Created by Jacob Kurtz
(aka Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips)
“It never makes any goddamn sense.”
Now here’s something you don’t see everyday: a fictitious comic strip drawn by a character in a comic book. Is that meta enough for ya?
FRANK KAFKA is the private eye hero of a popular daily comic strip titled, appropriately enough “Frank Kafka, Private Eye,” drawn by Jacob Kurtz, a one-time expert forger and one of the many less-than-law-abiding characters in Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips on-going comic book series Criminal.
The strip appears only sporadically, serving as a sort of philosophical leitmotif running through Coward, the first story arc, usually being read by one of the characters. It’s a long-time favourite of Gnarly, the big burly bartender at The Undertow, a dive bar frequented by many of the characters in the series, who consider it a sort of safe zone for the criminal element. Gnarly gets a kick out of it, but Leo, like most all of the other characters, doesn’t get it. As he says, “It never makes any goddamn sense.”
That’s because the strip is pretty much a homage to (or a knowing send-up of) the fiction of Franz Kafka, filtered through a 1950s hard-boiled private eye sensibility. Widely regarded as one of the giants of 20th-century literature, Franz Kafka’s work fused elements of realism and dark fantasy, and often featured confused and isolated protagonists (like Frank), facing surrealistic, existential threats that don’t make any sense, and who find themselves at the mercy of some all-powerful but faceless bureaucracy. Themes of alienation, anxiety, guilt, and off-balance absurdity abound, and the comic strip captures that unsettling quality perfectly — Frank’s been hired by someone (he can’t remember who) to find a woman (he doesn’t know why) only known as H, but some G-Men try to persuade him to drop the case (although Frank isn’t even sure what the case is).
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
- “Coward (Part One): Caught in the Undertow”(October 2006; #1)
- “Coward (Part Two)” (December 2006; #2)
- “Coward (Part Three)” (January 2007; #3)
- “Coward (Part Four): ” (February 2007; #4)
- “Coward (Part Five): Too Late” (March 2007; #5)