I get to interview an inspiration of mine, Shaky Kane! The artist and co-mastermind of the critically acclaimed Bulletproof Coffin!
Greg: Now, Mr. Kane, before we go into the nitty gritty of your current work, can you give us a little feed about yourself? I'm more than sure there's quite some miscreants out there living under a rock.
Shaky Kane: I was born in, on the South West coast of England some 52 years ago. As a child I developed a deep affection for all things American. England, in those days rather than swung, dragged its heels in the mire of post war depression. A hand-me-down ethic of reverence for royalty, unbridgeable class divide, and myopic self importance ruled the media. The American culture which filtered through, via the television shows, music and of course the printed page seemed both alien and endlessly optimistic. I'd spend hours trying to evoke this tantalizing yet distant 'new world.' I'd draw onto anything I could get my hands on. The card packaging from a shirt, the back of wallpaper. Anything to try and recreate the images I'd seen both on TV and the comic books. THE MUNSTERS, LOST IN SPACE, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, JACK KIRBY and CURT SWAN ( to name but a few) all evoked in my imagination a world I felt more comfortable with than the reality I inhabited. I've always held on to those childhood feelings and channeled them into my work. I've drawn for early PUNK fanzines, The NME, ZIG-ZAG, ESCAPE magazine, DEADLINE, REVOLVER, 2000 AD, JUDGE DREDD THE MEGAZINE always playing on these early influences.
Greg: Are you still heavily influenced by American culture now?
Shaky: It's never waned. In fact travelling to America and staying in South Boston for a couple of summers only reinforced the feelings. The street furniture, traffic lights slung from cables across the streets, the heavily chromed trucks, the armed guard on sentry duty outside of The Bank of America, stores full of items familiar yet exotic in their branding, even the very nature of the strangers I passed by in the street evoked an overwhelming feeling of deja-vu. I felt as a sleeper might, awakening to reality.
Greg: From last I checked, you haven't been involved in comics since 2002. Why the absence?
Shaky: It was that insistence on comic book art becoming painterly which marginalized what I was producing. Apart from REBELLION (2000 AD publisher) who's editorial direction was the antithesis of my output, British comics are for the most part made up of reprint material from US sources. So I just got on with my life, drawing on the back of wallpaper and shirt boxes! You don't stop being an artist because you're not in Previews.
It was running into David Hine in Bristol which got me figuring I could do something again. But maybe this time on my own terms.
Greg: Running into Hine, is that when and where Bulletproof Coffin comes in?
Shaky: I'd played with the idea of dead superheroes for a number of years. The cast of characters were already assembled in my head. The Coffin Fly, The Red Wraith, The Shield of Justice all appeared in a strip I'd produced for a small press magazine, DREAM FACTORY, maybe ten years ago. Even the HATEFUL DEAD trading cards were in my portfolio, having been fully realized years and years ago. 15 years ago I'd sent the HATEFUL DEAD idea to Black Horse, who wrote back saying how couldn't see any mileage in zombie strips! Don't always trust the Magic Eight Ball!
The initial idea I had was more along the lines of a SUPERHERO VALHALLA, the (Bulletproof) Coffin itself containing the spirit of an immortal hero traversing the grave yard planet! Dave took all of these disparate ideas and worked them into a script which went far beyond my expectations. Dave knows exactly how these things works. It's a singular talent.
Left to my own devices? Well, The Bulletproof Coffin would have been something very different, more along the lines of my unfocused Deadline work. I needed the discipline of Dave's scripting. It's a true collaboration.
Greg: So now that Dave has pulled you back into the game, so to say, can we hope for more Shaky Toys?
Shaky: This is certainly what I hope for. Being away from comics for such a long time has given me a chance to re-evaluate the potential in what I do. I want SHAKY KANE to start from this point in time.
Greg: Tell us about Bulletproof Coffin. It's a pretty strange book.
Shaky: It's about a singular obsession. It's about the "what if" of that obsession. What if that obsession were to seep into the fabric of perceived reality? But saying that, it's a fun book. The script has been written to purposely expose my own obsessions to the readers. Unlike most books where the artist fulfills a specific role in its creation, the book is as much about my fascination with a particular aspect of Americana as the main character, one Steve Newman.... or is that Nayman or Noman!?
Greg: I remember the book being announced/mentioned for quite some time, maybe even years, but there was no solit until a while later. Why the wait, was it to ensure the book was in the can?
Shaky: We wanted to get it out pretty much on time, and it ran from June to December. And of course I wanted to make sure it was right. I wanted to draw the stuff to the best of my ability. It took about a year to actually draw and that was after the seed was planted three Summers ago. And two subsequent meetings at Bristol Comic Expo. I had a very basic idea, a title and a cast of characters which David wove into the six-parter.
Greg: Tell us about the characters of Bulletproof Coffin, their origins on the paper and from that brain of yours?
Steve Newman...I mean Noman... no... Nayman? Ugh, Steve!
