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He’s Still “The Only Bear On The C.I.A. Death List!” COMICS! Sometimes SHAKO! Speaks!

John Kane

Rejoice fans of quality reviews! For to celebrate the release of the SHAKO! TPB collection I decided not to review it. For a start I won’t have any money until Christmas is over. And I’m talking there about the first Christmas after MiracleBoy leaves home in about 2025. No, I decided to do something else instead to celebrate this momentous occasion. What follows is not entirely sane but then again what is, my American friends, what is?!?
ShakoPlot, Now, that's exposition!

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Most importantly of course I decided not to review the SHAKO! TPB as I already reviewed its contents HERE. You will of course remember that vividly because you have nothing else to do but remember badly written old posts on The Savage Critics. So, there didn’t seem much point in going over it again but it also seemed a bit shoddy to let the occasion pass uncommemorated. Because as much as I love 2000AD’s SHAKO! (and, boy, do I love SHAKO!) I never thought it would be collected. Truly, these are the days.

Your luck was in though as since I am a Savage Critic I, naturally, know loads of people in Comics, or as we gifted insiders call it – The Biz. And using my “juice” I reached out and managed to get the contact details for the star of the book, SHAKO! himself. SHAKO! has kept a low profile since his 2000AD appearance moving into the area of plumbing due to the “perennial” nature of the work and the reliable income it provides for a family oriented bear like SHAKO!. SHAKO! still retains fond memories of his comics work and remained humble and gracious throughout our encounter. Because encounter SHAKO! I did. In fact, as his van was in the garage, I arranged to meet him around the corner from his house at a caff where we both tucked into a full English courtesy of The Savage Critics’ robust expense account. The following conversation ensued:

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JK: SHAKO!’s quite an unusual name for a bear isn’t it?

SHAKO!:
No, not really. Although in the strip it claims  “It means simply…KILLER!” or some other such guff. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – it’s actually Inuit for Grace Of The Sun’s Soft Fade. Sorry to disillusion everyone there.

JK: Ha! I can see why Mills’ went for “…KILLER!” That’s more in line with the spirit of the strip. Were you ever bothered by the levels of violence? I mean the audience for this was largely children after all…

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SHAKO!: No, no. You can’t mollycoddle children. The world is full of things children shouldn’t be exposed to but they have a quite unerring radar when it comes to locating them. I mean, sure, it was over the top but it could have been worse. Look, it isn’t complicated; do you know the only sure way to stop your kids from finding your jazz mags in the airing cupboard?

JK: Er, no.

SHAKO!: Don’t have any jazz mags in your airing cupboard.

JK: Er.

SHAKO!: C’mon, who’s going to tell the world it can’t have its jazz mags? It just doesn’t work like that! So inoculating the little blighters was, I guess, the intention behind all that newsprint nastiness. Of course by jazz mags I mean violence. I’m sorry, I had a late call out last night to bleed a pensioner’s radiators. I ‘m still a bit tired, not as young as I was y’know. I’m no Spring bear! Could we keep it lighter maybe?

JK: Sure. Sure. You were kidding a bit back there weren’t you?

SHAKO!: Yeah, heh. Polar bears love deadpan, what can I say?

JK: I thought so, it’s just hard to tell with the snout and the fur and all that.

SHAKO!: That does help with the deadpan. Still, I mean the violence in my strip was nothing compared to that in HOOK JAW. That was like, well, I don’t know what that was like! It was off the scale. I’m amazed no one ended up in prison over it. He had a real knack for the violence, I’ll give him that. And in real life he was such a sweetie!

JK: You mean Pat Mills?

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SHAKO!: I meant Hook Jaw actually but I suppose the same might be said for Pat Mills, yes.

JK: You worked together quite recently didn’t you? You and Hook Jaw?

SHAKO!: That’s right! We did indeed. It was just a bit of fluff really, stunt casting overseas under nom de plumes. A bit like when Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would turn up in some Italian fiasco no-one in England would see for decades. Seabear and Grizzlyshark? I don’t think many people saw it but when you get to our age that’s not so important. Your priorities change as you age and it actually gets to the point where it’s just nice to be asked. I mean at my age my cubs have got cubs of their own so they’re too busy to bother with boring old me! Something like Seabear? That’s just the ticket, you know? A bit of a lark. Peps the old bones up a bit. Hardly high art, of course, but it was nice to stretch the acting chops again and, of course, Hooky was a riot. No airs or graces with that one! Ho! We kept in touch afterwards. Right up until…

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(Legal Note: SEABEAR & GRIZZLY SHARK are nothing to do with HOOK JAW or SHAKO! Nor did the creators intend any such inferences to be made. The shark doesn’t even have a hook in its jaw. I am just having a spot of fun. Is that still legal? EH!?!)

