Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Howard Chaykin, and the issues are Star Wars #8 and Cody Starbuck, the first of which was published by Marvel and is cover dated February 1977 and the second of which was published by Star*Reach Productions and is cover dated July 1978. Enjoy!
I was just going to skip to Cody Starbuck in this post, but I happened to find an issue of Star Wars, and Chaykin’s art is so different and, frankly, boring that I wanted to show a little from it. The issue I happened to find (once again, the 50¢-cent boxes at my comics shoppe are full of gold, Jerry!) is in shoddy shape, but I guess if you have a good copy, it’s worth a pretty penny because issue #8 is the first appearance of Jaxxon, the giant green bunny! Huzzah! We won’t be seeing Jaxxon, though. So sorry!
In the letters page, Archie Goodwin (I suppose; he edited the book) notes that Chaykin was trying out a particular style on the book, and I can only assume that means “house style,” because his work here is very much in the style of many late 1970s Marvel comics. Maybe it’s the presence of Tom Palmer as inker – Palmer is a good inker, to be sure, but he’s also fairly heavy-handed, especially in the 1970s, so perhaps he was smoothing out any idiosyncrasies Chaykin was bringing to his artwork. I tend to doubt that, though, as it appears Chaykin was trying very hard to conform to the “look” of the movie, not only with regard to the characters (obviously) but also with the settings and even the new characters that never appeared in the movie. Some Chaykin-esque work filtered through, but this page is pretty representative of the art in this issue as a hole. Chaykin certainly lays the page out perfectly well, but the actual line work is kind of bland.
Serji-X Arrogantus is a pretty good Chaykin creation, as he doesn’t quite have a “Chaykin face,” but it’s more cartoonish and grotesque than Chaykin was allowed to get with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, while Chaykin makes sure to combine in the character the two things he loves the most: space-faring outlaws and cowboys, as Serji wears boots and spurs that make no sense whatsoever. There’s a lot more line work on his figure than we’ll see in Cody Starbuck, where Chaykin tends to be a bit cleaner, but that’s probably Palmer’s contribution. I wonder if Chaykin thought “Yay!” when he was allowed to design his own damned character for this comic!
Amaiza joins Han’s crew, and Chaykin also gets to draw her a bit like a “Chaykin character” rather than a Star Wars one. He gives her nice curly hair (beautifully inked by Palmer in Panel 1) and puts her in a sassy pose in Panel 2, which is how Chaykin likes his females – sassy as all get-out! It’s really interesting looking at this issue (and, I imagine, other Star Wars comics that Chaykin drew) and seeing the slight tension between Marvel house style and Chaykin’s more flamboyant style. Luckily, Chaykin would get to show off a bit in Cody Starbuck, which came out a year-and-a-half later. I don’t own the first two appearances of Cody Starbuck, but that’s just the way it goes, I guess. And yes, I will show the ridiculously violent scene. Why not? It’s not terribly controversial these days!
Chaykin is starting to become less detailed and more abstract, which I’ve noted over the course of this year tends to happen to artists as they get older (given that Chaykin was 27 when he drew this, “older” is a relative term, of course). He’s using bolder lines with more spot blacks, and it makes his work far starker than before. We’ll see below that Chaykin is actually getting a bit stiffer with his figure work, but we see a little of it here, although the panther is fairly lithe. I can’t find out who colored this book – Chaykin himself? – but it’s quite unusual, as it’s probably painted (it’s 1978, remember) with broad, thick brush strokes. My copy is a bit off-register, too. It’s another 50¢-cent box find, so it’s the actual original printing, but the scans here look far better, so I wonder if that’s a reprint or if the one I found is just crappy. Beats me.
