Inside Nikki Sixx's "The Heroin Diaries" Graphic Novel

By David Konow 10/03/17

The visual language of graphic novels was crucial for readers to try and understand what Sixx went through.

Cover of The Heroin Diaries
A closer look at Nikki Sixx's addiction memoir turned graphic novel, The Heroin Diaries. Image via The Heroin Diaries

Nikki Sixx’s addiction memoir, The Heroin Diaries, is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary, and not only has the book been reissued, but a graphic novel adaptation will also be released on October 24th.

While Heavy Metal magazine has never been a publication about metal music per se, it turns out they’re the perfect graphic novel company to adapt Diaries. Heavy Metal’s groundbreaking artwork and adult storytelling was not just influential on the future of graphic novels, but the magazine’s vision was also inspiring to filmmakers and musicians as well. (Ridley Scott used to read Heavy Metal regularly, and you can see the magazine's influence in Alien and Blade Runner.)

As Sixx said in a statement, “The Heroin Diaries has always been deeply personal to me. So when the idea came up for a graphic novel based on the story, who better to partner with than the iconic Heavy Metal brand? I grew up reading their magazine as a kid. This is really a passion project and I’ve been intimately involved in every step along the way, from the storyline to the look and feel of the art.”

Editor Rantz Hoseley is a crucial member of the Heavy Metal team who has helped bring The Heroin Diaries graphic novel to life. The adaptation is being done through a new imprint for the company, 12x12, which will focus on musical artists.

As Hoseley tells The Fix, “This has been one of the more challenging projects I’ve done in the 30 years I’ve worked in graphic novels, but it’s also been one of the most exciting, and I’m looking forward to people having it in their hands.” (The Heroin Diaries adaptation will be available in a 12x12 album format, making it even cooler for fans to collect.)

As the anniversary for the publication of The Heroin Diaries grew near, Heavy Metal was in contact with Nikki’s management about doing a graphic novel adaptation of the book, and Hoseley was eager to jump onboard.

“I think that The Heroin Diaries is one of the most powerful looks into addiction and the mindset you go through as an addict, so there was a big appeal for us to get it out to a bigger audience,” Hoseley says. “From a creative standpoint, we felt we could amplify Nikki’s experiences, and hopefully bring some greater understanding and insight to people that are struggling with addiction. So we started talking about it from there.”

Sixx was very hands on with the adaptation, and as Hoseley continues, “Nikki and I were very much on the same page for what the goals were for the graphic novel, and we were off and running. Whether it’s the initial plot breakdown, the script, the layouts, the finished art colors, there hasn’t been anything Nikki hasn’t been involved with.”

Hoseley had previously done a graphic novel with Tori Amos, Comic Book Tattoo, and he says when you’re working with musical artists, “You have your initial meetings where you hammer through what your graphic novel needs to be, and more importantly, what it doesn’t need to be. In a story like this, Nikki and I thought it was important not to sugarcoat it, and have it be unflinching. But at the same time, it shouldn’t be the Hollywood tale of excess kind of thing that could run into the danger of glamorizing it. It should be painfully clear how close the thread is between being in this life, and leaving this life when you reach that point in your struggle with addiction.”

There are three artists who have brought The Heroin Diaries to life as a graphic novel: Danijel Zezeli, Andy Kuhn, and Keiron Dwyer. Hoeseley says that bringing Zezelj aboard was a major “get” for the adaptation. “There’s a certain level of corruption to the sexiness of his art. It has the take no prisoners, rock n roll kind of mentality, but there’s also a sense of decay occurring in how the work is rendered. You can feel the façade peeling and flaking off, and the darker underbelly seeping through. That was important to me.”

In fact, the graphic novel has three distinct sections, including the rock n roll façade that Nikki presents to the world while the ugly reality of his life has its own distinct landscape. (The third section of the graphic novel has Nikki narrating the story with an introduction and an intermission.)

Early samples of Zezeli’s artwork for Diaries that have been released to the press are reminiscent of the Sin City graphic novel, and it also recalls some of the frenetic artwork that Gerald Scarfe created for Hunter Thompson and Pink Floyd. As Hoseley explains, the visual language of graphic novels was crucial for readers to try and understand what Sixx went through.

“I’m a big believer that you can do things in the comic format that you can’t do in TV, film, or a book,” he says. “There are some interesting things we felt we could do in terms of layering our adaptation to add resonance to the kind of things you’d experience as an addict, and it’s necessary to convey that in a visual sense. We had an artist doing the internal monolog of Nikki’s worst moments as a drug addict, then another artist doing more of the slick rock star façade he put on. On a more subtle level, we were trying to make it clear that just because someone seems to have everything, you don’t necessarily know what’s going on in their private life. Everyone has their struggles, and nothing is as glamorous or as polished as it seems.”

Heavy Metal is hopeful The Heroin Diaries adaptation will do well, and considering the book was a best-seller, there’s no reason to think it won’t be successful. But Sixx and the Heavy Metal gang have a different criteria for success with this project.

There have been a number of books that have had a big impact on scaring people into recovery, like the John Belushi tell-all Wired, and the alcoholic memoir I’ll Cry Tomorrow. The Heroin Diaries also had the same effect in getting people sober, and Hoseley is hoping the graphic novel will continue to help people, as well as inspire other graphic novels about addiction and recovery.

“I know it’s a motivation from Nikki’s point of view,” Hoseley says. “The best entertainment sticks with you and makes you think afterwards. Someone suffering from addiction could be loudly screaming that they’re in control, they can handle it, but there’s also that quiet voice that comes to you on occasion that says, ‘You’re kinda over the line here, maybe you should stop and think.’ If we can add some amplification to that voice, and get people on a better path for themselves, that’s the mark of success.”

Hoseley also hopes that The Heroin Diaries adaptation will create stronger empathy in people who don’t understand addiction. “There’s a lot of indie comic books that deal with personal struggles, but they deal with issues of personal neurosis more than they’re dealing with things like addiction,” he says. “I see this as a bit of a gateway drug in a way. There are people who read graphic novels who may not be aware of the issues surrounding addiction, and the battles that people can go through on a daily, if not hourly basis. This could expand that awareness. If this helps make people aware of that, and can change a few minds and people’s outlooks on addiction, then that’s great.”

As Sixx added in a statement, “Over the last ten years, I’ve met so many people who have thanked me for The Heroin Diaries and say it saved their lives. But the truth is, writing The Heroin Diaries saved my life too.” 

Pre-order 10th anniversary editions of the memoir and soundtrack album, as well as the graphic novel, here.

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.