Sunday, May 15, 2011

Howard Chaykin: Conversations

Over the years Howard Chaykin has told several anecdotes about working as an assistant to legendary comic book artist Gil Kane and how he initially disagreed with almost everything Gil tried to teach him but eventually came to agree with most of it. That is pretty much my experience with Howard Chaykin. I can recall reading an interview with Chaykin in a 1989 issue of Comics Interview Magazine and thinking he was the biggest know-it-all smart ass on the face of the planet. But I kept thinking about the things he said about comics and about writing and drawing and I kept coming back to that interview and eventually I found that my views had moved into line with his. Thus I was very happy to get my hands on the new book Howard Chaykin: Conversations, which contains not only the very interview of which I speak, but a bunch of other interviews with Chaykin spanning his long career in comic books.
If you're not familiar with Chaykin he is probably best know as the creator and writer/artist of First Comic's American Flagg, a ground breaking series set in the not too distant future. If you go back and read that comic, which originally appeared in the 1980s, you will find Chaykin's predictions about the future to be scarily accurate.
Chaykin is also well know for his reboots of classic pulp and comic heroes like The Shadow and Blackhawk, as well as his own creations Cody Starbuck, The Scorpion, Dominic Fortune, Time Squared and many others.
To me, Chaykin has always represented a guy who went his own way in comics. You rarely found him turning out just another issue of Batman or Captain America. His work was original, often autobiographical and innovative. Never happy with the status quo in either the art or writing of comics, Chaykin pushed boundaries, stepped on toes and ended up a major influence to writers and artists who followed him. He also became one of the most unapologetic and controversial critics of the comics field. It was those opinions that originally irritated me, but with which I gradually came to agree. This was a man who loved the medium of comics but refused to let a haze of nostalgia blind him to the bland, the banal, and the just plain goofy in both the comics themselves and in the industry that produced them. And he's still at it. The interviews in Conversations run from 1975 right up to last year and everyone of them is fascinating. If you're interested in the history of comic books you'll want this one on your shelf and if you're a fan of the writing and artwork of Howard Chaykin this is a must have.

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