Guest List: Sara Kenney Dissects the Music Behind Surgeon X

Comics Features Sara Kenney
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Guest List: Sara Kenney Dissects the Music Behind <i>Surgeon X</i>

In Guest List, Paste’s favorite artists and auteurs reveal the music that’s inspired some of their most seminal works.

Gonorrhea may steal the most headlines for its biological defiance against antibiotics and other treatments, but it’s certainly not the only bug to shrug off modern medicine; antibiotic-resistant infections have many in the field referring to the threat as an epidemic, if not worse. This dose of reality makes new Image comic Surgeon X one of the most relevant, and borderline prescient, fictions on stands. The series unfolds around Rosa Scott, the titular surgeon who uses unconventional black market means like snake toxin and future-forward tech to help heal the chaotic England of 2036.

Writer Sara Kenney, artist John Watkiss and editor Karen Berger sew a volatile mix of science, politics and drama into one family’s attempt to mend society on the operating table of London. And though Kenney utilizes a secondary masthead of surgeons and sociologists for the book’s reference, she’s put just as much thought into the personality, mood and music behind each character. Take the robust 13 playlists she’s crafted alongside her husband to flesh out the cast. In this guest list entry, Kenney walks Paste through the “health goth” phase of protagonist Scott, brimming with…lots of music the editors admittedly listen to in their free time. Surgeon X’s second issue releases tomorrow.

Sara Kenney on the Role Music Plays in Surgeon X

Music for me is an adventurer’s dream and writer’s compass. You can time-travel with music. It can take you back to certain periods in your life and re-ignite immense emotions. It can take you forward in time when you imagine places you’d like to go and things you want to do. Music can transport you to other worlds, cultures and invented lands. Music can help you grow—our house was always filled with my mum singing and playing guitar, and those songs I now sing to my kids. Music can help you grieve. When my dad died, because the toxic fumes he breathed in at work destroyed his lungs, I spent two hours a day for a month walking fast along the beach listening to music…it was undoubtedly a healing force.

I was a student at Sussex University in the early ‘90s who used to go to all the free parties on Shoreham Beach and Black Rocks, before the Criminal Justice Bill made it illegal. An old raver at heart, my love of electronica will never die. But meeting my husband opened my mind to all sorts of other music. Oli and I met through one of my best friends from university, music journalist Joe Muggs, at a night called I Love Acid, which used to run at Corsica Studios in Elephant and Castle in London.

Surgeon X #1 Cover Art by John Watkiss

Music is a massive part of my life, so I wanted to create musical playlists for each of my characters in Surgeon X. I hope it will help the audience get an insight into the characters’ psyches. Oli created the playlists for Surgeon X and also composed the music for the Surgeon X app for all the documentaries and animations. He works as a music consultant for a company called C-Burn that provides playlists to shops, restaurants and bars, so has an incredible knowledge of music. As a composer and playlister, he totally gets what I want to say with the music. We’d discuss the characters and talk about the sort of music they would enjoy.

The Surgeon X story is set 20 years in the future, so [series protagonist] Rosa Scott would have been 18-years-old here, now in 2016. In my head she was a health goth, trying to fit in with people. Feeling a bit lonely and isolated, but also very sure of herself in many ways—the problem lies with everyone else. Rosa loves her indie and hip hop. As Surgeon X, she loves classical, but also experimental ambient from Aphex Twin to Nils Frahm and Susumu Yokota.

Surgeon X #3 Cover Art by John Watkiss

Martha Scott, her twin sister, loves history and is inspired by music from the past: swing, blues and boogie woogie. Lewis Scott, born in 2011, is into his electronica and club music. John Scott is a total and massive jazz snob; he thinks you’re a moron if you don’t get/love jazz. Mai Watkins loves her jungle and drum & bass. Caspar Moss is a rock man and Nuella Powell, well she’s my guilty pleasure and I can imagine her listening to her playlist crying into a big bottle of gin with lipstick and eyeliner smeared across her face….

Listening to the playlists created for Surgeon X I hope will give you a window into the world of each character, a world, which in my mind, is impossible to convey through words or pictures. When all else fails and the end of the world is nigh, let us consume music. For me, it’s like a massive, warm audio hug whenever you need it!

The Rosa Scott Playlist: Indie, Dream Pop, Shoegaze


1. “Vapour Trail,” Ride

2. “Mercy Seat,” Ultra Vivid Scene

3. “Feel It All Around,” Washed Out

4. “Fade Into You,” Mazzy Star

5. “Lullaby,” The Cure

6. “Silver,” Caribou

7. “American Daydream,” Electric Guest

8. “It’s Choade My Dear,” Connan Mockasin

9. “I L U,” School Of Seven Bells

10. “Soon,” My Bloody Valentine

11. “Time to Find Me (AFX Fast Mix),” Seefeel

12. “Loop the Loop, “ Wild Beasts

13. “Slowdive, Slowdive

14. “Heaven or Las Vegas,” Cocteau Twins

15. “Queen,” Perfume Genius

16. “Don’t Take My Soul,” Jane Waver

Other Surgeon X Spotify Playlists from Sara Kenney:
Rosa Scott (Hip Hop & R&B)
Rosa Scott Music for Surgery (Classical, Experimental, Ambient)
Martha Scott (Boogie Woogie & Rocking Blues)
Martha Scott (Swing)
Lewis Scott (Base, Dubstep, Heavy Electronic)
Lewis Scott (Electronica Mellow)
Lewis Scott (Electronica Techno)
Mai Watkins (New Wave, Punk)
Mai Watkins (New Wave, Punk)
Caspar Moss (Psych, Prog & Classic Rock)
Caspar Moss (Metal, Heavy Rock)
Nuella Powell (Power Ballads, Rock)