Navigating Music and Comics with Vian Izak

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Last year, I did an in-depth interview with the trio behind one of my favorite musical discoveries, Through Juniper Vale (you can read the post here). But Through Juniper Vale’s producer, Vian Izak, is also a talented singer/songwriter with his own series of albums. I recently connected with Vian to discuss his newest album, The Navigator, and the technology that it employs to create a special storytelling experience.

Jonny: Before we get into the new album, let’s start at the beginning. How did you get started writing, performing, and producing music?

Vian: Music became my passion when I was fourteen. I discovered a Coldplay album I listened to on my rooftop every summer night that year. I was amazed that music could speak to me in a way that words can’t. I grew up with English as my second language, so how people communicate and connect has always fascinated me as I had to re-learn how to communicate. All of a sudden, music opened up a whole new language for me. So I did nothing else from when I was fourteen until now. I turned my parents’ closet into a vocal booth and would record my own songs and songs from the neighborhood bands.

Eventually I moved to Nashville and opened a recording studio on Music Row. I focused on building up an eclectic array of instruments and sounds that weren’t very “Nashville,” which I think contributed to my production career taking off in the indie world. I work with folks like Juniper Vale and The Arcadian Wild while also creating my own soundscapes and stories.

Jonny: Hein Zaayman has been accompanying your music with cover art and comics for some time. How did the comic thing get started?

Vian: Around the time my passion for music came to life, my brother Hein got hooked on illustration. So we’ve been combining the two mediums since we were young. The first comic/music idea that really came to life for us was my last album Northern Anthems in 2016. And since then we’ve had a goal to fully fuse the two mediums into a cohesive, single piece of artwork. My current album, The Navigator, is the next step in that process.

Jonny: What themes and ideas are you exploring in this new project?

Vian: The Navigator is a meditation on the process of healing and facing life with bravery. Life requires bravery and a forging forward against the unknown, all the while healing and figuring out who you are. 

Another artistic goal was to fuse the comic book medium with the music medium in a seamless fashion. I am very excited about how we’ve done it this time around.

Jonny: How does that work, exactly? Can you explain how the new technology will present the comic?

There are three forces in the comic: the force of darkness, the force of light, and the one who gets to choose between the two.

Vian Izak

Spotify has a tool called Canvas which allows artists to upload eight-second looped videos that play as their songs play. As we were working on the comic we realized that a comic page fits perfectly in this format. This week we’ve been wrapping up creating animated eight-second loops of each comic book page for The Navigator, so that each track has a page of the comic looped. All fans have to do to read the comic is start at the top of the album and listen all the way through. Each new song will continue with a new page of the story, so that by the end of the album not only do listeners get to enjoy the story arc of the music, but they get to simultaneously see a comic story come to life on their phone screen.

We’ve also gone back and retroactively done this to songs from my first record, which is live right now on Spotify. For my first release the comic was available on my site and the album on Spotify. Now they will both be packaged together in a single medium.

Jonny: What are you especially excited to share through this new technology? Is there a certain effect you’re going for or a specific moment or song where you feel the music and comic combine to create something special?

Vian: Well, for me, both art forms are techniques in telling a story. So my hope is that anyone can walk away after listening to or reading through The Navigator and feel a sense of connection to a universal story. Now that Spotify introduced video format on their platform, I feel like it’s a medium ready for storytellers to draw in listeners.

There are three forces in the comic: the force of darkness, the force of light, and the one who gets to choose between the two. The music also centers around these components (darkness, light, and choice), so throughout the work and especially at the end, these pieces play together to tell the story.

But on a lighter note there will be epic space monster battles, beings that forge stars with their hands, and time travel. All to the tune of some heartfelt pop music!

Be sure to check out Vian’s website and explore the new album at Spotify.

Jonny Jimison is a talented cartoonist and graphic novelist. In addition to a long history of web-based cartoons, he's the author of Dragon Lord Saga series of graphic novels, including Martin & Marco and The River Fox. Jonny lives and works in Jacksonville, Florida.


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