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Art by Howard Chaykin
Cover by Howard Chaykin
Size: 20 pages
WARNING: This comic is for Mature audiences and this review will refer to the fact that Black Kiss 2 #1 is definitely not an all ages comic.
For many of you, the selection of Black Kiss 2 #1 will be a bit confounding. Many of you will complain about not really “getting” Howard Chaykin and others will object to the sexually explicit content within the book. And that’s totally fine. I completely get and could see why many people would object to Black Kiss 2 #1, and to be perfectly honest, that’s one of the reasons why I absolutely adored this book.
For those who aren’t aware of the legacy of Black Kiss and Howard Chaykin, let me give you a little bit of a history lesson. You see, back in the 1980s, believe it or not, the world was a pretty screwed up place (although, I guess the more things change, the more things stay the same). One of the biggest conflicts within our society here in America was around the concept of censorship and content “decency.” You had groups like the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) targeting musical acts that they felt were indecent and were fighting for a ratings system to help regulate an industry that they felt was damaging to children and families. After a famous senate hearing featuring testimony from Frank Zappa, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and, of all people, John Denver, much of the PMRC’s threats were held at bay, but still helped to establish the “explicit” label we saw affixed to albums in the late 1980s and 1990s. This was the atmosphere of the 1980s as parents groups and legal action was being looked at across many forms of media, from music all the way to comics. In 1988, in response to a movement towards bringing a ratings system to comics, Howard Chaykin, after success with his comic American Flagg! set out to make a comic that was filled with sex, violence and humor to prove a point. Depicting vampires in Hollywood (hmmm, seems to be a recent familiar topic in American Vampire too), that comic was Black Kiss and very quickly became one of the independent gems of the 1980s comics scene.
So now, fast forward 24 years to today, where I’m holding Black Kiss 2 #1 in my hands. I never thought we’d ever see another Black Kiss ever again. While it served it’s purpose in the support of free speech and free expression in the 1980s, what started out as comic to prove a point, became one of Chaykin’s finest work of his career. Putting aside the sexual content and the violence, I would imagine a creator like Chaykin would be hesitant to revisit such a politically charged book. But if you know anything about Howard Chaykin, if you’ve seen him at cons or had any interactions with him, you know that the man is anything but hesitant and nothing will stand in his way of telling a story once he’s got one in his head.
What I loved about Black Kiss 2 #1 is that it felt dangerous. It reminded me of the great age of independent comics of over 20 years ago. These were comics you would hear about in comic shops or amongst friends. Someone would have gotten their hands on a copy from a friend or older sibling or at a con and they would get passed around or you would have to work to hunt down a copy. These weren’t Marvel or DC Comics, and once you read them, they felt different. Foreign. Dangerous. Comics like Cerebus, American Flagg!, Mister X, The Crow, and Black Kiss. It’s amazing how just within 3 pages of Black Kiss 2 #1, I was immediately transported back to those days of discovering comics that weren’t the ones with big colorful super heroes.
To describe and recant the events of Black Kiss 2 #1 would almost be doing it an injustice. Upon opening it, once I got over that nostalgic rush for independent comics of years gone by, I was struck by the setting of New York City in 1906. Through frank and aggressive imagery, Chaykin lays down what will be the mission statement for this comic as Chaykin told USA Today, ”sex, death and the movies.” Chaykin draws the relationship between entertainment and the influence and affect it has on it’s audience in an overly dramatic fashion, but makes his point about as cleanly as you could. Then in the second chapter of the issue, we move forward to a tale of sex, class struggles and hopes and dreams, all aboard the Titanic. Yes, you read that correctly, The Titanic.
Howard Chaykin is one of those creators who I like to refer to as: a mad genius.
Artistically, Chaykin’s art is at the top of his game. His use of black and white as a color palette should be taught in comic book making classes. His storytelling is masterful, particularly the use of juxtaposition within chapter one, as the movie going audience reacts to the film they are watching, all the while while narration guides the reader through the journey that will be shocking and entertaining at the same time. His cartooning bounces off the page form panel to panel, as the horrific reactions stand out on the masterfully rendered backgrounds. Do yourself a favor, ignore the words and the penises and just look at the backgrounds. Then look at the foreground. For those of you who don’t get why we like Chaykin’s art so much, this book serves as a primer better than any in recent memory.
Oh yeah, it’s dirty. I mean, really, really dirty. But that’s the point.
Art is meant to be challenging and the best art challenges you in ways you never thought you could be challenged. Chaykin’s use of sexuality and violence is shocking, but it’s not being done for shock value. The man doesn’t set out to just depict the most dirty scenario he can think of. It’s the strategic use of shocking imagery and dramatic effect that work to help sustain the narrative. Chaykin is our guide on a wild journey through our country’s history with sex and death as the main points of interest. When you look around at our world, it’s filled with imagery of sex and death, so much so that we become more and more desensitized to it all. It takes alot to shock even me these days, and if you ask me, that’s part of the point that Chaykin is making with Black Kiss 2 and I can’t wait to see where this goes.
Black Kiss 2 #1 isn’t a comic for everyone. It’s definitely not for children or the faint of heart. But for those of us who want a little danger in our lives and in our comics, it’s a dream come true. Black Kiss 2 #1 is pure, raw Chaykin and it’s glorious.
That’s some GOOD Chaykin