I like the effect on the left panel, which is Chaykin’s way of showing a teleporter, I guess. The white paint is probably gouache, as it looks heavier than the rest of the paint, and it adds some interesting fuzziness to the panel. But it’s Panel 2 that I want to look at, because that’s a “Chaykin face” if there ever was one. I don’t know if it’s the first appearance of one, but it’s very clearly a Chaykin Face. His eyes and nose aren’t too distinctive, but he has a wide mouth, a fairly strong chin that is rounded quite a bit, and a long, flat jaw line that makes his cheeks look wider and bigger. Chaykin decided this was the way to go with faces, and he often draws his men like this, and even some of his women. Interestingly enough, in the scans I linked to above, the colors are brighter and the frame of the teleportation device is brown, not blue. Again, weird.
Chaykin fills in some of the backstory about what’s going on in the universe, where a Catholic empire has taken over in the ten years that Cody Starbuck (who has amnesia) was marooned on that planet from a few scans up. So we get these two women massaging him back to health while we get an interesting image of the pope (maybe?) holding a cross with the space ships underneath her (the pope is transgender, which is interesting only because Chaykin doesn’t make any jokes about it, which, given Chaykin’s macho characters, is somewhat surprising). Chaykin, as we’ve seen, is becoming a bit more angular with his line work, which works well for space ships but not as well for people. This art, which shows him moving toward his modern style, is a bit unsure, as if Chaykin was trying it on before deciding to go with it. So we get those unusual fingers in Panel 1, which are not the work of a supremely confident artist, but we also get the interesting designs for the space ships and the bold pope-emperor, where Chaykin doesn’t have to be as delicate and can draw more brutally. This tension would remain in his work through the present day, I would argue. We shall see!
Okay, so I assume this page and the one before it are the controversial ones, the ones that made Mike Friedrich’s “stomach turn,” as he writes on the inside front cover. The pope has strapped the wife of a rebel spread-eagle on the ground and genetically modified her husband so that he has a “32 inch member” and is out of his mind on drugs. He impales her with his penis, and then Hadrian cuts his head off (he’s wearing a bull mask). I’m not terribly sure that this would be sickening even in 1978, especially because we see very little of it. I mean, yes, when we think about what’s going on, it’s disgusting, but what’s actually on the page isn’t all that bad. Anyway, art-wise, we can see here that Chaykin is a little stiffer with his figure work – nobody is moving too much on the page, but Hadrian’s pose is fairly awkward, and it looks like Chaykin actually tries to show some restraint in showing things, so Theo’s body (the rebel leader is named Theo) seems weirdly elongated so that Chaykin doesn’t have to draw his ass crack. Isn’t that a strange-looking body? It’s freaking me out the more I look at it. Chaykin does a nice job with the placement of Theo’s neck to make it appear that her head is on his body. It’s fairly disturbing. The coloring is also nice on the page. As either Chaykin or whoever is coloring this is using paint, the blood can be splattered a bit, which makes the effect work better. This is certainly a creepy page, but I’m not sure if it’s stomach-turning. Didn’t Luis Buñuel slice a woman’s eye open on film 50 years earlier than this?
Cody makes a break for it when he regains his memory and remembers that he really hates Catholics, and we get this scene. In Panel 2, we see another example of the Chaykin Face, and even the smarmy “Chaykin smile” – a lot of Chaykin’s characters are like Cody, so we often get the Chaykin Smile along with the Chaykin Face. He’s using blacks again for really good effect, as we see in Panel 1 – the light only illuminates part of the men, so we get nice black chunks on the shadowed parts, while in Panel 4, Chaykin does a wonderful job with the explosion, as the blacks create thick smoke, making the flames look more impressive and heavier. The impressionistic painting on the page is well done, too, from the bursts in Panel 1 to the engine firing up in Panel 3. The shading on Cody’s face in Panel 2 is nice, too – we don’t see a lot of this kind of coloring in 1970s comics, and it’s more modern than other coloring jobs, but because it’s not computer-generated, it remains flat and doesn’t overwhelm the pencils. It’s pretty cool.
So this is where Chaykin was heading, and tomorrow I’ll take a look at his most famous and most fully-realized comic. Which issue will I choose? That’s a fine question. Come back tomorrow to find out! As always, I direct you to the archives!
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