"An empty room -- just what the world needs," industry legend Howard Chaykin joked as he walked into the sparsely populated room for his Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival spotlight panel. The space eventually filled up, but Chaykin remained cantankerous, taking the minimal early attendance as a sign of his polarizing reputation. "As long as John Byrne is still alive, I'll never be the most despised man in comics," he said as he sat down with moderator Ben Saunders for a look at his varied and often controversial career. The legendary creator spent nearly an hour sharing his impassioned opinions, which he at times punctuated by springing out of his chair.
Saunders started things off by showing a few pieces of art from Chaykin's mentor Gil Kane, asking the artist about his early experiences working as Kane's assistant. "I met Gil when I was 13 years old," Chaykin explained. "So many of my attitudes and my sensibilities were defined by the year I worked for him." Ever self-deprecating, Chayking made the claim, "I'm the least talented of my generation."
The discussion then made the first of many detours when an insistent fan in the front row raised his hand and attempted to ask a question about Spider-Man. Chaykin immediately cut him off, saying he hadn't read any Spider-Man comics in at least 20 years. "Anything after Ditko is not really Spider-Man, it's somebody pretending to be Spider-Man," he said. The fan kept his hand up for another five minutes to no avail, eventually leaving.
Although Saunders attempted to guide the panel through Chaykin's career highlights chronologically, the creator frequently digressed, tackling whatever topic came to mind.
On the subject of European graphic novels and their influence on his work, Chaykin was blunt. "The writing in those things was just as shitty as ours, but it was in French, so we didn't know."
Looking back on his stint drawing Marvel's "Star Wars" series in the 1970s, Chaykin called it "the worst work I ever did in my life. I'd like to think if I knew it was going to be a bigger deal, I would have done a better job." Chaykin mentioned that he had been approached by Marvel to work on the company's upcoming "Star Wars" comics, but declined the offer.
"In [Sean Howe's] 'Marvel: The Untold Story,' there's an anecdote that I pitched 'American Flagg' to Epic," Chaykin recalled. "I did not." Rather, he pitched the series solely to First Comics, which he thought was the ideal home for it. "'Flagg' was me trying to apply what I learned about visual narrative in a new way. I was anticipating Photoshop. I use Photoshop today the way I used paste-ups back then." He later explained that the reason the series has had so much trouble remaining in print is "because it's not easy. It doesn't make you feel good inside."
Currently, Chaykin works with artists for Marvel. "I teach young talents about how they're fucking up their careers," he explained of his responsibilities. "Most comic book artists have lost their understanding of narrative. We're evolving into a sub-literate culture."
"I loathe Marvel-style writing. I really hate it. It's such lazy, cheap shit," he said, discussing his approach to comics writing. "I believe in full script. When a writer asks me what I feel like drawing, my first answer is, 'Fuck you.'"
On aging in the comics industry, Chaykin stated, "I'm 64, I'm not getting a regular job for DC Comics. No one's asking me to do the New 52."
When only one hand went up after Saunders asked who had read "Black Kiss II," Chaykin admonished the crowd. "You haven't read the new series? What's wrong with you? Assholes! You're too busy reading 'Captain Marvel' or some bullshit?"
Chaykin didn't hold back in expressing his displeasure with the current comics industry's focus on the "superstar writer." "The alpha talent is the writer, which is absurd," he said. "The artists aren't the problem, the writers are the problem. They have a complete lack of understanding of the real estate of the page. You can't do epic drama, melodrama, romance in a seven-panel page... I'm waiting for someone to write a comic book that I give a shit about."
Asked his opinion on the current trend of superhero movies, Chaykin explained, "'Guardians of the Galaxy' is great. It's now one of my three favorite comic book movies. I'm a big fan of Chris Pratt. If I was a chick, I'd sleep with him." His other two favorite comic book movies are "Mystery Men" and "The Fifth Element." "It's not a comic book movie," he explained of the latter, "but I love that movie so much."