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“DIMINISHING Your Enemy DOESN’T defeat Him.” COMICS! Sometimes Ken’s Hair is Brushed And Parted!

John Kane

So, the nights are drawing in and we’ve had a full dance card over here what with begging sweets from strangers, burning effigies and firing explosives into the sky. Inbetween all that I read some comics and wrote about them. I did it as and when, so I’ve just put this together now from scraps and I can’t even remember writing most of it. Hopefully you won’t remember reading it. Anyway, this…

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Art by Howard Victor Chaykin
Written by Matt Fraction
Lettering & Logo by Ken Bruzenak
Digital Production by Jed Dougherty
Cover Colour by Jesus Arbutov
Designed by Drew Gill
Edited by Thomas K (still no relation)
Satellite Sam created by Howard Victor Chaykin and Matt Fraction
Image Comics, $3.50 (2013)

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While on a rare physical manifestation to my LCS recently (I’ve been travelling; not for work just to throw the FBI off my trail) I asked what the response to this series was and my LCS owner said, “Weeeeeeeeell, people don’t hate this as much as his other stuff.” Hilariously, he meant Howard Victor Chaykin rather than Matt Fraction. Matt Fraction! The man who does more Tumbling than The Flying Graysons after the shots rang out! Try the veal! Apparently SATELLITE SAM is an on-going not, as I thought, a limited series; explains much this does. Mostly it explains the total lack of focus and failure of any of the narrative threads to engage my attention on anything other than a, “Oooooh, research!”, level. I guess there’s some free-form vamping jazz-scatting shabbeey-doo-waaa going on writing wise. That would explain much but it wouldn’t excuse any of it.

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There’s a lot of, sigh, craft here but it’s not paying off for me. Maybe too much craft? Or maybe too much showing off. Showboating should come after you nail the basics, I’m thinking. But I’m not a writer so. Y’know…Basically Fraction’s comics remind me of a puppy that can walk on its back legs or do that creepy shake hands thing but still has a tendency to leave a surprise behind the sofa when no one’s looking. He’s a mixed bag is what I’m saying.

Take the gusset sequence last issue…please! That took up some major page real estate and you could almost hear his neck pop as he inclined his head (modestly, always modestly) for applause. But, c’mon, I need an Editor, stat! That sequence could have been halved (just keep the pages of the people at the table; give your readers some credit!) to double the comic effect (strictly speaking doubling zero is still zero but…). Hmmm, and yet, and yet then the world would have been denied HVC’s gusset panel. Who would deny HVC his gussets? I pity the man who gets between HVC and his gussets. I’m referring there to the last issue because I can’t remember what happened in this issue. Well, I can, but it seems like everything that happened in this issue had already happened at least once in the previous issues. Sure, sure, I hear the cries, this comic may be as exciting as watching cardboard swell in the rain but look at that craft! Craft, yeah, great. Craft’s a foundation you build on it’s not the finished product. Mind you, I’m not a writer so, y’know…Anyhow, with SATELLITE SAM Fraction attempts a faux Chaykin, which is cheeky because that’s Mrs Chaykin’s job. A bit of blue there to extend my demographic appeal. Kids like filth, right? It’s kind of a Howard Victor Chaykin comic; if Howard Victor Chaykin had never left his house. It’s not exactly riveting is what I’m saying there. Still, Fraction obviously butters Chaykin’s parsnips well because the art here is quite, quite lovely. Oh, and The Bruise is slumming it here as plain Ken Bruzenak but he’s still inventive as all get out. I really like his ‘invisible’ balloons and his subtle doubling on the loudspeaker chat from last issue. Or was it this issue? Wait, is every issue of SATELLITE SAM the same but with the pages in a different order? Yes, there’s still a tendency for HVC’s art to include character-float and counter-intuitive levels of detail in crowd scenes but he seems pretty engaged with this stuff. Far more than I am in fact; so SATELLITE SAM just gets GOOD!


