The golden age of television wasn't all variety shows and sanitized family fun. As history has taught us, there was a seedier side to the whole thing, one that gets explored in "Satellite Sam," a new Image Comics series from Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin. The possibly ongoing book kicks off with a murder mystery set in New York City circa 1951. The victim, a beloved kiddie show host known as Satellite Sam. The location: a flophouse.
Sam's son Michael, an engineer by nature and trade, takes it upon himself to figure out what happened to his dad. The first and most promising clue he comes across is a box filled with photos of women who just might know something about what happened to his father. Though he's usually concerned with what makes machines work, Michael now must focus his attention on the much trickier business of what makes people tick.
This isn't the first team-up for Fraction and Chaykin. In 2008, Chaykin joined Fraction for a series of "Punisher: War Journal" issues at Marvel. The pair got along well spoke developed a friendship which has culminated in "Satellite Sam." CBR News spoke with Fraction about digging into the history of television, examining Michael's investigation and how the creators' love of the past spawned this project.
CBR News: It's obvious you enjoy your Marvel work on "Hawkeye," "Fantastic Four," etc., but important is it to you creatively to do creator-owned projects like "Satellite Sam" or "Casanova?"
You worked with Howard previously on "Punisher: War Journal." Did that open the doorway for "Satellite Sam?"
It opened our relationship, personally, and I think that opened the doorway to "Satellite Sam." Obviously I learned to work with him and write for him and all that on "PWJ," but really, it was getting to know him as a friend that started our journey to "Satellite Sam" -- getting to know him, hearing his stories and realizing we had so many common interests. I've loved Howard's work from the moment I saw it. I've read him my whole reading life. When I saw an inch of space there, I wiggled in and took a mile.
How has working with Howard differed from your other collaborations?
Well, we have a weird, almost telepathic shorthand, which is always nice -- and more than anything, I lean into and trust and respect his collaboration, since, y'know, he's CHAYKIN and has made an array of masterpieces. Believe me, if the guy that made "Time²" wants to give me a note, I'm going to take it, y'know? Howard's always working smarter, and helping me to do the same.
And, too, he's like a living Google on this book -- this period, this world, this is his jam. Where I've got a tourist's familiarity, Howard goes deep cut and lots of times has firsthand experience with some of the stuff.
Considering Howard's solid working knowledge of this era, how much research did you put into the world of "Satellite Sam?"
A shitload. It's been a couple years worth, including a day spent in Manhattan with Howard, touring the Paley Center and the remains of that world -- and then walking south from the seventies down to the low-thirties and getting Howard's blood, tears and fucking history of comics in New York City circa 1978-1989. I sort of want to make a documentary.
Were there any really out there or surprising things you learned that you just had to include in the story?
The origins and golden years of TV are great. It's a dynamite story, full of art freaks and tech heads inventing an artform and technological empire all at once. It was like pirates putting on plays every day. I think the product at its worst (the sterile, antiseptic, "Leave it to Beaver" sorta stuff) clouds over too easily the real stories, which were just as full of full-blooded highs and heartbreaking lows as everything else.
And it was all done LIVE.
It sounds like Sam's son is a true engineer at heart, the kind of person who focuses on how things work. How does that mindset play into the search for his father's killer?
That's exactly it -- he's a puzzler. He looks like his old man, thirty years ago, so there's some kind of weird transubstantiation happening to the poor guy, too. It's fun to take an introvert and push him into an extrovert's circumstances, but that's what Michael will have to do to both save his familial empire and figure out who's behind his old man's death, and why.
The further we get into our technologically advanced world, the more certain kinds of stories can only be told in that past. Did that idea play into the setting and story of "Satellite Sam?"
Yeah, absolutely. It's a joy to not have to worry about cellphones, and it's fun to talk about the invention of a medium from the ground floor up. When our story takes place, TV wasn't even on the air 24 hours a day, let alone coast to coast. There's an argument in the first issue about when the FCC will release more air for the four nascent networks to be allowed to grow -- as actually happened -- that'll basically determine what networks stay and which ones don't make it out of the mesozoic.
Sex is also a big part of the story, with much of Michael's investigation having to do with photos of women from his dad's past. Did you handle the topic differently in this story than you would in one set in modern times?
No, not terribly so. The tech is different, but the kinks are the same. The bras are different, I suppose, but, y'know, the mechanics remain.
Between the "Satellite Sam" Tumblr and your ShitMyHowardSays Twitter account, "Satellite Sam" has a pretty solid social media presence, how important is that when building steam on a creator owned project like this?
Well, first off, Howard Chaykin is a national treasure and anything I can do to reinforce this in peoples' minds, the better -- but really I'm taking the lead from my wife, Kelly Sue Deconnick, and the outreach work she's done with her fans on "Captain Marvel" and "Ghost." It's a cool way to cut through the same nine sites with the same nine articles and really invest something back in the people that have invested their time, money and attention on you. And when you're up against everything Marvel and DC are capable of, you have to find ways to speak directly to your core. So, so very, very important.
In a previous interview with CBR, you mentioned that you and Howard were talking about future storulines. Have you nailed any of those down at this point?
Yeah. New York leads eventually to California and California leads eventually to the south of France. How we get there, though, is anybody's guess (except ours -- we know).
"Satellite Sam" #1, from Matt Fraction, Howard Chaykin and Image Comics, debuts on July 3.