Legendary jazz musician Wayne Shorter has teamed with comics artist Randy DuBurke on a 84 page science-fiction-themed graphic novel, which will be included in Emanon, a three-CD collection of live and studio recorded music to be released by Blue Note Records August 24.
The graphic novel, also entitled Emanon (the title is “no name” backwards), is written by the 84 year old Shorter, known for his work with such acclaimed musicians as Art Blakey and Miles Davis, with screenwriter Monica Sly. The graphic work is illustrated by DuBurke and will only be released as part of the musical collection.
The jazz and classical release features Shorter’s quartet in concert with the 34 piece Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The Emanon album/graphic novel is a physical-only triple album release of original music that will be available in a standard edition and in a deluxe edition with vinyl LPs and CDs in a hardcover slipcase. PW spoke with Shorter and his creative team about their work on the project.
Publishers Weekly: How did you become involved in this project?
Randy DuBurke: Wayne’s representative Scott Southard emailed me in late 2013, saying that Wayne was a fan of my work, and wanted to know if he could commission me to do a graphic novel. I said, wait a minute, the Wayne Shorter? I said I’d be happy to work with Mr. Shorter. I asked what kind of work does Wayne like. He said Wayne is a fan of comic books, science fiction and African mythology. I said, I can work with all of that.
My book, Six O'Clock in San Francisco, [a multicultural picture book depicting children in different time zones around the world] had a graphic novel look to it. That’s what I envisioned the project would look like. Wayne wanted the text to look more like what he remembered comic books looked like. He wanted the Comic Sans typeface, which is what we used in the book.
Wayne Shorter: The actual idea for this project was from [Blue Note president] Don Was. He gave me Randy DuBurke’s books on Malcolm X, [Nat Love], the black cowboy, and the book of all of the time zones of the world. When I saw his drawings, I knew there was something authentic going on.
PW: What are the thematic and musical concepts in Emanon?
Shorter: Nothing is actually finished in life. In music, when someone stops writing a song, it’s not necessarily finished. The meaning goes on, more than the name, or the era, style and all that. That’s why I used the word Emanon - no name. The record itself is not a soundtrack for the graphic novel. It’s a panorama that always changes. When you keep listening to the music, the music might turn out to be the graphic novel, and the novel might turn out to be the music [laughs].
PW: What are the philosophical and scientific ideas in the graphic novel?
DuBurke: Since Wayne is into Buddhism, I started thinking about the book along the lines of a Buddhist koan; where you have a question you don’t expect to be answered, but gets you to think. I was also into quantum physics, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene and other scientists who were talking about alternate realities. The main character operates in different stories and alternate timelines. Wayne isn’t into [using] Skype, and he doesn’t like to talk a lot on the phone. So he had his friend, screenwriter Monica Sly (Benjamin Button, Gotti), work with him on the writing.
Monica Sly: Wayne wanted me to see what was happening in CERN in Switzerland, and he was really fascinated by the theory of the multiverse [multiple realities existing parallel to one another], which is a very Buddhist concept, and is very aligned with jazz theory. So I came up with the idea of these four fears on four “Emanon” worlds in the Multiverse that share the same titles as the studio tracks.
The first world, “Pegasus” represents a fear of one’s own potential. The second world “Lotus,” a fear of each other, the third world, “The Three Marias,” the fear of knowledge and the fourth world, “Prometheus Unbound,” the fear of the unknown. In each of these worlds, the hero has to overcome a debilitating fear. We did one draft. I wrote the dialogue, and Wayne made changes to it, making it more personal to what he wanted to say.
PW: Your imagery is very vivid. Who are your influences?
DuBurke: There’s quite a lot of Norman Rockwell [laughs], I was a fan of his work. There’s another illustrator, Al Parker. There’s a black artist, Thomas Blackshear. He did a book for the Post Office thirty five years ago about all of the great black inventors, politicians and pioneers. Also, there’s painter Gustav Klimt, and comic illustrators like Paul Sienkiewicz.
PW: What is the unifying aspect of the hero in all of the stories in the graphic novel?
DuBurke: The character in all of the four pieces, when he saw something that wasn’t right, he would become proactive and try to do something about it. That’s the crux of the matter.