In Guest List, Paste’s favorite artists and auteurs dissect the music that’s inspired some of their most seminal works.
Annie Wu didn’t waste any time topping the charts. Following a stylish stint on Marvel’s Eisner-winning Hawkeye alongside writer Matt Fraction, the Venture Bros. storyboard artist (and possessor of infinitely cool hair) is teaming up with writer Brenden Fletcher and colorist Lee Loughridge to launch Black Canary, one of the most anticipated books to come out of DC’s “DC You” revitalization.
Beyond breathing new life into a classic DC character, Black Canary looks to tap into the same exceedingly enthusiastic fanbase that has made successes out of Spider-Gwen, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Batgirl. Fletcher and Wu’s Dinah Lance is taking a break from the black ops role foisted on her in the New 52 to front a goth-tinged rock band, but anyone with a history in the cape community is likely to carry some super-powered baggage.
In advance of Black Canary’s opening night this Wednesday, Paste chatted with Wu, a self-identified obsessive playlist-maker, about the sonic inspirations behind the series, her collaboration with writer and musician Fletcher, and the awful tunes that encourage her to hit her deadlines.
Annie Wu on the Role Music Plays in Black Canary
I usually make playlists for any project, sometimes even for editorial illustration—just one piece, not even storytelling stuff. If I have a specific atmosphere or mood in mind, it helps put me in that mindset if I have some music to score it. Although weirdly, I don’t really listen to that many scores from films; it’s usually pop songs and things like that.
Any parallel I can find between being a performer on stage and being a superhero, the highs and lows of it and the identity aspect of it, any track that makes me think about that is thrown in here. I hope people can hear whatever they want to hear to help them go through the story. This stuff is just to help me visually express a certain tone or something. I don’t know how much people pick up when they see it on the page, but this is what helps me get into the right mindset.
Black Canary #1 Art by Annie Wu
My deadline playlist is completely different in that it’s all ‘90s garbage. It’s the worst. It’s like Jordan Knight when he had a revival in his career. It’s the worst songs, all that pop music that I play on a loop as I’m rushing toward the deadline because it becomes white noise in my head. This playlist is the stuff that helps me get into the right state of mind to break a story, but when I’m rushing, it’s all ‘90s garbage. Like, Oh god, if I have to listen to “Give It To You” 10 more times, I’m going to lose my mind. And that’s how I get my work in.
1. “Tear Me Down,” Hedwig and the Angry Inch
I started off with the intro song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch because I really wanted the energy of putting on that rock star personality for yourself and for the audience to get everybody pumped up, so you really feel like you’re owning the crowd and the crowd’s also really enjoying it. I wanted that vibe. So, of course, to feel that way, you should pull that song from a musical where she’s doing exactly that. [Laughs]
In issue one, I wanted Dinah to have this elaborate—because you know, Black Canary doesn’t wear a cape—this elaborate cape thing she could rip off at the very beginning to reveal her Black Canary outfit. It’s pulling from Hedwig and Dr. Frank-N-Furter of Rocky Horror and a little bit of Ziggy Stardust. Bowie had this long, almost kimono-y thing he would rip off to reveal this very revealing Ziggy Stardust outfit. It was like all of these things in one that I had in my head, so that’s the kind of moment I wanted to bring to life.
2. “Heavy Metal and Reflective,” Azealia Banks
I forget who said it, it might have been Brenden [Fletcher] or editor Chris Conroy, but someone said something about one of Azealia Banks’s songs being appropriate for Batgirl. They were just talking to each other and I overheard it and thought, well, if there’s going to be an Azealia Banks song for this run of Black Canary, it would have to be “Heavy Metal and Reflective.” Just being a badass chick, owning the scene. I really like this song. I love Azealia Banks’s attitude and she’s just a powerhouse on stage from what I’ve seen.
3. “Boys Wanna Be Her,” Peaches
When I’m feeling down in the dumps, I’ll put these songs on to pump me up and feel like an empowered individual, stomping around New York. [Laughs] I wanted that vibe for this playlist, or while I’m working on this book. You know, Dinah, she has this amazing voice, and that’s why she’s doing so well in this band, but inside she’s not a performer and she has to put on this front and amp herself up to do this job. She’s a superhero, she’s not a rock star, so she has to pretend to be one. She has to put on, in the old-school sense of the word, the glamour of being a rock star to project that image out there. I wanted songs that would pump someone up to feel that way.
4. “Rebel Girl,” Bikini Kill
5. “Kick Out the Jams,” MC5
[This] is the show. You’re being taken to church. The transcendent feeling of being at a show. She’s owning you.
