Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Simultaneity of Satellite Sam by Matt Fraction & Howard Chaykin

Satellite Sam #1 by Fraction and Chaykin
New Today from Image
I had no clue what it would be about, just that it was a new comic by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin. C is for comic, and that's good enough for me. Well, actually it's not. Who makes the cookie comic and the flavor is pretty damn important. So a new creator owned book by Fraction AND Chaykin? Well, holy shit, just mainline that into my skull, thank you. My biases out of the way, Satellite Sam #1, out today from Image, genuinely surprised me. Not surprised me that it was good, which it was. (Though it would have surprised me if it was bad, a surprise that actually happens too damn much, but thank Kirby that didn't happen here.) No, it was the specificity of it, the straightforward yet temporally exotic world of New York 1950s live television broadcast sci-fi. And it was the sheer fun I had reading it.

It's 1951, and Satellite Sam is a live television television show on the Le Monde network. Issue one, page one, panel one, and we are live on the air and Satellite Same is nowhere to be seen on Satellite Sam. Alliteratively named Director Dick Danning is holding things together, and this isn't the first time star Carlyle White late-showed his own show. Live teevee in the fifties was the wild west, if the wild west was strapped to a home-made rocket and everyone was watching. Everything from on the fly last-second rewrites to malfunctioning equipment was the norm. The action is intense and overlapping and we are in the very thick of it, the entire densely packed issue taking place over the course of the filming of one episode, about fifteen minutes or so. And there's a ton going on here. Subplots amongst the cast and crew weave in and around the behind the scenes scrambling endemic to all live television, the constant level of controlled panic slightly heightened by the missing star and, oh yeah, the investors who decided to show up in the middle of filming.

A crew-woman (an assistant director, I reckon) hurries out into the streets of Manhattan, down 8th and Astor and St. Marks to an apartment she has the key to and where she is pretty sure Carlyle may be. And he is there, after a fashion, and certainly can't make filming in time. Back to the studio and Carlyle's adult son, Mike, is straddling a catwalk, changing a blown light bulb while below someone stretches a live commercial, wringing whatever time he can for the star to show up ("And Kids, do you love your Cream of Wheat? I mean, do you REALLY love it?").

While this is happening, the investors are meeting with the LaMonde exec, and he's pitching hard. In two brilliant pages, Fraction and Chaykin (I'm going to coin "Frayktin" here) set the stage that is the state of American Media in the post-war Boom. The economy of storytelling here is remarkable, flawlessly giving exposition for the larger cultural, political and technological landscape of the time. This is in the Long Ago Times before Cable and NetflixHuluTivo and the Interwebs; Le Monde and their competitors at RCA and other nascent networks are just now building the entertainment infrastructure of the future. The Le Monde founder (I guess this is the Le Monde of Le Monde) gushes about the technology at his disposal, an entertainment network founded on the engineering principles of the founder, like the teevee shows are the killer app for the cameras and network he's been building. The investors are worried that Le Monde still needs to rely on the infrastructure of other companies, that they cannot expand beyond the small handful of major markets the FCC currently limits them to. There's talk of lobbying in Washington, of the War, of finances. And someone notices that Satellite Sam is still not on Satellite Sam.

There's a last second casting change to cover asses and a revelation of dark secrets brought to light after a murder to bring it all home. It's clear Fraction researched the bejeezus out of this. The whole thing feels authentic, the chaos of the production, the details coloring every interaction. And Chaykin's black-and-white art is perfect - I reckon the only artists better suited for the material might be Rian Hughes or Darwyn Cooke, until you get to the revelation of a secret drawer's contents and then there's the splash page of a woman on the streets of New York and, yeah, this is perfect Chaykin through and through. The fashion of the 1950s was invented so Howard Chaykin could make a comic with people dressed in it someday.

Satellite Sam is engaging nigh-on riveting stuff, and I can't wait for more. Issue one drops today, 25+ pages of story for a paltry tree-fiddy. And while you're at the shop, check out Casanova by Fraction and Moon & Ba or the modern classic American Flagg by Chaykin. Your brain will thank you.

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