TCJ 300 Conversations: Howard Chaykin & Ho Che Anderson

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

 

Anderson:
One thing I’ve always wondered about you as a person is if you actually really love comics. It always seems like you’ve had an ambivalent relationship about them.

Chaykin:
I love the form enormously. I really do. Comics just make me crazy. I absolutely adore them. I’m doing a bit of design for a friend of mine who’s created a product and we were talking about the “Wordless Workshop,” which you’re probably too young to remember, a feature that ran in Popular Science or Popular Mechanics, I forget which, back in the ’50s and ’60s by a cartoonist named Roy Doty — a guy who could’ve been Hank Ketcham’s assistant.

They were six-to-eight-panel pages of comics done in this flat line and color style with schematics on how to make things or do repairs to your house. I loved that shit. My office has four walls of books and almost all the books, beyond the reference material, are European comics and graphic-novel collections and sketchbooks.

I don’t travel with hardcovers, I travel with paperbacks I throw away as I travel. I read a novel that I thought would keep me reading until I left on Thursday morning but I finished it yesterday. I’ve got nothing to start before I leave, so I spent my morning reading comics.

Anderson:
It just always seemed like you were on the fence about them maybe. I just sort of got the impression that you were doing them because you’re good at them and they paid the bills, but, eh, maybe you’d rather be doing something else.

Chaykin:
When I lost my last TV job, I came home and spent about a month trying to figure out what I was going to do. Finally, I flew to New York and sat down with the publishers and said, “Listen, I’ve decided I’m never going to go back to television again,” because I was so miserable, “and I’d like to become a comic-book artist on a full-time basis.” I don’t think anybody believed me for a while, but they seem to be taking me seriously now.

I think I love doing comics more than I’ve ever loved reading them. I love the process. I’m a guy who gets up at 4:30, 5 o’clock in the morning. I’ve been awake for hours. Before I got on the phone with you, I’d already had breakfast with cronies and answered all my e-mails from last night. I’m ready to work.

I’m waiting on the go-ahead on the fourth issue of this miniseries that I’m working on and I’m on hold. I was hoping to get started today. Since I’ve gotten a handle on that sense of improvisation, I feel much better about the work and how I do it. It’s a real pleasure to do it. I feel incredibly lucky to have these skills and that’s no shit.

10-14


From King, ©2005 Ho Che Anderson.


Anderson:
What’s this new project you’re working on?

Chaykin:
It’s a Dominic Fortune miniseries.

Anderson:
Oh wow! You’re doing Dominic Fortune; when’s that coming out?

Chaykin:
I think July or August. I just delivered the third issue, I’m signing off on colors right now for the third issue, I’m looking at the cover for the third issue and I’m about to start the fourth and final. It’s Dominic Fortune at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Anderson:
Cool, cool, cool. Is this something that you’re writing as well?

Chaykin:
Oh yeah, absolutely.

Anderson:
There’s another project that I’m interested in from you. I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t heard anything more about it in a couple of years: Marked Man?

Chaykin:
Yeah. There are a lot of crime comics out there, but the only one I really love is Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — although I do like the Tardi thing Kim Thompson sent me, West Coast Blues that Fantagraphics is going to publish. I’m turned off by the pulp-fiction sensibility of a lot of what passes for crime comics.

I’d like to do a couple of crime books. Marked Man and another called Midnight of the Soul. One’s a period piece, the other’s contemporary. I’m probably going to get to breakdown on Marked Man in the next month or so. I’ll be doing that on the side… and if no work comes in, I’ll be doing it on the front!

Anderson:
One thing that I’ve always been curious about your work, a personal thing: How come you never put black men and women together in your comics? They’re always paired off with whites every time.

Chaykin:
What, black women and white men?

Anderson:
Yeah, I’ve never seen the two together ever in your comics, I don’t think.

Chaykin:
Actually, I did an issue of Blade where Blade and a black woman were on a date.

Anderson:
I haven’t read Blade to be honest with you.

Chaykin:
Well, it’s actually pretty funny. I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it. You’ve charged me with not holding up my end of the finish from beginning to end and with not being racially consistent, so I’ll take a look at this.

Anderson:
I’m sorry, man.

Chaykin:
Don’t apologize! Never complain, never explain. I’ll take the judgment at its word and work with it. You know, I work pretty much steaming forward ahead and if you’ve noticed it, then it’s been noted and I will accommodate.

Anderson:
Well, do what you want, it’s just something —

Chaykin:
Regardless! I will do what I want, but I also take into account what other people think, certainly people I respect. We tend to work in a vacuum. It doesn’t hurt, every now and then, to be reminded that the train you’re running has left the station and you might want to take a hard look at what’s going on with it. Not to mix too many metaphors.

Anderson:
I’ve been following the stuff you’ve been doing recently, I’m mostly interested in you as a writer-artist, and one of the few things that I’ve read of yours where you just illustrated has been the one that you did with Garth Ennis. I didn’t even know that came out. I was hanging out at a comic-book store maybe three or four months ago and I just stumbled across it and I was like, “Holy fuck.” I picked it up and I thought it was fantastic. But I’m mostly interested in you just as a cartoonist.

Chaykin:
Me too. I prefer to write and draw my own stuff. But every so often you have to take what’s offered.

