Shooting stars, by Rod Kierkegaard Jr.
Shooting Stars

Rod Kierkegaard Jr. is an American comic artist and writer, best known for 'Rock Opera' (1981-1988), which appeared in Heavy Metal magazine. He draws in a hyper-realistic style, often with help from a computer, and lets the stories follow a stream of consciousness, without knowing where it will take him. Kierkegaard enjoys crafting weird tales with a lot of humour, but eventually abandoned his comics experimentations in favor of a career as a novelist, which had always been his dream from the start.

Kierkegaard was born in the United States and is of Danish descent. He has always been a bibliophile and admires novelists like Henry Rider Haggard, Walter Scott, Machado de Assis, Jack Vance, Philip K. Dick, Murasaki Shikibu, Alexandre Dumas and Machado de Assis. He tried to write some short stories of his own, but unfortunately no publisher was interested in his scribblings. His illustrations, on the other hand, met with much better reception. Kierkegaard thus decided to combine the two formats and become a comic artist instead, inspired by Moebius, Skip Williamson, H.R. Giger and Milo Manara. His first comic strip, 'Rock Opera', was published in the underground magazine The Unicorn Times which circulated in Washington D.C. between 1973 and 1985.

'Rock Opera' was notable for its cut-and-paste look, combining hand drawn images with photographs lifted from books, magazines and newspapers. The story centered around an extraterrestrial black man who had the racially offensive name 'Golliwog'. One day he crash lands on Earth and has his face replaced with a mask, which indeed makes him look like a golliwog doll. The wild storylines brought Golliwog to New York City, where he becomes part of a punk band and meets a groupie from Andy Warhol's The Factory. Another recurring main protagonist was Golliwog's female companion Quintana Roo who started out as a decadent Hollywood star, but over the course of the series transformed into a mannequin and later a robot. Yet another character with an offensive name was Patti Hitler. As the characters started crossing as much borders as boundaries, Golliwog and Quintana Roo went to London. Kierkegaard's editors complained that the narrative ought to stay located in Washington, since The Unicorn Times was published there. This constant nagging irritated the artist so much that he terminated 'Rock Opera' in March 1979.

Modern Marriage Comics

At his art director's request he made something more topical and in a different style. Kierkegaard and his wife worked at an animation studio at the time and thus he experimented with some Letraset screens he had obtained there. Kierkegaard sarcastically let a little pixie change the overall plot into a sly parody of a romance comic, which he retitled 'Modern Love Comics' and later 'Modern Marriage Comics'. This annoyed quite some readers who had the feeling Kierkegaard was deliberately trolling them. Unbeknownst to many the romantic storyline was actually based on a real-life anecdote, but Kierkegaard has never revealed what it was about? Kierkegaard later used his four "romantic" protagonists for a short-lived newspaper comic which ran in The Washington Post as a replacement for 'Doonesbury' during Garry Trudeau's summer vacation. He continued his run in the Unicorn Times by creating a daily comic strip which satirized current news events. Most of his comics made during this period were allowed a great amount of creative freedom. At the time he enjoyed this, but looking back on his work 30 years later he felt that it spoiled him too much into being "lazy and self-indulgent". Some of his pages went nowhere or were so rushed out that they barely looked finished. He was actually happy that most of it has been lost in obscurity. Neverthless he still worked hard to paint every image. One of his topical comics, 'Lovedoll', was printed in National Lampoon too.

At the turn of the 1980s Kierkegaard gradually abandoned his black-and-white painting style in favour of colour. His wife helped him with the inking and even drew various backgrounds and clothes. On his blog Kierkegaard remembered she did her job so well that the contrast between their drawings became too apparent. In the end her help didn't save him time, it actually caused him to work even longer to make sure that their styles matched better without readers noticing it. The couple moved to Paris in 1981, where Kierkegaard got in touch with many European comics artists, including his good friend Tanino Liberatore.


