Thursday, February 27, 2014


Here's a preview of the story Resurrection in our first issue of the Mad Mummy. There are a few bells and whistles to add, but I'm hoping to launch the premier probably in early April. Scheduling is being worked out with Iverse now, and Frank Forte's Asylum Press will be releasing the book through Comixology soon after.

Resurrection introduces several of the mail characters and establishes the relationship between Aten Ra, the defrocked high priest who is doomed to wander the earth for eternity and the reincarnation of his estranged wife, Ankhesenamun.  And of course there is a cat,the scraggy Mr. Ard...or Bast if you want to call him by his formal name.

 The other pages are from the second story, She Who Walks in Beauty which introduces another woman from Aten Ra's past, Nefertiti. One of the things I've been experimenting with in this series is incorporating photographic images in the background. Of course, the trick is to keep them from looking like a photo used next to line art. I'm sure I'll play around more with this page before it sees print.

And Editor Ian Nichols has weighed in with a couple of drawings: one is his version of the Mad Mummy, and also there is an ad for Helena, his new print book. Make sure you check this out. Welcome aboard, Ian, and thanks for all the help.

OOPS!  Almost forgot...I'll be a guest at the San Fernando Valley Comicbook Convention on Sunday March 16th. If you are in the area, definitely stop on by and say hello.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Howard Chaykin was the best cartoonist of my generation..We were a impetuous group of youngsters who jumped at the chance to work for DC and Marvel during comics post-Code rebirth. We came after Steranko and ended with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. We began in an era of political turmoil with the  energy, idealism and the mania for change indicative of our age. We ended, like so many of our contemporaries, absorbed into  the system. But it was a long strange fun ride along the way. Chaykin epitomises that ride.

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.

Unable to compete with the slick anal inking style popular at the time, Howard abandoned it and took a major leap forward when (like his idols Toth and Fawcett) he tossed out the traditional pens and brushes and began inking with markers. He had learned the technique doing advertising boards at Neal Adam's studio. In comics he perfected it. His drawings suddenly  sharpened and came into focus with  a high-contrast black and white style. There was minimal rendering. The work had a life and spontaneity unparalleled by the machine-like shellackers.

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)

Most (not ALL)  artists who had come into comics in the 40’s and 50’s did so because they were failed admen or illustrators. They had to settle for comics. My generation was the first where  to work in the industry was an end in itself. We loved them...studied them, and thought they were the apex of all art forms. 

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.)

There were a number of wonderfully talented young illustrators working in comics. Jeff Jones was as an excellent painter. Barry Smith and Mike Kaluta used intricate decorative styles with carefully composed figures.  Bernie Wrightson had burst onto the scene with drawings so filled with excitement and mystery that they had a universal appeal. But in there struggle for excellence, as mentioned before, the amount of material they could produce was limited; in the periodical business this is anathema.

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.)

It was only fitting that Howard illustrated the initial Star Wars series, since that film changed so much for our industry. At about the same time he was making a major career change to writing. Cody Starbuck and Monarch Starstalker were early efforts. Then came American Flagg, the most rollicking, fun-filled, action-packed, sophisticated satire to ever hit comics.

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.

One of the other important things that Howard learned from doing Flagg was the difficulty of trying to produce monthly books entirely by oneself. Having been an apprentice in the shop system working with Gil Kane and Wally Wood, he started bringing in others to help him in the process. He was already working with Ken Bruzenak, arguably the best young letterer in the business. Now Chaykin started bringing in assistants to help him with production issues :ruling boarders,erasing,cutting zip-a-tone, filling in blacks,backgrounds as well as with the writing. As he was a brilliant organizer and art director, this system was an extremely efficient one for him and he could increase his output without diminishing the quality of the work.

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.

Time has past and Howard has left what was  very successful writing career in TV and returned to the world of comics. I greatly admire him for being able to accept the change and to leave that world behind. And quite honestly, I have been so removed from the field in the past decade that my own knowledge of what he is doing this days is minimal. We had a falling out over a project I had developed called "Hunt and Peck", which eventually became "Power and Glory." While we resolved the issue legally, we've both gone our separate ways and as with most of the folks I knew from that era, we really don't keep in touch anymore. One of the difficulties with working as a free-lancer is that you're involved with numerous short term creative relationships that end with the project.
(My original conception of Hunt and Peck and below are a couple of the pages from my pitch to Epic.)

When I think of our generation I'm reminded of a quote from the great illustrator Ken Riley who said, "It's easy enough to be a genius at twenty five. The trick is to still be one at fifty." With all the fire and enthusiasm we seemed to have had, we still never really produced anyone with a stature of an Eisner, a Kirby, a Toth, a Kubert, or even a Buscema. Perhaps the field itself has become so narrow and prescribed that it is just too difficult to move into that charmed realm. We'll have to wait and see history's final pronouncement on our place in the field, but having the opportunity to have worked during that time I can only say it was a dream to be  cherished.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


"Talkin' bout my generation.." The Who

After teaching school for three years in the early seventies I left that profession to try and pursue a much easier line of work: drawing comic books. I didn't have any training; the only art course I had even had in college was just art appreciation. But I had grown up loving the graphic story medium and had been doing my own attempts at the craft since I was eleven or twelve years old. How much harder could it be to do it professionally.
(An early sample page by Milgrom and myself)

(My contribution to Milgrom's Title.)

