The ultimate fusion of jazz music and comics is here!
Enter The Blue comes from publisher Z2 Comics and graphic novelist Dave Chisholm, in collaboration with the legendary Blue Note Records.
What begins as one woman’s search for her own artistic courage unravels into a stunning look into what jazz music can teach us about our search for the truest version of ourselves.
For decades, seasoned players on the scene have spoken in whispered tones about The Blue: a mysterious meeting place for jazz history – a place where ghosts from this music’s storied past spring to life for those courageous enough to enter.
When Jessie Choi’s mentor Jimmy Hightower collapses at a gig and loses consciousness, she finds herself reluctantly pulled back into the jazz scene she abandoned years earlier. In investigating the music and mystery behind Jimmy’s comatose state, every thread leads to the same question: is Jimmy somehow trapped in this enigma known as The Blue? In her search to save her teacher, Jessie rubs shoulders with legends, uncovers the secret history of Blue Note Records, and faces her own deepest fears.
I got to sit down and speak with Chisholm about his process in coming up with and collaborating on the story for Enter The Blue, as well as how he utilizes the comic book medium to tell such a unique story about the world of Jazz.
MFR: Hi Dave, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about Enter The Blue.
I have to say right off that this is one of the best graphic novels of the year.
Chisholm: Thank you so much!
MFR: What were the steps that brought you to make a graphic novel centered around Blue Note records?
Chisholm: All of that stems from my work with Z2 Comics, which primarily specializes in music-based graphic novels that are officially licensed. They had been working with Blue Note’s parent company, and when this idea hit the table they approached me to do this book–definitely thanks to my previous jazz-oriented works Chasin’ the Bird and Instrumental. It’s an amazing record label with so much history, and working with them has been amazing!
MFR: How did you get involved with Z2, and how much, if at all, did they help flesh out the story?
Chisholm: I first met with Z2 at NYCC wayyyyyy back in the fall of 2013. I had pitch packets for my book Instrumental, and I passed one along at a little event at The Society of Illustrators. They were pretty interested, and we stayed in touch, and they released that book in May of 2017–that 3-and-a-half year wait was excruciating, but I am so glad we stayed in touch and that they believed in that strange book enough to publish it. That was actually the first music-related book they put out, shortly before Murder Ballads, which was done with one of the members of The Black Keys. Needless to say, Murder Ballads sold more copies and really pointed Z2 in a fruitful direction. Fast forward a couple of years again, and they asked me to make a book about saxophonist Charlie Parker in coordination with his estate in celebration of his centennial.
As far as their input on Enter the Blue, early on in the project, I really worked out all of the big pieces with my wife Elise, and I delivered it to Sridhar, who was Z2’s main point of contact with the Blue Note people. At that point, it was just tightening a few screws and giving it a thumbs-up, which, thankfully, Sridhar did! It really came together quickly in a very good way–it’s not always good when this happens, but in this case, it worked out really well.
MFR: The spiritual connections between music and religion are as obvious as they are ancient. How did you land on developing a key element of Enter The Blue’s plot around a specific detail in Jewish tradition combined with the sensation of playing jazz?
Chisholm: That was just a case of digging through the details of these historical figures—Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, the two guys who basically started Blue Note Records. I knew that the metaphysical hook of the story was going to be this mystical, liminal space entered through jazz improvisation, and so it seemed like it would make sense in order for these two men to believe something that sounds so bizarre that they’d be more likely to believe if they themselves had some experiential connection to mysticism. Combining that with their Jewish heritage seemed to make SOME sense, but honestly, within the boundaries of the story, it makes the most sense, specifically from Sherm’s point-of-view. Sherm is a true believer, a conspiracy theorist, who latches onto every possible connection and inflates it until it connects to his framework. It might be a load of BS, right? I mean, Sherm also believes that The Blue is full of chickens! The very fun sequences in his apartment are definitely taking this fantastical, magical idea and pushing it past its limit.
MFR: It may seem silly, but I have to ask: was the story of “the Blue” based on any actual hearsay among jazz musicians at Blue Note? Or was all of this entirely your imagination?
Chisholm: It’s all from my imagination, but it’s also symbolic of what this act of jazz improvisation is, what it does, how it helps you learn, examine yourself, examine the way you think through problems, connects you to the history of this music, and its giants through musical vocabulary and repertoire, and so on. It really is a big historical continuum that you participate in when you play this music with conviction. It is incredible.
MFR: Outside of jazz itself, what were your biggest influences when jumping into Enter The Blue’s creation?
Chisholm: That’s a good question. The biggest influence on the heart of the story, which is this student/teacher relationship between Jessie and Jimmy, is the continuing friendship my wife has with her cello teachers, Steve Doane and Rosemary Elliott, who are a married couple and are both incredible cellists. I got my doctorate in jazz trumpet from The Eastman School of Music here in Rochester, NY, and she has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastman as well. I have never had that kind of deep friendship with any of my teachers–I think because I tended to be a sort of combative student, and I suppose I would usually work my best when I can find my own path to a skill or to some knowledge. I think that I’d have been better off being a bit more receptive to what my teachers and mentors had to say, but either way, here we are!
In terms of the art/storytelling, I really adore the work of J.H. Williams III, particularly his freedom in bending styles and in using elements of style and comics form to communicate aspects of the narrative itself. He actually posted on Instagram that he snagged one of the Deluxe Editions of Enter the Blue just yesterday which was a pretty huge thrill!
MFR: To you, what about the comic book medium makes it such an apt vehicle for telling stories about music?
Chisholm: Another great question. I teach a class at the Rochester Institute of Technology called COMICS & MUSIC, so this floats around my head all the time. First off, the comics medium is an apt vehicle for ANY kind of story. It’s an infinitely flexible medium that’s endless in its formalist/symbolic potential. For my work, with music, I do get very excited by the superimposition of elements of musical form over the top of comics structure, to see what lines up. Obviously, a 16-panel 4×4 grid is more rhythmic with greater specificity than a page with one big splash image, right? And perhaps a page with very detailed backgrounds and lush colors could represent elements of instrumentation. The way panels are organized on a page could represent the contour of a melody. I mean, that’s what sheet music is, right? Music notation? It’s a container for time that in essence symbolizes something very specific–but, when you look at it, you the reader are not necessarily bound by that temporal constriction, especially if you’re not performing it. You can sit and look at it forever, marvel at the construction, relive your favorite moments in your imagination again and again. That relationship to time, to specificity of happenings, to the whole symbolic nature of the whole thing sounds a hell of a lot like comics to me!
Enter The Blue hits your local comic book shop on September 27th. Talk to your LCS to preorder.