Unstable Decibels

Unstable Decibels: Talking Comics with Guitar Hero's Supreme Shredder

The man behind most of the guitar work from the first two "Guitar Hero" games—Marcus Henderson—takes some time away from his face-meltingly busy, guitar-shredding schedule to discuss his love for Thor, Spider-Ham and Power Pack, becoming part of the "Guitar Hero" phenomenon and what's up wiith his alter-ego: Lou Dernow.

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By Sean Cannon Anyone foolish enough to think they can scale the Mt. Everest-like summit of the "Guitar Hero" games (really, who can beat "Freebird" on expert?!) will have heard enough of Marcus Henderson's guitar mastery to last a lifetime.

Marcus Henderson
aka Lou Dernow

When Henderson—a fan of Marvel comics since childhood—received the nod form Activision to record a song for "Guitar Hero," he figured it was little more than a cool new gig. Fortunately for the metal maestro, he ended up laying down most of the tracks for the karaoke-like, follow-the-notes game that has players use a guitar-shaped controller to play the game. From there, he strapped in for a wild ride as the franchise of games became a national phenomenon, popping up in bedrooms, dorms and parties everywhere. Henderson took some time away from his busy face-melting, guitar-shredding schedule to discuss his love for the teenage studs known as POWER PACK and his alter-ego: Lou Dernow.
Marvel.com: When did you get into comics in general, and Marvel specifically? Marcus Henderson: Sort of like, to me, Marvel was what you started reading when you turn six or seven. DC was always like—I don't want to slag DC or anything—but they seemed like training wheel comics to me. It was like "Oh, they're trying to hold the city ransom. Superman has to save us." But Marvel was just so real. So gritty.

Thor

And at that age I was reading my brother's comics. We were listening to some rock and roll. It was the late 70s, early 80s and I was reading THOR. [The] Wrecking Crew is like the ultimate metal band. They each had their own thing. It was all this cool stuff. While I was growing, I was always reading Marvel. Even up to POWER PACK. I don't know how many people care about them now, but they were awesome. I still love POWER PACK. I have their first issue. June Brigman's art was amazing for what it was. Some people crack on me for that, but I don't care. Marvel.com: I'm not going to bash you for the Power Pack. There's nothing wrong with that.

Power Pack

Henderson: Yeah, dude. Don't bash me for that. I know my stuff, too. I know my creators, too. I've got it together. Marvel.com: I hear you man. Henderson: And you know, I've always dreamt that if I ever had the chance to be part of a comic book...I have my alter-ego: Lou Dernow. You know, "louder now" [chuckles]. It's a lot like music. It takes a fertile imagination and a lot of creativity. And the link between music, video games and comic books is the imagination. It's influenced everything for me. Marvel.com: What books are you into now? Henderson: I'm kinda one of those guys who is still into the old stuff, and it's not because I'm sitting at home reading POWER PACK or anything. I enjoy finding old THOR comics. I really dig rereading SECRET WARS. Marvel.com: That certainly is a classic.

SECRET WARS #1

Henderson: It's just some of the most brilliant stuff. I'm thinking "man, where would we be without a lot of these things?" It's influenced so much, especially video games. Think about how different things would be if it weren't for SECRET WARS. Where would the Mortal Kombat games be without it? I loved CLOAK AND DAGGER and things like that. I tried to stay away from the more popular stuff. You know, I remember all kinds of less-than-popular characters that I was into. Union Jack, there's one. The last thing anything wants is to be prodded by someone named Union Jack with something called a silver dirk, dude. I was a fan of Hawkeye, too. I liked the little guys. But like I said before, Marvel just had more realistic [stories], and the character development was second to none. I can say, without a doubt, that Marvel directly affected the person I am today. I was into the really obscure, strange stuff. I still have my issues of PETER PORKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER HAM (laughing). Marvel.com: Hell yeah, Peter Porker! What about specific writers or artists? Is there anyone that really stands out? Henderson: I think [artist] Keith Pollard is a legend. I've always loved his old THOR stuff, not to mention everything else he did. But you know, nothing can beat Stan "The Man." First and foremost, I'm a huge fan of Stan Lee. Nothing could keep me away from his stuff. Then there's [inker] Bob Wiacek, he was great. I mean, it goes beyond comic books. You know, old comedy magazines. Will Elder and Jack Davis. And I referenced June Brigman. She was just amazing to me.

