It’s hard to believe, but there used to be a time when we weren’t constantly bombarded by news about celebrities; when television was more a novelty than part of everyday life, and secrets could be hidden away from the prying eyes of tabloid journalists. That time was the 1950s, when television was entering its golden age.
In 2013, writer Matt Fraction and artist Howard Chaykin will use that time period as a backdrop for a twisted murder mystery in their new ongoing creator owned series from Image Comics, “Satellite Sam.” CBR News spoke with Fraction about the series.
In 2009 Fraction was writing “Punisher War Journal” for Marvel Comics when the company fulfilled a life long dream for the writer by teaming him with legendary writer/artist Howard Chaykin, who provided art for the series. “I grew up reading Howard’s stuff, which I suspect will make him feel old, but it’s true. His work was responsible for a lot of my tastes and we became friends when we worked together on the book,” Fraction told CBR News. “So part of the reason why I wanted to do this book is I wanted an excuse to have Howard back in my life as an ongoing concern. The chance to work with him on a ‘Howard’ book was something I wanted to make happen.”
Fraction came up with the basic idea for “Satellite Sam” and then left a voice mail about it on Chaykin’s phone. The artist like what he heard and two began talking about the overall story of the series which begins when a children’s TV star is found dead with a box of photographs of everyone he ever slept with.
“There’s an architect that our story is slightly based on. When he died his son found a box of polaroids of women that were not his mother; he discovered that his father had an entire secret life,” Fraction explained. “So I kind of tweaked, polished, and pushed that story into a murder mystery. There was something very weird and sexual and sad about it. A box full of your dead dad’s girlfriends was a fascinating and noirish thing to look into and investigate. The whole world of the book lives in that space.”
The murder in “Satellite Sam” unfolds in the interesting and changing world that was television in the late 1950s. “It takes place at a TV network a little bit like DuMont that didn’t survive the ’50s. The ‘Satellite Sam’ show is one of the few successful points of this doomed network, and television is starting to move out west. NBC and ABC are starting to become national players,” Fraction said. “So it was a weird time when television wasn’t necessarily on 24 hours and people were starting to realize it would eventually be on 24 hours a day and that meant there needed to be stuff to put on it. That means recording things and saving these tapes. People like Jackie Gleason and Desi Arnaz, for all their gifts as performers and comedians, understood something innate about the industry and the art form of television before industrialists understood it. They got there first so they were able to build empires around them and their foresight.
“In our story we have a guy, who created the ‘Satellite Sam’ show and stars in it, with that kind of vision and foresight into what television could become. He’s the creator of one of the hits on this DuMont-esque network and now he’s dead. So why did he die? Was it a sex crime? Or did it have something to do with the future of his show and network television?” Fraction continued “His son is an engineer that works with his old man, but not necessarily as on camera talent. He’s a guy who builds, tinkers with, and studies things. His day to day mysteries are how to move a camera through a TV studio? What kind of tracks should he make? All while slowly drinking himself to death.”
Sam’s son will have to use his engineering skills to get to the bottom of his father’s murder, because he won’t be getting any help from professional crime solvers. “This is much more an amateur investigation. The police see things as fairly open and shut. Plus when you’re investigating the death of a beloved children’s TV star there’s a lot of hushing up. Nobody wants the truth out,” Fraction remarked. “Once Sam’s son finds the box of photographs his investigation becomes kind of a personal quest. Sex subverts booze in his world and everything goes upside-down. He wants to find out who killed his father and why. This is a son having to figure out who his father was by traveling through all his dark places.”
As Sam’s son tries to uncover details about his father’s death and secret life readers will meet the cast and crew of the titular “Satellite Sam” show. “Plus we’ll examine the power structure of the network. It’s really a study of those moments where television stopped being in New York and started moving to California. It’s about the moment where television became television rather than an experiment,” Fraction explained. “There was still a live theater aspect to television back then and Howard is a big theater guy. So we’re going to do a lot of fun research into the world of how they made television back then. We went to the Paley museum and spent hours there studying stuff and digging around. It was interesting back then because it would be common for shows to have two stages and a swirl of activity in the control room. And in our book the star of the show doesn’t show up one day. Then everything falls apart from there.”
A murder mystery and the politics and machinations of the Golden Age of television are proving to be a fertile ground for Fraction and Chaykin. The duo are only in the initial stages of their collaboration but have already amassed several ideas for the series.
“We keep talking about it and coming up with stories that we can do. So right now we have an initial story line, but it’s a very fertile world and I’d like to keep going and developing the story. So it currently doesn’t have a set length,” Fraction explained. “Part of the joy of being at Image is you don’t need to commit to that decision. You can let the story dictate how long it needs to be, and right now this book feels like a pretty fruitful place for ideas. We’ll go until we stop.
“Howard and I workshop stuff really well together and I know if I can get him on board with an idea there’s something there. I also believe he wouldn’t draw something if he didn’t like it. So it’s great to have one of my favorite creators in comics, both as a writer and an artist, to workshop an idea with,” Fraction continued. “Plus, with ‘Satellite Sam’ I get to tell some different kinds of stories. We’ve got sex, death, ray guns, alcoholism, murder, and television. And our tone can go everywhere from funny to profoundly creepy, just like a Howard Chaykin comic.”
“Satellite Sam” debuts in 2013 from Matt Fraction, Howard Chaykin, and Image Comics.