After a few drinks, Judge William Lee is all true and all shocking.
All true. All shocking.
Publisher Todd Loren (1960-1992), like many aggressive entrepreneurs, made plenty of enemies for the sake of business. His own friends and colleagues, citing him as a supporter and an inspiration, acknowledged that he was a self-promoting opportunist and exploiter. Ilko Davidov's documentary of Loren and his rebel comic book empire doesn't excuse his behavior but sees it as a part of the chaos that comes with rock 'n' roll.
The Story of Rock 'n' Roll Comics is a lively documentary that proves fact can be more surprising than fiction. Interviews with writers, artists, publishing industry peers, rock stars and groupies tell the fast and fascinating facts around Revolutionary Comics' brief but intense time in the spotlight when it ran several titles in 1989-1994. Lots of animated artwork show off the comics art that made such a stir and video footage of Loren, promoting his business and himself, gives a glimpse of the man at the center of the storm.
Loren's entrepreneurial journey was shaped by his love of music, comics, and thumbing his nose at the establishment. His mail order company Musicade made a nice profit selling bootleg rock band merchandise, but he closed shop to start a comics publishing company with his father, Herb Shapiro. Inspired by a parody comic of Bruce Springsteen, Loren's idea was to tell unauthorized biographies of the hottest music acts of the day. When Guns N' Roses threatened to sue over Loren's first issue, the comic became a hot commodity and eventually sold over 175,000 copies. Many more lawsuits would follow but some music stars, including the Grateful Dead and Kiss, admired the quality work (and free publicity) that they saw and called off their lawyers.
Meanwhile, the mainstream comics industry considered Loren a pariah for how he openly ignored copyright and legitimate relations with the music industry (that is, paying licensing fees to the record labels). Loren underpaid his artists and exhibited vindictive behavior against those who crossed him but even those interviewees recall what a fun and exciting ride it was to work on the comics. Loren became a free speech crusader when one lawsuit with the New Kids on the Block escalated into a First Amendment case. The interviews reveal differing opinions on whether Loren fought the free speech fight out of convenience or real commitment but the exposure surely helped Revolutionary Comics sell more books.
Davidov's film lets the interview subjects tell Loren's story and that really helps the information come alive. Sometimes contrasting opinions on Loren are heard one after the other but that reflects the complex reality of Loren, or of any real person. The recollections from colleagues and comments from music personalities are honest and thoughtful views of not only Loren but the atmosphere of outsider creativity. "What can be more rock 'n' roll than comic books?" muses Alice Cooper. The animated graphics lend an extra dimension to the art that was created by Revolutionary Comics without being a distraction. However, the visual energy of the film keeps everything moving at a constant and quick pace which can be a bit exhausting after a while. This isn't a lengthy documentary but it does start to feel long in the second half. Still, it's more a pacing than content issue and I enjoyed all of the interview segments the filmmakers used.
The film opens with a television news report that Loren was stabbed to death in his San Diego condo. The film cursorily suggests that the case wasn't investigated thoroughly because he was homosexual. A representative from the San Diego police appears on camera to summarize the murder but he isn't challenged on the possible leads and overlooked crime scene evidence. Perhaps the filmmakers simply didn't have the resources to fully explore this aspect of Loren's story but the movie doesn't suffer for lack of it. The documentary certainly contains enough be a celebration of Loren's spirit, revealing a few warts as well.
Popular comic books are reprinted and sometimes buyers will identify them by different covers or extra content. It's not quite so easy to recognize which version of Davidov's film is on this DVD. According to IMDb, the film Unauthorized and Proud of It: Todd Loren's Rock 'n' Roll Comics was released in 2005 with a running time of 80 minutes. The box for this MVD Visual disc, under the Wild Eye banner, reads simply The Story of Rock 'n' Roll Comics on the spine and lists the running time at 84 minutes. The film I watched for this review was titled The Story of Rock 'n' Roll Comics, had a copyright date of 2010 and ran about 76 minutes.
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, most of the interviews are decently shot. Loren's television commercials and interviews are transferred from surviving VHS footage. Given those technological limitations, the picture quality is reasonable if not remarkable. The interviews can look a little harsh around the edges but the footage is well lit and colors are acceptable. The stereo sound mix works just fine.
The DVD box promises "over two hours of extras" that I could not find. Three extended interviews run about 15 minutes total. Loren's television commercials for his Musicade business and TV news segments on his comics clock in at 11 minutes all together. The best extra on the disc is an extensive stills gallery of Revolutionary Comics cover art. There is also an eight-page booklet with more artwork and introductions by two of Loren's collaborators.
Todd Loren's anti-establishment spirit is admirable even if it's hard to fully endorse his methods. Undeniably, he deserves credit for making a successful go of an enterprise that encapsulated the things he loved in life: music and comic books. This documentary doesn't dig too deep but it feels like it tells enough of the story behind the controversial run of Rock 'n' Roll Comics. Though the DVD packaging promises more than it actually delivers, the film is still worthy of rental or purchase.
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