"Guitar Hero"

Marvel.com: So you're a big Marvel comics fan from way back and you've done all the "Guitar Hero" stuff. Does that make you the biggest geek in the world? Henderson: It does put me in the top 10, at least [laughs heavily]. Seriously, though, you'd be surprised how many guys [in music] are into comics. Scott Ian from Anthrax is a big comic book fan. The drummer from System of a Down had his entire drum set covered in art from some of the best comic book artists around. There are just so many people like that. [For a] lot of us in music, comics are just such a big part of our lives. I know plenty of guys who've been reading since they were kids and go out every week on [Wednesday] and get it all. Marvel.com: It's always nice to hear that. People talk about how they "grew out of comics," but it's always good to hear that other people realize that comics transcend age and class. Henderson: Yeah, you're right. I mean, there's a lot to compete with today. Video games, cell phones, computers and whatnot. But I think it's a very important thing to go back and read comic books. It's a medium that takes over your entire self, and it allows all of your different senses internally to function.

Cloak and Dagger

If you're playing a video game, you're just reacting to what the screen tells you that you can or can't do. With comic books, you're forced to invest yourself emotionally into the lives and deaths of these characters. It just seems like there's such a vacuum in real life for things like courage, honor and integrity. When you turn on the television, you look for the quick media fix. You're not going to get it. You're not going to hear "the firefighters did a great job putting out those fires." You hear the bad stuff. And it sucks. It desensitizes people. And it forces them just accept whatever is handed to them negatively. As opposed to say, being a part of something. Investing yourself in something emotionally. Especially in a way that is tangible. You can hold the book. You can feel it. I have a huge stack of comics that I can pick up, hold, feel in my hand. You can't do that with a screen. You turn it off, it's gone. There's just something really honest and essential about experiencing that. Marvel.com: It's true. When you open up a comic book, you get that smell. You open it up and read it, and there's just something more there than in other mediums.

"Guitar Hero"

Henderson: Yeah dude. That's definitely the case. And every inch of those books would get read. Even the old X-ray specs ads. I'm telling you, the Hostess ads on the back, they were awesome. But you're right about that smell. It takes you back. You feel it. Marvel.com: And it's not just nostalgia. It does more than take you back. It gets you in a certain mindset. But let's move from comics to "Guitar Hero." Or, as I like to call it, "digital heroin." I picked it up once, and I haven't put it down since. Do you play it yourself? Henderson: Yeah, I play it all the time. I like to get the multi-player experience. I like to play online, too. As much as I love the game, I love my real guitar more. I need to spend time advancing my skills on the actual instrument that I'm supposed to be good at. Marvel.com: How'd you get hooked up with "Guitar Hero"? Was it a friend of a friend kind of deal, or did you really want to get involved?

"Guitar Hero"

Henderson: It's a little of both. I've wanted to get involved in video games for a while. And I had a friend who got me hooked up with an engineer at a Friedmont Studio. Then, they just asked me to record some stuff. It was supposed to be just a few songs for the game. Then I ended up recording 20 of 30 songs for "Guitar Hero", half of "Guitar Hero 2"…before you know it, it became one of the most quickly-rising experiences I've been a part of. You dream about doing something this huge. When it actually comes to life, you're thinking "Holy crap!" I try not to think about it like that, though. It's just good, because you're affecting all of these people positively. But more importantly, it represents the guitar. If it all comes back to having 10 units sold, and three or four of those kids start writing songs, it's worth it. Because that ensures that there will be good music for years to come. Marvel.com: What else do you have going on besides the "Guitar Hero" stuff at the moment?

Marcus Henderson
aka Lou Dernow

Henderson: A lot of huge stuff, dude. I've got a signature guitar coming out with Epiphone soon. It's called the Apparition, and it's totally inspired by comic book art. It's got crossed scythes that form an 'M' between the 10th and 14th fret. It's got a kill switch, real Floyd Rose and real EMG pickups. It's a work of art, and it should be out this summer. I'm also a guitar instructor at www.guitarinstructor.com. So you can go and get some real guitar lessons from there. I'm just trying to have fun and kick it. And you know, when my alter-ego Lou Dernow shows up, I'm just trying to fight evil and oppression and kick ass wherever I go. Go to my site to check out what I'm up to. Marvel.com: Any last words for the true believers? Henderson: I just want to leave the readers with one thing. I just want to say that everyone needs to be heroic in their own lives every day. You can't sit around and wait for someone to save you. The human race is the ultimate alliance.
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