Comic books are a visual medium, obviously. But in his upcoming graphic novel Murder Ballads, writer Gabe Soria tried to invest the format with music — specifically the blues. The story of Murder Ballads explores the seedy underbelly of American music history, the darkness and violence that sometimes fuels hit records. The music itself is explored on an original soundtrack recorded by renowned bluesman Robert Finley and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
Music runs through the entire comic. Like a classic vinyl record, Murder Ballads is even split into two halves, with ‘Side A’ illustrated by Paul Reinwand and ‘Side B’ illustrated by Chris Hunt. Murder Ballads‘ protagonist is Nate Theodore, a down-and-out record producer who’s failed at pretty much everything he’s ever tried. On a desperate cross-country road trip with his wife, he happens to discover a talented young blues duo, Donny and Marvell Fontweathers. Ecstatic that he’s “discovered” such a hot talent, Nate determines to make a hit record with them but soon realizes there might be a higher cost than he expected, and things don’t go the way anyone expects.
In order to tie into that story, Finley and Auerbach worked with Soria to craft a soundtrack that fit the mood and plot. The Murder Ballads Original Soundtrack contains four original songs (“Bang Bang,” “Butter Sandwich,” “The Empty Arms,” and “Three Jumpers”) and one cover of the iconic Leadbelly blues song “In the Pines,” which Donny and Marvell are playing furiously when Nate discovers them for the first time.
“Everybody (or at least I hope everybody) knows the feeling of falling in love with a piece of art. Whether it’s a movie, a book, a game, or, in the case of Murder Ballads, a musician and their music, that shock of recognition is one of the most sublime, mystical, and personal experiences you can have,” Soria tells EW in a statement. “That’s the type of music story that Nate wants to be part of, but in our story, things get a little twisted and Nate’s scheming sets off a domino effect of complications. It’s basically one of the creation myths of American recorded music – intrepid explorer finds ‘real’ music hidden away in some out of the way place and brings it to the masses – combined with some classic American noir. Think the Anthology of American Folk Music if its liner notes were one of those Vintage Crime/Black Lizard paperbacks. That’s the mood right there.”
The soundtrack is not sold separately but is available only with a purchase of the graphic novel itself. Fans can either buy the standard edition and get a downloadable code or reach for the Mondo-exclusive deluxe version which comes with the soundtrack as a vinyl 10″ EP.
Check out a preview of Murder Ballads below (warning: contains strong language). The graphic novel is out July 25 from Z2 Comics.