Dan Auerbach of The Arcs performs during Lollapalooza at Grant Park on July 28, 2016 in Chicago.

“I was familiar with the landscape,” says Auerbach of the graphic novel’s storyline.

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Graphic novelist Gabe Soria and Black Keys leader Dan Auerbach have been friends for 15 years; when Soria stops by Auerbach’s adopted home of Nashville, they coordinate play dates for their kids. So when Soria texted Auerbach in 2010 to see if he would produce the soundtrack for Murder Ballads, a Southern-fried graphic novel out July 26 from Mondo and Z2 Comics, Auerbach replied with a single word: “Duh.”

Soria, who co-penned the Batman ’66 collection for DC Comics in 2013, has long wanted to combine his passion for music with his comics work. He fashioned Murder Ballads as a Coen Brothers-esque noir about a struggling label owner who discovers a fictional blues group in Louisiana days before the members’ untimely deaths. “This story has been percolating in my head for almost two decades,” says Soria, “and I knew Dan would understand exactly who these characters were.”

   Paul Reinwand

Auerbach says that he and Soria have had long discussions about the mechanics of the music industry -- and the grit needed to make it as an artist in the South. “I’ve watched [blues legend] T-Model Ford pull a knife on somebody,” he recalls. “I’ve bought homemade moonshine from a dude in a trench coat. I know that scene down in the Delta, and I love it.”

For the soundtrack, the musician called in 64-year-old blues guitarist Robert Finley (who Auerbach says “made Elvis look like a schlub”) to his Easy Eye Sound studio, and the pair recorded a blistering cover of Lead Belly’s “In the Pines.” Auerbach is producing Finley’s next album, while Soria won’t rule out a Murder Ballads sequel: “I have a whole fictional musical universe mapped out in my head.”    

This article originally appeared in the July 22 issue of Billboard.