6. “Song 2,” Blur
7. “20th Century Boy,” T. Rex
Black Canary #1 Art by Annie Wu
8. “Get Ready for Love,” Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
9. “Cities In Dust,” Siouxsie and The Banshees
10. “Vicious,” Lou Reed
I was listening to a lot of [Lou Reed’s] album Transformer when I was working on the eight-page preview of Black Canary and the first issue, and one lyric from this song is, “Vicious, you hit me with a flower.” And I was like, Aww, that’s kind of like Dinah, because she used to be a florist, the old iteration of her character. I was like, Oh, that’s kind of funny. [Laughs]. For my own giggles, I put this in there.
11. “Oblivion,” Grimes
We have some mysterious characters in the book who slowly reveal their past. It’s a creeping sense of dread kind of thing, so I loaded that up on the playlist here through Grace Jones, Bauhaus and Ladytron.
12. “Lilies,” Cranes
13. “2020,” Suuns
14. “When The Sun Hits,” Slowdive
15. “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango),” Grace Jones
16. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Bauhaus
Brenden Fletcher is a legit musician. He plays in a band and stuff. He sings, he plays a lot of instruments. So when we discuss what Black Canary sounds like, he knows what he’s talking about, whereas I just have vague, “Oh, it’s kind of like this, it’s kind of like that.” [Laughs].
In the early days, when we were discussing character design and stuff, costuming, we knew they were a rock band, but there’s so many different kinds of rock. The way they dress and present themselves, the type of instruments that they play, are affected by whether or not they’re punk rock, if they’re riot grrrl, if they’re glam rock, whatever. I did tell him early on that my immediate instinct was to go a little goth-y with her, lean a little toward that eighties goth sort of vibe. Brenden loves shoegaze and that slow, goth-y stuff, so we immediately tapped Siouxsie Sioux, a little Bauhaus, sometimes I think a little Sisters of Mercy, so in my head it’s kind of a modern take on that.
Black Canary #1 Variant Cover by Tula Lotay
Brenden has messed around a little bit with possible music too, because you can talk about music all the time but until you actually hear something, it’s difficult to articulate. So he’s put together stuff to be like, “Is this what it sounds like inside your head?” So it’s a little bit ‘80s goth, rough around the edges, a little bit new stuff. It’s really cool.
Brenden has been so amazing about wanting to collaborate. He keeps reminding me that he really wants it to feel like a book that both of us made, where there’s not a super deep line of demarcation where our contributions begin and end. I try to check in with him as much as possible about influences behind the characters visually. He’s been really open. He always asks me, “Whatever you want to draw, let me know. I’ll make sure it’s in there so you have the opportunity to do that.” So it’s been really nice. It feels very much like a collaboration rather than, “Here’s the script, take it and follow it to a T.”
17. “The Way That I Found You,” Ladytron
18. “Kyoto Song,” The Cure
19. “lxC999,” White Ring
20. “That Laughing Track,” Crookers (ft. Style of Eye & Carli)
A lot of times, I’ll have specific “theme songs” for each character, even background people. It’s almost a Disney or Broadway approach to it, where each character has their own song to introduce themselves. In my own head, every character has something like that. And so the last chunk of this playlist is stuff for various villains that are going to show up later in the story. If anyone listens to the playlist from top to bottom, they can probably sense the tone get like, weirdly dark, because I love the villain songs for the mean, catty people who show up. [Laughs]
This one’s kind of a house-y dance track. It’s for someone from the band’s past who shows up, and she may not have the best intentions. My inspiration for her is this new wave of voguing that suddenly appeared in the last five years or so. It’s kind of goth-y. It’s this new wave of dance style. All of her movements are inspired by this movement, so I had this song in my head.
The next few tracks, “Nightclubbing,” “Alabama Song,” are all villainous tracks. It’s supposed to feel like long walks at night, looking over your shoulder, that sort of vibe. [Laughs]
21. “Texas Keller,” Bohren & Der Club of Gore
22. “Funnel of Love,” SQÜRL (ft. Madeline Follin)
23. “Nightclubbing,” Iggy Pop
24. “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar),” The Doors
25. “Slippage,” Goldfrapp
26. “This Is Hardcore (End Of The Line Remix),” Pulp
I have everything set like a movie in my head, so each song applies to a specific moment or type of moment. I’m sure anyone who has ever performed on stage in any capacity can relate to this, but the high of performing on stage and having a really good show, and then leaving and having to go home—you don’t want to go home, you’re still buzzing, but the show’s over—there’s that weird comedown. Pulp’s “End of the Line” remix for This is Hardcore...there’s one instrumental part that feels like a long, hard look in the mirror after a show, being exhausted but not ready to go home. [Laughs]
27. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide,” David Bowie
I end it with “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide,” which is an anthem. Everybody has their hands up in the air.