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Starburst Magazine Issue 406 - Out Now
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Trapped Inside The Bulletproof Coffin

PrintE-mail Written by P.M. Buchan Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Feature Articles

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Get out your decoder rings boys and girls, because the legendary team of David Hine and Shaky Kane are reuniting to bring you The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, the sequel to their mind-blowing metatextual series The Bulletproof Coffin.  Whether you’ve had Coffin Fly’s face tattooed over your own or you’ve never heard of this brand of insanity then you’ve come to the right place, because Starburst Magazine has compiled everything that you need to know about The Bulletproof Coffins new and old in one place, including an exclusive interview between David Hine and Shaky Kane that will leave you wondering where reality ends and their fiction begins. Climb into the Bulletproof Coffin for a preview of the greatest comic that you’re likely to read in 2012.

Anybody that read the first series as it was serialised between June and December 2010 will be anxious to get to David Hine’s brutal interrogation of Shaky Kane and I’m loathe to delay them, but it seems inevitable that at least one Starburst reader forgot to read this genre-defying classic. A linear synopsis of the plot would explain that the hero of Bulletproof Coffin discovers a collection of comics that shouldn’t exist and plunges into their pages in an attempt to determine his true identity. Bulletproof Coffin, however, is a comic that needs to be experienced, otherwise we fall back on empty hyperbole like ‘psychedelic’ and ‘deranged’. With that in mind we’ve collated testimonials from survivors of the first series to tell you why you need to rush out and read the first graphic novel before Disinterred begins on January 25th 2012.

Case Study 1 – Professor Dan Lockwood from the Miskatonic University, currently residing at the Arkham Sanitarium.

Ok, I’m going to be honest with you: when it comes to writing about The Bulletproof Coffin, I don’t even know where to start. I’ve just spent half an hour staring vacantly into space after reading it again, but where to begin? With the zombie soldiers, the dinosaurs or the blank-faced children? Do I just wade straight into the wonderful self-referential quagmire which David Hine and Shaky Kane have created here? It’s a comic about comics – about the industry, about readers, about creators. Starting from the discovery of a stack of impossible comics, we follow a protagonist as his reality begins to blur into fiction. Or was Steven Newman’s previous life the fiction? If even his name can’t be trusted not to change from issue to issue, what does that tell us about the story as a whole?

Through the Golden Nuggets brand, we are introduced to a series of characters, including The Unforgiving Eye, Red Wraith and Shield of Justice – all of whom are pastiches of various genre conventions and tropes. If these excellent fictional comics actually existed, I would devour them, but instead they are rationed out issue by issue, before being bound into the wider story and the ‘real’ world, where age and neglect make them tragic oddballs. Or not. It’s hard to explain. There are so many great ideas on display here, from the fake ads, products and letters which run in the back of each issue, to the unhinged versions of the creators themselves. The art is eye-popping and garish, and the writing is top quality meta-fiction. I really can’t recommend The Bulletproof Coffin enough. It’s like nothing else out there – you just have to read it for yourself.

Case Study 2 – Corporal Cy Dethan. Bug Hunter, Prize Fighter and Blasphemer.

The Bulletproof Coffin is, and let there be no misunderstanding between us about this, a ****ing masterpiece of comics literature.

It’s a powerful, painful paradox – instantly familiar and endlessly alien. It’s a book with the balls to look you straight in the eye and swear that “Everything that follows is true...” before punching you repeatedly in the brain for 200 pages until you wake up, grow up, shut up and quit pretending that you know anything about anything. It’s William Gaines meets William Burroughs in some diamond-hard, scalpel-edged experiment in storytelling. It will mess you up and you will love it for that.

NB – Corporal Dethan expounded on these theories for several pages but the rest was completely illegible.

By now you should understand that if you’re looking for answers about The Bulletproof Coffin then you’re approaching the subject from the wrong angle. If, however, you love comics and consider yourself to have an open mind, then you’ve came to the right place. The following interview took place in November 2012 between David Hine and Shaky Kane. Or maybe it didn’t. The two profess to be old friends and Hine claims to have written for comics as diverse as Daredevil: Redemption, Spawn, Detective Comics and X-Men: Civil War, but type his name into any search engine and all that you’ll get is a message saying that The Big 2 are watching you. Weird.

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HINE: Let’s start with a brief introduction to the first series of The Bulletproof Coffin. This was a 6-part series from Image Comics, set in a universe where Kane and Hine are superstars of the comic book industry.

KANE: We must impress that this is a parallel universe we’re talking about here.

HINE: Though of course we’re hoping that with the success of The Bulletproof Coffin we’ll be propelled to similar heights of fame and fortune.

KANE: It was about, as I saw it, a certain dislocation from reality. It was about the longing to escape into the fantasy world created by Hine and Kane.