Rock Opera, from Heavy Metal (February 1982)

In January 1981 'Rock Opera' got picked up by Métal Hurlant/Heavy Metal, where it ran for seven years. Métal Hurlant's audience was far more receptive to Kierkegaard's comics than the Unicorn Times ever was. As a result the artist terminated his contract with Unicorn Times and stayed in his new home magazine. The overall plot of 'Rock Opera' was inspired by the short stories of novelists like J.G. Ballard and Italo Calvino, but gradually got more offensive and sillier. Golliwog and Quintana Roo travelled from planet to planet, where they encountered odd things like pandas in an airplane who want to watch the sitcom 'I Love Lucy'. Various celebrities and pop culture characters also had a cameo, such as E.T., Prince, The Beatles, Darth Vader, Brian Eno, Andy Warhol and Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse. The comic strip read like a bizarre drug trip, where all kinds of random nonsensical things happened. At the same time the artwork was impressive and the narrative at least unpredictable.

In 1987 Kierkegaard published 'Stars Massacre' (Editions Albin Michel, released in the U.S.A. as 'Shooting Stars', Catalan Communications), a graphic novel which follows the adventures of detective Rockfort, a private eye who solves cases for rock stars. 'Stars Massacre' (1987) was somewhat comparable to 'Rock Opera', but with a slightly more comprehensible plot. Detective Rockfort meets a host of real-life pop stars like Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, Boy George and Sting, but who often have punny names. Michael Rockson (Michael Jackson) is featured in a violent and sexually explicit slasher story. Prance (Prince) is reimagined as some kind of Frankenstein's Monster, while Rockfort has to help pop singer Madollar (Madonna) find her virginity back. While the celebrity portrayals can't exactly be called subtle spoofs they are still deliciously surreal, funny and disrespectful. Another book in the same vain is 'Rock Monstres' (Editions Albin Michel).

Prince, in Shooting stars, by Rod Kierkegaard Jr.
Appearance of the musician Prince in 'Shooting Stars'

Thanks to his fame as a graphic novelist, Kierkegaard eventually was able to realize his dream of getting his written novels published. In 2011 he brought out the murder-mystery novel 'Family Cursemas', the first installment in his 'Megamillionaire Murders' series. The story takes place during a holiday reunion of the wealthy Goodman family at Christmas Eve, when each member of the family is murdered by an unknown individual. It was followed by 'The God Particle' (2012), a thriller about a group of four friends who work on a generator utilizing the Higgs boson, nicknamed "the God particle", and who are then mysteriously murdered. Another friend goes on a search for the reason behind their killings and to discover the secret behind the God Particle machine. In 2014 Kierkegaard published 'Adultery', intended as the first book of the Scarlet Alphabet. Together with J.R. Rain he wrote 'The Dead Detective' (2014) and the short story collection 'The Ghosts of Christmas Present' (2014). In 2014 he brought out his first science fiction novel: 'Obama Jones and the Logic Bomb'. Set in 2049, the mild-mannered bureaucrat Obama Jones loses his wife in a UN witness protection program. Determined to get her back he travels through cyberspace where he meets shapeshifting robots, talking apes, civil war in Central Park and even God.

His novel 'Vampire Circus' (2015) originated from an erotic comic he wrote at the request of his publisher. Kierkegaard felt the story lacked something and kept returning to it. One day it occured to him that it might work better if it was rewritten as the story of a vampire killer who returns to his trade after serving a jail time. Noticing similarities between his story and the lives of French novelist Colette and African-American dancer Josephine Baker he used their biographies as a source of inspiration. In 2016 Kierkegaard published 'The Department of Magic', a horror novel about two people who apply fo a job in the mysterious 'Department of Magic', of which they both know nothing about. As they are both hired their boss is murdered on their first work day. Curious, they try to find out who is behind the murder, what his motives are and what this "magical department" is all about?

Rod Kierkegaard Jr

rodkierkegaard.blogspot.com

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