Writer S. Steven Struble's comic Li'l Depressed Boy released a trade paperback collection of its first four issues for Image Comics last Wednesday. Called She Is Staggering, the trade spins the tale of Li'l Depressed Boy, a literal sad sack, as he meets a young lady, learns her name and has an array of musically related fun times. The comic is strewn with musical references, be they a concert from Kepi Ghoulie in the debut issue or LDB's Devo shirt. We recently shot some e-mails back and forth with Mr. Struble about his creation and its history.
S. Steven Struble: Yeah. The Li'l Depressed Boy started out on the web. Back in 1998 -- while I was still in high school -- I started doing a three-panel newspaper-style strip and quickly abandoned it. Then I rebooted it a few times between 2001 and 2005 and turned it into a full-page strip with rotating artists. In 2008 I started getting serious about it, and that's when a steady flow of story came out.
How do you pick the musicians that appear in each issue of LDB?
We usually pick the musical references by just loving the songs of a certain artist so much that we want to share their work with everyone we know. Anybody who knows me, knows I know the lyrics to every Kepi Ghoulie song and have an 8+ hour mix of his music that I'll listen to for an entire work day. The Like were a more recent musical obsession. Honestly, you could look at my last.fm top played artists list and figure out who we would love to work in.
On a related note - does the music represented (be it on LP, t-shirt, flier, or live appearance) specifically relate to the story being told, or is it just sometimes a case of "oh, yeah, Devo"?
Some of the musical references are there as atmosphere. The t-shirts. The fliers. Records LDB buys at the record store. They are there to inform the reader on the world between LDB's headphones. Where his headspace is at.
But whenever we make a direct reference to a song -- be it through the band performing in the issue, a musical cue mentioned at the bottom of a panel, or a book title -- it's about helping tell the story. They make up an unofficial mix tape that is meant to enhance the story. If you track them down and listen while you're reading, it hopefully gives you a fuller experience.
The whole "unofficial mixtape" thing seems pretty similar to what Jim Mahfood's done with Grrl Scouts over the years. Any inspiration there?
Jim was one of the first people to take a chance on me in the comic industry. He let me color several projects for him over the years. There is definitely some influence there. But in particular, it was an issue of the Maxx. There was an issue called "The Love For Three Oranges" -- I think it was issue 33 -- where Sam Kieth would put soundtrack cues in the panels for the reader to expand the experience.
Do you ask permission from each artist, or is it a surprise to them?
When a band shows up in the comic, yeah. We ask them. With Kepi, I'd met the guy a few times and he's a great guy. I approached him after he stopped through to play a show in my hometown. The artist on the Li'l Depressed Boy, Sina Grace, grew up with the ladies in the Like, so he called them up and asked them if it was cool. With the band that appears in the upcoming story arc, we had no connection to them. So, we just sent an e-mail with some examples of the book and they liked what they saw.
When you say "no connection," do you mean that you'd not met them in person, or does that mean something else entirely?
I would like to think there is a connection considering how much I play their music while working on LDB or cover them at open mic nights ... but no, sadly, there is not telepathic cosmic tie of any sort. Just admiration. The band -- Andrew Jackson Jihad -- was just a band I really dug. One of those bands that I put on repeat indefinitely and didn't come up for air for at least a month.
Did you raid my record collection to pick out records for LDB to play?
Oh, yeah. That reminds me. I really need to work some O'Phil references in there.