By Zack Quaintance — The debut issue of Gunning for Hits has some heavy narrative lifting to do. This is, of course, by its own design. Gunning for Hits #1 is a normal-sized comic that essentially sets out to orient readers within two worlds: the always-tricky one of a new story (with its own setting, tone, characters, rules of reality, etc.), as well as the dense fiduciary side of the music business during the transitional (cassettes/vinyl to CDs) 1980s. Given the nature of this book—it’s a crime comic about the music business, after all—there is, of course, overlap. Still, the dual exposition makes for a relatively dense first issue.
Simply put, it’s a lot to read. It’s also fortunately a really interesting read, especially for anyone like myself who has dabbled in unhealthy or obsessive music fandom, to the point that just enjoying songs wasn’t enough and there grew a compulsion to learn about individual labels, promoters, etc. What Gunning for Hits seems bent on doing is pulling back that curtain in as entertaining a fashion as possible, and there are indications in this debut that the creative pair of new writer Jeff Rougvie and artist Mortit just might have the plan and artistic chemistry needed to pull it off.
Rougvie, for one, has the music business cred for this to be taken seriously by anyone with a passing interest in how their favorite hits were made for many years. You can find more on Jeff Rougvie’s website, as well as in the back matter of this first issue, but long story short: he’s been in the industry for decades, making things happen behind the scenes and most-famously working with David Bowie. To a certain type of person with an interest in both comics and music, it’s an incredibly lucky thing that someone with Rougvie’s resume is so motivated to tell a story with this medium that shares his vast insights and knowledge. Another fortunate thing is that he’s found an artist like Moritat who so clearly gets what Rougvie is trying to do here and is game to provide visuals. There’s a lot of text, and Moritat’s work deftly weaves around it, adding a grimy aesthetic to the proceedings and shining when it’s called upon to do so. It’s a great visual foundation for the esoteric knowledge Rougvie is dropping.
Readers shouldn’t, however, expect a light or overly-accessible read, especially not for those who have only a casual interest in music. This is specific stuff for people with some background related to at least part of its subject matter, be it music, or business, or both. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to interview Rougive about this book for ComicsBeat, and he cited Think Tank’s level of specificity as comparable to that found in Gunning for Hits, and there’s a lot of truth to that. Whereas Think Tank (a great and underrated comic, btw) relied heavily on military research and future-facing science, Gunning for Hits builds its own narrative atop bygone financial practices of a now-smaller business. It’s interesting stuff, to be sure, but it may have to work a little harder to win over any readers who aren’t initially intrigued by its premise.
Ultimately, whether or not Rougvie and Moritat are able to translate Rougvie’s music business insider status into a successful story that finds an audience will hinge on whether they can make a broader connection to the implications of capitalism on society at large, drawing a metaphor between the time and events in their story and our lives today. They’ve picked the right setting to do it—the greed is good 1980s—and the right aesthetic—crime. With my own propensity for getting lost in details and my love of music, I’m definitely compelled to keep reading.
Overall: Writer Jeff Rougvie and artist Moritat spend the majority of Gunning for Hits #1 orienting readers within the depths of the music business. They also lay some groundwork for the crime aspects of their story, which have the potential to be equally as engaging. It remains to be seen whether this act will harmonize in a way that results in chants for an encore, but there are some unique ingredients here that could make for a great comics story. 8.0/10
Gunning for Hits #1
Writer: Jeff Rougvie
Letterer: Casey Silver
Publisher: Image Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.