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The Shaky Kane Interrogation

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1978, the mean streets of Exeter. On the eve of the winter of discontent, with Thatcher waiting in the wings to wreak havoc on an already blighted land, I first met the man who would shake the foundations of the British comics scene over the next decade. We ended up living in the same house and working together on Joe Public Comics, one of several comics and magazines I published while I was drinking my way through Art College.

At the recent Bristol Comic Expo I bumped into Shaky again and caught up on the intervening years. Here follows the Shaky Kane interrogation...

   

Dave: The obvious one to kick off. The influences. Comics, movies, books, early sexual experiences. I want to know why insects figure so prominently in your work. Phobia or passion, which is it?

Shaky: I remember, as a very young boy, being blown away by a movie I was allowed to stay up and watch on late night television called ‘Them!’.

It featured some pretty wobbly giant ants and a nuclear testing scenario which even Stan the Man would have considered too far-fetched.

This would have been back around 65. Of course I was very aware of the threat that oversized insects might pose mankind from the Mars Attacks! Bubblegum cards that were around at the time. It’s still a subject that fascinates me. There’s a microcosm under a stone in my back garden. It’s a matter of scale. A trick of scale, you might say.

My five-year-old son, Laurie, is collecting Bugs and Insects magazine, maybe it’s in the genes! With each issue you get a real insect or bug encased in a Perspex block. Can you imagine working at the factory where they produce this stuff? What do they do? Do they gas them first? Can you imagine it? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Didn’t you once invite US punk band The Dickies back to the flat?

Dave: Yeah. That was cool. After they played Routes they invited a bunch of us back to their hotel room but the staff thought we were planning an orgy or something and kicked us all out – including the Dickies - so I dragged them all came back to our place for more beer. They were so bladdered by the end of the night they commissioned me to do the art for their next album. Never happened for some reason.

Shaky: They called their album The Incredible Shrinking Dickies. Despite the obvious pun it was a great title. Its B-Movie world. Its Blondie world. It’s Ramone world. It’s perfect.

You either get it or you don’t. Jack Kirby got it. Look at the way The Surfer hid from Galactus within a microscope slide! As a kid I must have looked at The Agony And The Anthill, where Henry Pym first shrank down to insect proportions, maybe a hundred times. It’s still an idea that I think about now.

Dave: Was Joe Public Comix your first published work? I hope so, because I’m always claiming that I discovered you, so back me up here.


‘Hitler On Ice’ from Joe Public Comix

Shaky: Joe Public gave me an opportunity to put some ideas onto paper. And I think you’re right. If I hadn’t run into you, back then, I probably wouldn’t have got around to it. I’d already put together a double page for a fanzine called Worthless Words. But it was more of an assemblage, if you like, featuring Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw and Hostess Twinkie adverts! I wish I still had the artwork. This would have been around 1976. It was before Marc Bolan did the woodland bop for real, so it must have been before 77.

Dave: I still have some copies of Worthless Words but not that one. But I do have Joe Public Comics. I’ll scan in a page of that here. (Amazingly I have come across a copy of Worthless Words issue one while hunting for my Shaky Kane rarities so you can see here, probably the only existing example of very early Shaky art.)


Art from Worthless Words #1

Now, the Kirby influence becomes more apparent in the later work. The rumours are that you had some kind of psychedelic/mystical experience that enabled you to channel the twisted dark side of Kirby’s creative soul. Does Jack still speak to you from the other side?

Shaky: That would be fairly accurate as well, although these things happen more on a subconscious level. I can hear Jack quite clearly saying “Make the hands bigger! Make the hands bigger!” It can be unsettling at times.

Dave: Give us a brief rundown of your rise to fame. I always saw the Deadline years as a peak of creativity for you. Do you remember it that way?

Shaky: Things just sort of happen to me.

I sent a gag into NME (New Musical Express) featuring Wild Bill Burroughs, which they printed. So for the next couple of years I drew a topical weekly strip. One featured a mail order ad for David Bowie Fright Teeth! Be a real scary monster! That sort of thing.

Dave: You followed a pretty similar trail to me. I sold a bunch of illustrations to NME too. Forget the art editor’s name but he was a splendid fellow. I’d just take a drawing in every couple of weeks and he’d pay me for it. I dressed like a homeless street person at the time and I think he felt sorry for me.


Strip from Deadline

Shaky: I put out a fanzine entitled Beyond Belief! Like a sort of surreal Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Brett Ewins picked up a copy from my local comic store, Eternal comics at Seven Sisters in North London. I’d always loved Brett Ewin’s work so I arranged to meet him and he told me how he’d got financial backing from Tom Astor, who owned Orinoco recording studios in South London, and was planning to launch a monthly title with Steve Dillon to be called Deadline. So again an opportunity came my way.

If you look at the very early A-Men strips, a lot of the art was traced from Brett’s tracing book! Brett would sketch out his characters and then transpose them into the panels using tracing paper. Like a sort of manual cut and paste. So a lot of my early strips are Brett’s figures with my artwork on top! At the time I imagined that that was the way you went about it. Of course along the way you produce a mountain of tracings. A library of pictures for future strips!


