The Illustrated Al is a difficult comic to quantify, much like the music of its author. While Alfred Matthew Yankovic (aka “Weird Al”) is most famous as a parodist who found fame mocking Michael Jackson and Queen with songs like “Eat It” and “Another One Rides The Bus,” Al has also written a number of original songs. Some were stylistic satires of other musicians, such as Al’s salute to Sting and The Police with a song about the beauty of a black velvet Elvis Presley painting, “Velvet Elvis.” Others were parodies of certain genres of songs, such as the break-up ballad “Since You’ve Been Gone.” All of them are brilliant, but hard to explain in words. They must be heard.
This makes the idea behind The Illustrated Al all the, well, weirder. As comedian Emo Phillips explains in the introduction, the idea behind this book was to create print music videos for some of Weird Al’s most popular original songs that never got an actual music video based on them. Translating one medium to another is challenging even within a traditional story structure. Adapting music into comics sounds impossible, particularly when the music is devoted to such esoteric topics as a 2000 inch big-screen television set or the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota.
Somehow, The Illustrated Al manages it.
Many of the comics contained within this volume feature art that satirizes other artists, in the same way that Weird Al parodies other musicians. For instance, Ruben Bolling (of Tom the Dancing Bug fame) mimics the Love Is… comics in adapting the Weird Al song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore.” The original parody mocked saccharine love songs, with there being a total disconnect between Weird Al’s tender tone and lyrics such as “You slammed my face down on the barbecue grill. Now my scars are healing, but my heart never will.” The comic creates the same comedic disconnect, with the familiar style of Kim Casali portraying a dejected Al being tortured by his “beloved.”
Amazingly, most of the comics don’t require any familiarity with the songs that inspired them, though fans of Weird Al’s music are almost certain to get the most enjoyment out of The Illustrated Al. My personal favorite was Peter Bagge’s adaptation of “Why Does This Always Happen To Me?” in which Al cries to the heavens over various injustices, such as his favorite show being preempted with an emergency report. He also recognizes the victim of a horrific accident as the friend who owes him money and grumbles about never getting paid back now.
Another comic of note is Craig Rousseau’s suitably sinister spin on “Melanie,” which seems like a romantic song about love at first sight. Then you learn that the singer fell in love with the titular Melanie after spying on her showering with a telescope. Another high point is the adaptation of “Everything You Know Is Wrong,” which is expressively illustrated by MAD Magazine artist Gideon Kendall.
The Illustrated Al doesn’t have an official rating, but I’d suggest that, much like Al’s music, it is a firm PG-13 or T For Teen equivalent. There are no curse words, but there is a fair bit of violence and death, including depictions of suicide and self-harm. I’d also like to include a tongue-in-cheek trigger warning for any gun lovers who might accidentally stumble across the adaptation of “Trigger Happy,” which happily mocks those who think the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is sacred but basic firearm safety is optional.
The Illustrated Al
By Al Yankovic
Art by Peter Bagge, Ruben Bolling, Craig Rousseau, Gideon Kendall
Z2 Comics, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)