The government is so out of touch it might as well be on Mars, people engage in humiliating and barbaric contests on live TV, greed and corruption are rampant, and the most prestigious place in the community is the shopping mall. Howard Chaykin could not have predicted that the bleak future he was writing about in his award-winning comic “American Flagg!” would be so relevant today. Dynamic Forces will release a new collected edition of the first twelve issues of “American Flagg!” next month. CBR News recently caught up with Chaykin for a chat about “American Flagg!”
In 1983 First Comics released the first issue of “American Flagg!” The comic ran for fifty issues after which a new title was launched, “Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg” which lasted 12 issues. It was a comic that combined many genres – science fiction, political satire and straight-up action.
“Flagg!” takes place in the year 2031. After a global apocalypse consisting of limited nuclear exchanges, plagues, and riots decimates Earth, the major governments and businesses of the planet flee to Mars. They built large shopping malls called “Plex Malls” in every major city to keep the remaining citizens of Earth happy, healthy and distracted.
The title character. Reuben Flagg, is an out of work actor who was replaced by a computer program. Inspired by his parents’ devotion to America, Flagg joins the Plexus Rangers, a militia that serves the ruling government and protects the Plex Malls.
Chaykin had been keeping notes of the ideas that would become “American Flagg!” for many years. “I was approached by First Comics with the idea of taking this material and developing a new book for them,” Chaykin told CBR News. “I took out all of those notes and collated them in to what I believe was a nine page outline document with titles, characters, concepts and just an overview of the material.”
Chaykin said the ideas and influences on “Flagg” came from a variety of sources. “A lot of it had to do with where I was emotionally, spiritually, politically, and ethically and also wanting to play in an arena using all the stuff that I had been reading and looking at for many years. The secret influences on ‘Flagg’ are legion. Beyond the obvious, I was always obsessed with ‘Terry and the Pirates,’ Milton Caniff’s great strip. It was one of my favorite strips. I still read it now and then. I also wanted to play graphically with different ways of looking at time and I wanted to do a political satire about the way the world was then.
“Visually I’ve always been very interested in industrial design and then the Bauhaus, the German stuff. I’m a huge fan of Alex Toth. I’m a huge fan of John Severin and in a weird sort of way the book was a combination of Toth’s graphics or my understanding of Toth’s graphics and of Severin’s use of texture and form.”
Television plays a big role in “American Flagg!”, where programs often contain subliminal messages. Violent reality shows are the top rated programs in the world of “Flagg” and Reuben Flagg inherits a pirate TV station. “I’m obsessed with television and ‘Flagg’ is a lot about what television is about. You know television is a medium that congratulates the audience for being too hip for television and to a great extent that’s cynicism.”
Cynicism is a charge that many people level at Chaykin and his work on “American Flagg!” “I’m constantly charged with being a cynic by people who don’t quite know the definition of what cynicism is,” said Chaykin. “The reality is I’m a skeptic and in those terms a romantic realist. I’m a cock-eyed optimist and, to a great extent, ‘Flagg’ reflects that. ‘Flagg’ is also visually sort of a combination of the three actors who most influenced my life as a kid and as an adult – Henry Fonda, William Holden, and James Garner. Because these guys represent the kind of heroic worldview that I respond to. You know heroism, but don’t get crazy about this. You know like, relax.”
Chaykin would love to see an “American Flagg!” film and says he’s had a number of offers over the years and has a clear idea of who he would like to see the title character. “In a weird sort of way, I’d love to see Jimmy Fallon. A good looking comic actor who can play a leading man is exactly the way to go.”
When Chaykin decided to reprint “American Flagg!” he received numerous offers and decided to go with Dynamic Forces. “Ultimately, we felt that Nick Baurruci and his company gave us the best sort of overall perspective on how to approach this and we were the happiest. I’ve known Nick for many years and it just worked out that way. It was a nice arrangement.”
There are two editions being released by Dynamic Forces. A hardcover edition of “American Flagg!” priced at $49.99, which features a forward by Michael Chabon, an afterward by Jim Lee, and a dust jacket designed by Chip Kidd. There will will also be two soft cover trade paperbacks collecting the issues reprinted in the hardcover.
The feature in the collected edition that long time “Flagg” fans are most excited about is an all-new 12-page story written and drawn by Chaykin. The story is the only new “Flagg” material Chaykin currently has planned, but he’s not opposed to revisiting the world of Reuben Flagg. “Never say never,” said Chaykin. “Who knows? There is plenty of material to tell. It was always sort of an open-ended, keep on going on long as I wanted to kind of thing. So maybe.”
Chaykin is delighted to have “American Flagg!” back in print for new and old readers to enjoy. “I had a great time doing it. The book was one of the most gratifying professional experiences of my life. It also kicked my ass.”