Posted by: John Kane on October 8, 2011
On 7th October 1950 Howard Victor Chaykin was born. Belated Happy Birthday wishes to Howard Victor Chaykin! On 8th October 2011 I wrote this about a book he did in 1988. On…look will somebody answer that dingdanged phone!
Story and Art By Howard Victor Chaykin
Lettering by Ken Bruzenak
B&W Hardback, 136pp, £14.99/$24.99
Newly paroled jazz aficionado Cass Pollack (a Chaykin everyschmuck par excellence) lets his little head do the thinking and just may not live to regret it as the Hell beneath the veneer of Los Angeles licks its lips and prepares to give him a very black kiss indeed.
BLACK KISS was originally published as a 12 issue series by Vortex Comics in 1988. In 1988 Howard Victor Chaykin’s mighty 4 year run of comics awesome (AMERICAN FLAGG! (1984), THE SHADOW (1986), TIME (SQUARED) (1987), BLACKHAWK (1987))had allowed his career to build to escape velocity. The magical world of Television beckoned but before Howard Victor Chaykin left comics to produce shows about stuff like a man with a special car and a crime solving coroner chimp he had time for one last fond farewell to the medium that had made him the man he was. And by “fond farewell” I mean “kick in the nuts”.
The series was a pricey affair with high production values, a low page count and, clearly, complete creative freedom for the author. Given this freedom, even rarer back then than it is now, it is interesting to note that Howard Victor Chaykin chose to produce what is commonly perceived as a smut comic. Several issues came not only bagged but also with a black board protecting the quailing eyes of consumers from the artfully designed and stylishly executed erotica of the covers. There was much talk of censorship and ratings in the air at the time and it seems Howard Victor Chaykin’s response was to do all the things you weren’t supposed to do and see how they liked them apples.
“Well, nobody’s perfect…”
Howard Victor Chaykin is on record as saying that he has made more money from BLACK KISS than any other project. I guess people liked those apples just fine because, hey, forbidden fruit is always the sweetest. Another reason Howard Victor Chaykin produced a work full of people sticking bits of themselves into other people is probably because that’s the way Howard Victor Chaykin rolls. This is the kind of guy who would, around that time, spend a good portion of an interview opining about what was wrong with porn films and how that could be corrected. I’d take that as indication that Howard Victor Chaykin has high standards even where his lower entertainment is concerned. Other interpretations are possible. Given all that it is less surprising that he produced BLACK KISS and that the result is so superbly executed.
And superbly executed it is. PredictablyHoward Victor Chaykin doesn’t stint on the craft one iota; everything that made the previous 4 years of his work so innovative and damned enjoyable is present and correct. Examples? I have examples. I came prepared. Right from the off we have a page consisting of repeated panels of a phone/answerphone on a tabletop. There’s some action involving a cat running through the panels and some hilariously dirrrty OTT chat action. That’s all misdirection though. The real information is in the static elements of the panel. Because Howard Victor Chaykin understands that if its on the page it should fulfill a function. You’ll see that panel a lot through the book but it isn’t until you close the book that you’ll realize how much of what you read was contained in it. I love that panel.
Then there’s the dialogue. This is pretty much dialogue-driven but unlike today’s dialogue-drunk drivers Howard Victor Chaykin understands and respects dialogue with regard to the work he’s producing. Through the use of well-honed and finely buffed wordplay information is conveyed effectively and concisely. Yes, the big thing about Howard Victor Chaykin’s dialogue is its efficiency and polish. The things people say are important whether in revealing their character or crucial plot points yet they are also often important in how they disguise the same information. As with the phone panels the words are on the page because they fulfill a function. If it’s there whether in word, image or a combination thereof it’s because it needs to be. There’s no fat on these bones. Or on Howard Victor Chaykin’s. Have you seen that guy, he’s 61 and he hasn’t stopped dancing yet!
“You’ve got some mouth on you, lady.”
As usual the plot is a sliver of a thing but as usual Howard Victor Chaykin uses elision, obfuscation, brisk pacing and sheer overload to keep you disorientated and guessing until all comes clear precisely and exactly when he wants it to. Basically he replaces complication with confusion but he does it so well and in such a way that the mental pleasure when all parts unite is quite delightful. It helps that while the plot is straightforward his treatment is not. Sure, BLACK KISS is a smut comic but it is many other things beside. It’s a musky mélange of smut, crime, horror, conspiracy thriller and screwball comedy. There’s a certain level of artistry alone in simply keeping such disparate elements from working against each other but there’s another level of artistry involved in finding the common ground that retains each genre’s individuality so that there is never a moment of jarring transition. Until the end when he purposely allows the various genres to collapse into a gang-bang al a the end of the porn he is so effectively imitating.
Oh, don’t put your pants back on, it’s fiesta of filth alright it’s just lots of other things too. There’s something for everybody’s inner freak here except maybe scat fans. They’ll just have to make do with their Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth albums I guess. Structurally it lures you in innocuously enough with some naughty role-play then proceeds to progressively up the ante until by the end while sex is involved, well, if this is the kind of situation you flick and tickle your mind with late at night then might I suggest the number of a trained mental health professional? Up until then it’ll probably make the old bald man cry more surely than an honest review of NEW AVENGERS.
“That point one issue was a real return to fo-RaaarRRLpphhh!”
Also I may be forcing this one in but I think BLACK KISS is About Stuff. You all know I have a weakness for stuff being About Stuff and her it is again raising it’s ugly head. During the book Pollack’s path is clearly one of expanding awfulness. Like the common perception of the addicts fall. A bit like starting out with the innocuous airbrushed ladies of MAXIM and before you know it waking up one morning to find your PC full of scat videos and the FBI outside your house in a white van. I think there’s a reason Cass Pollack is a recovering substance abuser is all I’m saying. I’m certain I’m not driving too hard or deep when I say that the relationship between Beverly and Dagmar is a scabrously witty attack on those who let their influences overpower their individuality. Y’know, like those fans who lack any kind of self awareness and are constantly banging on about their object of adoration. Hey, don’t look at me, there’s no way I’m having surgery to look like HVC, it’d require having my shins removed at least and I hear that smarts like chili paste on your woo-woo.
“Everyone’s a critic!”
Its not a one man show though. Ken Bruzenak is also here on these pages and Ken Bruzenak is at it again, leaving most other comics letterers in the dust. His usual delightful design sense is present but more sparsely than usual. As though in compensation Howard Victor Chaykin gives him two moments that depend on the lettering to succeed. Well, depend on the lettering and the fact that you aren’t too concerned with what’s happening in your pants to be paying attention. The lesser of these involves a character, a cat and a cigarette providing a neat summation of said characters less appealing qualities. The other involves a character and a fly. This latter scene occurs early in the book and is an important indicator of a character’s true nature as well as being a homage to a certain novel about a certain count. No, not Monte Cristo. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, okay!
“Was it “on” or “off”?”
Ultimately talking about BLACK KISS without revealing too much is pretty trying. In fact almost as trying as I’m sure you found reading this far but I hope I’ve succeeded in at least suggesting that its far more than a jazz rag and the pleasures of craft contained within are more lasting and rewarding than those resulting from a quick hand shandy. BLACK KISS judged as comics is VERY GOOD! don’t let the schlongs and profanity put you off.
Howard Victor Chaykin, eh? Happy Birthday! Here’s to the next 61 years!