“The best thing about being a celebrity,” says Murdoc Niccals in the first chapter of Rise of The Ogre, “is that you can bore the crap out of people and they think it's their fault.”
Already it's clear that this won't be a normal book. But you should be expecting that – Gorillaz are far from a normal band. A collaboration between Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz have an army of fans devoted not only to the music, but also to the elaborate “concept” behind the band. This book is written to those fans, to give the full, detailed story of a band that doesn't really exist.
Gorillaz’ music is Albarn’s mix of experimental hip-hop, dance, and alternative music. To create a unique image for the project, Albarn teamed up with Jamie Hewlett, creator of Tank Girl, and invented four cartoon characters that would be presented publicly as “the band.” While the move drew criticism from many who thought Albarn was wrong to hide behind his animated superstars, Gorillaz took off in a big way. From the time their first album's megahit, “Clint Eastwood” broke airwaves, Gorillaz have won over many a fan with their mix of rock, reggae, dance, and rap, and with their brilliant animated videos.
So the book, Rise of the Ogre, is not a book about the people who “invented” Gorillaz, but rather, about the fictional band members themselves: Murdoc the egotistical bass-playing frontman, the empty-headed but lovable singer 2D, soft-spoken drummer Russel Hobbs, and the mysterious Japanese guitar player, Noodle. The book gives a detailed bio of all the band members (though true to form, there's less information about Noodle) and the colorful story of how they came together as a band. Rise is structured as a set of interviews between the author and the characters, and the text is supplemented by an endless supply of artwork by Hewlett: band promotional pictures, shots of the group in the studio, concept art for videos and more. The sheer amount of material in the book shows how hard the people behind Gorillaz work to make the “fake band” real. The pictures and anecdotes in Rise of the Ogre are exactly the sort of thing you might find if you dug through the history of an actual band – slices of life that give you a glimpse into the band's world. The difference is of course that Gorillaz inhabit a sphere far more outrageous and entertaining than the real world. Zombies, ghosts, the Grim Reaper, and assassination attempts by creepy black helicopters are just the beginning of what's in store for readers. The history of Gorillaz proves the old maxim wrong – fiction is much, much stranger than truth.
Of course, this book won't mean much to anyone who isn't into Gorillaz (a complete listen of both albums is really a must before cracking the spine) but everything about Rise makes it a must-have for fans – it's a compendium of virtually everything the band has ever done, and works in explanations of the band's music, lyrics, videos, and philosophy simply not available anywhere else. It also provides the answers fans longed for after the dramatic “El Manana” video, in which Noodle's flying windmill was shot down with her still inside. With a little suspension of disbelief, this book is all you need to make the characters of Gorillaz as real as any rock stars. Rise of the Ogre humanizes the cartoons, and it makes you hope that Gorillaz stay around for a long, long time.