March’s 1’s Batman #121 will feature three limited-edition variant covers featuring original pieces of art by the late singer-songwriter and visual artist Daniel Johnston, DC announced February 14. All three covers are available for preorder starting immediately.
The variant cover editions will be released by Central Texas comic book retailer Austin Books & Comics (ABC) and sold in cooperation with Electric Lady Studios, which manages the Daniel Johnston art catalog on behalf of Johnston’s surviving family the museum the Contemporary Austin. The Contemporary Austin is currently exhibiting the first-ever museum retrospective of his work, Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams, through March 20.
The exhibit – which includes more than 200 drawings along with handmade fliers, home-recorded cassette tapes with hand-drawn covers, photographs, notebook pages, Super 8 mm home movies, archival video, and audio, is described as offering visitors a window into Johnston’s “elaborate iconography, including an idiosyncratic cast of characters and symbols engaged in a perpetual struggle between good and evil.”
According to DC, Johnston – the subject of the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston – achieved cult status during this career and “early, outspoken” support from pop culture icons like Matt Groening, Kurt Cobain, Sonic Youth, and David Bowie.
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How did the Batman variant covers come about? Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams’ curator Robin K. Williams found a letter Johnston had written in the ’90s or ’00s addressed to his friend Marie Javins, currently the editor-in-chief at DC, requesting her help getting his artwork into comics.
“I thought the letter was strange and touching,” says Williams in DC’s announcement, “because he was already an internationally successful musician when he wrote it. When I asked Marie about it, she said, ‘Daniel had two loves, music and art, and always wanted to be a comic book artist.’ This gave her the beautiful idea to finally make this happen.”
“I’ve been an avid collector of Daniel’s artwork since I met him in 1986—but not always on purpose,” says Javins. “He’d draw pictures on letters he’d send to me over the years, and we even collaborated on some art when I was a professional comic book colorist. I’m thrilled to see his Batman, Superman, and Orion art come to life on these ABC retailer variants.”
Electric Lady Studios selected the images to be used for the variant covers.
“This is a complete realization of one of Daniel’s biggest dreams—to have his designs featured on a DC cover and sold in his favorite comic shop. It puts a lump in my throat,” says Lee Foster, Electric Lady’s managing partner in the announcement.
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Austin Books & Comics was frequented for years by Johnston, and according to DC, he would trade his own original artwork for comics. ABC would in turn sell the artwork to its customers, making them one of the earliest supporters of his visual works.
“Daniel always did things unconventionally, so it makes sense that this is how he finally gets on a big-publisher comic cover,” says Brandon Zuern, a manager at Austin Books & Comics.
Batman #121 is by Joshua Williamson, Jorge Molina, Mikel Janín, Tomeu Morey, and Clayton Cowles, and includes a backup story by Karl Kerschl and Dave McCaig.
Limited quantities of the trade-dressed Johnston cover featuring Batman will be sold individually while sets of all three covers, featuring Batman, Superman, and DC’s New God Orion, will be packaged in unique folios and sold in limited quantities at The Austin Contemporary (opens in new tab), Electric Lady Studios (opens in new tab), Austin Books & Comics (opens in new tab), and hihowareyou.com (opens in new tab), all of who will offer an exclusive colorway for the folio.
And on Wednesday, March 9 at 5:30 pm CST, The Contemporary Austin hosts a launch event with Javins in conversation with Robin K. Williams, where its set of the Johnston Batman #121 variant covers will be available. Tickets and information will be available soon at thecontemporaryaustin.org/events (opens in new tab).
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Speaking of Batman creators, Newsarama lists the most influential Batman creators of all time.