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Disinterred: Hine and Kane Dig Up The Bulletproof Coffin - Part 1

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When Image Comics’ The Bulletproof Coffin debuted last year its refreshing approach to super-heroes surprised even the most jaded of comics readers. Not only did it do that rarest of things in the genre by finding a new slant on the tights-and-capes brigade, but it also brilliantly toyed with metafictional conceits without the usual overplayed, self-referential smugness. With the follow-up series The Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred due to hit the shelves this January, BF caught up with the writer-artist team of David Hine and Shaky Kane - also integral characters in the first volume of the book! - to talk all things Bulletproof Coffin in this bumper two-part interview…

BROKEN FRONTIER: Before discussing the eagerly-anticipated new volume of The Bulletproof Coffin I’d like to fill in the background of the Hine-Kane team. You chaps have known each other for a long time but have seldom worked together. Could you set the scene a little for the BF readership about the history of your long association, and how your paths crossed again a few years back?

DAVID HINE: We have indeed known one another for donkey’s years. When we were both living in the same house in Exeter, during our punk years, we did work together on a couple of pieces but they never saw print. I loved Shaky’s art and asked him to contribute to a magazine I was self-publishing at art college. That was Joe Public Comics. Quite a rarity now as we only sold a couple of dozen before I eventually dumped the rest in a recycling bin.

The only reason we didn’t collaborate more is because we both saw ourselves as auteurs. We both wanted to write and draw our own work without any editorial influence. I think we both saw the underground and independent comics as the ideal model. There were quite a few places where you could publish quite radical work in the 1980s in the UK. Shaky was more successful than me in that regard. He got a lot more of his stuff into Escape, Deadline and so on. I did have a couple of strips published in Knockabout and I think two strips in Deadline, but I found myself obliged to work in mainstream comics if I was going to eat. If I could go back, I’d try a lot harder to stick to my guns, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my drawing, so when I was offered the chance to make a good living inking comics for Marvel UK I caved in and sold out. I still bear a weight of guilt for that, which is the reason for all that self-flagellation in The Bulletproof Coffin. Mammon won out over the creative muse.

SHAKY KANE: Dave's just about covered it. I first ran into Dave, way, way back. This was through a shared enthusiasm for 'out there' culture. Dave was putting a comic book together entitled Joe Public Comics. He had free use of the local art school printing press. I'd always harboured a desire to produce some sort of comic book work. Before Joe Public, I'd always worked with found imagery. Somewhere along the lines of Richard Hamilton's 'Just what makes today's homes so different, so appealing'. I'd produce Punk graphics, with a narrative which read over and concurred with the images. Leather Face and comic book small ads, 'Honey, I'm sick of this lousy job!' stuff like that. I'd always liked the way newsprint looked when it was blown-up.

At one stage I did actually move into a room in the upstairs flat, which Dave shared with Jade, his girlfriend at the time. David was always drawing. He had an enthusiasm for comic books as an art form, which transcended the reality of living in Exeter back in the seventies. I remember him insisting that he'd 'Killed Batman'. He showed me a drawing, he'd made of Batman shot thru with an arrow! I could never decide in which direction to push my artistic endeavours. I was obsessed with the idea of producing 'something cool'.  I spent a lot of time working on drawings with titles like 'Space Lab's Down- Baby's out the window!', or 'Where Insects Go.' Fairly pretentious adolescent stuff! I'd sort of mix phrases and images together, in a very muddled way. I was fairly frustrated with the results, but I kept at it. Insects always seemed to feature in my drawings!

HINE: We both had a hard time in the 1990s. For my part Strange Embrace (left) flopped sales-wise when it was printed in four parts by Tundra, and at the same time there was an implosion in the comics market. Comics went from cool to stone cold dead in a few years. At least it seemed that way at the time. We both gave up on comics for the best part of a decade, though Shaky was still putting out a few things.