Art & Cover by Emma Rios
Script by Kelly Sue deConnick
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Edits by Sigrid Ellis
Image Comics, $3.50 (2013)
Pretty Deadly created by Emma Rios & kelly Sue DeConnick

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And it is. Pretty, that is. Probably not deadly though. Unless you roll it up and jam it down your throat, or maybe set fire to it and jump in a vat of gasoline, or maybe…you’d have to try hard is what I’m getting at there. I liked this and I mostly liked it for the visual aspect. Here I’m including the whole art/colours/letters synery thang, because it all worked together real sweetly. Ayup, a really quite visually impressively thing this comic was. I enjoyed many things about the visuals but the following floated to the top of my air filled head: the visual distinction with which Emma Rios defined the characters; the clear differentiation of textures, again by Rios but also Jordie Bellaire; the fact that there was not a little Colin Wilson about it all (altho’ the main debt is to that Paul Pope/Nathan Fox shabby energy thang) ; the hot pink of bullet trails in the desert dark which would be Bellaire alone; the fact that the Rios’ whores looked like normal women with bodies subject to gravity; the tricksy but comprehensible page layouts, probably DeConnick and Rios; the variations within the lettering from Clayton Cowles and the attention and care with which the purposefully varied and distinct colour palettes were applied throughout by Bellaire. It was good stuff.

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That good in fact that I barely noticed it was called upon to illustrate what were basically standard genre scenes bolted together with the kind of mysterious supernatural vagueness that arises when you go out of your way to avoid clearly explaining anything. It’s the kind of comic which has the title character appear on the last page and I’m guessing it’s also the kind that won’t actually have got around to setting the premise in place until the fifth issue. Note to comic book writers: people don’t live forever, so get a fucking move on. The writing’s not bad but it is very (very) concerned that you notice it. That whole kid at the back of the stage trying to attract its parent’s attention thing. Oh, fret not, I certainly noticed the writing but mostly because it teetered precariously on the precipice of preciousness. Luckily the fantastically evocative and atmospheric art managed to prevent the whimsy from becoming too cloying. Had I not warmed to the visuals quite so readily reading this this would have been akin to choking on Turkish Delight. At points it made Caitlin R Kiernan read like Helen Zahavi. It’s just not a style I warm to, is what I’m saying there. That doesn’t make it an invalid style or the writing itself bad in and of itself (that’s important; I should maybe mention that). There’s some back matter but since I’m not really one for all that simultaneously self-abnegating/self mythologising (you have to fail to succeed! You have to fall to fly! You have to die to live! You have to poo to eat! Marvel at the sparkle on the diamond of my life! I mean share in my enjoyment of the sparkle on the diamond of my life! Share! Well, after you’ve paid £3.99, soul sister, soul brother!!) stuff today’s comic scribes peddle we’ll move swiftly on. I give this VERY GOOD! If you get through life pretending it’s a movie and you’re the star you can probably go up a grade. Hey, whatever gets you through this vale of shite.

Art and Script by Howard Victor Chaykin
Colours by Jesus Arbuto
Lettering by Kenneth Bruzenak
Pin-up (p.22) by Jed Dougherty
Buck Rogers created by Philip Francis Nowlan
Hermes Press, $3.99 (2013)

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In which amends are made for the first issue omission and  Ken Bruzenak not only gets credited as letterer but is credited as Kenneth Bruzenak! Ooh-la-la! Kenneth, yet! I do so hope Kenneth lettered with his pinky stuck out and all gussied up in his tux and spats; this being a formal shindig donchew know! Kenneth’s lettering here is still bubbly and fun because no matter how shiny his shoes – he’s still The Bruise! Oh, and Jesus Arbuto steadfastly continues to colour this like he’s got peyote on a drip; which works just great in this madhouse of a future setting. You will recall that the last issue of BUCK ROGERS was pretty good but this issue is actually even better. There’s always humour in a Howard Victor Chaykin comic but he’s rarely embraced the comedic so blatantly as he does here. Successfully too I might add; I know I laughed several times. When Buck displayed his pragmatism by avoiding detection with a brutal act of unkindness I laughed like I had a flip top head.

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So there’s verbal sparring, comedic bickering, and some dark, dark laffs too as HVC confronts the racism of this world he has built, and basically tells everyone to knock that shit off. Humour not for humour’s sake but humour with a purpose. Visually it’s still Alimony Age Chaykin, so you know if you like that. And I know you don’t. Luckily I like it enough for all of us! The real standout is his breackneck don’t-sweat-the-details pacing and bracing wit. There’s even a slight “kids, today!” subtext that pays off with a man weeping to music anybody reading this would have to Google. BUCK ROGERS is funny, serious and, hey, got the sun in my eye here, cough, whisper it: moving. That’s not a bad range to cover in a book about a man in jodhpurs with a jet pack. Boy, I don’t know who this young turk Howard Victor Chaykin is but I sure like the cut of his jib! Kenneth too! Hell, Jesus is pretty good on this comic as well. There’s a sentence my Sunday School teachers never thought I’d write! This issue takes BUCK ROGERS up to VERY GOOD! But you knew that because you’re already buying it, right! Whoa, that cleared the room.

