CCI: Spotlight on Howard Chaykin

Never a man to mince words, Howard Chaykin just sort of nonchalantly strolled into his special spotlight panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Saturday, July 26, and asked the audience, "is anybody supposed to be moderating, or am I doing this thing alone?"

After a moment of befuddled silence from the crowd, Chaykin took his seat and, since nobody else seemed to know what was going on, elected to moderate the panel himself.

But, with acclaimed runs on "American Flagg!," "Blackhawk," and "Black Kiss," firmly under his belt, Chaykin couldn't resist starting things off with a self-effacing jab at his own career and esteemed reputation as one of most innovative creators in the field of modern comic books.

"OK. Well, I have no idea why you're here, because [Alex] Ross is having a panel now too," Chaykin said.

Chaykin then proceeded to introduce himself and thank the audience for their interest and attendance, as well as their many years of support and encouragement on the various projects he has worked on.

"My name is Howard Chaykin and I am very grateful for your attention, as I have always been over the years," Chaykin said.

A note on the back of his name plaque then caught the creator's eye. Chaykin, after pausing a moment to read it over, summarized the gist of it for all in attendance.

"It says, basically, that I should watch my language."

For fans that have followed Chaykin's oft-controversial work over the years, though, that prospect appeared about as likely as a snowball's in hell.

Chaykin commenced things by jokingly thanking both Image Comics and Dynamite Entertainment, the publishers who joined forces to collect and release a remastered collection of the first 14 issues of "American Flagg!," for "delaying the thing for three and a half years, just so it can come out for the collapse of the economy."

The first volume of Chaykin's collected "American Flagg!" is finally in stores now and features artwork that is completely restored from the pages of the actual printed comics (any original artwork or Photostats of pages from the series have long since been lost), an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, an afterword by Jim Lee, and a completely new American Flagg! story written and drawn by Chaykin himself.

Chaykin then warned the audience that they should probably just start asking him questions, because he had no problem speaking for an hour straight, and that the topics he would touch on might not be the ones fans wanted to hear.

The first fan asked why he wrote and drew the two-issue "Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage" mini series for DC Comics a couple of years ago.

Chaykin said because he "loves Guy Gardner," and that most of the writers who have worked on the character over the years have gotten Guy's characterization wrong so he wanted to bring things back towards the interpretation of the character as laid out by his creator Gil Kane.

"Guy Gardner is basically Dennis Leary," Chaykin said. "He's not just some idiot with a power ring."

Another fan asked if all of Chaykin's protagonists were based on himself?

"Probably not. I'm not that good looking," Chaykin joked.

He did admit that most of his heroes do tend to be mouthpieces for his own thoughts, world views and political motivations, and that he does have a tendency to write the same "type" of characters over and over again. He tends towards heroes who are visually styled after the classic Hollywood leading man - the likes of William Holden, James Garner, or Henry Fonda - but with a personality and sensibilities more attuned to that nebbish, neurotic "Yid" who lives across the street.

What motivated Chaykin to return to comics after over a decade spent working in Hollywood on TV and films?

"I spent 12 years in Hollywood working as a "staffer" on a variety of TV shows," Chaykin said. "In that time, I never worked on a show that I would watch."

Chaykin continued on to state that he returned to comics because his experiences in the "trenches" of the TV and film industry had left him more than a little burned out.

"I came back to comics having no idea if I could still draw, because I hadn't even drawn anything in 12 years."

He believes he has had the level of success and acclaim that he has enjoyed in his career over the years "because I have to keep reinventing myself. I'm always learning to compete with guys whose fathers are younger than I am."

On why he left comics for Hollywood in the first place?

"I moved to Southern California because I knew I would never be a 'crowd pleaser' creator like John Byrne or Chris Claremont."

Chaykin said that his visually inventive style and approach to "American Flagg!" in the early 1980s was in many ways anticipating the advent of Photoshop. He also said that, unlike some artists, he has no problem using Photoshop, because he views the program as a tool that can better help him draw, design, and layout a page.

"As technology arrives, you embrace it and use it and you don't look back," Chaykin said.

On bloggers and the popular (and, oftentimes, quite vocal) online comic book community: "Bloggers should jerk off, stalk somebody, or do something 'socially acceptable' like holding up a liquor store."

On the current state of the comic book industry: "Comics right now - as shitty as the business is with everything falling apart - are visually beautiful. They've never looked better than they do right now."

Chaykin thought that he and Marc Guggenheim's Blade revival at Marvel from several years ago was a "hysterically" funny book that "more of you fuckers should have read."

He believed that "American Flagg!" was as successful and inventive as it was because he did the book for First Comics who, unlike at Marvel or DC, allowed him a much greater degree of creative control and freedom.

"There was no baggage, no history," Chaykin said. "Everybody at DC at the time insisted that I could have done Flagg! For them. But that's not true. I only got away with all that stuff because I was working with First Comics."

As far as Chaykin's own personal politics go: "I'm a child of Popular Front Democrats, which means, for those of you that aren't old, they believed they had to fight against fascism. [My family] were pretty arch-liberal, but weird, the only god we believed in was Franklin Delano Roosevelt."

On religion: "I'm not a man of profound faith...no gurus, no method, no master."

Chaykin classified "poor guys" who vote Republican as "fucking morons."

At one point in the panel, just to clarify (or maybe rationalize) his language, Chayin said, "anybody under 18 who would actually be interested in sitting and listening to me is obviously on drugs."

When asked about illustrating the Star Wars comic adaptation: "If I'd known the movie was going to be so successful, I would have done a better job."

Chaykin said he is at work on a ten-issue prequel to "Black Kiss" for Dynamite Entertainment. "Each issue will be a decade of the 20th Century, with the filth appropriate to that decade."

In addition to his art chores on "Punisher War Journal" and his writing duties on the new "Squadron Supreme" series, Chaykin said he is also writing and drawing two new series for Marvel that he "couldn't talk about yet."

On his innovative, popular revival of the Shadow for DC in the 1980s, Chaykin said that he really had no attachment to the character, and so didn't want to rehash the pulp style and look of the 1930s era that the Shadow sprang forth from. Instead, he chose to reinvent the character in a modern setting for a modern audience. He also noted that his take on the character "pissed off Harlan Ellison tremendously."

On his worldview: "I see myself as someone who is interested in being interested." He then jokingly went on to caution those in attendance, "I could be arrested at least 20 times a day for what I'm thinking politically, morally, sexually."

On what interests him creatively: "I'm sort of fascinated by the whole concept of professional mercenaries. But, again, they're not working for me. They're working for your president, ladies and gentlemen."

When asked who his favorite comic book character was: "I have no favorite characters. It's the execution that matters. You have to have a detachment from the material."

And, just in case his spotlight panel hadn't already been provocative and polarizing enough, Chaykin left those in attendance with one final nugget of wisdom to chew over:

"As an American I take for granted a lot of ideas that are in the process of being denied to me, and my attitude towards that is 'fuck that.' With a lot of love in the 'fuck that.'"

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