Wayne Coyne might as well be a modern day Renaissance man. The Flaming Lips frontman has tackled music, visual art, film and theater, spreading his own brand of weird to any realm that will take him. Psychedelic, absurd and often times hair-raising, the various projects all seem to fit nicely into the hallucinatory experience that has become the Lips.
So it shouldn't be surprising that Coyne has decided to dip his toes into the world of comics with his very NSFW graphic creation, "The Sun is Sick." Centering on an intergalactic plot line involving a dying star, a blind princess heroine and a mysterious eyeball baby, the work is everything you'd expect from the experimental rock god. Guts, nudity, a penchant for the color pink and all.
The vibrant comic -- which lands somewhere between the lush lines of Gary Panter and the nonsensical drawings of Daniel Johnston -- made its debut this week at the 2013 Comic Con gathering. The Huffington Post spoke to Coyne just before the big reveal, during which he explained the ins and outs of his vividly strange imagination.
Read our interview and check out exclusive images from the book below:
Hi, Wayne. Thanks for speaking with me.Yeah! I’m here in... hmm, I can’t remember where we are. We’re close to Niagara Falls. I know that. We’re going to go see the falls today.
I’m sitting in New York, so you’re not too far away. It really is a world away, though. When I tell people we’re recording outside of Buffalo, which is where we recorded last, sometimes I’ll say we’re in New York. And people will be like, “Oh, cool!” And I’m like, have you ever been to Western New York? It’s a lot like some empty area in the middle of the world. Like Arkansas or something. But we like it. We’ve been coming up since the late '80s.
How does it compare to your hometown in Oklahoma? Well, I suppose in some ways it’s kind of similar! Because it’s in the middle of nowhere and not many people are there.
So I just got my hands on ‘The Sun is Sick.’ What drew you to the comic world? I don’t know. My thing is that I’m utterly defenseless against what [the comic book] is. Mostly I just doodle -- doodle while I’m doing interviews. [Editor’s Note: Coyne was not doodling during this interview.] And sometimes that will be a pretty intense thing for a couple of months, where everyday or every other day I’ll going for three or four hours here and there.
Is this how "The Sun is Sick" came about? Doodling in your spare time? You know, comic books are in panels. And I was drawing in panels. But it was like, “Oh, I’m just drawing a stupid story.” I had done several [panels] that were just completely random, sick shit. I have no limits to what I’ll be thinking of. And then I think one day people were just like, ‘You should make this into a comic.’ And I sort of decided to connect some of the stories and it became this thing.
You’ve created a pretty memorable character -- the blind princess and her eyeball offspring. Any special story behind this? I wish that it was really born in my mind. To tell you the truth, I only conceived that she was blind because I thought, maybe I can make something of this later. And the fact that she had an eyeball baby didn’t really happen until I drew that panel. I was just thinking at first that it was this hideously deformed baby and it never occurred to me that it was anything else. And then as I drew more panels, it happened that as she loved this creature it gave her the ability to see. Because she’s blind and it’s an eyeball, it became a cosmic message about the knowledge of love and all that.
How did the princess come to adorn the cover? You know, I drew the cover by accident one day. I kept thinking I needed a cover and I just drew it by accident. And then after, I thought it was a good character. I sort of just continued from there. But it’s funny, a lot of stories and writers and even movie director guys will say that the name of the movie or the movie poster almost was more important to them than all the little nuances in the movie. I think that’s sometimes a good way to do it.
I can definitely see that in the Flaming Lips discography. A lot of the material carries a heavy visual component -- like "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." The lyrics just sort of lend themselves to wild, imagined scenes. Do any of your songs ever start out as drawings? I guess it’s all connected. I know that when we were doing "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," there was a long time of making music, and we didn’t know what it was going to be. We came up with a song one day that I called it “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” simply because the Japanese woman who was doing the screaming [on the song], her name was Yoshimi. And then I think within an hour or so, when we were still working on the song, I drew what would be the concept, of her and the robots. And I remember Dave [Fridmann] saying, "That’s exactly what I was thinking! That should be the record." The painting that I did, that would become the cover for the album, was based on that little sketch.
Is there potential for “The Sun is Sick” to become an album? Well, I don’t know. I think sometimes I don’t want to think about it too much, because it all becomes so intertwined. I can already imagine that some of these things will turn into songs. In the beginning I thought that it should have a little soundtrack with it. I never got around to doing it. But I might! I do like the title.
So, by now you’ve done music, obviously, as well as painting, comics, film, a musical. What’s left? I do think a lot about a cartoon sort of thing. I think “The Sun is Sick” would be exactly the type of model for a fun, absurd cartoon. And with a cartoon there could be voices and sound effects and music, so I think that would be the next place. You know, when I was making the video I made -- "Christmas on Mars" -- it was always a matter of drawing a little cartoon likeness. I’m pretty used to that and I’ve found that once I was able to do a couple of pages of drawings at a time, I got better and better at it. I kind of like it. I didn’t know how much I would like it until I did it.
What was the most fulfilling part about making the comic? I think there are so many things that have so many people involved now. Any time we go do music or recording, it’s always like there’s a group of people and they’re all doing it, and at this time in my life, [the comic] was in between all the things I was doing. I could do it absolutely of my own will. All I needed was my magic markers and pencils and I could do it. I didn’t have to wait on anybody. I think that’s why it’s so sick and disturbing. Given complete freedom, everything turns to porn.
The comic is certainly NSFW. I think sometimes it’s really funny to have absolutely no limits to what you’ll do. Sometimes, you know, even when I’m talking to you, my mind is absolutely engaged. You and I are speaking and we don’t really know what we’re going to say, it’s all flying along so fast. And then part of your mind, I think, is accessing your subconscious, and that’s what I like. I’m not thinking about what I’m drawing, and before you know it, I’m like, “Hey, that’s cool.” You just use whatever happens and pretend it’s something you actually thought of.
Do you think of yourself as an artist or even a performing artist? Or are you satisfied with the label “musician”? I would think I’m mostly just weirdo artist. I’m always drawn to the other stuff that goes along with sound.
You certainly maintain the visuals in your live shows. One of the first times I saw the Flaming Lips was at a festival in Kansas. You guys had the teletubbies, the naked women, the bubble. It was explosive. I mean, that sounds like a good time! You know, sometimes watching just a band can be boring. We were recently at something called the Electric Daisy... Carnival?
Yes, Electric Daisy Carnival. Outside of Las Vegas. We weren’t really interested in the DJs, we mostly went because we thought it was a bunch of freaky people with a bunch of freaky shit and lights. And you know, it was! It was true.
Do you think you’ll head to Comic Con this year to support “The Sun is Sick”? I don’t know. I really don’t want people to think I look at this like that. I’m a serious comic book maker; I’m not really interested in that world. A lot of the graphic novels are too dorky for me. But I’m not against it. I’m kind of conflicted about it. But maybe I should just go and not worry about it.
My next question was going to be: Will you be arriving in costume? Is that what people do?
Oh, yes. Get ready. [Laughs] Okay!
A limited amount of "The Sun is Sick" will be available through the Flaming Lips' website beginning July 22.
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