KANE: The opportunity to get something Into print, certainly on a professional level seemed to evaporate overnight. Deadline went, Revolver only lasted a handful of issues. Editorial direction at Fleetway meant that one week I was in fairly well paid work, the next I was looking for unskilled labour work. I'd moved back to Devon at that stage. There was no viable outlet for paid work, apart for a certain sort of artist who fit the editorial criteria of the day. Dark fantasy, painterly stuff. Certainly not the art I was producing. Maybe if I'd stayed on in London I could have picked up work as an illustrator, but when you've got a family you can't work with maybe you got to get out and work.

I always kept up the drawing, because that's what I do. Projects would come up and I'd get involved. Independent publishing, Punk band record sleeves. I even spent a while drawing early learning comics, Mike The Mechanic, the character was called. I wrote and drew for a local VIZ knock-off called Lazy Frog as Joe Klutz. Uncle Al the Kiddie's Pal, was my character, along with the Freudian World of Professor Chad! He was a guy in a top hat with a naked woman's torso for a face, if you can imagine. I quite enjoyed drawing that one. I think I was losing my mind at that stage!

HINE: When we bumped into one another by chance a few years back it seemed like the perfect time to do something together. I had stopped drawing and was concentrating on writing. I had done quite a few things for Marvel, though that was starting to dry up. It’s hard to believe now but total sales on my books for Marvel ran to over 3 million, not counting foreign editions and trades, but somehow I still seemed to be off the radar and it was getting harder and harder to get freelance work there. I really needed to be doing something creator-owned again.

Shaky and I sat around at the Bristol Convention for a couple of days getting drunk and moaning about the state of the industry and the shit-hot comics we could do if we only had the chance. It took a while for the penny to drop. I think it was a couple of months later that we realized there was absolutely nothing stopping us from getting up off our arses, stop moaning and do something about it. As it turned out we were able to concoct a story where we could also carry on moaning and griping in public.

KANE: Mike Allwood, who used to run the Bristol event, let me share a table with Dave, free of charge. I had my Monster Truck book on the table along with The Dinosaurs are Coming! and The A-MEN book I'd put together from photo-stats of the Deadline pages. 100% unofficial!

At the time it seemed to me that David had achieved the impossible. Writing for Marvel and DC, I'd followed his work and was blown away by it. Daredevil: Redemption was a once in a lifetime idea. Made you interested in buying comic books again. He'd really pulled it off. I actually spent all of the Saturday trying to figure how I could put the Idea to him that maybe we could work on something together. I was pretty low in my own estimation, I didn't know what sort of jerk he might have thought I was.

             

Above: Pages 1 and 2 of The Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred #1

BF: What are the “real world” secret origins of The Bulletproof Coffin? What was the catalyst for the original story and the direction it took.

HINE: Well, if you’ve seen the documentary by Steve Cook, ‘Shaky Kane Unravelled’, you’ll know that it was all Shaky’s idea. (Bastard!)

Actually it was a collaboration in the very best sense. Shaky had a file of notes with names of characters and concepts. The idea of the Bulletproof Coffin trawling a desolate landscape of forgotten artefacts was already there, including the page where Coffin Fly finds the dead hand protruding from the ground. That became the key scene of the series. I kind of built the whole plot from that incident. Plot is my strong point. Although the series seems to go off in all kinds of random directions, it was actually very carefully structured. I wanted to build a world where our alter egos were these hugely successful comics creators who had been cheated out of their heritage by unscrupulous publishers. In our heads I think we always wanted to be Kirby and Ditko, or maybe Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

KANE: I think we actually ended up more like Uncle Al and Professor Chad!

HINE: It was also about being fans and collectors and lovers of comics. We both still have that deep-rooted sense of being kids sucked into a fantasy world that was magical and frightening and exciting. But of course we’ve grown up and become jaded and disillusioned. Although there are still lots of great comics out there the whole industry seems cynical and sterile compared to when we were young. We set out to rail against that sterility and also to make comics that had the sense of chaos and fun and insanity that we used to get from comics.

KANE: The genesis of The Bulletproof Coffin lies in the drawings I produced during my wilderness years. My meteoric career had landed me back in Devon. I kept up the drawing, simply because I enjoyed doing it. I was playing with the idea of a group of dead superheroes. This would have been around '98. Certainly before ZOMBIE had become such a familiar brand. In fact, I sent the idea to Fantgraphics, who wrote back saying how they didn't see any viability in the Zombie genre. Never trust the Magic Eight-Ball!

