One of the most difficult tasks for a visual artist is finding a way to make the written depiction of music resonate with the reader in the same way it does with listeners. When JP Ahonen and KP Alare decided to create a graphic novel around an avant-garde metal band named Perkeros they would have to master this task, and master it they have. Within the first few pages of reading Sing No Evilit is clear that they have found a way to make the words and pictures sing. Check that, given the musical stylings of Perkeros the content doesn’t quite sing as much as it hits you with a guttural scream that makes one consider headbanging while reading.
“KP and I go back to first grade and we have always shared the same tastes in music and comics and all of that,” Ahonen explains. “We were never in a band together but we would play and compose some stuff. After going 5-7 years without playing together we got a nagging feeling that it would be nice to go back to in some way.”
The combination of the background the two have playing music together and the passion for metal that they share helped make the musical scenes within the book come together seamlessly. Their experiences give the scenes an authenticity that many writers would not have been able to duplicate.
“It was such a part of our lives growing up, music and playing and all of that,” Ahonen says. “Because of that Sing No Evil is sort of a letter to our 16 to 18-year-old selves. Illustrating the performances was surprisingly easy, the hardest part was drawing the scenes about getting to the gig.”
Since the two friends live a couple of hours away from each other getting together to jam wasn’t exactly feasible, but creating a band in their minds was as simple as trading a word document back and forth for a couple of years. After writing the story together in this fashion Ahonen got working on storyboarding and bringing the fictional Perkeros to life on the page.
The level of care that Ahonen uses in his drawings throughout the entire book is insane. Everything from the stickers on the walls in the backstage of a concert venue to the tattoos on some of the characters was thought out and drawn with painstaking detail.
“Actually, I have written some hidden messages in the tattoos,” Ahonen says with a laugh. “If you really want to go apeshit about it you can look for them.”
Easter eggs aside, the place where Ahonen’s attention to detail manifests itself the best is within the aforementioned concert scenes. While there is no music actually being created by Aksel, the protagonist, as he rocks out in the book Ahonen made sure that his hands were in the correct position to make the chords that the he heard in his head.
“Part of the story is that Aksel gets so into the music that he gets lost in it,” Ahonen explains. “When I started doing the storyboard I realized that the artwork needs to support the perfectionist part of me. I found that I had the same issue as Aksel and I was getting lot in the comic myself as I was writing it.”
When rounding out the other members of Perkeros, Ahonen couldn’t help himself from continuing in one of the great traditions of musicians across the world--making fun of the drummer. The drummer of Perkeros is named Bear and he is, well, a bear.
“Why a bear?” Ahonen laughs. “Why not? Drummers are animals! There’s also a badger who is the drummer for a black metal band.
“The bear is there to set the basis of the whole storyline that there is a supernatural element to the story,” Ahonen continues. “Basically anything can happen along the way. It’s not completely out of the blue when something weird happens (later in the book).”
Ahonen’s perfectionist side also came out when he was trying to decide on a design for the sleeve tattoo he was craving. As a graphic designer and comic book artist Ahonen had ideas about what he wanted his finished sleeve to look like, but he also understood that some of the best art comes from collaboration. When he met up with JP Wickman he explained what was on his mind and then let the tattooist make it his own. Whereas many of his comics are bright and colorful Ahonen trusted Wickman’s mastery of black and grey when it came to his sleeve.
The end result of the collaboration is a beautiful sleeve covering the majority of Ahonen’s arm (he is hoping to get the last patch filled in this January) featuring birds in flight amid a floral background. In fact, Ahonen is so enamored with Wickman’s work that the tattooist may soon find himself in a future version of Sing No Evil.
“I have a scene in my mind where one of the characters actually goes to get tattooed by my guy,” Ahonen says. “It’s in there in my mind so if there is an opportunity to put it in I’ll do so.”
Sing No Evil was released in Ahonen’s home country of Finland last year but is just now hitting the United States with an English translation. In a similar challenge that he faced making music come to life on the page, Ahonen had to take Finnish puns and wordplay and find a way to make them work in English. With a bit of help from his editors at Abrams ComicArts Ahonen was able to tackle the translation on his own.
A good deal of the story in Sing No Evil revolves around the struggles of following an artistic dream. It is a struggle that Ahonen is all too familiar with. Finding the time and money to create Sing No Evil took up both a lot of time and a lot of his savings. So while the ideas are there for sequels it’s also going to take a lot of freelance graphic design jobs to help make it a reality. Yet, Ahonen wouldn’t trade if for the world. All of the details and authenticity that make Sing No Evil ring true wouldn’t have been possible if the creators didn’t love it so much.
So don’t feel badly if you feel the desire to bang your head a little bit while reading the story, rest assured that the author would gladly approve and throw up the devil horns along with you.
Ahonen will be hanging out at New York Comic Con all weekend at the Abrams ComicArts booth if you want to swing by and say hello. If you can't make it out and want to check out Sing No Evil it can be ordered here and here.