Cartoonist: Reinhard Kleist Coloring: Thomas Gilke and Reinhard Kleist Publisher: SelfMadeHero Publication Date: May 2023
I’ve written about this before, but David Bowie has many things in common with a comic book character. A history of colorful outfits, a striking personage, a list of alter-egos, neatly divided eras of his career, an outsized reputation, and the list goes on and on. As such, Bowie has been the subject of many books and graphic novels, several in recent years. There was 2020’s Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & MoonageDaydreams, and there was 2022’s The Man Who Fell to Earth: The Official Movie Adaptation(itself an adaptation of a novel). The most recent is Reinhard Kleist’s Starman — Bowie’s Stardust Years, out this month from publisher SelfMadeHero.
Unauthorized by the Bowie Estate or anyone affiliated with it, this new book is perhaps the most artful approach to chronicling Bowie, going more abstract with the way it tells the story of Bowie and his relationship with his Ziggy Stardust persona. In this book, Bowie and Ziggy sort of occupy equal spaces, feeling almost like separate entities, united for the good of them both. There’s a definite arc to this story, starting with a struggling, more human Bowie before he has found the Ziggy Stardust persona within him.
So in one sense, Bowie’s Stardust Year’s feels at times like a traditional classic rock biopic, the story of a genius catching lightning in the bottle and using it to fuel his rise. It does some typical things within this, juxtaposing Bowie (or is it Ziggy) and his new lifestyle, with the friends and family he sort of inherently rises away from as he becomes a global star. That stuff is all fine, and it lends a nice structure to the book’s proceedings.
Where this one really shines, though, is with the liberties it takes in drawing connections to how Bowie’s fame and talent and interest in alternate personas all sort of coalesce, giving birth to the legends of Ziggy and Bowie both. This is not the first time Kleist has used comics to tell the story of a musician, and it shows. Kleist also the cartoonist behind the 2006 book, Cash: I See A Darkness, and the 2017 book, Nick Cave: Mercy On Me. He brings a sort of veteran confidence to this story.
And that seemingly makes it easier for him to find and accentuate the most interesting parts of this story that are specific to Bowie. This includes his relationship with his troubled brother, the colors that come to define his outfits, and the people Bowie himself held in high regard, specifically Andy Warhol.
The craft within the storytelling here is lovely, but where the book really shines is with Kleist’s artwork. Kleist captures not only how Bowie has looked over the years on and off stage, but he also uses his art to convey what’s interesting about Bowie. He accentuates certain eras with colors, while using muted shades to draw back the more mundane. He uses more kinetic cartooning to capture the power of stage performances. It’s all very well done.
What results is yet another page-turner book about a rock legend who is perfectly suited for the medium. I think the highest compliment I can pay Bowie’s Stardust Years is to say that I read it all in one sitting, and then went right to my stereo to put on the Ziggy Stardust album afterward.