‘The Grandest Guignol!’ Reconstructing Alice Cooper in The Last Temptation (Neil Gaiman/Michael Zulli)

Authors: Round, J.

Conference: International Graphic Novel and Comic Conference. Comics: cultures & genres

Dates: 13-14 April 2010


This paper will analyse the representations of rock singer Alice Cooper in his concept album The Last Temptation (Epic Records, 1994) and the accompanying three-part comic by Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli (Marvel Comics, 1994-5; Dark Horse Comics, 2000). It will discuss the multiple formats of audio album, music video, single-issue comic(s) and collected graphic novel used to convey Cooper’s persona and will analyse these different versions in terms of both medium and audience, with reference to theories of adaptation, iconography, performativity, celebrity and subculture. It will argue that Gaiman/Zulli’s comic uses the medium’s hyperreality, ‘aesthetic of excess’ and reliance on reader involvement to recreate the Alice Cooper character anew. The paper first defines the Alice Cooper persona as a performative act that relies upon aesthetic excess (through makeup, clothing and exotic stage props) and subversion (of gendering, authority and naturalism). The ways in which this constructed persona adheres to current theories of celebrity (Richard Dyer) and performative identity (Judith Butler) are discussed. It then analyses the different strategies Gaiman and Zulli use to convey this character, with reference to comics’ reliance upon iconography, hyperreality and aesthetic of excess. It relates these observations to the subcultural audiences for both rock music and comics (Dick Hebdige), noting the suitability of the comics medium for representing a youth antihero such as Cooper and discussing the ways that Gaiman/Zulli use the visual and verbal elements of comics to encourage audience involvement.

The paper concludes by arguing that Cooper’s character is not just replicated but is in fact recreated in Gaiman and Zulli‘s comic. It contrasts the different elements used to do this in the aural and visual versions of The Last Temptation and relates these observations to current adaptation theory (Linda Hutcheon, Deborah Cartmell, Julie Sanders). It concludes that the hyperreality of the comics medium and subcultural status of its audience seem ideally suited to recreate the type of theatricality and subversion essential to celebrity characters such as Alice Cooper.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Julia Round