Bricoleurs of Cool
You receive a package in the mail from an old friend. Inside is a comic book, The Bulletproof Coffin. Not a comic book, a trade paperback, a trade for short, but you only learn that later. ‘What a stupid name,’ you say out loud to no one in particular. The image on the cover is garish: primary colors, few details, thick lines, costumed heroes. You sift the rest of the mail and bury the comic (the trade) under the junk mail.
Later that same night, you wake. You can’t sleep. You go to the kitchen for a glass of water. Drink. You put the glass down on a giant jaundiced eyeball. The Bulletproof Coffin. You take the book, leave the water. There’s a weird introduction about t-shirts and toys, stuff you’ve never heard of or seen and a forward by someone calling himself Destroyovski. He writes about how this is the last work – except he calls it a ‘final testament’ – of Shaky Kane and David Hine and some made-up bullshit (to go along with the made-up
bullshit names, you guess) about ‘Big 2 Publishing,’ ‘distribution
rights,’ and ‘obscurity.’ You push
on. It’s getting late.
It appears, for all the affectation, that The Bulletproof Coffin was a six issue series. The main character, Steve Newman, is a voids contractor which reminds you of a movie made from a book considered unfilmable by that director who makes those sexy horror movies. Newman cleans out the houses of people who have died. There’s a slogan on the side of Newman’s dump truck: ‘Because you can’t take it with you.’ Newman’s cut a deal with the boss; on the night before a job, he gets to go prospecting, a self-styled ‘culture vulture.’ If he finds something he wants, it’s his, otherwise, its landfill. Newman lucks into a cache of kitsch: toy ray-guns, a co-op TV … and comic books. He hauls the stuff home and you see his family – rote as rote – shrewish wife, creepy kids – very, creepy kids – and an ugly-ass pink dog. Newman settles into his ‘sanctum sanctorum,’ and you nod at the ‘Doctor Strangeness’ of it all. Newman starts to read ‘The Unforgiving Eye’ from the stack of liberated comic books. On the facing page, you start reading ‘The Unforgiving Eye.’ A fortune-teller who wears a giant eyeball on his head, circus freaks, a guy’s spine gets pulled out, its about what you expected, an entertaining comic, to say the least. You get the feeling you’ve been here before, secreted away, reading comic books. It’s late.
The rest of the issue finds Newman messing with the coin-operated TV he seized. He sees an old man garroted by a pale fedora-wearing shadowy man. Is it a tape? Is it live? Who are these guys? He heads back to the house discovers a costume hidden under the floorboards. The Coffin Fly. The Coffin Fly? The story ends with a paranoid Newman thinking he’s being watched. He’s right, he is. His creepy kids outfitted in monster masks have breached the sanctum sanctorum. They put a quarter in the TV and now Newman is the late show. You keep reading.
Hine and Kane go hand in leather-studded glove. Simpatico right down the line. The story-in-a-story stuff geeks out on its own gimmick, however, it remains (always) in service to the story. The Bulletproof Coffin is a contact-high, a flash-back, a phantom itch of what it felt like to read a comic book when the pages were made from pulp and you would find ghost-like outlines of wood pulp buried in the gutters. As you page through you find yourself lingering over ads for ‘U Control Darling Lab Monkey,’ and ‘The Amazing Hollywood Babe Magnet.’ The ad copy is awash in nostalgia for fruit pies and footlockers full of drab green armies. You read every blessed line. There are pages of faux fan letters (Coffin Mails) and pin-up pages and do-it-yourself paper dolls and a 3-D Rama. It’s getting early.
The Bulletproof Coffin turns out to be a post-apocalyptic assault vehicle complete with spikes and chains and skulls for hub caps that Newman – now Coffin Fly – accesses from an escape hatch in the ceiling of his sanctum: a wormhole into a possible future where the ‘hateful dead’ – zombie Vietnam vets, of course – and goliath dinosaurs roam alongside Romana, Queen of the Stone Age née Ms. Sharon Sharone, a blond bombshell in fuzzy britches. Wait, there’s more! The Red Wraith! Yes. The Shield of Justice! Yes! The inevitable showdown with Hine and Kane! Yes! Death! Yes! Oh, Yes! Destruction! And the unfortunate demise of the fastest letterer in the business! It’s early, but it’s not too late. ¶ About his novel, Ulysses, James Joyce wrote: “I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality.” You realize that Kane and Hine are bricoleurs and that they’ve indulged their inner Joyce and filled The Bulletproof Coffin with homages and clues that infest the story without wanking on wistfulness. Hine and Kane have projected a world of their own making, one that you remember and cherish – a world where comic books become immortal works of art.