‘MPLS Sound’ Creators Joseph Illidge, Hannibal Tabu, and Meredith Laxton: The Conskipper Interview

Prince’s influence on the worlds of music, fashion, and music videos inspired generations of creators across alll mediums.

The creators of Humanoids upcoming original graphic novel MPLS SOUND also found inspiration from the Artist in the form of a love letter to their muse, as well as a commentary on the struggle to achieve stardom. Joe Illidge, Hannibal Tabu, and Meredith Laxton discussed the origins of the project, their love of Prince, and how art, fashion, music, and culture are often intertwined in this exclusive interview.

What was the genesis of MPLS Sound and how did each of you become involved in the project?

Joseph Illidge: The idea of MPLS Sound came from the book’s first editor, Fabrice Sapolsky, who may also be one of the top ten living experts on all things Prince. Fabrice asked me to come on board to really ignite the story, based on the groundwork laid by Hannibal Tabu. The opportunity to write a story set within such an important musical movement was too compelling to resist. I began to learn the history of the Minneapolis Sound, Prince, and the many creative people whose lives he touched. It’s been an exciting and enlightening education.

Hannibal Tabu: Well, the idea came from the mind of Fabrice Sapolsky. He knew I had worked a long time in music journalism and knew, during the era when I was operational, that Prince grew to truly global prominence. We looked at a lot of topics never covered from that era and our intensive love for the scene – from the production work of Andre Cymone, Jam & Lewis, the influence of Alexander O’Neal and so on – and things just started to come together. Prince made choices that ruined way more musical careers than he launched, and we wanted a look at the other side of that mirror.

Meredith Laxton: MPLS Sound was the brainchild of Fabrice Sapolsky, whom I met through our mutual friend, Tom Lyle. He invited me on board after I completed some sample pages for MPLS Sound. This project actually landed in my lap right at the beginning of a very tumultuous time for my family and I and I’m incredibly fortunate that the team was so kind and supportive throughout.

What were your first memories of Prince?  For a generation of fans unfamiliar with the Artist and the era he came of age in, why was he so important?

Tabu: My family was one of the early adopters of cable in Memphis, and I just stayed glued to MTV the whole time. The Prince video for “1999” kind of blew my mind – I was a skinny, picked on kid in Memphis and here was this dude in a doggone fluffy shirt with more swagger and more confidence than I could even imagine. After that, “Little Red Corvette” and his entire aesthetic complicated my consciousness. The summer of 1984, my friends and I bought a ticket to some other movie and snuck in to see Purple Rain, and I was convinced that I had to get the hell out of Memphis and that I, too, could write and plan my way in a bigger, better life, my way. Then I did it. I’m enormously grateful for Prince’s example in that regard.

Laxton: Prince has played a big part in the development of my identity. I’ve always felt that if I could be half as fabulous as Prince, I’d be set. I’ve always been drawn to the general androgyny and flamboyance of his style and that’s something that has influenced my own gender-identity discovery. I have probably listened to Raspberry Beret on repeat more times than I care to admit and Purple Rain still makes me cry.

Illidge: I’m sure I heard Prince’s music in the atmosphere of my life before seeing “Purple Rain” in the theaters, but after watching that film, the distinctiveness, the style of Prince and his music crystallized in my mind. A few years later, Prince would do something as corporate as the soundtrack for Tim Burton’s “Batman” film, and drop mics all over the place once again!

Prince was important for so many reasons, but one of them was undoubtedly the way he embraced sex and sexuality, challenging the lines of gender identification and expression.

Do some exploration into how his song “Darling Nikki” led to the creation of Parental Advisory labeling on albums, and why politicians’ children have better taste in music than their parents.

Hannibal-You mention that Minneapolis is a complicated city.  How did the nature of the city influence Prince’s music as well as your take on Starchild?

Tabu: I did some specific research into Minneapolis, as seen through the eyes of a white person and a Black one, and looked at a lot of the true detail of the city. As big as we see the Minneapolis sound now, Husker Du and The Replacements were the headliners, the Christopher Marlowes to be eventually eclipsed by Prince’s Shakespeare.  Despite this scary degree of talent in town, being Black wasn’t a crystal stair for anyone there. Prince, either consciously or subconsciously, knew that darker skins were less palatable for American audiences. Brown Mark missed his chance to play with Stevie Nicks for so much more money because of the territorial nature Prince had over the sound they all co-created. All that, down to the corner stores that are accurate for people who know that block, that stuff matters to the story.

Meredith-Can you describe your research process as an artist in making sure the look of the band and musical era was authentic?  Which character has the best wardrobe/look in Starchild?

Laxton: There are a few cameos in MPLS Sound of celebrities that have very iconic looks, so it was mostly a matter of gathering references of their own wardrobe. For Starchild, however, each player has a unique style that plays to their strengths and attitudes. I wanted Theresa to have the most diversity in her wardrobe to really emphasize her development as an artist. Her on-stage presence needed to be flashy and vibrant, totally contradictory to the plainer outfits she wears at home.

Joseph-You were involved in a different type of “Revolution” called Milestone Comics.  What did those comics mean to you and why is it important that the characters are on the verge of returning to the comics and cultural scene once again?

Illidge: Milestone Media, Inc. and the comic books, heroes, and stories that company created in the early Nineties were a seismic shift in the comic book industry, and global culture at large. That company gave me purpose as a Black geek trying to find his place in the world decades before the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave everyone consent to be a geek. Milestone blasted open the doors for comic books and graphic novels to tell stories of Black life, fictional and real.

The return of the Milestone characters in 2021 is perfect, as is the debut of the MPLS Sound graphic novel at a time when Minneapolis is the epicenter of tragic history and great, impactful change. Everyone on our team worked hard to create the “Purple Rain” of graphic novels with the story of Starchild, a band of people brought together by a Black woman determined to defy the gravity imposed on her by American society and the music industry.

MPLS Sound will be available in finer bookstores on Tuesday, April 13 and at your local comic shop on Wednesday, April 14.

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