Shaky: Steve Neuman seemed a likable kind of guy, I don't imagine he had much ambition beyond collecting comic book stuff and going to work, he seemed to be fairly well paid, and he did drive a Chrysler PT Cruiser and lived comfortably in suburbia. It was the family which screwed him over! That and coming across the COFFIN FLY costume. There's probably mileage in further COFFIN FLY adventures, we did come in at the end of the story in BULLET PROOF.
Right now I'm playing with ideas. In a way we're (Dave and myself) are victims of our own success. Whatever direction we take the characters in its not going to be the BULLETPROOF COFFIN, we can see the pitfalls before we even start!
Greg: Ramona, the Jungle Girl?
Shaky: Now this is just an excuse to draw some dodgy female anatomy, a fan favourite! I think you'll find she's actually Queen of The Stoneage, but they had a lot of Jungle in those days, so same difference.
Greg: Unforgiving Eye?
Shaky: Sort of character you might run into at a spookshow carnival, Fortune-telling eyeball-headed creep with a warped sense of humour and justice.
Greg: Red Wraith?
Shaky: The basis of The Red Wraith is taken from the study of Ancient Egyptian picto-grams or hieroglyphics which depict an avenging scarlet angel wielding a bull-whip and a M629 Magnum firearm.
Don't say it three times!
Greg: Shield of Justice?
Shaky: This one was actually based on a news story I read in my local paper about a dead cop who came back from the grave and impaled a couple of hobo rapist. Could never understand why the story wasn't picked up by the main news.
Greg: The Shadowmen?
Shaky: The shadowmen exist somewhere between the third and fourth dimension. Nonhuman entities capable of slipping beneath a locked door, they trespass into peoples' lives causing untold misery. In Romanian folklore they are known as Corporate Lawyers.
Greg: Kane and Hine?
Shaky: Incontinent, inconsequently insipid, egotistical, deranged, narrow minded, non-talented... and don't even get me started on Kane.
Greg: Heh. How would you say the response has been of the book?
Shaky: The response particularly in America has been so positive, it sometimes feels like I'm reading about somebody else. How did I manage that? Somehow it seemed to come along at the right time. It's restored my faith in comics; they don't have to be drawn by SPANDAX GROYNE!
Greg: Ha! So tell me about the drawing life of Shaky Kane. Everyone does their own ways of plotting a page, panels, designing, all that stuff. How exactly do you work?
Shaky: I don't know how other artist approach their drawing, but I work with the premise that the first idea you get is always the best. So I sketch out each page, following the script in a matter of minutes. Then once I've got my plan, so to speak, I set about laboriously drawing up all of the elements which might make up individual panels. I don't work to scale; all of the figures are drawn at a size which feels good to work at. For instance: panel one of BULLETPROOF #1 is made up of over seven individual drawings, the tree in the background was drawn at A3 size.
Once I'm happy with the pencils I ink in the lines using a PAPER MATE NYLON TIP PEN. I get thru about one every two days because the nibs wear down! Then I scan in the individual components and size them into the predetermined panels! It's tough, I know. People are always asking me for original pages. Except on rare occasions when I've got the "Drawing Geni" all I've got is a pile of various sized drawings!
Greg: Jeez, so with all the going into making your pages, how long would that take in average? Let's say when you were putting together the first issue...?
Shaky: Now I can come up with a page every two days. But... Issue one? It took a good week to put a page together. I didn't know how to scan in anything bigger than A4 so I used to take the pictures to the local Xerox shop and get them reduced down to the right size, before manually pasting up the pages using a Pritt stick. Got me out the house.
Greg: You say that you hope to jump into more stuff, are you currently involved in anything?
Shaky: I'm working on an issue of ELEPHANTMEN, for Richard Starkings. ISSUE 36 it says on the script. It's a neat script idea. Extreme cosmetic surgery and of course humanoid animals and pneumatic babes! It's a dirty job, but of course somebody has got to do it!
Greg: Sweet, you're doing Elephantmen?! You've just added more pleasure to my day! How did that come about? Is that a way of repaying Starkings for doing awesome lettering?
Shaky: HA! HA! Is that how this business works?
Greg: I thought so.
Shaky: I'm doing this off my own back simply because I've been asked to by Richard. It seems like part of the ELEPHANTMEN style to mix things up, be interesting to see what my pictures look like colored by someone else. Hey! I might go mainstream! SELL OUT ALL THE WAY! Or if that fails I can always go back to my old job of being a Calvin Klein model!
Greg: I did see an opening of that recently. So what other books out there are you fond of?
Shaky: I don't know if this is what I'm supposed to say but I collect CROSSED books. Dave got me a sketch cover by Jason Burrows when he was at a show in NY. I keep them bagged and boarded in those white long boxes. Every Friday evening I put them all out on the floor and sit on the couch drinking Bud looking at them! Looking forward to getting CROSSED 3D and CROSSED PSYCHOPATH.
I'm also a big fan of Juan Jose Ryp. I'm pretty basic really, doesn't take much to keep me amused.
Greg: And what makes Shaky happy?
Shaky: For a while I forgot what it felt like to open up the box with the fresh delivery of comics I'd drawn. Image send me 100 copies straight from the printers. I always give my son, Laurie, the first copy out the box. He's my biggest fan! That's what makes me happy.
Written or Contributed by: Greg DAE