLS Sound inhabits the soul of the music genre that reverberates off the pages. Talent, musical innovation, and even passion are cultivated over time. MPLS Sound sets roots in the opening scenes and pulls readers upward with Theresa during her years-long struggles, identity conflicts, and ultimate growth in this page-turner.
Turn on some Prince music while reading the hard-hitting, explosive graphic novel, MPLS Sound.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
New Money #1 by Hannibal Tabu, Phillip Buchanon, & N. Steven Harris
Catalyst Prime: The Event by Joseph P. Illidge, Christopher Priest, Will Rosado, & Marco Turini
Chasin' The Bird by Dave Chisholm
If you like the art:
The Crow: Hark the Herald by Tim Seeley & Meredith Laxton
The Comic Book Story of Basketball by Fred Van Lente & Joe Cooper
The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History by David F. Walker & Marcus Kwame Anderson
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Joseph P. Illidge – Writer (@JosephPIllidge)
Multitalented: Joseph is a man of many talents, having been in the storytelling industry for over 20 years. He has worked as an editorial director, publishing executive, creative architect, writer, and public speaker.
Name Recognition: He has worked for major comic book companies like DC, Heavy Metal, and Valiant. His media coverage extends to The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN Money, BBC, and Publishers Weekl.
In 2017, he was profiled as one of the “Best Editors of 2017” by Comicosity. Joseph was also featured on "Superheroes Decoded", a History Channel documentary series.
Hannibal Tabu – Writer (@hannibaltabu)
Multitalented: Hannibal is a writer, a poet, a journalist, an editor, a project manager, a web producer, and even a DJ.
He has worked as a journalist for more than twenty, being published in Vibe, The Source, Rap Pages, Black Enterprise, The Los Angeles Sentinel, and on MTV Online.
Award Winner: In 2012, he won the Top Cow Talent Hunt and has written comics for Image Comics, Wunderman Comics, Legends Press, Aspen Comics, Canon Comics, Stranger Comics, and New Paradigm Studios.
Meredith Laxton – Illustrator (@merdett)
Meredith uses she/they pronouns and works as a freelance illustrator. Her background in multimedia design and animation has been monumental to her successful art career in the indie gaming scene. Meredith has worked with companies like Puny Human Games and InXile entertainment.
Meredith received an M.F.A. in Sequential Art and enjoys the storytelling of comics and tabletop RPGs.
She hails from Savannah, Georgia.
Tan Shu – Colorist (@biubiuuibuib)
New Face: Tan Shu has worked as a freelance comic book colorist since 2017.
Tan received a Bachelor of Arts in Game in Interactive Media Design from Communication University of China and an MFA in Sequential Art from Savannah College of Art and Design.
Troy Peteri – Letterer (@troypeteri)
Multitalented: Troy works as a writer, letterer, and designer.
He has been lettering comics for over fifteen years and has worked with comic publishers Marvel, Dynamite, DC, and Top Cow.
Troy graduated with a B.A. in Graphic Design from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Ryan Lewis – Letterer
Multitalented: Ryan is a letterer, art director, and graphic designer.
He earned a B.F.A in Advertising at Savannah College of Art and Design.
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