JK: Yes, I heard you were there when he…went.

SHAKO!: I…yes..it…sorry…

JK: It’s alright, we can move on if you like.

SHAKO!: No…no. I think Hooky would want people to know he was at peace at the end. In fact his spirits were quite high if anything. You know they’d just started reprinting his work in STRIP? People were recognising him again. Staff and kids from the other wards would go see him in the Day Room and ask for his autographs. Oh, he was fair basking in it. It was nice timing as well because a couple of days later…he…it was…

JK: It’s okay. I know this must be difficult for you…

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SHAKO!: Yes..but, no, actually in a strange way it was kind of comforting. I’m not really sure what happened to tell the truth. It was Tuesday visiting and I was sat next to his bed and I remember I was telling him about this little cameo I’d made in one of those terrible Event things. One of those art by committee things. Dreadful tat but awfully popular with the youngsters. There were like five writers or something ,and they still got which Pole we bears live at totally arse about tit. Bless his cotton socks, Hooky was trying not to laugh because of the pain; the drugs weren’t really touching it by this point. And suddenly, suddenly I realise there’s a man in the room. Seems daft but at first I thought it was a bear. Big fellow he was. And hairy? I’ll say he was hairy, alright! It was his eyes though, his eyes that held you. Great sad things they were. Sad but dignified. Like he’d been hated by the world and forgiven it. And this chap, he puts his hand on Hooky’s dorsal, and it’s a big hand festooned with these big rings, and he puts this big hand on Hooky like a feather landing. And all the tension in Hooky’s body just goes and this fellow says, in this burr, this rumble, he says, and I can remember every word still, he says:

S’alright, Hooky. S’all alright, now. C’mon, me Duck, time to go home. Time to go back where the stories live. It’s just going home, luv. They’ve all missed you, Hooky. C’mon, son. C’mon now. Gently Bently and off home we go.

And when he lifted his big ringed hand, well, I could tell from how he was laid that Hooky was gone. Well, I mean, obviously he was still there but…

JK: I understand. It sounds very…odd. It sounds like a very…I guess quite a spiritual moment.

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SHAKO!: Oh, it was. Of course then I look and this big hairy fellow’s only gone and put shoe polish on his face and now he’s chasing nurses down the corridor while making farting noises with his lips.

JK: …!

SHAKO!: Yes, it did take the shine off of things a bit.

JK: Well, er, that sounds like a good place to finish. I thank you for your time and I wish the book every success.

SHAKO!: Oh no, thank you. And I just have to say it’s not about success it’s just…when you’re young it’s all about the future isn’t it? But then you get on a bit and you realise you aren’t going to be in the future but you want to have done your bit.

JK: Entertained people?

SHAKO!: Yes. Yes! Maybe more but that’ll do. That’s no small thing. It’s a bit of a magical thing even.

JK: The magic of stories.

SHAKO!: Yes. The lovely, lovely stories. Y’know, for the young.

JK: Thank you, SHAKO!
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Postscript: Two days later I rang SHAKO! to see if he wanted to give the transcript a once over. The phone was answered by a man who said only “Shako’s with the stories now, luv.” Before the receiver was replaced softly.

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This one was for SHAKO! and all the stories, and all the kids that read them.

This one was for all of the COMICS!!!

15 Responses to “ He’s Still “The Only Bear On The C.I.A. Death List!” COMICS! Sometimes SHAKO! Speaks! ”

  1. I figure SHAKO is a reference to the tall bearskin hats worn by British royal guards:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/37/Bearskin.cenotaph.london.arp.jpg

    …which is still an unusual name for an actual bear, but I like it. It’s a bit like calling a vicious beaver Homburg, which also sounds like something Mills or Wagner would do.

  2. Didn’t realize this was being collected until its release date. Now I have to pester Hibbs to order me a copy…

  3. @Kurt Busiek: Well hello, Kurt Busiek! Far be it from me etc. but you are soooo close! While your picture is actually a Bearskin it’s not, and I hesitate to say this, a Shako. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shako)

    Unfair advantage declared: my uncle was (true fact!) in The Grenadier Guards and Pop-In-Law collects military memorabilia so he actually has a Shako banging about his house. That is he has a visored military cap avec plume and badge in his house not a homicidal bear.

    That’s just shameless pedantry though, I’m sure Mills & Wagner were really going for the bearskin joke like you say. (Christ, I hate being pedantic.)

    Your Homburg joke was great and, yes, very Mills & Wagner. Can you draw, Kurt Busiek? Are you an artist, Kurt Busiek? You should get cracking on that HOMBURG! as soon as! “The Only Beaver On The CIA Death List!” Why, it practically sells itself!

    @Jeff: You’ll probably hate it but I do look forward to your stunned attempts to explain it on your podcast! No copies chez Hibbs?!? SHAKO!’s too scruffy for San Fran, huh?