Anderson:
Well, it surprised me, because I remember years ago you saying that you could never really get into doing superhero material. And it’s never really seemed like your kind of bit; you just seem outside of that in every way. And then I turn around and you’re doing Blade and you’re doing Hawkgirl and you’re doing whatever the fuck — and it just seems weird.

10-15


Panel detail from Hawkgirl #52, written by Walter Simonson and drawn by Chaykin. ©2006 DC Comics.


Chaykin:
I have to make a living. And I consider myself a journeyman talent. Unlike a lot of my colleagues who only do one thing, I can pretty much do everything. I’m more like Joe Kubert or Alex Toth in that regard than Gil Kane or Carmine Infantino. I think Alex and Joe were much more journeymen guys, who could do a wider variety of stuff — Westerns, crime, superheroes. Maybe not any one of those things as well as the top guys in those genres, but they could be called upon to do everything.

That journeyman quality is what makes me the bridge between that generation and mine. I’m capable of doing credible work in almost any genre, with the exception of horror. I have no affinity for horror whatsoever. One has to do the work that’s offered.

Years ago, I had a meeting with a studio executive. He asked me why my resumé was so fucking lame, and why I took all these shitty jobs. And I said, “Unfortunately, I take the jobs that I’m offered. And that’s what happens in the real world, pal.”

Anderson:
Is there a different kind of muscle required for this exercise?

Chaykin:
I have a paranoid commitment to consistency, because I believe that I won’t be taken seriously unless I deliver a consistent quality-based product. And let’s face it, quality isn’t necessarily any kind of guarantee of success in the comic-book business. But if it’s all I’ve got to offer. When I do take on an assignment as an illustrator solely, it’s my responsibility to deliver the best work I possibly can under the circumstances. And that applies both when I’m doing work that’s creator-owned and when I’m doing work for hire.

A couple of years back, I saw a rate card being passed around by one of the technical guys — I forget whether it was lettering or coloring — and the rate card was incredibly insulting. It was like, “We charge this for the best job, this price for an OK job, and this for whatever.” That’s just bullshit.

Regardless of what you’re getting paid, regardless of what the job is, you do the best you possibly can with the skills you bring to the table. Making a judgment based on what you’re being paid is bullshit.

I’m going to use a phrase that makes me cringe here — but I’m a brand. So when a guy hires me, he knows what he’s going to get. And I like to live up to those expectations. Every so often I’ll surprise, but I prefer to surprise in a positive way, as opposed to the negative.

Anderson:
That makes total sense. I gotta challenge you one more time — this is my last challenge of the day — concerning quality. I mean, I think you’re a great cartoonist, as you know. And I’ve always respected your stuff, your comic-book covers. But let’s talk about your painted illustrations, for example.

10-16


From Wolverine/Nick Fury: The Scorpio Connection, written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Chaykin; ©1990 Marvel Entertainment Group.


Chaykin:
I was never very good.

Anderson:
No, no, no, that’s not true. That’s absolutely not true.

Chaykin:
I never really achieved anything there.

Anderson:
Bullshit.

Chaykin:
Fine.

Anderson:
Not true at all. But what I was going to say is this — and you can agree or disagree. It almost goes back to the Black Kiss thing that I was asking about. I’ve always loved your painted covers, like Time2 and Blackhawk and all that stuff — beautiful stuff. But I came across a bunch of your book covers — I’m guessing maybe from the late ’70s or the early ’80s.

Chaykin:
Early ’80s.

Anderson:
And it was almost like another artist had done that stuff. It was like going back to the stuff you would have found in the ’30s and ’40s. It just seemed to me to be of a higher caliber for some reason.

Chaykin:
Really?

Anderson:
Is there any truth to that or am I just pulling that out of my ass?

Chaykin:
I don’t know, I never thought I was very good. I always thought I got good work because I had a smile and a shoeshine. I look back on that work and I don’t really hold it in any particular regard. But I appreciate that — I don’t feel challenged. I’m flattered.

Anderson:
It’s weird because the comic-book stuff feels like it comes from a more personal place, so I kind of respect that stuff more. But just in terms of sheer skill, it kind of makes me wonder if maybe the paycheck was bigger. If so, maybe you were trying harder. I don’t even know.

Chaykin:
Not at all. I became a paperback artist after a big screaming match with the then editor of Marvel Comics over a bit of behavior he pulled on me. And neither of us got along very well. I had never been one of his “boys,” and he didn’t like my attitude, so he made a decision about a cover I had done for him.

The decision was to make a correction which I didn’t feel was necessary, but he felt was. And he had the artist who did the correction do it directly on the board, as opposed to on an overlay, which is the polite thing to do. We had words. And those words were what pushed me out the door in comics and pushed my hand to become a paperback artist.

I was not making a great deal of money. I had been making more in comics than I was in paperbacks. But it was gratifying work. It really was. I was doing wonky, strange stuff in the world of paperbacks — and paperbacks are a really conservative universe. They became even more conservative with the Reagan administration and the bottoms fell out of the business. I’m grateful for your words. That’s very kind. I don’t entirely agree with them, but…

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shannon_Smith: Howard Chaykin is the coolest. http://www.tcj.com/?p=1667