An upcoming issue of DC’s Batman comic book series, Batman #121, will feature three limited-edition variant covers featuring original pieces of art by the late singer-songwriter and visual artist Daniel Johnston. The comics will be released by the award-winning comics retailer Austin Books & Comics on March 1 and sold in cooperation with the world-famous Electric Lady Studios and The Contemporary Austin.
Johnston, whose cult status earned him early, outspoken support from the likes of Matt Groening, Kurt Cobain, Sonic Youth, and David Bowie, was the subject of the acclaimed 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. The first ever museum retrospective of the artist’s work, Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams, is on view at The Contemporary Austin in Texas through March 20.
Daniel Johnston’s art and music have featured globally in films, commercials, museums, and galleries, but it’s in Austin, Texas where he has become most ingrained in local culture. It is, after all, the city where in 1985 he excitedly shoved himself in front of MTV’s cameras to gain a national audience and where today his drawings and music displaying heroic victory and quiet heartache are proudly on display at the downtown art museum, The Contemporary Austin.
The exhibition’s curator, Robin K. Williams, noticed a letter Johnston had written in the 1990s or 2000s addressed to his friend Marie Javins, now Editor-in-Chief at DC, requesting her help getting his artwork into comics. “I thought the letter was strange and touching,” says Williams, “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.”
“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. “We’ve always wanted to see his vibrant artwork reach this audience. It’s a great honor to make this happen, and to make his dream a reality. With the help of DC and Electric Lady Studios, we’ve created something unique for collectors of comics and Johnston enthusiasts alike, all while getting his artwork on the same kinds of comics that inspired him.”
Electric Lady Studios, which manages the Daniel Johnston art catalog on behalf of Johnston’s surviving family, 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.
Batman #121 with the Daniel Johnston covers will be available for preorder on February 14.
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, Electric Lady Studios, Austin Books & Comics, and hihowareyou.com. Each partner will have an exclusive colorway for the folio.
On Wednesday, March 9 at 5:30pm, The Contemporary Austin will host a launch event with DC’s Editor-in-Chief Marie Javins in conversation with Curator Robin K. Williams. The Contemporary’s colorway set of Batman #121 with the Johnston variant covers will be available on site. Tickets and information will be available soon at thecontemporaryaustin.org/events.
Austin Books & Comics has served the Central Texas comic book fandom since 1977. It was not by coincidence that Daniel frequented the store for many years, trading his own original artwork as currency for comics. The store, in turn, sold the artwork to local fans, making them one of the earliest supporters of Daniel’s visual works. Though those pieces have long since found their way into private collections, Austin Books & Comics has since featured comics, prints, and even T-shirts showcasing Johnston’s artwork.
Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams at The Contemporary Austin offers 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. The exhibition includes more than two hundred 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, and Johnston’s vintage white piano. Visitors witness the evolution of Johnston’s work over four decades, from early drawings on the backs of his homework assignments to works created in 2018.
Batman #121, by Joshua Williamson, Jorge Molina, Mikel Janín, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, including a backup story by Karl Kerschl and Dave McCaig, is available in comic shops everywhere on March 1.