Fortunately, the Detroit area was a virtual hotbed of budding cartoonists at the time. Rich Buckler was certainly the best draftsman of the lot, and as I recall, the first of us to get work as a pro. And Rich was always generous with giving other aspiring cartoonists hands on experience working with him as an assistant…although he wasn't always as forthcoming when it came time to pay for the help. Still, it was a way to get in the door.
(One of Starlin's stories inked by Milgrom for Title.)

Two of my close friends  that I had known for several years from my fanzine days were Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom.  I had lost touch with them for a bit, but as I became more reinvolved in the comics scene we started to get together quite often . Jim had just returned from a stint in the navy and he had developed a real polish to his work. His storytelling had always been top notch. Milgrom was trying to establish himself as an inker and was doing as terrific job finishing much of the pencil work Jim was producing. We all contributed stories to a fanzine- actually a strip zine-that Al published called Title. In our youthful enthusiasm we were probably the only people who thought we'd all go on to long and fruitful careers in the comics.

What actually changed things for me was when Starlin started getting work. Up until that time, the idea that I could get a job in comics was a bit of pipedream- like moving to Hollywood and becoming an actor. It went against the midwestern factory town mentality I grew up with. But now I had a friend who had succeeded. It brought home to me that fact that this was a real possibility. Of course, I had a lot of work to do before I was ready to move forward.
(A few pages of Al inking my work.)

After graduating from Michigan, Al quickly followed Jim into the business, first working for Murphy Anderson as an assistant, and then rapidly getting his own freelance work. When I first went to NYC and started showing my work around, Jim and Al always offered me the hospitality of their apartments as a place to crash. I was completely put off by the urban environment and usually repaid their kindness with an attitude of "you actually live here?" I rarely stayed more than a week before I was heading back to Pontiac, Michigan.

Of course, Milgrom was a great help in getting my career started. He introduced me to a good number of folks at both Marvel and DC, as well as bringing me to Continuity Studios where Neal Adams allowed all the orphaned freelancers in town to hang out and watch the real talent , like himself, Dick Giordano and Jack Abel at work. Al and I also took a trip out to Connecticut that led to me doing several stories for Charlton Comics. Later on in our careers Al was the occasional editor of my work and certainly inked a number of stories. He was always a good friend.
(Terry doing his magic on some of my pages.)

(My pencil of the cover.)

(A recreation of this cover I did last year for Shaun Clancy.)

As was another Detroiter, Terry Austin, who was then working as an assistant for Dick Giordano if I remember correctly. Terry also inked several of my jobs with his wonderful slick style, and he wrote all the Cloak and Dagger issues that I did the art for…some of the last things I did for Marvel Comics. Working with him was always a pleasure.
(One of my pages from Terry's C&D adventures.)

Later Al Milgrom started sharing space with Walt Simonson out in Queens and all of my early days working in the business were spent at their apartment when I came into the city. Besides being  really incredible artist, Walt had a penchant for starting the day and finishing the day with popcorn and watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. He introduced me to Japanese samurai cinema at some little theatre on 42nd St. When I showed up on one visit, he had started dating some lady named Louise Jones; popcorn and Bugs were secondary after that.
(This used to have a wonderful personalized inscription...but the ink has faded. Write me another,Walt.)

Simonson was an amazing talent; he had actually gone to art school and that impressed me no end. He was very meticulous in his working habits and actually understood about the drawing process. However his real strength was his storytelling and design. Later he would share a studio with Chaykin and Frank Miller, in a space coincidentally remodeled for his own use by Starlin. My only caveat with Walt as an artist was that he never moved beyond comics and the world of Jack Kirby. I would have loved to have seen him working as a production designer, or as a writer, in film. As brilliant as his comicbook work was, it would have stretched him a bit further and increased his audience.

Kirby influenced us all and overwhelmed most of us. Part of it was the reality of the business: you could get work if you imitated Jack. But once you got work it was difficult to move beyond that and the superhero genre. John Byrne was one of the best in that vein. He came into the business as an exceptional artist, but working for Marvel he never really moved forward to another level. The advantage of starting out bad or mediocre is that you can always improve. When you are already very good, it is very difficult to keep improving; especially in comics where sales were far more important than creativity.

The top creative artists of my generation when I started working were Jim Steranko, Mike Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, Jeff Jones and Barry Windsor Smith. The problem was that while their work always took your breath away, there wasn't a lot of it produced. With the exception of Smith, I don't think any of them produced more than a few dozen issues of comics. Each of those were special, but they were limited. Some of youngsters who came in slightly after me that weren't exactly chopped liver were Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, Bill Sienkiewicz and Steve Rude. By then comics had evolved beyond the corporate scope  and it was possible to pursue visions that were specifically your own, and all of these gentlemen pushed themselves to the limit.

Next week, the best of my generation: Howard Chaykin.