Again I'd put phrases together as they occurred to me. The Ghost Who Shambles, The Man with No Shadow, The Corpse Corp. I'd spin them out into fragmented strips. I even painted up the Hateful Dead card series as a sheet of uncut cards, back in the trail end of the 90s. Just because, well that's the kind of person I am. I had all this stuff ready when I ran into David at Bristol Comic Expo. Dave of course worked his own brand of magic on it all and worked it into perfectly illogical logic!

BF: That first critically-acclaimed volume of The Bulletproof Coffin is available in trade paperback and I will now unashamedly break all the rules of interviewer objectivity by saying it was one of the most enjoyable takes on the super-hero genre I have had the pleasure of reading in more years than I can remember. For those who haven’t picked it up yet, and in an obviously spoiler-free manner, how would you summarise the book’s tone, approach and story so far?

HINE: The story is that a grown-up fanboy stumbles across a collection of comics that shouldn’t exist. Kane and Hine produced comics for Golden Nuggets, a publisher that was bought up by Big 2 Publishing, who then sacked the creators and cancelled their comics. It turns out that Kane and Hine carried on producing the comics illegally and the characters have taken on a life of their own. Our hero takes on the secret identity of Coffin Fly and tries to save the world from the fate predicted in the comics. That means he has to track down Kane and Hine before Big 2’s corporate lawyers get to them.

Most of the characters are borderline superhero. Coffin Fly has a costume, but he’s more like Flash Gordon crossed with Mad Max. The Unforgiving Eye is a horror/mystery comic host in the style of Ditko’s Mysterious Traveller, or Uncle Creepy. Ramona is Sheena with a finer figure. Red Wraith is a raddled cigarette-smoking supernatural freak. Like the Candyman, he appears when you say his name three times. Only he’s a good guy – kind of. The Shield of Justice is an insane right-wing cop. Dirty Harry in a Captain America knock-off costume. Back in the 1940s comics were full of these dubious characters with utterly messed-up origins. You get the idea that the creators were dreaming them up over a bottle of booze in bar – just like us.

KANE: What I enjoyed about The Bulletproof Coffin, and it's something I've always tried to put in my own work, was its duality. On its surface, the illustrations themselves look fairly two-dimensional, sort of a pop art take on comics. But when you actually start to read it, Dave's narrative takes you on a pretty wild ride. David meticulously crafted the direction the book takes. When you name-check the characters, there's quite a scope for spin-offs and follow-up series. I could imagine The Golden Nuggets universe keeping us busy for quite some time.

BF: The first volume felt very self-contained but by the very nature of its narrative there were always loopholes that would allow you to revisit its characters and themes. Is The Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred a direct continuation of the first series or are you going off on a different tangent this time around?

HINE: Loopholes? I think you mean plot holes. Hah! I’m a big fan of David Lynch. If a story closes off all the holes and ties up all the loose ends, it starts to make sense. And that’s a big mistake. I do have to fight against my instinct to achieve closure. I think if I made a mistake with the first series it may be that I tied things up a little too neatly. But there were certainly an infinite number of side roads to pursue. Our second series doesn’t follow from the first. That story ended and will never ever be continued in a linear sense. But we’re wandering off on some of those side roads. It’s not a six-part story this time. More a set of linked stories, that can be read in any order. We’re inviting our readers to make any connections they want. There is a thread that runs through all the stories and our fifth issue will be the revelatory one – or perhaps a red herring. I’m not really sure myself.

KANE: 'Different tangent' hardly comes close to what we're putting together this time around. I think this book is going to delight and confuse fans of the first series, in equal measure. The only similarity between Bulletproof Coffin and Bullet Proof Coffin Disinterred, are the names of the characters!

Join us tomorrow for the second part of our chat with David and Shaky. The Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred #1 is published in January by Image Comics (NOV11 0363) with #2 hitting shelves in February (DEC11 0549). Volume 1 of The Bulletproof Coffin is currently available in trade paperback.

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