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 Dark Horse Presents #1, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated April 2011, Satellite Sam #1, which was published by Image and is cover dated July 2013, and Century West, which was published by Image and is cover dated September 2013. Enjoy!
For the final day of Howard Chaykin, I skipped ahead to this millennium, mainly because his art really hasn’t changed too much in the past 30 years, but the way his art looks has changed, due to changes in technology. Chaykin and his colorists have embraced digital technology, and I do not think it is a good thing at all. Let’s see what I mean, as I’ll look at “Marked Man,” his story in Dark Horse Presents, which is colored by Jesus Aburto/Aburtov (I honestly don’t know which is his real name), Satellite Sam, which is in black and white, and Century West, which is colored by Michelle Madsen. That should give us a good idea of the differences in his artwork and why I’m no longer a fan.
These days, colorists – especially Aburto – are using glowing effects a lot more, and while it might work with some art, it doesn’t work as well with Chaykin’s heavier lines. Computer effects, as we’ve seen a lot this year, seem to clash a bit with the style of many artists. Chaykin’s lines are strong enough to resist it, but they don’t work well with the textured modern coloring we have, as it’s clear from the past few days that Chaykin’s work is much better with flatter colors. The effects of the smoke in Panels 3 and 4 is strange, too, as it doesn’t look like it’s part of the scene at all. It’s like this with backgrounds, too, and we’ll see more of that below. In Panel 4, notice that the woman running doesn’t look like she’s actually on the ground, just superimposed onto a background. Chaykin’s anatomy is getting sloppier, too – in Panel 2, the woman’s right hand is very weird, as if Chaykin just drew some lines and hoped for the best. When he’s focused on characters, his anatomy is fine, but when his figures are “farther away” and the focus isn’t on them, we get more of this than we used to.
Mark has a pretty standard Chaykin Face, even if he’s a bit fatter than many Chaykin men. While Chaykin has always been a bit – just a bit – more diverse in his female faces, they do tend to have those giant lips that we see here, which sexualizes even the most innocent of his women. In Chaykin’s world, almost every woman is built like Hazel there, which can be a bit annoying. Notice the coloring again – either Chaykin finds the patterns like the one on Hazel’s stockings and then Aburto colors it, or Aburto does the entire thing. Given that this kind of thing shows up in the uncolored Satellite Sam, it’s probably Chaykin. The fact that he doesn’t draw the pattern makes it look a bit more artificial. Plus, he uses very light lines in Hazel’s and Brenda’s hair, which also contrasts with the heavier lines of their faces and makes their hair look … off. It’s just not a great look.
Mark’s kind of a dick, in case you can’t tell, and Brenda isn’t much better, but we’re not here to talk about Chaykin’s problematic writing, we’re here to talk about his problematic art! One problem that seems to come up a lot in Chaykin’s art these days is the divide between his pencils and any computer-generated artwork. I don’t know if Chaykin is still drawing things traditionally, but if he is, I doubt if he’s doing much more than the characters, as his backgrounds often look dropped in via Photoshop or some other program. That makes his figures look like they’re “acting” in front of a green screen, as it seems like in Panel 3. The floor and shelves don’t look like they’re in the same space as Mark and his family, which adds to the unreality of the scene. I’d say this is part of a point that Chaykin is making, but it happens on almost every page of his current art, so I can’t imagine what point he’s making except that it’s faster. Faster, sure, but better?
I dropped Satellite Sam because Matt Fraction’s story was going nowhere and the book seemed to be turning into a place where the only point was to show people getting blowjobs, but I didn’t really have too many problems with the artwork. When Chaykin isn’t being colored by modern colorists, his art retains some of the verve it used to have, and while it’s still not perfect, the art on this book was probably the best I’ve seen from him since Dark Allegiances back in 1996. Here we see that he’s still quite good at character work, as each figure is distinct and unique – Hamilton is a big dude who’s trying too hard to fit into a sleek suit, Kara is a typical Chaykin sexpot, “Nightshade” is more of a “girl-next-door” kind of character, even with the short skirt, while the stage hands are just regular dudes hanging out. Chaykin, as we’ve seen, is still too stiff with his figure work – “Nightshade” and Hamilton in Panel 5 don’t look like they’re walking very smoothly – but in a comic like this, that doesn’t matter too much. Chaykin, even with the similar faces, has always been a bit better with the expressions and body language rather than action, so even though we’re not in close-up, we get Hamilton’s impatience in Panel 2 and his leer at Kara in Panel 3, while she looks vexed in that same panel because she’s trying to fix herself up. Chaykin poses her, too, which is clever – she’s always posing, because that’s what got her the job. Chaykin’s lines look sturdier, too, because there’s no colorist overwhelming them, and when he varies his line weight, like with Kara’s hair, it has a bigger impact than if the colors had simply obliterated them. It’s not Classic Chaykin, but it’s closer than a lot of his other recent work.
