Last month the legendary David Bowie lost his battle against cancer, but the reverberations of his life’s work will continue to be felt for decades into the future. Though most famous for his music – which included collaborations with artists as diverse as Klaus Nomi, Queen, and NIN – he was a larger-than-life figure across many mediums. His acting career, responsible for cult classics like The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Hunger, was equally as fascinating and strange. He was an avid art collector who inspired more than one vivid and original portrait with his face on it. Comic book creators were not immune to his charm either: to a larger or lesser degree, several iconic characters were based on the inimitable Thin White Duke.
One of those characters is Lucifer Morningstar from The Sandman. Though meant to represent the king of hell, the physical depiction of the character was directly based on Bowie. Neil Gaiman, the character’s original creator, admits to being a huge fan and couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to be the physical manifestation. Lucifer eventually got a comic spin off of his own, as well as a TV show, and almost thirty years later, is more popular than ever.
Nor was that the only character with a strong Ziggy Stardust influence. Grant Morrison’s Joker character had Bowie influences, as did the Luther Desmond Diamond in Casanova. Perhaps it is telling that Bowie’s complex personality tended to inspire villains rather than heroes. There were some protagonists that borrowed from the legendary artist as well, however. Noh-Varr, an alien from the Young Avengers comic, was influenced greatly by the famous singer. The fact that the character is extra terrestrial makes him all the more appropriate.
One of his most famous movie roles eventually became a comic book as well. Labyrinth, the 1986 movie co-starring Jennifer Connelly, was an instant cult classic. It is still popular today and can be seen on platforms such as DirecTV and Netflix. In it, Bowie played the mischievous goblin king who kidnaps a human child. Though he is once again cast as the villain of the movie, he still manages to be alluring and even romantic at times. Bowie’s sympathetic portrayal of the character makes it easy to see that his bad behavior doesn’t necessarily stem from evil, but rather from selfishness, loneliness and, to some extent, even thwarted love.
Not only did Bowie indirectly inspire comic book artists, he embraced the comic medium in return. For his 1995 Outside CD, he worked with graphic artist Victor Covarrubias to create a standalone comic called Art Crime that he sold bundled with the music. Though the illustration for the comic was done by Covarrubias, the plot within it was based upon a short story written by Bowie. Though few copies of this comic remain today, they are evidence that his creativity could not be limited to a single artistic outlet.
Bowie made an impression on the comic book world because he made an impression on the world at large. He was a legend in his time, and his own boundless artistry could not help but inspire those around him. He was a villain, a hero, an alien, and a fallen angel. He was also a rock god, an actor, a husband, and a father. More than most people, Bowie was able to keep himself from being hemmed in by the expectations of others. It is that subversive quality, wrapped in the body of a nice English boy, that hypnotized the people around him. Regardless of morality, the characters based on Bowie’s public persona were never boring. Perhaps in is in this that they resembled him most of all.