A-Men from Deadline

Brett was always a straight guy. You could talk to him and he was always keen to help. A wonderful person to work for.

From that early work Pete Hogan asked me to come up with a strip for Revolver. Pin Head Nation was the result. I packed in my day job and the work just seemed to come. I never once had to ask for work. I think back then, people liked the idea of SHAKY KANE, almost like a brand of goods. Of course, Deadline was always Jamie Hewlett’s book. No one was a patch on Jamie. I came from another angle. I don’t know, I tried to keep an integrity, in what I was doing, that transgressed the usual comic genre.


Pinhead, Revolver

Dave: Anything to say about 2000AD and the Megazine?

Shaky: I always got on with Alan McKenzie, but behind the scenes it was an organization full of very unpleasant characters. It’s hard to feel envious of any of the ‘Art droids’ on their payroll. I wouldn’t like to name names, but towards the end of my time at Fleetway, I found them to be very unsympathetic to what I was doing.

Once Alan left I knew that the game was up. The new editor on 2000 AD made it pretty clear that he was in charge! He must have felt the same secret elation that Tommy Cannon must have felt when Eric Morecambe died!

Dave: No one outside of Britain is going to get that reference but you’re absolutely spot on. I knew my time was up on 2000AD when I met that editor for the first time. He looked me up and down and said “Some people seem to think that because they’ve been working for this publication for years, they’ll carry on getting work here.” I think that was the last time I set foot in the 2000AD office.

Was it a good idea to work with other writers on Soul Sisters and Soul Gun Warrior?

Shaky: It was a good idea to agree with the editor’s decision at the time, I don’t know if the scripts were a particularly good idea. I still think that there is enormous potential in the Kim West (soul gun) saga, if only it was handled in the right way.


Soul Sisters cover for Judge Dredd Megazine

I would like to have seen the supernatural angle played up more. It could have evolved into something a lot darker. Maybe the soul gun could have gotten into the hands of a criminal, maybe a bent cop. Maybe introduced the Legion of Dead Superheroes. “You’re going down!”, “We’re not like you, we’re on the other side!”, that kind of thing. But it’s hard to pitch ideas to a publishing group who constantly retread the same ground.

And of course you’re playing to a very limited audience who know exactly what they like.

I’ve never been able to read a whole issue of 2000 AD from cover to cover, its never held my interest that long. It’s like a tired stand-up routine, funny the first time around.

Dave: Do you think your brief collaboration with Mark Millar helped his rise to stardom?

Shaky: I can hardly remember. What did I draw for him? I seem to remember a writer on the phone, saying ‘You’d better draw what I’ve written, the last artist didn’t keep to the script’. Was that Mark Miller? If it was he was certainly a Fleetway guy. Who is he? He’s not Frank Miller that’s for sure!

Dave: I only know this from the 2000AD web site but apparently you drew a thing Mark wrote called “The Uncanny Dr Doctor.” (Mark’s made a bit of a name for himself recently with a thing called Civil War.)

Okay, after Deadline and 2000AD I didn’t see you for a while, but a few years ago I paid a visit to my old stomping grounds in Exeter and took my son along to the city’s museum. They used to have this genuine shrunken head there and I was dying to show it to Alex. He was about six at the time and I felt it was time to expose him to some real culture. The shrunken head had been put into storage, presumably under some new regime of political correctness. Our disappointment was diminished when we stumbled on an exhibition of Punk Art taking up a whole floor of the museum, featuring none other than your good self.

Shaky: You caught the show? It was the YEAR ZERO exhibition.

Dave: It was a great show. Your section also featured the recreation of your bed-sit from the seventies, including Shaky Kane’s unmade bed. Tracey Emin – eat your heart out!

Shaky: I hear that next year they’re going to show David Bishop’s toilet seat, now that should pull quite a crowd!


Strip from Lazy Frog

Dave: You’ve sent me some of your recent work. Well, fairly recent. I didn’t know of the existence of Big Star Publishing and here are two titles from them. Lazy Frog is a kind of West Country Viz with lots of rude words and sheep-shagging. It’s about ninety percent comics, the strips variously signed by Shaky Kane, Shaky K and Joe Klutz. Time to come clean I think. This looks like a one-man show to me. But can I reassure Vikki that all those French personal ads were not down to you? I can’t believe you came up with “Sacre Bleu, I appear to ‘ave fucked you up ze ass.”

Shaky: Again, an opportunity came my way. Uncle Al The Kiddie’s Pal was my character, along with The Tic-Toc Man. But the personal ads you’re talking about were down to the editor, Ian Porter. He must have thought it was a good idea at the time. His Smelliest Clown Lonely Heart page was funnier! And he actually put the damn thing out, so it’s hard to be too critical.

Dave: Next up is Black Star Fiction Library. This has terrific strips set in the near-future Big Star City. There’s barbed wire bondage, rubber fetish and psycho cops. Tell the readers a little about the concept.

