Last Song #1 is the debut issue of a heartfelt, ambitious and definitely personal quarterly series by writer Holly Interlandi and artist Sally Cantirino. The series is about the rise and fall of a late 80s/early 90s LA rock and roll band called Ecstasy, and Interlandi and Cantirino are attempting no less an ambitious task than illustrating how music can change your life, for the better and sometimes the worse. As an opening chapter, Last Song #1 sparkles when it focuses on the relationship at its heart and its earnest belief in the power of creativity. Despite following the familiar story of a band’s rise and fall, the issue is infectious and heartfelt fun for anyone who’s ever fallen in love with, or started, a struggling band.
Nicky and Drey have been friends since childhood. Growing up in Ohio in the late 1970s, the two have been inseparable, and their friendship takes them from Cincinnati to Los Angeles in an attempt to form a successful rock and roll band. Nicky, his childhood defined by tragedy, is the artistic soul who uses songwriting to exorcise his considerable demons. He brings the passion and perfectionism. Drey is the guitarist, the stabilizing one, who may not have Nicky’s passion and drive but does have a head for the business and for making things happen. The first issue follows the friends as they go from high school practice sessions to forming a full band in California’s bar scene.
There’s a lot to like Last Song #1. Like a lot of stories about the creative process, the issue does a good job in establishing that the forces that make Nicky and Drey into talented creative artists will be the same forces that will contribute to their eventual downfall. This foreshadowing is kind of an inescapable trope of stories of this type, and therefore it’s better to get this lovingly complex and obviously personal dive into the characters. If you’re going to create a story about the creative process and the power it has, then you need to get inside the heads of the artists in question, and Last Song #1‘s chief strength is certainly that. By the end of the issue, you feel as if you know Nicky and Drey and the other characters intimately, and if you can already see how things are going to go wrong, well it’s not all that different from when two of your friends become a couple and you can already see how their relationship will end one day. Interlandi uses non-linear storytelling and interlaced narratives to give each character moments of their own points of view. And one of the strongest aspects of her approach is the different styles she uses for each character. Nicky, as the primary character, unfurls his narrative in a looser, free-flowing, organic stream of consciousness. Meanwhile, Drey’s sections are represented by what look like straight-forward journal entries. It’s a nice way of letting the style support the characterization.
The creative team also do a good job of illustrating a creative partnership, a staple again of these kinds of stories. These kinds of collaborations are sometimes hard to understand for anyone who isn’t in a creative field; the way you can have a hugely close and intimate connection with someone so different and often infuriatingly self-centered or messed up. Creative people often value their artistic connection more than anything else, and it excuses a lot. It’s why you hear so many stories of collaborators who seem so close winding up seemingly hating each other. Lennon and McCartney, Lou Reed and John Cale, etc. Last Song looks to be heading that way, and despite the fact that this kind of story is as old as music itself, this first issue does a great job in illustrating how close and caring these relationships always start off.
The art by Cantirino is terrific throughout. She does a great job of showing us the characters through different years, doing way more than giving us kid and adult versions. She manages to perfectly show us the difference between Nicky and Drey at 13 and then at 15 and then still pre-20s and making them all look slightly different. It’s actually pretty hard to do. And there are some great sequences during the live shows where she lets loose and lets panels bleed into each other, giving the reader a different feeling that the more rigidly structured panel layout of the rest of the book. There are are several scenes without dialogue at the issue’s opening that work wonderfully, and she handled Interlandi’s ambitious non-linear and parallel structures very well, never losing the drive of the narrative. And this book would sink or swim based on how well the artist captures the feeling of live music, no easy feat in the comics’ medium. Luckily, Cantirino succeeds in giving the reader the feeling of being a sweaty club, listening to Ecstasy run through their set.
Last Song #1 is an earnest piece of work about a subject which the creative team obviously has a passion for. The series will be released quarterly, which means a wait between instalments, but if the subsequent chapters are as engaging as this one, thence’ll get a series with thriving and pumping Rock and Roll heart. 8/10
Last Song #1 will be released July 12, 2017