In every medium there are giants that stand head and shoulders above everyone else, names it’s nearly impossible to avoid and legacies that continue to build with each new generation of creators. MPLS Sound is a book that’s sort of about one of those giants, but it’s more about the legacy he left behind, the scene he built, and the city he lived in. When it comes to music in Minneapolis, Prince casts a huge shadow with just his own albums, but when taken with the songs he wrote, albums he produced, and musicians he hired and mentored, his impact would be hard to overstate. At the center of MPLS Sound is the fictional band Starchild, a talented and diverse group of musicians steeped in the “Minneapolis sound” Prince is famous for cultivating.
No one on the creative team on MPLS Sound is a stranger to making comics, and it shows in how smoothly the book reads. The character designs and costume choices are deft and sometimes subtle. Artist Meredith Laxton has a good handle on how to use facial expressions and body language to tell the story, and writers Joseph P. Illidge and Hannibal Tabu get out of the way to let her do that work. The tight character illustrations aren’t done at the expense of backgrounds, and Laxton’s art that depicts Starchild’s concerts are particularly good. Colorist Tan Shu wisely leans hard into Prince’s signature purple and it lends the whole book the impression that he’s watching every panel, even if he’s not in it.
Illidge and Tabu use a couple of storytelling tropes to great effect, helping readers jump into a story that otherwise might be less accessible if you’re not familiar with how music gets made. There’s a wonderful montage where band leader Theresa brings the whole gang together, giving each character a brief but informative introduction. At several points Theresa’s present is overlaid with losses from her past, helping readers to understand where she’s coming from and what’s guiding her without an overwrought origin story. While readers get glimpses at her music-writing process, the book doesn’t try to replicate songs on the page, which can be distracting when not done well.
In a lot of ways, this book is a testament to Prince and how his music affected the world. But it’s also honest about his very human flaws; MPLS Sound doesn’t delve into Prince’s personal life, but it does make clear that not every musician that worked with him was happy with their relationship, and some ended on bad terms. Theresa is held in contrast—another big personality with firm opinions and a drive toward perfection, but she gives her bandmates support to set her apart from Prince’s more inflexible demands.
While the book focuses on the Minneapolis sound that Prince spearheaded (and which has lived on under the skillful hands of a slew of other artists), it is a love letter to music and artistic creativity more broadly. It’s beautiful and unapologetically queer, Black, and brown, rejecting the notion that it needs to be quieter or like more familiar comics in order to succeed. It’s a perfect fit for fans of Jem And The Holograms, those who love music and the people who make it—oh, and anyone who enjoyed Prince’s guest spot on New Girl.