July 29, 2010 at 10:00 am By:

Published by BOOM! Studios

Ask any ten people what “punk rock” is and you’re liable to get ten different answers. Any music nerd worth their salt are bound to mention the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, or even bands like Minor Threat, all groups affiliated with a specific time, a specific region and a specific scene. What’s hard to debate, however, are actual dates. And by that token, New York has England, California and Washington, DC all beat to the punk rock punchbowl.

To prove it, BOOM! Studios has released issue one (of four) of CBGB (the comic!). This anthology comprises stories set around NY punk’s ground zero, the legendary (and now defunct) CBGB. Back in the 70s, when the Bowery was a legitimately dangerous place to be, proprietor Hilly Kristal opened his little bar, anticipating country music and bluegrass to be the next hot urban trend. He was way off, and in a last ditch effort to populate his establishment, he handed the stage over to pretty much anybody that walked through the door.

This is all explained nicely in the first story of CBGB #1, A NYC Punk Carol. Although mining the Charles Dickens standard is about the most trite maneuver a storyteller can make, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Marc Ellerby handle the adaptation with sufficient charm. Drawn in something of an Adult Swim style, the short centers on Stooge, the front man of a band he’s deemed too technically proficient to satisfy his purist agenda. After downing a bottle of brown liquor, Stooge is given a crash course in CBGB and punk rock’s shared history by the spirits of Past, Present and Future, all at once. The spirits’ bickering is a highlight, and the story culminates in the most succinct and accurate summation of punk rock I’ve ever seen. You’ll know it when you see it.

Next up, eight pages of The Helsinki Syndrome. When a young punk rocker dresses inappropriately for his uncle’s funeral, his punishment is to clean out the deceased’s apartment for his parents. There he finds a strange connection between his uncle and the titular dive, which he investigates with a girlfriend. The only problem with this story is that it’s self-contained. Sam Humphries and Rob G have crafted an intriguing tale (not to mention a stunning stage presence with the uncle), one that seems to hint at more to come. It wastes a huge amount of potential, and would be better suited as the first chapter of a serial, not a one-off curiosity.

CBGB’s forays into marketing and merchandising seem at odds with the musical genre it helped to nurture, but it was always the most recognizable brand name in the scene. The first nest of punk rock in the Big Apple was clearly the Mercer Arts Center, where the likes of the New York Dolls and Suicide first stated biting the ankles of the rock establishment. But no New York punk rock institution – not even the venerable Max’s Kansas City – can ever hope to compete with those four iconic letters. CBGB might not have been there first, but it did stick around the longest. And to prove it, here’s a comic book.


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