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Book Review < Back

Black Kiss

Credits: Written and Illustrated by Howard Chaykin
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books


Think Brian De Palma.

Think Brian De Palma without the goddamn MPAA standing in the way of the distribution of his films.

Think Brian De Palma without the goddamn MPAA standing in the way of the distribution of his films making a film about filmmakers and their toady little fans. You may come close to imagining the no-holes-barred vitriol of Howard Chaykin's poison pen and final fuck you to comics, BLACK KISS.

BLACK KISS didn't end up being his FINAL final fuck you to comics, but it certainly left its mark as Chaykin packed up and moved to TV Land for a while. All the referencing and symbolic implications that so permeate this book don't really matter - it's a dirty comic, so Chaykin's superheroes wear black bras and panties. Whether Chaykin's talking about porn aficionados or comic book geeks is hardly the point. BLACK KISS is about Chaykin running wild with the late eighties zeitgeist of misogyny and glamorous designer vomit so vogue in comics back then. With all the vigor of a last hurrah, BLACK KISS is a portrait of the artist as an Angry Young Man with an airtight Hollywood escape plan.

The hard-boiled pulp plot is surprisingly dense for a book about hard-ons, hit men, and vampires. The black and white art serves to magnify the spectacle of Chaykin's complex genius as a designer of comics. His pages and panels move with a unique visual choreography; like all of Chaykin's major works, BLACK KISS teaches you to read it as it goes.

The payoff in this instance is, of course, subjective.

In terms of sex, this is Chaykin rejecting the "mature comics" movement of the eighties by exploiting all of the totemic sex fetishes the comics world had loved him for to date: big asses and hiked-up skirts; garters and blow jobs; Jews. With no fence to keep his id in check, Chaykin's sexual iconography becomes so deliberately well worn by book's end that even the naughtiest of naughty black negligees packs little more erotic punch than a janitor's uniform. The final irony of BLACK KISS is that Chaykin holds his subject matter, medium, and (one presumes) his audience in such contempt that he wont even let them enjoy the fucking in this, his dirty little fuck book. BLACK KISS is poisonous and bitter, an absurdly funny sucker punch demanding to be spat out.

Hail, farewell, and fuck you.

-- Matt Fraction

Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.


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