Music has the power to transform lives, whether through connecting with a song or being transported to another place. Nirvana was the kind of band that touched many people, with Kurt Cobain being an inspiration. But Cobain’s life was also complicated by depression, drug abuse and a distafisaction with the celebrity lifestyle. Cobain and his band were happiest when they were making music, which is what Jeremy Holt decided to explore in his graphic novel Skip To The End.
I’m happy to present an interview with Holt about the nature of his graphic novel and his thoughts on what it means to be transformed through music. He spoke candidly on his opinion of mental health, male suicide and the independent comic scene.
For people who are unfamiliar with Skip To The End and what it’s about could you summarise it briefly?
Perhaps the best way to sum it up is by the logline that I used when pitching the book to publishers. “Music is time travel, and for an ex-rockstar turned junkie, sometimes revisiting the past is the only way to move forward.”
I have long believed that music (and smell) are time machines. We all have meaningful songs that when heard, transport us back to specific time and place instantly. Pairing that concept with a fictionalised version of the band Nirvana, the story for Skip to the End began to take shape in my mind. After copious amounts of research into the band, the PNW (Pacific Northwest) punk scene of the 80s and early 90s, addiction, and mental health, I eventually crafted what is currently on bookshelves right now.
How did you get into comics and do you have any favourite stories that have inspired you?
I got into reading and making comics by complete accident. Thanks to my oldest brother, who happened to be an avid fan/collector in the 90s, I was introduced extremely late in life to this amazing medium. Some of my all-time favorite series that have inspired me would have to be Y: The Last Man, Green Wake, DMZ, Scalped, and I Kill Giants.
Nirvana is certainly one of the biggest bands of all time and they’ve influenced many people. Why do you think the band was so popular?
They were popular in part because of the DIY punk/post-punk scene rising out of Seattle in the 80s, but mostly because they happened to make a song that dynamically clashed with the super popular hair-metal sound, but was also unexpectedly accessible sonically to an emerging fanbase of Gen Xers.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” mainlined itself directly into the hearts and minds of a disenfranchised youth, who were all hooked immediately. Over twenty years later and the world still has not forgotten the band.
Has your writing been influenced by any other music or bands?
Up until recently I said no. But I do have a follow-up story to Skip to the End that I do hope to get to write.
In the modern day, male suicide is such a relevant topic and Skip To The End does a great job of treating it in a respectful way. What made you want to bring more attention to the subject?
Thank you for the compliment. About five years ago I “re-discovered” Nirvana, and quickly became obsessed with the man, myth, and legend that is Kurt Cobain. Since then a day has not gone by without me thinking about what kind of music the band would be producing if the members were still together. Why would someone with so much to lose end it all?
This unanswered question is what propelled me into a couple years of research into Cobain’s life. It helped shed some much needed light on the fact that depression followed him for much of his life. I won’t say that I know or even understand the choices he made that led to his tragic death.
The reason I decided to write this book was for it to serve my own personal catharsis. I have been shaken, disturbed, and heartbroken by the string of high-profile suicides that have surfaced very recently, so it’s been truly surprising to have readers reach out to me to say that they found solace in my story.
It seems like the issue is getting easier to talk about, but a lot of guys are still reluctant to talk about their mental health. Do you have any advice for someone who is struggling?
Honestly, I don’t. This issue is far more complex than any of us realize or might even admit. Based on some minimal research that I’ve done I believe it starts at a very early age. If there’s anything I’d like to hope to see happen it would be for our society to permit and even embrace boys being open about their emotions with other boys their age. Male bonding should be fostered during the formative years of one’s development.
Failure in allowing this creates severe emotional trauma that manifests itself in dark ways later in life. In turn this exacerbates some of the more destructive and self-destructive behavior that we’ve witnessed in men between the ages of 30-50.
As for advice, I can’t confidently provide any. My only suggestion would be to seek professional counsel. I have a therapist that I see whenever I need to talk things out. I’ve never been afraid to ask for help.
Do you feel comics can be beneficial for improving mental health?
That’s an interesting question. I think they can provide a great release from one’s problems. The inherent escapism that comics–and fiction in general–provide can definitely improve someone’s outlook; if for ever so briefly.
The time travelling musical aspect of Skip To The End is a clever concept. How do you feel music can be transformative?
Thank you! Honestly I’m surprised that no one beat me to this idea in comic book form. I have long believed that music (and smell) is a time machine. I also find particular songs, bands, and genres to be quite therapeutic.
Musicians have a gift of capturing and then distilling very complex emotions into perfectly blended melodies and lyrics that I connect with on a profoundly deep level; restorative even. What songs I listen to and connect with specific emotional states may differ from yours, but the sensation is universal.
I was reading an interview you did with Den of Geek and you compared a guitar to the musical equivalent of a DeLorean. Are there any other instruments that have a transportive effect for you?
When I first started developing the concept for Skip to the End, I had an ambitious thought of using it to tell a pseudo trilogy story of sorts. The first would center on a guitar, the second a microphone, and the third a drum kit. So I guess my answer to your question is yes. Here’s to hoping I get the opportunity to continue the series.
What’s your opinion on the independent comic scene and you think it’s become easier for indie writers to get their work in front of an audience?
The indie comic scene has changed quite drastically from when I first started almost ten years ago. I can only speak from my experiences, but I think the scene has become much less receptive to new and emerging creators. What I mean by this is that many publishers are taking far less risk on creator-owned comics. There have been a few times when I’ve garnered the interest of a publisher, only to be told to complete the project on spec.
This shows me how little publishers are willing to invest in new and original ideas, which is a total bummer. Fortunately I’ve managed to find success at Insight Comics, who value their creative teams, and are actively building a home for creators to thrive.
What kind of advice would you offer to someone who wants to create and publish their own comic?
Wait for no one. Stock up on humility, patience, and perseverance, and then just do it.