This week, Image Comics and Dynamic Forces will release a hardcover collection of Howard Chaykin's legendary creator-owned series "American Flagg!" to comic shops across America. At least, that's what Chaykin's been told.
"My understanding is that it actually exists," laughs the writer and artist, noting that he'll believe the long-delayed volume has been printed when he holds it in his hands. Announced over three years ago, the hardcover will include the first twelve issues of the series (originally published in the early '80s by First Comics) as well as an all-new Flagg tale by Chaykin. "What delayed the process were the solutions to a series of technical problems that were created by a number of unforeseen circumstances - getting our hands on the film, things like that. That was what extenuated the process and made the process more difficult," Chaykin says.
However, while the "Flagg!" hardcover took a number of years to assemble, few would argue that the wait would not be worth it. While a number of younger fans today never experienced the series, the story of former TV star Reuben Flagg fighting his way through corruption in a giant, gang-infested mall in an America abandoned by the U.S. government for new digs on Mars is a keystone of creator-owned comics and Chaykin's groundbreaking graphic style.
"Let's face it - this is going to sound self flattering, but it was a very influential book in its time," the creator explains. "I think it introduced a lot of graphic ideas and concepts for how to do what we do for a living that are being used to this day both by me and the extraordinarily gifted [letterer] Ken Bruzenak. I'm very proud of this work, and I felt it deserved to be reaching a wider audience to the point where it felt absurd to me that there were people who had no idea who I was, who had never read this book, who make up a good sized chunk of the comic book reading population, which is absolutely ridiculous. For a guy who's been around as long as I have, who has been as productive as I have, it was flat out absurd that this material was not in print. That's why I'm really glad to see it back out there."
Aside from the artistic strides made by the "American Flagg!" series, its most lasting legacy may be the chords struck by its satirical content. "I wasn't doing prediction. I was doing a comic book, but a lot of what I was doing was based on my expectations of where culture was going at the time," Chaykin recalls. "Had I known it was going to get even worse than I predicted, I might as well have just shot myself then and split the difference. Unfortunately, I got a lot right. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but I certainly anticipated the rise of reality TV, wall-to-wall television, 24/7 television, the sexual nuttiness of what ultimately followed in the '80s and '90s, the advent of AIDS - there's lots of different stuff. And I'm pretty proud of that."
Chaykin is also happy to see the new ten-page tale he completed along with Bruzenak and colorist Brian Haberlin see the light of day after drawing the comic three and a half years ago. "It's a fairly timeless piece of work," he says. "It's a piece that introduces characters...for those who have been around, it reminds them of who those characters are. It's a small piece, but it takes place on television as so much of 'Flagg' does. And it's kind of funny. I always thought that 'Flagg' was, at its heart, the three things I thought were most important in comics back in those days: thrills, chills and laughs. That was the tagline that read on 'Police Comics' with Plastic Man, and I stand by it. There's not enough comedy in contemporary comics. What there is is leaden whimsy, and I think what we need is more laughs."
As for what laughs he thinks readers will get out of "American Flagg!" over 20 years later (or what thrills or chills for that matter), Chaykin isn't focusing on response as much as he is his current work which includes writing "Squadron Supreme" and drawing "Punisher War Journal" for Marvel. "I have no expectations. I learned a long time ago that if I stay out of the results business and the expectation business, I'm a lot happier. I put the work out there, and what happens happens. I keep my expectations non existent. I no longer take praise any more seriously than I take blame."
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