HINE: The plot follows a comic collector who stumbles across a stash of comic books that shouldn't exist. These were published after Big 2 Publishing had bought up their comic company, cancelled all their characters and then sacked the creators. But they continued to work on their line-up of characters, turning out new stories of The Unforgiving Eye, Ramona Queen of the Stone Age, Coffin Fly, The Shield of Justice and Red Wraith.

KANE: This was against the wishes of the Big 2.

HINE: Yeah, when our hero, Steve Newman takes on the identity of the Coffin Fly he soon finds that the evil Big 2 have sent their corporate lawyers after him.

KANE: Things turn sinister pretty quickly. Of course this is fantasy. You haven't had any visits from the Shadow Men have you David?

HINE: I think they're knocking at my door right now!

HINE: What we did with the first series was to insert actual comic books by our alter egos - the kind of comics we might have produced if we had been working in the 1950's and 60's.

KANE: Unfortunately I drew them last year! To me they were bang up to date!

HINE: Those faux comics proved very popular with the readers, but of course we don't really want to rest on our laurels, so in the new series we'll be doing something very different.

KANE: Yeah, the obvious thing to do would have been straight stories featuring the Golden Nugget characters. A set of retro books. That probably would have done the job. But having your own creator-owned series gives you a lot of scope to do what you want. We felt we had to rise to the challenge. What was cool about the first series was that it has given us our own legacy of heroes to play around with. It suggests unending spin offs. It could go in any direction.

HINE: Let's backtrack a little and talk about how The Bulletproof Coffin came about. I guess we need to go back in time to the late seventies when we first met.

KANE: This was when you were at Exeter Art School. You published my very first comic strip. As far as I can remember there weren't many people who shared our enthusiasm for American comic books. It certainly wasn't seen as a cool thing to be into.

HINE: No. The head of the art college thought I was insane, but to his credit he let me use the printing facilities to print Joe Public Comics. After Exeter our careers followed a similar rocky path. We had our moments in the British publishing world. I always thought of you as the more successful one, with your creations like the A-men, work in Deadline and 2000AD and Escape. I was working some of the same publications but I was also doing a lot of work-for-hire for publishers like Marvel UK, while you were carving out your own niche.

KANE: I suppose I was always more of an underground name, while you tended to work as part of a production team. Probably steadier work, though there was a time when all kinds of radical comics suddenly started appearing here in Britain. I don't know if the publishers overestimated the market but they didn't seem to last very long.

HINE: Revolver, Heartbreak Hotel, Escape - actually Escape lasted quite a while. Deadline did very well. Steve Dillon and Brett Ewins really deserve a lot of kudos for introducing talent like Jamie Hewlett and Philip Bond - and Shaky Kane!

HINE: We both had our wilderness years when we weren’t working in comics at all, then I came back and started writing for Marvel. Quite by chance we met up a few years back at the Bristol Comic Convention. What went through your head when that lift door opened? I remember a strangely disorientating moment because we hadn’t seen one another for at least a decade and here we were, ageing family men with kids. Did you think at the time that we would end up collaborating on something like this?

KANE: You know what? It had been such a long time since I seriously tried to do anything in comics. I was actually a big fan of yours by that time. I had an idea to put a project to you but at that stage I had no idea how we could actually see it in print. You were known as a writer. A name writer, you'd worked on Daredevil, X-Men titles, a whole series of Spawn books. These were very commercial books. But what I liked about it was the way you always took the titles to new places.

HINE: It’s strange because I never really pursued that mainstream work and I’ve never been entirely comfortable with it, though of course I was grateful for the exposure. I was always trying to push the boundaries as much as possible, but there are a lot of constraints when you’re working on corporately owned characters like Batman or X-Men. I think the frustration was getting to me to the point where I really needed to let off steam with something like The Bulletproof Coffin.

HINE: When you finally sent me your sketches and notes there was a wealth of material there that really set me off. I had a great time fashioning a narrative based on the characters you had come up with. And when I pitched the first issue to Image publisher Eric Stephenson, it turned out he was a huge Shaky Kane fan. It was the easiest sell I ever made. I think within an hour of meeting him he had already announced the book and it was being reported online. That was very exciting. It's great being published by Marvel and DC but there's nothing to match creator-owned comics. I guess that's what The Bulletproof Coffin is all about - being free of editorial control and following whatever creative direction you feel like going in, no matter how offbeat it may seem.

KANE: I was amazed by the reaction. I rarely meet anyone in my everyday life who is into comics. I remember you emailing me from San Diego. The book had been given the green light. Incredible. Regardless of what Eric Stephenson thought of my work, I can't imagine what Bulletproof Coffin would have wound up like if I'd been left to my own devices. I tend to go into things without much planning. It’s usually a case of the first idea I get being the one I use. That can work in a magazine like Deadline where you get short bursts of creativity, but it doesn't necessarily make a six issue series!

