He was brash. He was charming. He was vitriolic. He was profane. He was never dull. Like Shaw, Howard saw things that never were and said, “Why not?” His only formal training was to work as an apprentice to both Gil Kane and Wally Wood, and while he drove them nuts he was soaking their environment up, so that even in his earliest works at DC, filled with a mish mash of influences, there was a polish. It didn’t show on the surface, but in the crude lines there was a well planned design.
With the graphic novel Empire, by Samuel Delany, he added full color. It was a first. We had seen graphic novels before, but Chaykin was the first one ambitious enough to paint the entire book with marker and opaque paint, again using skills learned in advertising. It was innovative; it was gorgeous. It barely paid the bills. But Chaykin persevered.
|(One of the Blackhawk pages I pencilled)|
As a result our standards were considerably lower. We weren’t schooled in the disciplines of drawing. We all admired Toth, Kubert,Jack Davis, Wood, but we didn’t truly understand that only by reaching beyond them could we surpass them. It meant hard work- it also meant taking chances, it meant losing out on money. So most of us settled for less- Chaykin never did. And he wasn’t shy about telling the comic book powers that be what he thought of their anti-creativity. Howard then moved beyond comics to illustration.
|(Those little news reporters up in the corner are really our creative team: Chaykin, Richard Ory, John Moore, Ken Bruzenak,Tony Vanderwalle and myself.)|
Howard avoided this by developing working methods that maintained the qualities of illustration, but were produced within a deadline. His bible was the Famous Illustrator’s course.He worked very hard on the discipline of drawing and seeing. He studied graphics and their ability to communicate an idea quickly. He minimalized. There were weaknesses, but these were addressed and resolved in the next job. And unlike most of the competition, Chaykin was CONTEMPORARY.
|(A couple of the Black Kiss pages I pencilled from Chaykin's layouts.)|
All of the successful writer/artists at that time were basically sons of Jack Kirby and it was rare to seem someone successfully create alternative material. Everyone stayed in the shadow of Kirby and his simplistic heroic slugfests. Howard was the only cartoonist of that era who emerged as a major comicbook talent without ever being connected with a superhero book. We once joked to each other that while most of our contemporaries fantasized about ripping off their shirts to reveal a Superman or Batman costume, our fantasy was to be wearing tuxedos like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.
When American Flagg came along it was a gift to the world of comics. While I enjoy Frank Miller’s stories I’d never want to go out to dinner with one of his characters- the opposite was true with the Chaykin cast. His people were witty, intelligent, alive; they spoke real dialogue, not exposition. They weren’t drawn from a comics background, but rather from Chaykin’s love of the silver screen, a library of books and his own fascinating life.
Comics had always been simplistic: the forces of good against the forces of evil. Once you destroyed (fill in the blank:monsters, mobsters, Commies, Germans,Jews, Indians, the British, etc.) this would be a better world and us good guys could get on with it. Stan Lee created an entire comicbook company based on the premise that even superheroes had foibles. Chaykin's writing went way beyond that; he understood that the eternal battle of good versus evil was an internal one fought within the soul.
Unfortunately, Flagg was published by one of the most miserably mis-managed companies in any field. The audience was never as wide or the rewards as great as they should have been. It was a controversial book. If ever there was a comicbook property that screamed to be adapted to film, it was American Flagg. But it was too far ahead of it's time for this to happen. And now that every film seems to be a remix of some comic project, it's a little too late.
Howard returned to DC to do the Shadow and Blackhawk and his critics ranted about the sexual content and moral ambiguity of his protagonists.But the books were tremendously popular.
Since he had moved to LA recently at that time, I hooked up with him and became part of the studio to help with a new run of American Flagg. Working in that environment was an education in itself. I was also "ghosting" some of pencils on his current project Blackhawk, and the first couple of episodes of Black Kiss. Creatively is was a dream.
Comics are a young man’s business. Talent and longevity are not qualities that the field rewards; the opposite is usually true. It wasn’t a surprise that Chaykin eventually would move beyond comics. The choices were to continue as a serious illustrator or break into writing for movies and TV. He gave up drawing in favor of writing as a primary focus. Most were surprised by this. The reality was as an artist, he would be confined to the limited scope of the emerging comics field, the ever decreasing occupation of illustrator, or designated to design someone else's ideas in film. That wasn't Chaykin.
|(My original conception of Hunt and Peck and below are a couple of the pages from my pitch to Epic.)|