Starman–Graphic novel chronicles psychedelic era in the career of David Bowie

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s time we get a movie about the life of David Bowie.  Something like Val Kilmer in The Doors, Austin Butler in Elvis, or even closer, like Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody.  Until then the next best thing might be writer-artist Reinhard Kleist’s 2021 graphic novel tribute, Starman: Bowie’s Stardust Years, originally published as Starman: David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust Years, but now translated into English by Michael Waaler and available for the first time this May from Self Made Hero books.  Thanks in large part to Kleist and Thomas Gilke’s exceptional application of psychedelic color, the year 1972 and Bowie’s role in it never looked more vivid.

Take a look at a preview below.

The artwork and color combination in this medium should immediately conjure thoughts of Jack Kirby for long-time comic book readers.  But it’s the cinematic layouts and unusual way of sharing Bowie’s story that will make readers feel like they’ve seen a part biopic, part live-action fantasy version of Bowie’s career side journey to challenge audiences in the UK and the U.S. in the early 1970s.

Bowie’s story has a similar familial background to Freddie Mercury’s.  This is an outcast teen who starts down one path, and when he doesn’t get noticed he takes an about-face to go in an entirely new direction.  Willie Nelson did the same thing–starting as a conservative country singer he didn’t get noticed, so he changed up his look and style.  Bowie was influenced by his step-brother to get into the different styles of music, jazz and rock and more that would become infused into his style.  But it was a style he didn’t stick with for long, not much more than a year until he abruptly ended it in a single concert and went back to a more traditional look.

Why did he do it?  Was it just a sign of the times, when oddities like Andy Warhol took over the avant-garde for a time?  Or did he do just like Gene Simmons and KISS, or fellow glam-rocker Elton John, would do–come up with a dramatic marketing idea to hook audiences?

Kleist lays it all out for readers to decide.  The only thing missing is the obvious:  the sound of the music.  Kleist provides fantasy layouts for some of the songs, like Space Oddity.  But for other big songs we just see the name of the song.

Starman is not authorized by Bowie’s estate, so it may have been too expensive to incorporate all the lyrics.  But despite that it’s still a visual marvel, and something that would serve as a nice storyboard for a Bowie movie biopic.

Take a look at a few pages from the book:


The visual style also harkens back to some of Neal Adams’ layouts on his Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossover series and Mike Grell’s Green Arrow: The Wonder Year from the same time period that this story takes place.

Highly recommended for fans of Bowie and for fans of powerfully visual graphic novels, Starman: Bowie’s Stardust Years is available now for pre-order here at Amazon.  It’s slated to ship May 2, 2023.

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