Fair Trade Comics is an ongoing series where Comics Bulletin looks at creator-owned comics that you can read without guilt or moral compromise.
Shaky Kane and David Hine's Bulletproof Coffin is a no-brainer for Fair Trade Comics, being a comic book where an entity called "Big 2 Publishing" buys an entire comic book company and cancels all their titles, leading its creators (also named David Hine and Shaky Kane) to begin continuing their characters' stories in secret. That is, until Steve Newman, a guy whose job it is to clean the houses of the recently deceased, discovers recently printed continuations of his childhood favorites and shit suddenly gets real weird as he embarks on a gonzo, post-modern odyssey as the worlds of these comics become real with their supernatural mystics, jungle girls and zombie army men.
And it's not the kind of bullshit story where everything interesting is happening in the hero's head while his wife grows increasingly concerned that maybe some of that fecal matter he's labeling and storying aren't all his. No, fuck that Fisher King shit — this is a comic book where the hero starts dressing like a low-tech Spider-Man and climbs up a hatch to find himself in a post-apocalyptic future, piloting a gargantuan coffin-shaped tank with spiky monster truck tires that is actually called The Bulletproof Coffin.
And the final issue where Steve meets a Hunter Thompson-esque David Hine and Shaky Kane in their secret studio? That happened too. Everything in this comic exists on the same plane — the mundane moments, the comics within the comics, the final and depressing Animal Man 26ification of The Bulletproof Coffin — all of it happened, even though none of it happened.
What if Mike Allred were British and kind of pissed off? That's what The Bulletproof Coffin is — a comic book where its creators admit that mainstream comics are bullshit, but while fully embracing and celebrating the inherent awkward boner of goofiness that the perennially pre-teen mainstream blushingly tamped down deep within their pants in an embarrassing effort to be taken more seriously. With rayguns, men with giant eyes for heads and patently ridiculous motifs for nocturnal vigilantes, it's like the incessantly frowning specter of the '80s never happened in Kane/Hine's simply colored world. Things are only black or gray when they're actually meant to be colored that way. Red masks are always red, and purple dinosaurs are always purple.
Paradoxically, there's a grittiness to Shaky Kane's actual linework — a dirty, gleeful ugliness that does not give the slightest fuck if it's "Marvel-ready" and one that remains consistent throughout the book, giving equal treatment to both mundane reality and the ever-encroaching world of the diverse Golden Nugget Comics characters. All of it stands on the same ground, slathered in wrinkle lines that evoke the reality of decay as our hero's reality does indeed decay.
Both Hine and Kane are no strangers to working for the real-life Big Two: some readers may recognize Hine's name on the covers of comics like District X and Detective Comics while the weirdos in the back of the class have seen Shaky Kane draw material for Grant Morrison and Richard Case's Doom Patrol, easily a cousin of Bulletproof Coffin. Both men are, unfortunately, footnotes as far as the grand (corporation-centric) narrative of comics is concerned, Hine being a journeyman and Kane being an outsider. They're never going to get their own Las Vegas convention where you get to pay a thousand bucks to hang out with them, but that's how we like it. Their CoffinCon happens every time you open up one of their comic-hatches and climb up into their world.
Hopefully they won't stop. In 2012, Kane and Hine delivered a follow-up in the form of the six-issue Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, which, rather than rehash another meta-plot or continue the adventures of Steve, instead uses the trappings of the original story as a jumping-off point to create new self-contained comics with the characters, including one that's just a series of panels arranged via cut-up method. Needless to say, it's one of the few necessary sequels in comics.
Of all the comics we're going to cover in Fair Trade, I think this is the most essential — not simply for its anti-Corporate Comics message, but for its freewheeling, aggressive imagination in favor of an uncompromising vision that could only be unleashed by its creators rather than by editorial mandate. David Hine and Shaky Kane threw a grenade into the room and nobody noticed when it exploded, but it just keeps exploding, over and over again with each new reader that discovers it. This is the shit — this is the comic that's going to cause somebody to riot.
For more Fair Trade Comics, check out our other features in this series:
- Introducing Fair Trade Comics
- Fair Trade Comics: Atomic Robo
- Fair Trade Comics: Pussey!
- Fair Trade Comics: Our Ever Improving Living Room
- Fair Trade Comics: The Bulletproof Coffin
- Fair Trade Comics: Dracula World Order
- Fair Trade Comics: Local
- Fair Trade Comics: Liz Prince Will Swallow the Key to Your Heart
- Fair Trade Comics: Monsters
- Fair Trade Comics: Cow Boy
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.