Music means something different to everyone. A song may be meaningless to one, but for someone else, that same song may become irreversibly tied to a person or an event, conjuring up wonderful memories each time the first few bars begin to play through the radio. For better or for worse, our emotions become intertwined to the songs that we hear, creating the soundtrack of our lives. So why shouldn’t we apply music to our love of comic books? This new feature, “Music To Read By”, will take a look at a wide range of songs, placing them with an appropriate comic book series. Our first example is We Are Young, by fun.
What is the comic title that instantly comes to my mind when I hear the single We Are Young by the band fun.? That comic would have to be the awesome Young Liars series from David Lapham (who did the writing AND the art), and published by Vertigo Comics. Not only does Young Liars even have the word “young” in the title, it is a comic based around the adventures of young (20-something) adults, that incorporates music into the series as well (even the book’s foreword is written by rocker Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance). At the beginning of each issue, David Lapham includes a suggested soundtrack to go with the comic. His tastes, much like my own, tend to skew towards indie, alternative, and punk cuts, with a few classic rock tracks thrown in for good measure. fun.’s We Are Young could almost be the title track to Young Liars. The story in Young Liars is a riotous roller coaster of a tale that revolves around an aspiring musician named Danny, a runaway girl named Sadie, and their band of misfit friends, trying to escape Sadie’s parents and prevent a “Spiders from Mars” invasion hellbent on enslaving all of humanity. Is this all a delusion caused by a bullet lodged in Sadie’s brain, or is there more to it than that? I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Young Liars’ plot here, but suffice to say that this is a brilliant and under-appreciated title that more people should definitely read. Check it out for yourself and see how incredibly well We Are Young works with Young Liars.
While the literal ‘theme’ of the song We Are Young involves being so inebriated at the end of the night that you need someone to carry you home from the bar, when I hear it what comes to mind is something entirely different. What I hear when I listen to the song is a theme for camaraderie. Recently I was re-reading an old issue of Teen Titans Volume 3 (2003-2011) when the song came on the radio, and I immediately made the connection between this song and the much deeper meaning of young people standing together as one. It reminds of all the times in the series when one hero tries to go it alone against immeasurable odds, only to find themselves relying heavily on the support of their team mates. The Teen Titans all know that they can rely on one another for support when it’s needed, and that they never really have to go it alone, because together they’re unstoppable.
Teen Titans is, in itself, a book about young people working together to achieve a greater good. The song We Are Young really hits home a similar message with it’s upbeat, hopeful tone, that young people often have the whole world ahead of them, and that they can achieve just about anything if they stand together. Both this song and just about any version of the Teen Titans ongoing series carry this same recurring theme, and I think it’s a great message to send to youthful listeners and readers. Having good friends that you know you can rely on when you need them is an important lesson to learn, especially for young people.
Besides the obvious message of the song We Are Young, the underlying theme is about friendship. A group of friends banding together and having a good time. Though there are often rough patches, like a physical confrontation that causes scars, physical and emotional, in the end, your friends are the people who will be there to lend you a hand and “carry you home,” as it were. This message to me epitomizes Marvel’s group of heroes, the Runaways.
The Runaways had a rocky start in the beginning, their friendship forming after the deaths of their super villain parents. But the more time they spent together, the more they came to depend on each other, so much so that romantic relationships have sprung up within the group. But it wasn’t always magic within the team; they’ve been betrayed by someone they trusted, have had to bury one of their own, and have had to deal with super powered villains in their attempts to escape super powered villains. At the end of the day, though, they’re still a group of young kids who just happen to have the power to “set the world on fire”…literally.
Even the execution of the musical arrangement is similar to the chemistry of the Runaways. The beginning stanza of the song features an upbeat, catchy tune, with a playful drumline. It’s a clever way to remind us of carefree times. During whatever down time the Runaways get, they never fail to remind us of their immaturity, always bickering over something petty or playing jokes on each other. In essence, they’re kids being kids. But much like the battles the Runaways face, the chorus is heavy with bass and synthesizers. It’s a stark juxtaposition of two very distinct styles, which defines the lives of the Runaways perfectly. (We can even mention the inclusion of vocalist Janelle Monáe as being symbolic of the Runaways’ team-ups throughout the years, but that may be pushing things a little.)
At the core of things, We Are Young exemplifies the desire to maintain youth and innocence all while taking part in experiences that defy those very ideals; in the case of the song, drinking excessively, or battling super villains in the case of the Runaways. If there’s a song that best represents a super hero comic book like the Runaways, it’s fun.’s We Are Young.
The band fun. has a song called We Are Young and when trying to pair it with a comic, I found it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. The song itself has many styles to it but in the end it reminded me of Kick-Ass 2 by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. The beginning of the song fits perfectly with the scenes of Hit-Girl in her civilian persona and sadness and yearning she has to be out fighting crime instead of stuck in school with the other kids. With the look in her eyes, you can almost hear this song in the background. She wants so much more than being in school; she’s young and dangerous and wants to be out on the streets with Kick-Ass kicking ass. This song fits perfectly into every scene that Hit-Girl is in, up until issue 5, where she finally gets to fight crime again. The melancholy sound. The single snare tap. It all felt to me what Romita was portraying through Hit-Girl’s eyes: That constant craving to enjoy her life while she’s young.
One of the other scenes in the book where the song seemed to match up perfectly is when Kick-Ass and his group of teens (and a couple adults) dressed in full hero costume march down the middle of the streets in a bad neighborhood. It’s a sort of a shadowy scene that doesn’t last long, a couple pages at most, but I could just hear this song as their marching song. It has that cadence to it, a Warrior‘s-type vibe that matches them step for step.
So for me the song really worked on two levels in the series. It worked to emphasize Hit-Girl’s wanting and needing to be herself and enjoy her youth no matter how dangerous it may be but it also worked as a marching song, into a war zone of the world, for a bunch of costumed teens ready to show the world that the young are in charge. The song certainly stirred my interest in the band itself but it also has me curious to see what other treasures I can find to listen to my comics by.
Comic books are fantastic by themselves but the reading experience can be greatly enhanced when paired with an appropriate song. However, finding that appropriate song is crucial, and not always easy to do. Sometimes, the perfect song falls into your lap while other times, finding a song with the right tone and pacing is difficult. But in the end, all of the hard work is worth it as the melding of the two art forms creates an experience that each alone cannot produce.