Earlier this month, CBR News spoke with writer Marc Guggenheim who told us about the September debuting series “Blade.” The character’s visibility is at an all time high right now, following three successful feature films as well as a new television series debuting on Spike TV later this month. Getting back to the comic, though, there’s still one small bit of business to take care of – an artist. Up until now, the artist for the Marvel Comics series had not been revealed, but today we’ve got the details. CBR News has learned that the man tasked with bringing Guggenheim’s scripts to life will be artist Howard Chaykin. We caught up with Chaykin at his home outside Los Angeles late last week to get the full story.
Well, you’ve got a career where you never shy away from tackling controversial material and you tend to gravitate towards less “mainstream” work (although, often your own work becomes mainstream in the process). “Blade” is a very mainstream and a very high profile character due to the films and the upcoming television show. I guess it doesn’t strike me as the kind of project you’d naturally be drawn to.
The audience needs to be confused every now and then. Basically, they called me with the concept first, and then they sent me the proposal, which is what sold me.
Specifically, what was it about the proposal that intrigued you? Or does that need to remain a secret until the first issue is out?
No, that’s the purview of Marc Guggenheim, the writer, but I was intrigued enough by the proposal to call back.
So, primarily it was the proposal that made this a compelling project for you?
It was the take on the character and the script itself. There was a lot of room to move and I liked the shots that Marc called out. There seemed to be some simpatico in how we approach the storytelling and the material.
Right. As you know, Blade the character has evolved enormously since the character debuted on the silver screen back in 1998…
No shit! [Marvel] sent me a pile of reference! [laughs] There has been such an evolution of the character – a lot of it having to do with hairstyles!
[laughs] Do you like what’s happened with the character all these years, both visually and conceptually?
I haven’t really kept up with the conceptual elements, but I liken it to the Western. When I was a kid, the Western was the perfect bellwether of the time in which it was made. If you look at a movie about Jesse James or Billy The Kid, it tells you more about the decade in which it was produced than anything else. To a great extent that’s true with Blade – which is a perfect reflection of the time in which the material was produced.
I just delivered a drawing of the character today, which sort of captures my take on the character.
You know, Marvel sent me that picture earlier today, but I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet. So, let me open it and you’ll get my reaction live.
You know he’s black, right?
[laughs] Yes, Howard!
Just in case you were curious!
OK, it’s opened. Nice stuff, Howard. It’s a great sketch that captures the action of the character nicely.
Well, thank you. Originally I was going to put him into a sword-fighting pose, but I thought it would be much better to put a gun into his hands.
What are some of the challenges of working on a character like Blade in comics?
Keeping it current – and keeping in mind I’m working for an audience that’s considerably hipper than I am, while still maintaining the currency of the character. I’m a clotheshorse, although you’d never know it by taking a look at me. [laughs] I live in a small town now, so I no longer dress. [laughs] I’m very hip to clothes. And I like the political elements in the story – oh, crap, I’m not supposed to tell you about the damn content – but that’s going to evolve in the material as well.
It’s an urban strip and I’m a city guy
You mentioned that one of the big challenges for you is keeping things looking current and you say you’re drawing for a generation that’s considerably more hip than you …
I’m of the generation for which hip-hop music is designed to drive me up the wall.
That may be true, but I also know you’re quite the student of pop culture.
Sure. I keep current. I’m a great believer in creating a relationship even with material that doesn’t interest me. Nothing drove me crazier when I was reading Ditko’s Spider-Man – don’t get me wrong, I love Ditko’s Spider-Man – but I don’t know where the fuck those guys got their clothes! [laughs] I mean, they were dressing like characters from 1948 comics.
Peter Parker and Flash Thompson, all of those guys with their hair cuts and their clothing, it didn’t reflect anything contemporary in the period. I see it as the responsibility of a guy like me to accommodate contemporary terminology and contemporary language. A lot of that has to do with being open to reference and research.
I’m a great believer of not making anything up. I like verisimilitude. My guns, my cars, my cities are real places and real things. One of the nicest things someone told me during my run on “Hawkgirl” is that for the first time Saint Roch was a real city. I consider that very flattering because it was a conscious choice on my part.
So, in a way you’re trying to make the city in which the comic takes place an equal star in the comic.
It has to be. In my world, that thinking goes back as far as in “American Flagg!.” That’s true even in “Black Kiss.” “Black Kiss” was the first book I wrote and drew that took place in Los Angeles. I was very conscious of trying to find a visual way and cues to sell that idea. Now, with “Blade,” it takes place in New York, London and Washington, urban environments, so, again, no fakery. I want to make sure that when people read this, they believe that those cities are visceral and real in every way and shape.
We discussed how much the character has evolved in the last 10 years. Certainly all characters evolve over time, even a character that’s almost 70 years old like Superman, but Superman has changed far less than a character like Blade. Do you think Blade has reached that point where he’s finally been fully defined or maybe most properly defined?
I don’t know. You’re right about Superman not having changed all that much, but I guarantee if you took a fan from 1940 and showed him Superman today, he wouldn’t have a clue what the book was talking about. The material itself is totally different.
Absolutely, you’re right.
A lot of my friends don’t read comics and I’m the only cartoonist they know. When they look at my stuff, it’s hieroglyphics to them – they have no grasp of it because we work in a profoundly jargon based form. Do you know the word patois? It’s used a lot in New Orleans. It’s a language that’s a combination of English, French and Spanish. It exists in the Virgin Islands and the Carribean and New Orleans. To a great extent comics exist in that world in a sort of visual and textual patois.
We take that for granted as comic professionals, but step outside of it and look at it from the outside world, it’s “Huh? What the hell does that mean?” So, I think it’s difficult to even consider the idea that Blade’s completely defined because, well, like Alan Moore can come along and find something brand new in pastiches of failed comic book characters.
For me, the process of making comics has replaced my comic book fandom. I was the archetypal comic book fan boy. I weighed 265 pounds and comics were the center of my universe, along with movies and television and food. [laughs] I had a long conversation this morning about food when I explained to a friend of mine how I’d start eating and never stop. Comics were the same for me because I’d start reading, but there’d never be enough. But I’ve replaced the reading of comics with the actual doing of comics. Having an opportunity on something like “Blade” is a great challenge.
But of course, I’d really love to find a way to make a living sitting on my fat ass in bed all day eating macaroni and cheese!
[laughs] If that were the case, I’d be in the room next to you doing the same exact job.
Unfortunately that career hasn’t emerged yet. [laughs]
OK, let’s finish up here. You’ve leaving “Hawkgirl” to move to “Blade.” Why?
Why not? It’s just the right time. Nothing more than that.