Shaky: Interestingly, a lot of the art was handled by Henry Flint’s brother George (Henry Flint is another 2000AD stalwart). He talked Henry into drawing Kooky Koala. George is one of comic’s good guys. He gave my son Laurie a bunch of Action Man toys. He’s working for Pedigree books, where he draws the Turtles.

Dave: You managed to get financial support from Exeter City Council for a couple of your books. These are “Shaky Kane’s A-Men” and “The Dinosaurs are Coming!” Did they know what they were spending the tax-payers money on?

Shaky: I was working from an office above Exeter’s Cavern club. The manager Dave Godchild (Annalise guitarist) was very supportive of what I was doing so he let me use the space for free. Exeter council hold an Animation festival every year, somehow Dave got them to put out a comic book. I don’t imagine that Exeter Council had any idea what we were going to produce. I don’t know if I did at the time!

They didn’t seem to mind because after The Dinosaurs are Coming! they stumped up for The A-Men collection. We didn’t have any sales plan, we just ended up with boxes of comic books! I’ve given most of them away. We never made any money out of it at the time, although Ian Porter reprinted the main Dinosaur strip twice, so I got paid in the end.

The A-Men book was put together from scanned photo-copies of old Deadlines. I don’t know who owns the rights to it. I figured that if I didn’t put it out, then nobody else was going to!

Dave: It looks like there’s a thriving arts community down there in Exeter. Comics and bands like Kids Near Water and Annalise. Can you tell us a bit about your links with the local hardcore punk scene?

Shaky: Yeah, I’ve done some work for the local scene. Check out the cover of Something’s Got To Give by Annalise, Vindication by Vacant Stare on the Copro label, Kids Near Water’s Flying Panda album, The Bratmobile for Brat’s first single, Paris Street In Ruins by The Cut-ups and worked on the book Artefiction- Notes from the post punk underground, published by Stride (ISBN 1 900152 57 6)


Sleeve for ‘Vindication’ by Vacant Stare

Dave: Do you still get to clubs like the Cavern and the Phoenix to see these bands? I think you mentioned your art is up in the Cavern Club.

Shaky: No, I never go down there. My daughter Sophie, used to go there. My paintings are still up on the walls. Big blow-ups of Frankenstein, six-eyed Batman, Burning Elvis! Sort of stuff that you’d expect from me.

Dave: Your latest project is an illustrated book. I had a quick look at that in Bristol and it looked dead good. I could see some Geoff Darrow influence there and Vikki said it looked like a demented kid’s book. How can your fans get their paws and claws on this when it appears?

Shaky: The book you’re talking about is at the design house at this very minute. It’s entitled Monster Truck and is going to be a limited run of 500 signed and numbered art editions.

It takes the form of a continuous panel that runs over 50 pages in full color. Its full of custom cars, dinosaurs, giant insects, pyromaniac clowns, eyeballs, zombies, flying saucers, cowboys and a whole heap of other stuff. An ocular assault! It’s going to be printed on one side of each page, so if you were so inclined you could clip out the pages and put them up on your wall, where it would stretch to over 25 feet!

Dave: I’ll post some scans of that here when it comes out. Now I have to ask you about the coffins. I may have hallucinated this but I would swear you told me you’re currently painting bio-degradable coffins. This is terrific news and I want to book one now. I had been planning a cremation when I pop my clogs, but I think I could be persuaded to go for a burial if they plant me in a custom painted Shaky Kane coffin. Are you taking orders?


Missile Elvis from Deadline

Shaky: This is absolutely correct. They are manufactured by Andrew Vaccari out of bio-degradable pulpture, a sort of pressed papier mache. I think he calls them Earth Sleepers! The one I’ve just worked on takes the form of oversized Japanese robot packaging, featuring my iconic Missile Elvis! I’m sure we could fit you out in one if the fancy took you! I’ll send you a photo, I’m going over to the art gallery, where it’s housed next week, so I’ll photograph it for you.

You can visit Andy on www.vaccari.co.uk

Dave: Okay, that’s a wrap for now. I’ll be digging out copies of your stuff to scan for the column so this page should be sporting some spiffy visuals this week. And I’ll be sure to keep people updated with your latest projects.

Shaky: Dave it was great meeting up with you again. How long has it been? We’ll have to do it again, only don’t leave it so long!

Dave: Yeah, next time we could be shuffling along with our Zimmer frames.

Thanks to Shaky for making this week’s column special.  I wasn’t aware of this until Shaky told me but both the photos at the top of this page were taken by Exeter’s own John Francis, described by Mojo magazine as ‘The West Country Lou Reed’. John’s latest single “Problem/24 hours” is out now.


'Forgive me Jack’ – Illustration from Deadline

Meanwhile for all you culture vultures out there, may I recommend the following: My son has turned me on to Happy Tree Friends, animation that makes Itchy and Scratchy look a little tame. You can find episodes here: http://happytreefriends.atomfilms.com/

Did you know there are entire movies available on YouTube? You can find such gems as “L’Age D’Or”, “Freaks”, “Reefer Madness” and “Night of the Living Dead”.

And Patti Smith has a new album of cover versions out called “Twelve”, her version of Hendrix’ “Are you Experienced?” is particularly wonderful.

Next week, something else…

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