Here’s more of some good stuff mixed with some bad stuff, as Libby goes to find Carlyle, the titular character, who happens to be dead right now. Chaykin uses Zip-A-Tone (or its digital equivalent) to add beautiful patterns to the clothing, making this look even more 1951, and we get a real sense of what the city was like back then. But Libby and the figures look divorced from their surroundings – like some examples above, I imagine Chaykin drew the figures traditionally and the backgrounds digitally or didn’t even draw the backgrounds, and then combined the two clumsily. Libby doesn’t look like she’s stepping off the curb in Panel 1 – in fact, she doesn’t even look like she’s on the ground. It’s little things like this that bug me about Chaykin’s latter-day artwork.
Mike is Carlyle’s son, and he’s a bit upset that his father has been murdered. Of course, then he finds all the photos of scantily-clad women in his dad’s drawer there, and the plot takes off a bit. This is more of both good and bad Chaykin. If we ignore the cartoonishly ugly hands, Mike is drawn well – Chaykin’s rough lines and shading (reminiscent but not identical to the work in American Flagg!) makes him look more “real,” for lack of a better word, and once again, we get really nice patterns on his tie and pants. Chaykin puts nice little details about the sex cave in which Mike sits, which is neat. I’m not sure why Mike’s tie flies out like that in Panel 4 – he’s not moving very fast – but okay. Notice that Chaykin again probably uses a standard wood grain that he found on-line to make the bed look more wooden, and this works much better in black and white than it does in color, as we’ll see. I really like Chaykin’s line work and use of blacks – Mike’s patent leather shoes are great – even as I wonder what the heck is going on with those hands.
These two pages from Century West sum up a lot of things about Chaykin’s current artwork that I don’t like. He tends to pack his pages with those close-up panels, which are fine occasionally but become cumbersome as they show up on almost every page. It’s as if Chaykin thinks his words are so precious that he needs to use as many panels as possible, and if we’ve learned anything about artwork over the course of this year, it’s that no writer’s words are so precious they can’t be trimmed a bit to let the art assist in telling the story. As we’ve seen, some of his lines are perfectly fine, and Madsen’s colors don’t wipe them out, and Chaykin’s shading is again pretty good. But because he wants to move at a breakneck pace and get a lot of panels on the page, the storytelling suffers a bit. The perspective in the two panels where the men face each other is way off – in Panel 4 of the first page, we see how far apart they are, but Panel 3 of the first page and Panel 1 of the second destroy that distance, especially in the panel where Bob Ford shoots the dude. His use of the Vickers is supposed to be dramatic, and it is to a certain degree, but the end of the barrel is so close to the other dude that it also looks a bit ridiculous. Chaykin’s problems with perspective are evident in a lot of his recent books, unfortunately. I don’t know if Chaykin drew in the blood in Panel 1 of the second page, but it’s more cartoonish than everything around it, so it looks out of place. And while his patterns are still interesting, the sheen on everything doesn’t help. Finally, the backgrounds again look like they’re not part of the scene, while Madsen’s sunset is also out of place. Chaykin in color these days is an example of weird cognitive dissonance – nothing seems to work together.
To finish, I had to show one more example of a Chaykin female, plus all the other stuff that’s going on in his art right now. He draws really wide smiles, which isn’t too bad a thing, but it is a bit odd. Mignonette doesn’t have lips as wide as the ladies above, but she doe have big lips, giving her a disconcertingly big smile. Once again, Chaykin draws his figures well, with nice sturdy lines and good details. Mignonette, of course, is as curvy as any Chaykin lady, while Pendergast is a fairly typical Chaykin manly man. Notice the wood grain on the page, which looks worse than it did in Satellite Sam, both because there’s more of it and is therefore more obvious, but also because Madsen’s colors don’t really do much for it, as the browns make it look too clean. Chaykin’s patterns are again nicely done, and because no one moves, the poses look fine. The scene at the bottom with the truck doesn’t look too awkward, because there are no figures in it to clash with the pre-fab feeling of the truck and the environs. We still see a lot of what made Chaykin’s art so good three decades ago, but there’s a lot that makes the art not quite as good as it once was.
So that’s Howard Chaykin, a titan of the industry whose work I’ve never quite loved. I think his writing is not terribly good, which is why I had high hopes for Satellite Sam, as he wasn’t writing it. But then Fraction turned it into “Chaykin-lite,” and who needs that? I’m glad that Chaykin is still working, but I do think he should do more black and white work (yes, I know Black Kiss 2 was in black and white, but I didn’t buy that), because it seems to suit him much better. But I’m sure he doesn’t need some punk giving him advice!
Tomorrow I’ll start another old-school artist, one who’s even more old-school than Grell and Chaykin, as this guy started his career back in the 1960s, man! Will I feature the comic where he first drew in his distinctive style? Probably not, as I don’t think I own it, but we can still track his development toward it! Don’t forget to find more classic artists in the archives!
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