TCJ 300 Conversations: Howard Chaykin & Ho Che Anderson

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

 

Jim Shooter, Ken Bruzenak, Al Boasberg, Steve Oliff, Lou Stathis and Bill Marks

Chaykin:
Where were we? Whose character were we assassinating?

Anderson:
I was wondering if it was Jim Shooter.

Chaykin:
Yes. Again, we never really got along very well. And he had his job, I had mine. He was what he was.

Anderson:
I’ve heard a lot of stories about Jim over the years.

Chaykin:
Complex figure.

10-18


From I Want to Be Your Dog, ©1996 Ho Che Anderson.


Anderson:
Yeah, so I understand. Do you ever miss working with Ken Bruzenak?

Chaykin:
Terribly.

Anderson:
How come you’re not working with him any more?

Chaykin:
Lettering as a function has been taken over by in-house workers, and he’s outside of that loop. He’s alienated himself in a couple of ways in a couple of places. We worked together on a book for Disney Italia, which we’ll ultimately see printed in the States.

Anderson:
Yeah, I’ve been dying to see this book. Century West?

Chaykin:
Yep.

Anderson:
Excellent.

Chaykin:
He did a phenomenal job of that. He sent his fonts with the artwork, so the lettering, in foreign languages, is by Ken Bruzenak — he’s wonderful. Ken and I, we’re twin sons of different mothers. We were a great team. About a month ago, I was in discussion with a client to do a massive project, which collapsed under its own weight. I was going to hire Ken on for lettering, type and art direction. Once I took a hard look at the numbers and realized it was never gonna happen, I was very grateful I hadn’t called Ken to seduce him then abandon him. It would have been unkind.

Anderson:
What is he working on these days?

Chaykin:
He’s living in Savannah, Ga. His wife is an instructor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and he’s working as an art director for local magazines on a freelance basis.

Anderson:
He worked with Steranko early in his career, didn’t he?

Chaykin:
Yeah, he was working for Jim at the same time I was working for Neal Adams. We met when we were barely adults and took an immediate dislike to each other. But for some reason, when he was looking for work about six months before the Flagg! stuff happened, I called him up and I said, “Would you be interested in trying this out?”

I’d seen some things he was doing that were really interesting and a lot of stuff he was developing working for Jim. The Outland stuff. And he just flew. He is a guy who is totally unsung. He’s never going to get the credit and props he deserves for introducing an entirely different way of thinking about lettering. Everybody borrows from him.

Anderson:
Absolutely.

Chaykin:
He’s a guy who invented everything and nobody remembers.

10-19


From King, ©2005 Ho Che Anderson.


Anderson:
Well, I don’t know, we’re still talking about Lester Young and I hear people give Ken Bruzenak props all the time.

Chaykin:
Let’s keep that up. I just joined a Facebook group called the “Al Boasberg Appreciation Society.” There’s a name you should know and you probably don’t. He was a gag writer back in the ’30s. He created the stateroom sequence in Night at the Opera. He created the franchise that ultimately became George Burns and Gracie Allen’s radio show. Created Bob Hope’s persona as the Cowardly Lothario. He created the franchise of the Jack Benny show. He’s totally forgotten, because he was never a credited screenwriter. But he’s responsible for the creation of the modern situation comedy.

Anderson:
Your golden period for me was the ’80s. I loved the stuff you did in the ’90s, and the stuff you’re doing now is really good, but the ’80s were fantastic. And I love work that you did with Steve Oliff.

Chaykin:
I love Steve dearly. I run into him at conventions all the time. He lived at my mother’s place when he first came East, so Steve and I have a long history. Steve is another guy who never gets the props he deserves for everything he’s introduced to the comic-book business.

Anderson:
So do you think you’d ever get the team back together again?

Chaykin:
Not likely.

Anderson:
No?

Chaykin:
It seems unlikely that it’s going to happen. Because life moves on.

Anderson:
Too bad. I’ve always kind of hoped for a reunion of you three guys, but I guess that’s probably not gonna happen.

Chaykin:
Bruzenak, probably. When and if I end up doing self-published stuff, Bruzenak will be my first choice.

Anderson:
Well, now I’m interested in this. What is this about self-publishing?

Chaykin:
If I find myself unable to generate work, I will produce material I’ll publish through a distribution imprint. In that regard, I would hire Bruzenak in a heartbeat. Ken knows what he’s doing and he’s the best there is. There’s just no one better. Period.

Anderson:
I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on a couple other collaborators: Lou Stathis, whom I’ve worked with and is a great guy.

Chaykin:
I just got weepy. I’m serious. I got verklempt.

Anderson:
I’ll tell you what, man. I’ve always considered Lou Stathis to be a mentor of mine.

Chaykin:
One of the greatest men ever.

Anderson:
Yeah, he was a great guy. He was a hard-ass, and he busted my ass a lot, but I respected him a lot for it.

Chaykin:
He was also one of the most sentimental, weepy men I’ve ever known in my life.

Anderson:
Lou? Sentimental?

Chaykin:
I’ve sat and wept with Lou.

Anderson:
Wow.

Chaykin:
I miss Lou enormously. I miss Lou as much as I miss Gil.

Anderson:
Wow. I never got to see the soft side of Lou.

