Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Rihanna: A Comic Proposal


Just living her life: Rihanna in a sheer dress at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on June 2 in New York City.  Top Photo Copyright 2014 by Richie Buxo/Splash News.  Bottom Photo Copyright 2014 by [REX].   

Dear Rihanna,
May I call you RiRi?
I read something you said recently that got me to thinking again.  It was in the Quotes for Today section of the Sunday, June 8, edition of The Barbados Advocate.  The paper quoted you as saying, “I don’t do things for the response or for the controversy.  I just live my life.”  They listed you as a “Barbadian singer.”  Oh, but you’re so much more, even to their readership, than you let on, aren’t you?
To the point, then: I want to do your life.  But not just any life.  I want to do you in words and pictures.  I want to do a comic about you, RiRi.  But not just any comic.  I think this bio-epic should be told in some genre.  It should, naturally, be an erotic graphic novel.
Don’t scoff—or, more likely, steups your teeth.  Hear a fellow artist out.
I have been thinking for a while that your life needs a good biographical treatment.  Truthfully, I know a couple other Barbadian writers, keen and skilled, who’ve been thinking the same thing.  They’d fictionalize your life.  They’d write about you in verse.  I was the “serious” one; I wanted to write a “proper” prose non-fiction work.  A study of your rise to fame from humble island-girl beginnings, of your career, stellar popularity, and songs.  It’d be a literary book but, because of the topic, also a commercial book.
Then I read your 2011 Esquire interview (November issue), and I started to question the medium most fit to render your true likeness.  
The magazine voted you The Sexiest Woman Alive that year.  You were only 23.  The cover photo was an exclusive by Russell James, a moist-looking, moody shot of you in nothing but stiff, seaweed-like strands of Edenic vegetation.  And those much talked about tattoos.  Your painted nails were claws, your hazel eyes were feline.  Yes, the effects worked: you looked like a dangerous sex kitten.  On the cover.
Ross McCammon, who had clearly done his research on Barbados and you, wrote the feature.  At some point, he inevitably asked you about your concerts’ raciness.  Your reaction had the man flummoxed.  He had just seen you waiving your tail in your audience’s faces; he couldn’t believe what you were confessing to him.  This is how he tells it (the italics are, of course, yours):
The conversation turns to sex.  (Because it’s actually the most obvious subject in the world.)
At the end of a concert, I don’t feel like I’ve been this sexy thing.  Really, I don’t even think about it.
Unless it’s a song that really calls for it, like “Skin” or “S&M,” or when I cover “Darling Nikki.”  There’s a section that’s called “Sex” in the show, which is the obvious section for sexuality.
There aren’t sexuality sections.  The whole show is sex.
The whole show is in sections.
No, I’m saying—
I know what you’re saying.
I’m refuting what you’re saying.
But what I’m saying is—
I saw the show.
What I’m saying is, that’s the only part that’s deliberate, you know?
Like, really?  Honestly, even if it comes across sexual—it has to be a part of my subconscious thought.  It’s never deliberate in the rest of the show.  I don’t even really…I could see “What’s My Name?”—the dancing is pretty sexy.  “Rude Boy.”  But I don’t know.  I guess people find different things sexy.
I’m naïve; have been most of my life, I’ve come to realize, especially when it comes to relationships.  You may have been putting one over on Mr McCammon.  But the Advocate quote reminded me of your words from that Esquire interview.  Even if you were protesting too much, you had convinced me in that interview without even trying: the graphic novel, the erotic graphic novel, might succeed where all other media had failed to capture your sex appeal.
The why was fairly obvious: the provocative, the erotic, which is what so many have sought to comprehend about you, is really about subterfuge.  Put more crassly: it’s not the sex kittens who purr loudest when stroked behind closed doors…or on stage.  Nope.  It’s those who aren’t even trying to meow.  Those who, like you, are just going about their business, living their lives.
And what could be more life affirming than the erotic?
I don’t want to overstate my case, but a few selling points:
1)There are facets of your life a comic could show your fans that a film or book or play could not, because none of these would have the language to do so.
2)Graphic novels are very much the medium of the moment, yet they’ve been around for decades.  They also happen to be very much the medium of your generation, who gorge themselves on all things manga, anime, Marvel, DC, and Image.  In many ways, this is how that generation has already ingested the bits of your life in that digital stew called social media.  Its members already read, speak and dream of you in comics!
3)Celebrity graphic novels, erotic or not, are seldom done these days.  Erotic or not, there would be straight-to-movie potential—
I’ll say no more.
You may not do things for a public response, I get that.  That would be exhausting and not very savvy.  You’re a Bajan woman; I know you ain’t ’bout wasting energy or brain power.  But—and I could be wrong—I suspect all your music career, maybe all your life, long before you signed the contract that would distill, like sugar cane into a fine rum, Robyn Rihanna Fenty into Rihanna, you’ve been looking, yearning to make a statement worthy of a response, one that says something real about who you are, as an individual and as an artist.  A comic may be the way to do it.  The title of each chapter could be a title from one of your songs (Top 40 or not).  
Think about it, RiRi.  And let me know.
Nuff respect,
· Robert is the critically acclaimed author of the NBM Amerotica titles Attractive Forces, Stray Moonbeams and Great Moves.  His other books include the novel And Sometimes They Fly; the story collections Intimacy 101: Rooms & Suites, The Tree of Youth and Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; and the memoir Sand for Snow: A Caribbean-Canadian Chronicle.

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