Monday, June 28, 2010
I’ll send ya a love letter… straight from my heart, fucker! You know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker! You receive a love letter from me… you’re fucked forever! You understand, fuck?I’ll send you straight to hell, fucker!
-Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), Blue Velvet
Like some haunting refrain of a long forgotten pop song or like David Lynch’s dreamy, uneasy nostalgia – Shaky Kane’s comics take me away to a place in space that is beyond past or future.
Written by David Hine, The Bulletproof Coffin is finally a vehicle for Mr. Kane to stretch out in and take us all for a ride. Hine has provided Kane with three narrative levels to engage the reader. There is reality, there is fantasy and there is the documentation of reality, y’know, simulacra or whatever it’s called. And Shaky Kane, the guy who has to draw it all, wisely chooses three styles to depict each realm. The styles are different enough from each other yet cohesive enough to make it all “hang together” narratively as well as symbolically.
The story concerns a company that hauls away dead people’s stuff. Well, they’re more like Repo Men. Scavenging valuables before it all ends up in a landfill. One of the movers, Steve Newman, likes to cherry pick choice bits from each estate he visits. He has a collector’s mind and fills his “den” at home with lots of pop culture detritus: old toys, a Manson poster, rayguns, old TVs, old comics; the usual stuff for a guy who likes wacky shit. It’s an interesting way to pinpoint exactly what type of guy Newman is. He’s obsessive and probably a little like you if you’re reading this blog about comics.
So, Steve Newman, finds a stack of old “Golden Nugget” comics at this house. Except it’s no ordinary house. A Hitchcock’s Psycho of a house sinking into the earth with a giant door-knocker in the shape of a fly. The house is like someone’s own private batcave with esoteric memorabilia and fascinating personal junk laying about. All just where the old man left it when he died. The comics Steve finds are a run of books he’s crazy about from long ago. Like a dream come true he realizes that these comics are ones HE DOESN’T HAVE…a collector’s wet dream for sure. He was convinced these were canceled but there they are in his hands smelling of printer’s ink like they were hot off the presses.
These comics within the comic are by “Hine and Kane”, two old hands who were crushed by the industry and who went their separate ways. After Golden Nugget folded, Hine went to work for the mainstream publishers and Kane slipped away into obscurity. Cleverly, Hine and Kane (the real ones) have worked their own biographies into the comic itself. At the risk of giving away one of the sweet subtle hooks of this comic, I gotta say that it’s an ingenious way of playing with the form of comics itself. So much of being a comics reader has always been this understanding of how characters and stories stand in for their creators. Jack Kirby is Galactus. Roy Crane is Captain Easy. They, the authors, lead us on their adventure through the form itself. And the adventure that Hine and Kane lead us on is a shadowy tale of penetrating different realms of thought, of reality. The real comic, the one in my hands, fires my mind on to a Habitrail I’m used to going thru as a collector myself; as someone who likes to puzzle together the pieces of some obscure creator’s life and scattered works. So using this hook as part of the unfolding narrative of the “real comic” is, to me, genius. And fucking funny as hell.
And it’s this humor that sort of balances out the darkness that lurks beneath the brightly colored palette of the reality depicted. There is a wonderful interplay between the colors of the “real world” and the darker tones of the comics that Steve Newman finds and reads in the story. And here Kane’s style shifts slightly to depict the fantasy world of the unearthed comics. One of the comics, The Unforgiving Eye, is reprinted in full in the “real” comic. Are you following that? It’s so meta, dude. But it ain’t hokey, it’s an advanced look into all of our own impenetrable fixations on the world less ordinary. It’s such a sweet hook and makes this book really sing for me.
And then the story takes an even darker turn, really, and I just can’t bear to give it away here in this review. But I gotta give you the set-up, True Believers, so here it is: Our hero, Steve Newman, also brought home an old television from the same house. A coin operated dinosaur of a thing. It fits right in with all his other junk he has in his own batcave, hidden away from his loving wife and twin sons. Here, in the real world of Steve Newman, Kane’s style is bright, with less spotted blacks than in The Unforgiving Eye, more Geoff Darrow-esque line work. Anyways, the TV. After reading The Unforgiving Eye up in his batcave, Steve digs out an old American quarter dollar coin and fires up the coin operated television. And here, Kane’s style shifts subtly again to depict the world on the screen. Like a Lost Highway riff Steve sees something on the screen that he shouldn’t be seeing. He looks into some past or some future where he finds himself on the screen as well. It’s fucking creepy. I can’t wait to see where this story goes in issue two.
The Bulletproof Coffin is a love letter straight from the heart. It’s a bullet from a fucking gun.