When people think of revolutionary comics released in the 80′s they are quick to drool out the titles of works such as Moore and Gibbons Watchmen , or Frank Millers’ The Dark Knight Returns , these people often overlook the revolutionary work of HOWARD CHAYKIN . Around the same time as Watchmen and DKR were coming out Chaykin was putting out medium pushing and career defining work in the form of the sci fi/political thriller American Flagg, and the work I want to talk to you about today , Black Kiss.
Published in 1988 by VORTEX COMICS , Black Kiss is an impeccably made, angry comic made by and angry man , who is frustrated and done with the censorship of the Comics Code Authority, and the industries (still) awful treatment of artists.
I want to also note, while I have your attention, the masterful lettering and design work of the virtuoso Ken Bruzenak. A huge part of why Chaykin’s output is as influential and brilliant as it is , is the shear level of brilliance Bruzenak brings to his layouts, text placement, and graphic design of the pages (take a look at the poster behind the phone).
The comic is famous for (among) other things, it’s graphic and pornographic depiction of sex. Characters in Black Kiss don’t have they’re genitalia obscured by cleverly rendered shadows, or inanimate objects, Chaykin lets it all hang out in a time when no one had ever really let it all hang out . The sex in here is absolutely divisive it’s not rendered with the intent of relaying “story” or moving forward narrative, it’s done in a way to piss people off, to make them uncomfortable . That was the ultimate goal of this work after all . Black Kiss is a fairly simplistic mystery/crime/supernatural mashup once you get down to it , nothing to shock , certainly , but its this intent , this raw angry unfiltered sexual energy that Chaykin carves into the pages that elevate the work beyond that . We follow the enigmatic and curly headed CASS POLLACK who scurry’s around as he attempts to find a reel of film which depicts secondary character Beverly in coitus with a man of the cloth . Hi-jinks ensue, revelations are made, and in true Chaykin fashion, someone you didn’t think had a penis, does in fact have a penis.
Black Kiss was intended by Chaykin to be a final send off , a final “fuck you” to the world of comics he had grown to despise before his departure to Hollywood , where he would toil as a show-runner and scriptwriter on what he would later describe as “twenty years of shit television” .
Black Kiss is a Molotov cocktail thrown into a the church of comics–american comics– by a man sprinting full speed to get out, and that’s one of the most intriguing parts of this work to me . Viewing it in posterity we have the luxury of pulling Chaykins life narrative to the equation , and seeing that after all these years, after the one last big porno comic heist before he left town, he ended coming back anyways. Seems like a pretty apt metaphor for the entire industry.