And remember: we can tear each other apart but God help the fool who tears up – COMICS!!!

9 Responses to “ “DIMINISHING Your Enemy DOESN’T defeat Him.” COMICS! Sometimes Ken’s Hair is Brushed And Parted! ”

  1. I wish I had more to say other than that your posts are consistently a treat, but there you go. Also, seeing as you’re a stickler for creator rights, I’m letting you know that I will be stealing this line:

    “Note to ______: people don’t live forever, so get a fucking move on.”

    So good.

  2. Really liking Buck Rogers far more than I anticipated.

  3. @Cass:That’s uncommonly nice of you to say, sir. Steal away, steal away. You big old flatter pants you.

    @Eric: I do like the way you sound surprised!

    Cheers to all and may all your comics be awesome!

  4. Have you read Shaolin Cowboy #2? Its literally 33 pages of a dude chainsawing through zombies drawn by Geoff Darrow. I don’t know if I should be pissed I paid $4 for it or utterly amazed, and I need your help. Also, can you open this pickle jar for me?

  5. @Michael: Thanks for asking;, I am never happier than when I am telling someone what to think!

    No, I have not read Shaolin Cowboy #2. But I have read Shaolin Cowboy #1. It is literally 33 pages of a dude climbing out of a hole and then getting ready to chainsaw through zombies drawn by Geoff Darrow. I think the important thing here is “drawn by Geoff Darrow”. This means it is pure COMICS!!! mainlined through your eyes and is thus EXCELLENT!



    Also, here’s your pickles but, honestly, I think you’d already loosened it a bit.

  6. Very funny! Just saw this, and I can’t really comment on the content of your reviews, other than to say I do agree with some parts. And FYI, “Kenneth” was not my doing — credits not integrated into the art are usually done by someone else, to facilitate those foreign sales I get no part of. Nobody ever asks me what I want to be called — so la-di-da back atcha. I’m just trying to make a living without whoring myself TOO cheaply.

  7. @Ken (Kenneth) Bruzenak: Well that’s a proper turn up for the books! If you’d called ahead we’d have got the best china out! As it is you’ll have to settle for my thanks in return for your illuminating comment. I did not know about other hands doing the non-art lettering and nor did I realise you never saw any of that yen, drachma or pounds sterling your work bring in. (Comics as an industry is extraordinarly shy about reimbursing its artistic talent is it not?) I really enjoyed your BUCK ROGERS series; I thought you and Jesus Arbutov and that other fellow (can’t bring the bally name to mind right now) gelled real well on that. Anyway, I hope you weren’t too put out by my shameless nonsense. It was all meant in jest and respectfully so. You’re King Ken chez Kane. The Power Behind Chaykin’s Throne! Never mind “cheap”, you make ’em pay through the nose! There’s only one Ken Bruzenak! Call him by name!

    Cheers and my very best to you!

  8. Just kiss the ring.

    Yes, Buck Rogers was one of the better projects, along with The Shadow. Howard’s black and white work is an illustration textbook of textures and brushwork, but we do live in a color-filled world. Jesus and I are brilliant, of course, but the engine on this train IS that Chaykin fella, and we just live in his world (to scramble a lot of metaphors). Your shameless nonsense is sorta flattering, so I take no umbrage, and feel free to fling away. The only criticism I have taken note of lately was someone objecting to the balloon tails being confusing on Buck. We are decades away from the Kirby-model of comics, and some people still want the same old lumpy balloons and tails stabbing people in the head. It’s strange they like Chaykin but resist his design aesthetic, which I bust my balls to complement. Maybe they are the ones that keep copies of Black Kiss under their mattress

    And as far as I know, there is indeed only one Ken Bruzenak. Sometimes known as Kenneth. I only go by Kenny if there is a possibility of sex, preferably not alone.

  9. @Ken (Kenneth) Bruzenak: Hello! I didn’t know you were a papist. I’m learning all sorts here! Ho, ho, ho! No offence to Jesus (I loved typing that) but I think HVC’s work looks a lot stronger in B&W but, as you say, it’s a colour world.

    I don’t think I moaned about your balloons (but I may have? I’m a stranger to myself sometimes) I did think your recent balloon work on BUCK ROGERS and SATELLITE SAM harked back to Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDON though. Was that not on purpose? I liked ’em, particularly the blunt ends. I also like both HVC and his aesthetic; my BLACK KISS is on the bookshelf (out of the kids’ reach, natch).

    You stay in good health now and thanks everso for taking the time.



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