Japanese musical phenomenon Babymetal have certainly captured the eyes and ears of the world – three perky schoolgirls performing to a colorful mash-up of death metal, dance music, and bubblegum pop dubbed “Kawaii Metal.” Now the trio is taking their art further with a new graphic novel, Apocrypha: The Legend Of BABYMETAL, a project purposefully shrouded in secrecy. The author is simply listed as The Prophet of the Fox God, and the media has not been allowed to see the full book prior to its release. Luckily, Billboard received some exclusive advance art.
Z2 Comics will release the 144-page Apocrypha graphic novel on Oct. 30. It will retail for $24.99. A deluxe edition will be released in a collectible 10’x16′ clamshell box, include three original prints, and be signed and sketched by illustrator GMB Chomichuk (who is making an appearance at NY Comic Con Thursday, Oct. 4). The deluxe edition is limited to 500 copies and will retail for $199.99 through z2comics.com.
The man tasked with visually interpreting the band’s music on the page, GMB Chomichuk, is a self-taught, rule-breaking artist who has created a number of comic book projects, including Infinitum, RayGun Gothic, and the Midnight City series, plus the illustrated children’s book Cassie and Tonk. He has said in the past that he is drawn to strong female characters, likely a by-product of having been raised with four sisters.
While many comic book writers and artists have both iconic and indie inspirations, Chomichuk’s are a bit different. “My biggest comics influences are from outside of comics,” he reveals. “My work is a sort of Venn diagram where 1930s pulps, 1940s propaganda, and 1960s style guides all overlap.” Given his style and approach, he seems like a natural fit for the Babymetal comics concept.
Chomichuk first heard about the possibility of the graphic novel when he was approached about it at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival two years ago. His initial response was skepticism – “is this [going] to be a commercial or a story?” – but he says once the original story ideas for Apocrypha were laid out he was eager to dive in. The synopsis, as listed in a recent press release, reads: “A mission from the Fox God – an entity frequently highlighted in Babymetal’s music and performances – takes three reincarnating protagonists on a time-traveling journey from prehistoric Kyoto to modern day New York City.”
According to Chomichuk, a lot of collaboration, research, and refinement went into the creation of the book. The artist had been aware of Babymetal “as a sort of performance phenomenon – the theatrics and mythology are what first made me take notice years ago,” he explains. “To be here now is very strange but very wonderful.”
Through Babymetal’s manager Kobametal, Chomichuk and the Z2 Comics team saw the group perform live in Nashville for the first time. “To be amongst other ‘Kitsunes’ in the crowd really helped us appreciate and process the essence of the band,” says Chomichuk. “Over those few days, we had access to the Babymetal world that only a very select few have. It’s something we won’t forget, and we’re grateful to Kobametal for trusting us.”
There are some modern hard rock and metal bands that have built up an unusual image; two notable examples being Slipknot and Ghost, who disguise their appearance and create larger than life personas onstage. Since Babymetal have a very public face, it meant that Apocrypha would not be an attempt to create that kind of mystique. Rather, it expands upon the band’s existing mythology.
“John Updike once said ‘Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face’,” muses Chomichuk. “Babymetal operates in a sort of mythological space, which I think leaves the art for us and the creators to themselves. Apocrypha isn’t so much an attempt to create a fictional backstory as it is corralling the existing lore that the band had already built in their music and live shows. There are so many iconic images, moments, and hooks that we were able to draw on. Babymetal is all the more compelling because they indulge in symbolism and stories. It adds texture to the live experience. To tell you just how the band fits into the book will, I think, spoil the surprise.”
Fox spirits of Japanese lore have different iterations in that culture, and the Fox God plays its own role in the world of Babymetal. “We mixed in a more structural functionalist/Campbellian application of ‘god tropes’ to give the Fox God a really wonderful and original embodiment,” says Chomichuk. “It was simultaneously one of the most fun and challenging aspects of the book.”
The exclusive panels that Billboard received look either like framed paintings or art created on parchment paper. Pages seen elsewhere push the visual boundaries of larger comics panels. It seems that the feel of the book changes throughout its different chapters.
“The pages we’ve shown before were selected because they are iconic and mysterious, like a good gig poster might be, without being full of spoilers,” says Chomichuk. “The book has plenty of multi-panel narrative pages and it’s full of action, but we did find time for a few quiet moments which I am very proud of. There are several meanings and realities at play in this book. Each chapter of the book has a different color palette and texture arrangement, but to say more would constitute a spoiler. As to my influence, as I tried to do with pictures what the music already does, I often found myself returning to a quote from the artist Max Ernst. My job was to light ‘the spark of poetry that leaps across the gap as these two realities are brought together.’”
Numerous hard rock and metal luminaries have done their own comics over the years, from Alice Cooper and KISS to Megadeth and Danzig. Having owned a comic store in his “misspent youth,” Chomichuk was very aware of such efforts. “One of the things we wanted to do was have this project feel less like the comics adaptations audiences have seen before and instead present an unseen side to the mythology,” he explains. “There weren’t going to be any clever references to the music or conflicts revolving around the characters being superhero musicians, rather we wanted to tap the essence of the band and their music. We created what the band feels like as opposed to what they look or sound like. It’s an approach that we hope has its own authenticity.”
Chomichuk says he listened to Babymetal in the planning stages of the comic, immersing himself in headphones, note pads, and sketch books “as a creative womb in the studio until I was ready to start doing full pages.” He notes that the song “Babymetal Death” was “perfect for planning the action scenes. But what really focused all that was seeing the band up close in Nashville. When I get down to making pages on any project my favorite thing to do is listen to classical music at heavy metal volumes.”
Some of his favorite Babymetal tunes are “Rondo of Nightmare,” “Karate,” and “Meta Taro.” “Once [the recent song] ‘Distortion’ dropped, it seemed like a surreal place where all our influences were aligning, and I listened to it a lot,” he adds.
Given that Chomichuk creates comics for people of all ages, does podcasts, and travels to conventions, one assumes he needs good time management skills to juggle everything effectively. “I have the same number of hours as everyone else, but I stick to a creative schedule,” he elaborates. “As a writer and an illustrator, I find it much easier to switch gears from story to art rather than to stall when the going gets tough as others might. But the real secret to any working artist is that we don’t do it alone. Without my family and my collaborators there is no space in my life for me to create the things I do. What time I have I owe to them.”
Chomichuk says that he loves writing and illustrating stories and exploring the spaces surrounding the creative process. Currently, he is writing and illustrating Good Boys for Portage and Main Press and The Minus Institute, which has no publisher attached yet. He is also co-producing a play called Red Earth with Andraea Sartison and developing “an all-ages project for TV with Justin Currie based on one of our books,” he says. “I guest lecture about the ways in which writing fiction can be a massive force for self-reflection. We record the Super Pulp Science podcast once a week.”
The talented artist also offers this rallying cry: “I hope some of you will join the fight and make comics.” A mythological, metal-inspired graphic novel should certainly help spur the charge.
GMB Chomichuk will appear at the Apocrypha: The Legend Of BABYMETAL panel being held Thursday at the Main Stage of Anime Fest at New York Comic Con between 5:15 PM and 6:15 PM. Z2 Comics are also selling three limited edition Apocrypha: The Legend Of BABYMETAL posters at Anime Fest booth #5319 and New York Comic Con booth #1255.