Whoa! Wait! Hold on! Is it too late to amend my entry to the Rocker Contributors’ Holiday Gift Guide? Because Santa dropped a comic book into my stocking that blew away any ol’ sugar plum: Norton Records’ Kicksville Confidential #1 by Billy Miller and Avi Spivak. A comic book dedicated to the history of Norton Records and its myriad misanthropic artists? Way to sock it to me, Santa!
Kicksville Confidential #1 isn’t a standard comic that can open with an establishing shot to put the reader in the proper time and place; so it opens with its best take on an origin story – a gushing letter of praise to Norton Records by none other than Crypt Records impresario Tim Warren. Why should we care about Norton Records? Warren lays it down in his inimitable style for readers who might be among the uninitiated.
The origin tale continues in cartoon form as Billy Miller tells the tale of how he and Miriam Linna found each other in New York City through a mutual love of obscure rock records, leading them to begin publishing the seminal rock zine Kicks from ’79-82 and how that in turn led to their introduction to the legendary West Virginia wild man Hasil Adkins. Apparently Haze bombarded Miller and Linna with pictures, demo tapes, and homemade acetates in hopes of getting his material released. The onslaught, apparently too overwhelming for the young fans to resist, led to the first Norton Records release, Hasil Adkins: Out to Hunch.
Now, you’ll notice that at no point do I refer to Kicksville Confidential #1 as a graphic novel. That would imply some sort of standard narrative. And after giving us the who, what, where and why of Norton Records, Miller quickly abandons linear narration for 24 pages of black and white barroom yarn spinning. With a machine gun pace, he rattles off round after round of trash-rock lore, ranging from single pages to single panels of possibly familiar stories (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ legion of illegitimate children) to ones it’s unlikely readers will know (Rockabilly madman Ronnie Haydock was also the editor at Famous Monsters of Filmland!? Holy Snot!) Worried that I’m dropping spoilers? Don’t be. Kicksville Confidential #1 provides an endless supply of little gems, with equal space for big names like The Ramones and obscurities like Detroit’s Danny Zella and the Zell-Rocks. If anything, in true Norton style, the little guys get more attention. Who cares if the label released four LPs by The Real Kids? They get one panel and they’ll like it!
Miller’s storytelling style is well matched by Avi Spivak’s art, which resembles the work of classic indie comix artists R. Crumb, Daniel Clowes, and John Holmstrom of Punk Magazine and Ramones album cover fame. The big-lipped bug-eyed likenesses of Norton artists are spot on stylistically, although many of them need the context of Miller’s storytelling to be interpreted as full on caricatures. Not a big deal given that I doubt anyone could pick a guy like Danny Zella out of a police line-up anyways. The panels are so heavily inked that they almost look like the product of woodcuts lending a noir feel that is not only appropriate to the dark and lurid quality of the subject matter, but also helps keep the reader’s eyes glued to the text-heavy pages.
Well, hell. It’s January. I’m too late for this year’s gift guide there’s a silver lining… Kicksville Confidential #1 implies that there’ll be a #2. Maybe if we’re all really, really, really good and order lots of copies of issue one, Santa will have something special in his bag for us next Christmas.
Ken Eppstein is the Editor of Nix Comics Quarterly
You can buy Kicksville Confidential #1 for a mere $5 at the Norton Records website