TCJ 300 Conversations: Howard Chaykin & Ho Che Anderson

Posted by on December 18th, 2009 at 1:35 AM

 

Hands On

Anderson:
I’m interested in your process a little bit. I’ve always been curious to know exactly how much of your stuff you actually draw yourself and how much is actually farmed out to your assistant?

Chaykin:
That’s a pretty easy question to answer. I do everything from top to bottom in terms of the design. I lay everything out. That’s a given. And I do all the figure work — all of it.

Wherever there are photographs to be traced — for vehicles, buildings, etc. — I farm it out, and I go back and forth tweaking it. My wet hand is on everything. Flagg! and Time2 both anticipate the use of Photoshop, because a lot of it was paste-ups, Xeroxing and repetition of imagery, doing a lot of the things I learned from Harvey Kurtzman through Wallace Wood about storytelling and narrative. I use Photoshop a lot today.

10-10


From Scream Queen, ©2005 Ho Che Anderson.


Anderson:
Do you actually sit there, hands-on, with the program or do you get another person to work on it?

Chaykin:
I’ve been so far away from it for the past five years that I’ve forgotten everything, so I’m going through the tutorial again. I’m starting from ground one and relearning it. As I speak right now, I’m looking at a cover I just penciled and inked. It’s about to be erased and have blacks filled in it so I can go back into it and do my polish.

If you’re talking about the process, one of the things that happened when I came back into comics in ’02 was I changed up the way I did things. I had a real year’s worth of learning curve working with Don Cameron, a guy who was my assistant at the time who’s now become a colleague, who’s been a friend for years.

At the time, he was in the process of just applying what he’d learned about 3D Max and Maya to comics. I learned a great deal about how to think about doing comics in a contemporary technical format. I work in 11-page increments. I rough-pencil everything, I tight-pencil everything, I preliminarily ink everything, then it gets erased and kicked back to me with preliminary blacks put in. I then take a blue pencil and I re-pencil all the details that have disappeared. I then re-ink that and pass it back to my assistant for final blacks and clean up.

I then take it back for my final tweak. My final tools are Scotch blue Magic Tape, a very fine-point Rapidograph and ultrafine Sharpies. So the page crosses my desk five times and it’s one of the ways that the material gets done as quickly as it does because it spends less time each time.

It’s very similar to the way I write script. I do a very loose, spit-out draft. The computer has changed the way we write — we spit out, we no longer rewrite by printing out and marking up. The computer is not so much a writing tool as a rewriting tool. I apply the same technique to drawing — I continue to polish the drawing until it’s ready to deliver.

Anderson:
You’re inking with a Rapidograph?

Chaykin:
Oh no, my final tweaks are done with a Rapidograph. I ink with Pentel fountain pens and Alvin penstix and cheap brushes.

Anderson:
Yeah, I use cheap brushes too. I read in an interview once that you used markers and I was shocked, actually, I always figured that you were kind of a pen-dip type of guy.

Chaykin:
Oh no, I can’t use a traditional croquil pen worth a shit. I have never been an inker; I have no fucking clue about inking. I know how to finish a drawing, but I haven’t got a clue about what comic-book guys refer to as inking. It’s an alien idea to me. I look in awe at guys like Wallace Wood, Ralph Reese, Kevin Nowlan, Michael Golden, these guys are just astonishing brush-and-pen men and I feel like I ink with my elbow, but I can do a finished drawing.

10-11


A sample of Robert Fawcett’s illustration work, courtesy of Chaykin.


Anderson:
Well, one of the things I’ve always liked about your stuff is that it’s got kind of a rough, crude, sort of chunky finish to it. You don’t have that slick finish of someone like Kevin Nowlan, definitely, but —

Chaykin:
I wish I did!

Anderson:
— you’re definitely a good inker.

Chaykin:
I don’t have the patience to learn how to do it, but I really envy it.

Anderson:
Interesting.

Chaykin:
I like slick stuff — not all the time — but I really respond to a lot of slick, slick stuff and I also want to be loved as much as the next guy. My approach to the work has frequently kept me out of the big time. I recognize the fact that I’m a cult figure and I had to become comfortable with that.

Anderson:
Did you just say that it’s kept you out of the big time? You don’t realize what kind of impact your work has had?

Chaykin:
Well, I do, but nobody else does.

Anderson:
That’s bullshit.

Chaykin:
Well, no, it is true. I’m the Robert Altman/Van Morrison of comics. I’m extremely influential, but I’m not particularly beloved by the audience. The closest paradigm I can come up with is a guy named Robert Fawcett. Robert Fawcett is one of my very favorite illustrators: He was one of the members of the Famous Artists School — I’m looking at Fawcett right now, I own a number of Fawcetts. He never achieved the popularity of people like Norman Rockwell or J.C. Leyendecker, but he was an astonishing penman, a great draftsman, who subsumed the abstract in the name of the narrative, a great storyteller.

Anderson:
To say he didn’t achieve what Leyendecker and Rockwell did, I mean, very few do.

Chaykin:
His work lacked the sentimental appeal of their stuff and I’m not a sentimental guy — at least in my work. I’m actually by nature very sentimental, but my work does not have a crowd-pleasing sentimental quality. It’s the difference between a guy like James Jean and Dave Johnson. I consider Dave Johnson a vastly superior talent — I love Dave’s work, I think he’s a brilliant cover artist, but he’s always held second place to James Jean who is a perfectly talented guy, but basically very sentimental and audience-flattering.

Anderson:
Yeah, and yet there’s never been a time — other than when you’ve chosen not to do the work — where there hasn’t been a Howard Chaykin comic book out there. It’s not like you’re lacking for work.

Chaykin:
That may change. Right now, I’m working on one of the last pages I’ve got in the house. I have no idea exactly what I’m doing for a living next month.

10-12


From City of Tomorrow, ©2006 Howard Chaykin, Inc.


Anderson:
That’s fascinating. I’m sure you could get any gig that you wanted to get.

Chaykin:
That’s a lovely thought and — to the God I don’t believe in — your lips to God’s ear. But it’s not really true. Bear in mind: I have no doubt of the value I have, I recognize that I’m a player and a competitor. I’m talented, I’m skilled, but I also have an approach to the material that is not of profound interest to the average reader. I wish it did, because God knows I’d like to be lauded, but, by the same token, I don’t do anything to change that. That’s where my obstinacy comes in. I am an obstinate motherfucker.

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