HINE: The first series had an amazing response and I know a lot of people are expecting a similar set-up for The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, the referencing of old comics, with the same faux adverts and letters pages. But the second series is going to be very different.

KANE: We're halfway through drawing and writing The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred now and what's unique about this series is that you can read the six issues in any order.

HINE: I really did want to have a series where each issue worked as a standalone story, so that people would be comfortable picking up single issues. There is also a plotline that runs as a subtext through the series, but as you say they can be read in any order.

KANE: There are new characters, and some old characters from the first issue are expanded on. The Shield of Justice has an origin issue that reads as a noir thriller. The Coffin Fly returns, but it’s an earlier version of the character before Steve Newman found the costume. The Unforgiving Eye is back, but this time he's more of a costume hero in the mold of The Thing from the sixties version of The Fantastic Four. A real retro Kirby character. We've got an issue called Tales from the Haunted Jazz Club, where Hep Cats take turns to relate tales of botched home surgery and the grotesque! One issue is devoted to a set of bubblegum cards that tells the story of our Zombie Vietnam Vets - The Hateful Dead.

HINE: It’s a real mixed bag, a lot of different genres – horror, noir, supernatural thrillers and science fiction. This time though we’re not including our alter egos. There will be no more onstage appearances of Kane and Hine. Over the past year I’ve found it a bit of a struggle to keep the different personas separate but I guess that's the point of metafiction. There are the crusty curmudgeons that are the Kane and Hine of the fictional world of The Bulletproof Coffin. I've estimated that they are well into their eighties by now. Then there are the real world Kane and Hine and now a strange twilight world Kane and Hine that exist between the two. Since photographer, designer and film maker Steve Cook shot his Shaky Kane Unravelled documentary things have gotten very strange.

KANE: Shaky Kane Unravelled is going to haunt me to the grave. It was completely improvised. Steve Cook was holding a camera, I was sort of playing up to it.

HINE: I should point out that the documentary is following the other-world Shaky Kane, but it crosses the boundaries because you refer to all kinds of real-world incidents, like the time artist Simon Bisley accompanied you to the toilet in a hardcore punk club. I can vouch for the truth of that one. My weirdest moment was at the 3D comic convention in Derry when I showed the documentary to an audience that was mostly non-comic fans. Derry is a free publicly funded event, so it’s mostly people coming in off the street who may never read comics the rest of the year. The documentary depicts a rather sad figure - Shaky Kane as a recluse who has spent 10 years in a mental institution and is railing against the world and clearly suffering from some kind of dementia. Apart from two or three comic fans in the audience who thought it was hilarious, there was an embarrassed silence. When I told them you couldn't make it to the convention because you'd suffered a relapse there was genuine sympathy.

KANE: I should have appeared for a brief time at Derry with my zimmer-frame before retiring to my room for a lie down.

HINE: It looks like, wherever you may have spent those ten years, you’re well and truly back in the public eye. Image have also just released your illustrated book Monster Truck which is a comic strip that follows the passage of the eponymous Truck across a seemingly endless landscape of Pop Ephemera. The conceit of the book is that all the pages connect into one long image that also joins from back to front, so the journey continues without end, trapping the reader forever in the messed-up mind of Shaky Kane.

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There you have it Dear Reader, confirmation that Kane and Hine want nothing more than to trap you forever in their mutilated mindscapes.  Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #1 will be published January 2012 by Image Comics and the trade paperback of Volume 1 is currently available to buy.  Unless this is all just a hoax.

Finally, from the Starburst vaults we’ve unearthed this question from a previously unpublished David Hine interview by a gentleman calling himself Anthony Corbeau.

CORBEAU: Do you have an affection for any long forgotten, also-ran characters from the depths of comic history?

HINE: Loads! I loved all those non-superhero Showcase characters like Nightmaster, Firehair, Anthro, Enemy Ace. I’m not sure that anything remains obscure these days though. Even books that ran a few issues then got cancelled have all been resurrected. Hawk and Dove, The Creeper, The Question, even Rima the Jungle Girl. I think Mister E was great, particularly the origin that he was given in The Trenchcoat Brigade, where his father scoops out his eyes for looking at a wicked woman, who also happens to be his mother. Christian fundamantalism, incest, ocular mutilation. It really was right up my street. Or what about Basil Wolverton’s Spacehawk?!? That strip had so many phallic symbols! The way Wolverton drew, everything was a penis, or sperm or some kind of pulsating orifice. And Spacehawk himself was just this big bruiser with absolutely no personality. It was transcendently awful and I love it.


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