Battle of the Bands Vol. 1 original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Steve Buccellato
Letters: Lucas Rivera
Editor: Rob Tokar
Price: $9.99 US/$12.50 CAN
Though I’ve enjoyed Steve Buccellato’s work in the past, I approached this new project with some trepidation. Given the ramped-up T&A factor at play on the cover, I figured I was in for a low-brow sex romp, the equivalent of watching a sorority-house pillow fight. I started thumbing through the pages, my mind made up already. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Buccellato to change my mind. While I wasn’t taken with the WWE-style violence that’s included as part of the property, the story and characters won me over. Buccellato offers action and romance with his take on an Amerimanga book, but the real appeal lies in the humor and the characters’ unrestrained joie de vivre. Buccellato adapts his comic-art style to bring a greater Japanese influence to the surface, but he really doesn’t have to stray too far from his previously established cartooning style. One of the reasons the book works so well is that the art matches the high energy and quick pace of the script incredibly well. Fans of such comics as Chynna Clugston’s Blue Monday and Jen van Meter’s Hopeless Savages will no doubt enjoy Battle of the Bands.
Led Salad is the hottest all-girl band to come out of Los Angeles in a long time. They not only dominate the stage of every club in which they perform, they also trounce the competition… literally. They live in a culture in which rival bands actually rumble in the street. So when one says they count on their roadie for more than just carrying the equipment, it means a lot. But their uber-roadie warrior Mark calls it quits, they’re left scrambling to find a replacement. Enter Chet, a songwriter and musician who finds himself dumped by both his girlfriend and her band. A chance encounter lands him in the Led Salad roadie gig and a world tour. But Chet’s a lover, not a fighter, leaving some band members worried about their future… and one swooning.
The cover gives one a hint of what to expect in terms of visuals inside the book. The members of Led Salad are, for the most part, hyper-sexualized in appearance and personality, so, not surprisingly, there’s a lot of emphasis on their physical attributes. Mind you, it works in the context of the characters and the premise to a certain degree. Sex appeal is a part of rock-n-roll, of course, and the Led Salad ladies are characters who relish life, living in the moment. Still, there are occasions on which Buccellato boosts the T&A quotient to a near-maximum that makes one’s eyes roll. The art is at its best when it revels in the kinetic qualities of the story. Action scenes move along quickly. In additional to the strong manga look that Buccellato has adopted for this book, I also detected a hint of a Sergio Aragones influence at play. The action-oriented bits are rendered much more loosely than other scenes, and the unrestrained qualities in the art during those moments really put me in mind of Aragones’s frenetic, expressive style.
I think this story would have worked more effectively for me if the conflicts between the various bands all over the world were actually armed conflicts. At times, it seemed like the characters were only play-fighting, engaging in a war but not to the death. But later in the book, another band seems dead-set on actually slaughtering the women of Led Salad. Not only was there an inconsistency in the ways the conflicts were conveyed, but I also found the gunplay and swordplay to be much harsher in tone than the more playful qualities elsewhere in the book.
Though it’s a small touch and really contributes little to the actual plot, Buccellato’s penchant for naming the various rival bands that Led Salad must contend with all over the world is really entertaining. We only glimpse a few, but Japan’s Shogun Knife had style and France’s Whores D’Oeuvres punny name had me smiling from ear to ear.
If one had to describe Battle of the Bands to someone in other pop-culture terms, I suppose one could see it as Josie and the Pussycats all… well, not all grown up, really, but as Josie and the Pussycats on tequila. The characters are all actually rather immature, but Buccellato’s story is something of a celebration of the excesses of youth. It’s about living life in the moment, about taking risks and about the dependability of friends. The characters revel and rebel, and they only take pause to consider their responsibilities to one another. Ultimately, the facets of the book with any kind of depth are eclipsed by its tremendous sense of fun. 7/10