A Confused Bowie Biography

The graphic novel biography of David Bowie, “Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams” at least understands one thing: Bowie’s official biography must be comic. Anyone familiar with his life knows that the Great Chameleon was too visual for the written word and too alien for a traditional Biopic. Sadly, this isn’t it. 

Created by artist Michael Allred (Sandman), writer Steve Horton (Amala’s Blade) and colorist Laura Allred (Madman), “Bowie” feels confused; the art screamed the crazy, larger than life Bowie, while the writing carried a more authoritative, biographical voice. It’s better when its the former — with Bowie and Ziggy Stardust meeting in space and snakes slithering around the pages.

Perhaps this is just a predicament of a graphic-biography. But the contrast between the art and the writing made the Bowie of “Bowie” feel lifeless and episodic. Crazy images of Bowie in bananas or floating in space are hammered to reality through title cards and dates. Each page reads less like a chapter in his life and more as if the biographers flipped a calendar, pointed to a random day, and asked “what was David doing then?”

Some of my distaste may come from my disappointment with the years “Bowie” zeros in-on. Like countless films and written biographies, it’s concerned with Ziggy Stardust more than David Robert Jones. While it takes about 75 pages for the name “Ziggy” to surface, the art and the writing are on the same page, for once, in their focus on Bowie’s early stardom and the character who brought him there. 

Their Bowie, as compared to the real thing, rings too direct. Listen to any interview with Bowie from these years and you’ll find a much more elusive Bowie, not one that narrates his thoughts or explains his methods. The next Bowie biography, so as to avoid the same traps, should focus on his Berlin years or maybe his Blackstar album/and his death — rather than obsessing over his short-lived but obsessive characters.

I don’t think Michael Allred or Horton can be found at fault. Allred’s art is classic Bowie and it fits these early years perfectly. It’s colorful, bright, and a little alien. Horton loves Bowie so much that he wants to fit in as much as he can — the same flaw that Jon Favreau fell victim to in Iron Man 2 (2010). He’s also doing his duty as a biographer by writing more like a journalist than an eccentric creative. Allred’s work would be better suited with a writer who takes the story to Mars, whereas Horton would be better suited with an artist more grounded and objective or historical, perhaps Chie Shimano. Personally, I think the two just don’t mesh for this project. 

Their mismatch hurts more than just my personal desires from a Bowie book. It’s dangerous. At one point, Horton uses his voice of God narration to describe a drug-overdose of another character, while Allred’s bright colors alienize the reader from reality. This has the effect of downplaying the horror of the drugs. They never redeem themselves because they avoid drugs like COVID-19, a sad mistake that makes their book read more like a failed hagiography than an actual biography.

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