Originally released as comic segments annually as a seven-part series; these parts have now formed together to be released as a full-length graphic novel. As the title “Hitsville UK” indicates – this is a book about the music industry (but not about The Clash or their song bearing the same title). Before you even leap into the first page, the foreword by Matt Everett (Menswear) states that “the language of music is the language of comics”. XS Noize can confer the validity of this statement and the quality of a music-themed graphic novel rests on the ability of the music and comic worlds to collate and work together using the same shared language.
Just like a play, we are introduced to the cast “roster” of twelve key characters including Gerry Corden (owner and founder of Hitsville UK), Stan Van Horne (an account that has two horns sticking out of his head to indicate which side of the force he bats for) and Gwillum (depressed Country & Western troubadour). We then go back to the beginning of “Hitsville UK” where Gerry Corden is singing “That’s What I Want” in his sleep. As the owner and founder of a record company; Corden naturally has his own ideas as to which sections of the population buy singles: “eight-year-old girls, grannies and gay men”.
Greg Pastis (super-producer (and terrible human being) who looks like an ageing Evil Cockney from The Mighty Boosh provides the perfect outlet for controversy from the outset in his attempt to make his artists create “Magic tunes” for Hitsville UK. Pastis is a believer in magic and turns not to the scientific world, but to the music industry for evidence. “Jacko, Ike, Townsend, Moz. They made magic tunes. That’s why they got away with it. And that’s why Glitter didn’t”. Pastis makes it clear to Corden that he has no time for any “James Blunts!”
Throughout “Hitsville UK” the reader is mesmerised with a plethora of colourful psychedelic sketches and clever (and in many respects original) word plays on Beatles hits. Riordan’s use of colour is scorching and illuminating to the point you feel as if you are also on the acid trip but can then get off safely without the consequences and continue to enjoy reading this zombie apocalypse-themed graphic novel. Also reinvents retro comic strip ideas and makes them relevant for this story and for the contemporary, austerity era Britain which provides the setting. For instance, the Beano/Dandy format to introduce Jack Spatz (spiv-hop rapper and entrepreneur) allows the reader to instantly connect with this character as if they had known him for years.
Hitsville is a powerful musical empire built on the money awarded from the infamous “Daddy’s Sauce” court case. Many artists are doing everything they can and sometimes failing miserably in the process. For instance, one bands’ frontman “does the rainbow yawn” on Corden’s shoes. However, there are those including The Sisters who won’t sign to Hitsville despite much encouragement and several enticements. Corden also learns that not all publicity is good publicity when he allows a dyslexic staff member to handle the t-shirt merchandising. The results are: “Hits Vile Yuk!”
“Hitsville UK” openly describes the impact of austerity with local libraries holding rap battles in a desperate attempt to keep afloat as well as broken and dysfunctional families. Whilst teenage loner and outcast Haunted By Robots has some hilarious scenes; his family life and background story is disturbing. We also see that fascism and Nazi sympathies have not been eliminated with far-right band Aryan 51 causing trouble for those who want to make music for the same reason the best musicians make music: to bring people together.
“Hitsville UK’s” strength lies in its ability to deal with a plethora of separate side stories and subplots and collate them together at the finale. The often hammy, cheesy but also intelligent play on words with song lyrics from “Instant Korma” to “The sisters are doing it for themselves” and innuendo about the “Mines of Moria” from the Lord of the Rings trilogy provides entrainment for music enthusiasts amidst an often dark setting. Gwillum (who despite his looks is nothing like Golem) who women will find cute and men (at least privately) will want to have a bromance with offers the most fascinating story of creative (also destructive) discovery through his unconsciousness where he meets up with Johnny Cash.
As well as insightful lyrics for the made-up bands and solo artists (which would in real life impress both poets and record producers alike); Riordan’s reinterpretation of classic album artwork by bands including Kraftwerk, Primal Scream, Nirvana, Joy Division, Love and David Bowie demonstrate how “Hitsville UK” is proof that “the language of music is the language of comics” and like people and wider society; they are better when they work together.
Darkness, austerity, humour, music and adroit plotlines all come together magnificently in “Hitsville UK”. Riordan’s magical and almost spiritual use of colour guarantees the perfect trip. If you require further proof that the worlds of music and graphic novels are at their best when they intertwine; “Hitsville UK” includes the bonus 2015 Record Store Day comic featuring leading the characters.
“Hitsville UK” is available to buy via https://johnriordan.bigcartel.com/