Phil Fox, front man for local original pop-rock outfit Wicked Gift, had a busy 2013. Not only has Fox finished the band’s latest full-length studio project, “Falling Through Time,” he’s releasing a self-published comic book based on his original Sci-Fi burlesque musical, “Gratisphere.” The comic and the CD project, along with a performance by Wicked Gift, are all part of a release party and concert scheduled for Saturday, appropriately enough at a bar located inside a Myrtle Beach comic book store.
Fox’s Wicked Gift (formed in 2003) was once a regular at various downtown Myrtle Beach venues, which catered to young, original bands, jonesing for places to perform. Sadly these venues have all been relatively short-lived; The Basement, Drink!, The Sound Hole, The Limelight, The Social, Alley Cats, and others, are all closed after varying degrees of success. In a respectful nod to those former haunts, Fox will host the Wicked Gift CD and Gratisphere Comic Book Release Party starting at 8 p.m. Saturday at X-Con Comics’ Nerd Bar (807 Main St., Myrtle Beach), just a stone’s throw from the ghosts of the venues at which his band once regularly performed.
Fox’s music is sometimes compared to They Might Be Giants, and is usually thematic; seems he always has a story to tell. His second full-length project, the 2006 alt-rock release, “Down for the Summer,” followed the exploits of 20-somethings here at the beach.
When Fox was first inspired by Buz Martin’s local Ballyhoo Burlesque shows in 2009, the seed for “Gratisphere” was planted. Fox’s quirky, intellectual pop sensibilities melded music, Sci-Fi and scantily-clad Vaudeville-esque girls in a romp on an artificial satellite orbiting a wasted Earth in the not-too- distant future. The musical was performed live in 2010 and again in 2012. His tale; a self-described metaphor of our internal and external struggles, pits the haves and have-nots of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society where greed, sex and violence threaten all that is good, or are perhaps it’s the natural order of things? The interpretation is up to the reader/listener.
Respected for his songwriting craft, Fox may surprise many with his artistic talents as evidenced in the comic. He threw himself headfirst into the project, learning the craft of comic book illustration and enlisting the help of inkers, colorists, and others with very specific roles. The outcome is a pretty respectable effort that might be considered a graphic novel, though it has a stapled binding, as opposed to a graphic novel’s wider, flat spine, and is just a bit too short at 42 pages. The illustrations are simple, not as detailed and realistic as a typical Marvel or DC release, though the bright colors help the images pop off the page, and the overall style is in keeping with the “`50s Sci-Fi camp aspect,” according to Fox.
Though not connected thematically with “Gratisphere,” “Falling Through Time,” further highlights Fox’s artistic abilities with his own cover design and, of course, his music.
Eleven tracks of pop-rock may be summed up by this Fox narrative; “On a rainy, wind-swept autumn night, a lost soul randomly twists a radio dial, conjuring up bygone days and bittersweet memories…”
One of Fox’s strongest suits is his willingness to share in the creative process. While the songs and lead vocals are all Fox, the long list of musical collaborators includes four lead guitarists; Scott Watkins, Sam Favata, (producer) Brian McKenzie and Charles Grace. Bass guitar icon, Steve Bailey, produced and recorded one track, “Caught in a Dream.”
Also credited on the project: Drew Jacobs (bass), Reuben Long (drums), Bernie Kenerson (EWI - electronic wind instrument), Jamie Murmann (bass on “Caught in a Dream”). Saturday’s live performance will feature many Fox friends, including party deejays Catpuncher & the Mayor.
The comic book will be locally available at Kilgor Trouts and X-Con Comics store, with an eventual hoped-for national distribution.
As one of the most original and daring of all the Grand Strand originals, Fox’s projects and the release party should ultimately prove to be very, well…gratifying.
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