Background: Introduction: Here’s an oxymoron for you – a fabricated true story. But what else could you expect from the world’s most successful virtual band?
That’s right. Gorillaz doesn’t actually exist. The musicians behind them are real. But the band members themselves aren’t. Which is why they decided to pen a story about themselves. Which is why it was written by Cass Browne, an actual drummer for Gorillaz (one of the real musicians, that is).
I’ll pause now to let that sink in.
Gorillaz is the brainchild of Blur frontman and vocal/musical extraordinaire Damon Albarn and “Tank Girl” creator Jamie Hewlett. In 1998, Albarn and Hewlett created a band that poked fun at the state of pop music and remained postmodern to its core. To date, Gorillaz has released four full-length albums; four remix/compilation albums; numerous EP’s and singles; and a plethora of eye-popping music videos. Not to mention their major albums have gone Gold and Platinum worldwide. Pretty good for a band that doesn’t physically exist.
Speaking of the band, I suppose I should introduce the unreal rogue’s gallery. First there is Murdoc Niccals, a stinky, sneaky, Svengali Satanist from Stoke-on-Trent who is the band’s self-proclaimed founder and bass player. Vocals are provided by 2D, who sports spiky blue hair, two dents in the side of his head (hence his moniker), and is missing both eyes thanks to Murdoc. Then there’s American Russel Hobbs who provides percussion and occasionally channels deceased spirits of some former chums (though not any more). Lastly, we have Noodle, a Japanese guitar slaying child prodigy who arrived to the band’s studio in a FedEx crate.
If you’re now thoroughly curious or confused, it’s all there in the book. I swear.
My Take: Needless to say, Rise of the Ogre is a chronicle of Gorillaz’s rise to fame. Its narrative, as it were, is related like a series of interviews, covering territory from the band members’ origins to their various musical outpourings from the (now defunct) Kong Studios. Since this was published in 2006, the story only goes up to Phase Two, the time period of the Demon Days release and its aftermath, so nothing regarding Phase Three (Plastic Beach) or beyond is in here.
The “exchanges” between Browne and the various Gorillaz members (along with numerous other persons, both fictional and real, including Albarn and Hewlett) creates a playful, rhythmic banter. This especially comes through when the band sits down to discuss the tracks on their self-titled debut and Demon Days albums. For a moment, I almost forgot all of this is completely fabricated. It reads like an actual transcript albeit far stranger. Just as a story’s characters need to each have a distinctive voice, Rise of the Ogre effectively provides a unique “voice” to each of the Gorillaz band members, creating fluid readability.
His style is colorful, crisp, and lively. I find myself going over every element as I get the sense there is so much going on, I might miss an important (and usually comedic) detail. Hewlett doesn’t try to realistically capture characters or surroundings but that’s okay. In fact, Hewlett’s renderings mirror the underlying irony of Gorillaz – fiction in a real world that’s not as pretty as it seems, despite the seemingly colorful charm on the surface.
As a fan of Gorillaz, Rise of the Ogre was a must-read for me. Granted, it’s not a book I reach for often and, to be fair, one read-through is probably enough. But it’s fascinating to delve in the complex (albeit outré) backstories Albarn and Hewlett have created for their band. Likewise, Hewlett’s artwork is always a treat and I’ve always said that half of the fun of Gorillaz and their work is getting to see what creations Hewlett can create next. Rise of the Ogre is definitely more of an art book as opposed to a book for reading. But that still doesn’t mean it lacks in amusement value.
And since Rise of the Ogre is an art book at its core, it’s only to fair showcase some of its pages. (All pages were scanned by me, by the way.)
Language – Some PG to PG-13-level profanities and crudities (chiefly “potty humor”) occur throughout though their usage is not excessive nor is it in a way to insult or demean anyone. British profanities are also used.
Violence – There are some depictions of weapons, such as guns, axes, knifes, etc. but these are used simply as props and are never shown in use or in a threatening manner. Mudroc brags about past criminal activities (albeit petty crimes) and talks about inflicting physical abuse upon 2D though it’s played up for laughs and is never shown nor discussed in a way to encourage bad behavior. Some landscape renderings can be dark in tone or content (such as zombies, garbage, graffiti, alcohol, etc.) but there is nothing in the way of graphic violence or gore.
Sexual Material – Nothing overtly sexual but occasional crudities do pop up, including a few goofy anatomical renderings intended, again, for laughs. It’s also no secret that Murdoc has a long line of female admirers, which he brags about, though the details of his sexual exploits are never discussed at length or in graphic detail. Granted, all this is done in a spirit of dry humor and the images are are too cartoony to be realistic but both may be deemed as crude by sensitive readers. If you’re familiar with Hewlett’s cult-status “Tank Girl” comics, then the material in Rise of the Ogre is tamer by a few degrees. Meaning fewer topless chicks and not a gay koala bear in sight.
Overall, Rise of the Ogre is an innovative, entertaining hybrid of art and fiction, much like the Gorillaz themselves. For die-hard fans, this book is a must. For less than enthusiastic fans, Rise of the Ogre still has something to offer in terms of a loose story and dynamic artwork. And if you don’t fall into either camp, allow me to offer a third proposition. Use Rise of the Ogre as an outré coffee table book. It’s guaranteed to instigate interesting conversation, raise eyebrows, and provoke potty humor from even the politest house guest.