personal responsibility, war and the environment: Neil Young's Greendale Graphic Novel? Presented by PlanetShifter.com Magazine
Neil Young's Greendale, Illustrated
They say you can't go home again, but maybe someone should tell that to Neil Young.
Mr. Young created the fictional Northern California town of Greendale and its residents on his 2003 album of that name, then spun it off into a film and more. Now he's visiting again, this time in the form of a graphic novel. "I'm happy the story is getting around; I think it's empowering for young women," he said during a recent telephone interview from his tour bus as it made its way to Louisville, Ky.
"Neil Young's Greendale," as the graphic novel is officially titled,
was released this week by Vertigo, a division of DC Comics, and was written by Joshua Dysart, illustrated by Cliff Chiang and colored by Dave Stewart. It focuses on Sun Green, the great-granddaughter of Jay Green, the man who founded Greendale. Through Sun, the artists tell a story about personal responsibility, war and the environment, all themes familiar to Mr. Young. "It's still pretty current," he said.
The Greendale townsfolk were originally given life in 2003 in Mr. Young's 10-track concept album with the band Crazy Horse. That led to a concert tour, an original film and a companion book of lyrics, illustrations and more information about the characters, including the Green women's special relationship with nature
. The graphic novel draws on the various incarnations with a strong helping from the book and suggestions from Mr. Young. "The album is more of a rock-'n'-roll 'Our Town,' " Mr. Dysart said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "The graphic novel is an American fable with strong supernatural elements."
Mr. Young worked with Mr. Dysart on developing the story line and was incredibly patient when it came to landing the artist. "It took me about a year and a half to get Cliff Chiang," Mr. Young said.
After being told that Mr. Chiang's schedule would not be free for sometime, Mr. Young took matters into his own hands. "I found his Web site, and I sent him an e-mail telling him I was going to wait until hell froze over," he said.
Mr. Chiang recalls getting the message on Super Bowl Sunday in 2008, during the halftime show. It was signed NY. "It took me a second to figure out that NY was Neil," Mr. Chiang said during a phone interview from his home in Brooklyn. "I thought they had already been working on the book with someone else."
No. "It had to be Cliff," said Mr. Young, who noted that he appreciated the artist's open, clean style. Mr. Chiang has drawn the adventures of the Human Target for Vertigo. He also illustrated a Green Arrow and Black Canary comic book for DC. His personal Web site includes superhero riffs on cover images of film soundtracks: Batgirl in place of Prince in "Purple Rain" and the Teen Titans as "The Breakfast Club," among them.
Mr. Chiang spent close to two years working on the 160-page graphic novel
, from character design work to drawing the pages; it's printed on recycled paper, Beyond the initial e-mail exchange, however, he had little interaction with Mr. Young.
That was not the case with Mr. Dysart. "Whenever he was in L.A., I would meet with him," Mr. Dysart said. That included going backstage at the Hollywood Bowl during a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert.
There were several rounds of scripts and revisions, and Mr. Dysart describes Mr. Young as a "phenomenal collaborator" - in sharp contrast to his experience with the singer Avril Lavigne and her "Make 5 Wishes" manga graphic novel, which he scripted for Del Rey. He sent several ideas, one was selected, and then silence, Mr. Dysart said.
"On the one hand, we were able to produce whatever kind of book we wanted," he said. "On the other hand, it put a weird taste in my mouth about Avril Lavigne. That was not Neil." (A representative for Ms. Lavigne did not respond to e-mail and phone messages.)
Mr. Young has been so prolific with "Greendale" that certain elements had to be condensed or omitted from the graphic novel. But "knowing that there were going to be a lot of hardcore Neil Young fans looking at this book, I wanted to put in stuff that only they would get," Mr. Chiang said. One of the "Greendale" songs mentions a black cat; in the graphic novel, it appears in the first shot of Sun's bedroom. The Imitators
, a band mentioned in the album and film, make a cameo appearance in a bar scene.
Mr. Dysart saw Jed Green, the troubled young man who has a tragic encounter with the law, and the town's mysterious (and malevolent) stranger as two sides of the same coin: the manipulated and the manipulator. Both characters also have a passing resemblance to Mr. Young. "I wish I could come up with a really great intellectual reason for why I wanted to do it, but it just felt right," Mr. Dysart said.
Other parts of Young lore are evident in a somber funeral procession scene that features a giant Buick Roadmaster hearse. "That's actually Neil Young's first car that he nicknamed Mort," Mr. Chiang said. The trusty vehicle was eulogized in the singer's "Long May You Run." Behind Mort is the Linc-Volt
, a 1959 Lincoln Continental that Mr. Young has been trying to make more fuel-efficient. "He's one of the few people who would recognize it immediately," Mr. Chiang said.
The "Greendale" graphic novel may not be the last readers see of Sun Green. "There are all kinds of things that we talked about doing that aren't in this book, that have to do with her next episode and her story," Mr. Young said. "These characters have been designed to last a long time."
Author: GG Gustines, NY Times