[Interview] Get to Know Comic Book Writer Howard Chaykin

Howard Chaykin
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Comics have undergone many an evolution and some have even experienced a genesis over the years. From the “shining” capes and costumes of the 1940s, to the nitty gritty ‘darkness’ of the 1980s, comics will continue to evolve and change, and yes even have new beginnings as well.

Howard Chaykin has been a mainstay of the industry for years. Contributing to a variety of comic book genres over the decades, he is best remembered for such work as American Flagg, Blackhawk, Black Kiss and Twilight. Now, Howard working on a new series with Image Comics entitled Hey Kids! Comics!.

PopCultHQ sat down with Howard to talk about a milestone anniversary for American Flagg, his latest project and the impact of his work on modern audiences.

PopCultHQ Interviews:
Comic Book Writer – Howard Chaykin

PopCultHQThis year marks the 35th anniversary of when American Flagg first came out. How does it feel that a series you poured so much heart into has hit that milestone?

Howard Chaykin – I actually don’t think much about it at all. My life and my career have been invested in moving forward and never relying on the past. I made my bones in the comic book business predominantly in the 1980s with Flagg and Black Kiss and the revivals and rebootings of The Shadow and Blackhawk. But I’ve also continued to work and develop and evolve. So it’s nice to know that the book has been around that long. It makes me despairing that it hasn’t had the widespread attention but that’s just because you know I wanna be loved but I don’t really work that hard at it.

PopCultHQIn terms of current projects, you’re doing a book called Hey Kids! Comics!. Where did the idea to do a series grounded in such realism spring from?

Howard Chaykin – I’ve been doing comics for a living for 47 years and I’ve been around the business for 50. And it is a business of anecdotes and apocrypha and personal attacks and settled scores. And I’ve been listening to people, my mentors, tell stories about what happened, when it happened and how it was, and generally speaking there’s a real Rashomon-like perspective to all this. It’s different perspectives, different points of view on the same experience. And I was asked if I’d be interested in doing a book like this. And I said yeah, I think I would. What I did was, I created a franchise. Structurally speaking, it’s very different from anything else I’ve ever done. It’s done in short pieces. Short fairly subtle anecdotes of six pages each, covering the years 1945, 1955, 1965 and then 2001. Following the experiences of 3 main characters. There’s been a lot of guessing gaming going on but the truth of the matter is the characters are all conflations, combinations, and inspired by actual people I’ve known, worked with, and have loved.

PopCultHQ A final question to wrap it up. In the modern world where there seems to be this ongoing animosity towards diversity in comics, like across all borders, both within the books themselves and in the business. Do you think that stories that you told like in American Flagg or Twilight where they seem to push back against things like more women in comics in terms of characters and so forth, have a reflection and could affect change in today’s world?

Howard Chaykin – I take issue with that. How does anything I’ve ever done push back against diversity. I don’t quite understand your question.

PopCultHQWell, cause you have women characters who take more of a central role. Like in American Flagg….

Howard Chaykin – Oh, I see what you’re saying. I mean, I’m one of the rare guys in comics who seemed to have had a perfectly normal social life. I’ve been married frequently. I’m socialized. And I like the idea of the fact that I produced the first successful X-rated comic book in the late 1980s. And a good part of the audience of that book and its sequel are women. If I have any bitterness and resentment about comic books, it’s that the two sides, the two identitarian sides of the aisle, the left and the right, have a complete misunderstanding of who I am and what I do. The left-wing seems to think, has called me “odious” and “racist/” And the right-wing has called me a “left-wing faggot.” And I can’t begin to understand how this work can be interpreted this way. Until I finally realized that none of them were actually reading the work or looking at the work or taking the work at its face value, but projecting are their own prejudices and assumptions on the material extent as separate from me. So, I’m very proud of the work that I’ve done. I’m a deep believer in diversity. And by diversity I mean books like of every political stripe. I’m tired of anodyne junk. I’d be really thrilled to see a well-made, well-written, well-drawn leftist comic book. I’d also like to see a really well-made, well-drawn right-wing comic book. I’m tired of everything being filtered through the anodyne Road Runner/Coyote model of good guy/bad guy, hero and villain, none of whom dies, no consequences, and no context. So that’s my little screed and there you have it.

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About Howard Chaykin

HOWARD VICTOR CHAYKIN is a longtime veteran of the comic book business. As a cartoonist–both writing and drawing–he has been a major influence on the direction of comics, referred to frequently as one of the principle architects of the modern comic book.

His signature creation, AMERICAN FLAGG! introduced a new level of narrative complexity, depth of character, and point of view in its text, not to mention a previously unseen level of design and craft to the visual nature of an all too frequently staid and timid medium.

He continues to produce work that pushes the envelope of concept, context and content in comics, most recently in THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA, a new book that may very well get him arrested.