Chaykin:
Lou once described me and my second wife as the bleakest, darkest people he’d ever met in his life. And coming from Lou Stathis, that was a profound compliment. And he was right.

Anderson:
I didn’t hear about how he died until a couple of years after the fact. I was talking to Shelly Bond and she laid it on me. It was a shock. It was a fucking bombshell.

Chaykin:
Yeah, he died so fucking young. He was the Jewish-est Greek bastard I ever knew in my life.

Anderson:
I knew the Greek, but I didn’t know he was Jewish.

Chaykin:
He was socially Jewish and biologically Greek — or genealogically Greek. But he had such a Jewish sensibility about him, it was unbelievable.

10-20


From Black Kiss, ©1993 Howard Chaykin.


Anderson:
He told me he was planning to move to Toronto for a while and then he decided, “Fuck that shit.”

Chaykin:
Well, he was all over the place. I was introduced to him by Julie Simmons-Lynch. I was a male member of Julie’s bridal party. And Lou and I were hanging out as far back as that — that was in the late ’70s. I knew Lou for years. Axel Alonso — Vertigo editor who’s now over at Marvel running the X-Men line? Lou was Axel’s tutor. I’ll get together with Axel, and whenever we talk, at least once or twice a year, the Lou’s memory comes up and we both get a little weepy. Amazing guy. Chicks loved him.

Anderson:
Lou?

Chaykin:
Oh God, yeah. He had that hip, Bohemian thing going that the chicks just adored. And then they got to know him and Lou made out beautifully just the same. I was always married when I knew Lou, though, so we never got to chase women together.

Anderson:
I’m also interested in your thoughts on Bill Marks.

Chaykin:
I haven’t seen Bill for a long time. I met Bill when I was as young as Gary [Groth was] when I met [Groth]. He was a teenage kid floating up to my second wife. I mean, you could pick Bill up by the collar and move him around the room. It was fun working with Bill. Bill was a guy who liked eating. My memories of Bill are of sitting around and eating like pigs.

Anderson:
Did you meet him in Canada or the States?

Chaykin:
I met him in San Diego. Do you see Bill now?

Anderson:
I haven’t seen Bill in about 10 or 15 years and I’m good with that.

Chaykin:
He didn’t treat you well?

Anderson:
No, it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience.

Chaykin:
I think you basically had to run roughshod over him to get what you wanted.

Anderson:
Yeah, well he was kind of full of shit.

Chaykin:
Last time I saw Bill was in the late ’90s. I was in Toronto. I keep expecting to run into him, I keep expecting to hear from him and I never do.

Anderson:
Things with me and Bill started out well, but towards the end it just didn’t work.

Chaykin:
That sounds like a lot of people’s relationships with Bill.

 

The Future of the Medium

Anderson:
This is kind of a vague question, I don’t even know if you’ll have an answer for this, but I look at how comics have changed from the ’80s up until now and the kind of influence you’ve had on the medium — where do you see things going with comic books?

Chaykin:
I haven’t got a clue. Ten years ago, I was the entertainment luncheon speaker at a meeting at the L.A. County Bar Association at a discussion of international properties law. I believed that comics would have been gone by now.

Anderson:
I’ve heard you say that a lot.

10-21


From Black Kiss, ©1993 Howard Chaykin.


Chaykin:
I think comics exist today almost exclusively as a source of additional material for film rights. I’m 58 years old, and I’ve always assumed that the empire would collapse a couple of years after I died. I wasn’t planning on living through a new improved version of the Depression my parents endlessly bitched about. What I want out of life is comfort and privacy, and I have a lot of that. I’m very lucky in the life that I live. I have no idea where comics are going. I just hope I’ll be along for the ride. Despite what you may believe, I love making comics. I love the process of making comics. Above my desk right now, I’ve got cover comps, I’ve got the thumbnail breakdowns for the next issue of the Fortune book, alongside Wallace Wood’s “22 Panels That Always Work.”

I love the process, but I haven’t got a clue where they’re going. I’m in awe of the technical excellence in terms of reproduction that comics have evolved into, because when I got into comics, they looked like smeary shit. The only stuff that reproduced fairly well was the black-and-white material. And now you see color material that is just so fucking rich and breathtaking. I love it.

Anderson:
So you don’t have that kind of fatalism that this is gonna fade away?

Chaykin:
Well, it’s perfectly possible. My wife was of the bizarre misunderstanding that the entertainment business was recession-proof. And I laughed. It’s problematic, it’s difficult. I mean, you seem to think that I can generate work whenever I want. One of the reasons I’m stopping in New York after the Wizard show is to make myself available to the various clients, to say, “Hi, I’m here. Please feed me.”

Anderson:
The reason I say that is because I can’t go months without hearing about a new book you’re working on.

Chaykin:
Your lips to God’s ear. What I offer is consistency and responsibility. A lot of my colleagues are guys who continue to be hobbyists. I’m not a hobbyist. We make our living from our hobby, but I consider myself a working professional and a journeyman. Someone once described Jerry Mulligan as the great white journeyman. He could play with traditional groups, bebop groups, swing bands, fusion bands. To a certain extent, I feel that I offer that as well, as a comics talent.

I’m not the best war artist in the world, I’m not the best science-fiction guy, but I can do all of that, because I approach each genre that’s required of me with the same narrative logic and the same attention to detail. I don’t fuck around, I don’t make it up.

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