    My thanks to both of you fine gentlemen! SHAKO!

  4. Augh! Now I’m two columns behind! I need to catch up on my John K columns and then my John K recommended books. That Sweet Tooth book you wrote about is making a ton of best of 2012 lists so far. I enjoyed looking at the pictures in the Corben column. The Shako interview looks pretty awesome, too. I can’t wait to read this and then comment intelligently…no, that’s not right, err…incoherently on it!

  5. John K — I can only note in response that the bearskin is often called a shako, and even that Wikipedia entry doesn’t rule it out. Even Wikipedia’s sister site Wiktionary cites UK usage as referring to the bearskin or busby.

    As a pedant from way back, I can sympathize, but however hard it is to make the admission, pedantry and casual speech are bitter enemies, and have fought unrelentingly over the centuries.

    I stand by my trenchant and perceptive analysis!

    And I’m holding out on HOMBURG! until Stuart Immonen’s available to draw it.

  6. “Didn’t realize this was being collected until its release date. Now I have to pester Hibbs to order me a copy…”

    Thankfully, I’m so awesome, there are ALREADY copies coming into the store….

    We’ll confirm face-to-face tomorrow?

    -B

  7. @Chris Hero: Hey, fret not. These woeful columns aren’t going anywhere! They’ll still be waiting for you when you’ve finished your nights of youthful and wild ecstatic dancing and, er, collaging up that ADVENTURE TIME COVER COLLECTION.

    Is SWEET TOOTH making best of 2012 lists? It’s a good book and all but that’s…surprising. Is it MIND MGMT maybe? That should be on lots of lists if there’s any Justice (which there isn’t). Whose balls are on the table? MATT ****ing KINDT’s balls are on the table! Go on, try that Corben. Be a Devil!

    @Kurt Busiek: Very well, in light of our two countries Special Relationship and the weight of evidence you have brought to bear in this matter (not to mention “Arguing With Kurt Busiek” is The Internet equivalent of “Invading Russia In Winter”) I am willing to concede this point. Or as one of your native philosophers put it so trenchantly: “You got to know when to hold ‘em/Know when to fold ‘em.” However, do not take this as a sign of weakness. I will, for examole, never allow “literally” to be used in place of “figurativley”. Never. Never. Never.

    Stuart Immonen is great isn’t he? I guess here it would be appropriate to thank you both for SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY. Good work there, fellas.

    Thanks to all for your gracious forbearance!

  8. John,

    Sweet Tooth, the novel, is making all the best of lists. The one by Ian McEwan; the one you reviewed.

    Sweet Tooth the comic is pretty decent, too, but it’s no Mind MGMT or Adventure Time! (I loves me both of those books!)

  9. @Brian Hibbs: Psst! Jeff’s got a beard now so don’t mistake him for a hobo and throw him out or anything. (I’m just joking. Gentle Jeff’s beard is a thing of great natural beauty.)

    @Chris Hero: Oh. That makes more sense. Hey, one day you’ll be old and easily confused! I hope Umbrella by Will Self is on a lot of them posh lists. Strong contender for Book Of The Year, that one.

    Gratitude rendered as ever.

  10. Oddly, he’s now being mistaken for a bear, so….

    -B

  11. @Brian Hibbs: There’s only one bear Gentle Jeff Lester could ever be mistaken for:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsaFjefpjJM

  12. Completely off the subject, but was is it with you Brits and mushrooms with breakfast?

  13. My copy of SHAKO! just arrived. I’m a little nervous as he’s got a lot of expectations to live up to.
    So far, I’m quite excited that a flip through the book reveals they left the half-page ads in! No blank spaces, the actual ads from the 30’s, or whenever it was that John K was a kid. That’s almost as exciting to me as the hype captions at the head of each chapter – “The Polar Bear Who Brought The Cold War To Flash Point!” Thank you John, Thank You SHAKO!

  14. @D: What can I say, this land is a damp land and when life hands you edible fungoids you make breakfast! Personally I’m a button mushroom man. Anyway, what is it with our American friends and grits? Grits! What’s that about? Eh?! Grits!

    @Ben Lipman: The 30’s! Oi, cheeky beast! I’ll be buying this one myself after Christmas, particularly if it has the Thrill Power drenched half-page ads! Zarjaz!I hope you enjoy the book but until you do you I can assure you that you do not understand yet, Ben Lipman, SHAKO is an EXPERT KILLER too – HE WILL NOT DIE EASILY!

    As ever my domed cap of thanks with gilled undersides of gratitude are yours for the frying, my International friends!

  15. Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. Nevertheless imagine if you added some great pictures or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and clips, this blog could undeniably be one of the most beneficial in its niche. Very good blog!|

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