TCJ 300 Conversations: Howard Chaykin & Ho Che Anderson

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

 

10-22


From Chaykin’s “Bad Blood” in Solo #4, ©2005 DC Comics.


Anderson:
I loved your issue of Solo. I was fascinated by the story “Bad Blood.” It just seemed like one of the richer stories you’ve ever done. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Chaykin:
It pissed a lot of people off.

Anderson:
Really?

Chaykin:
Yeah, it was actually based on an anecdote I heard about 20 years ago. It wasn’t about a white supremacist; it was just some white, upper-middle-class guy in Orange County who had kept his Jewishness a secret from his wife, and when she found out, she went berserk and killed her kids.

Anderson:
Wow. Holy shit. I thought it was complete fiction.

Chaykin:
The anecdote I heard might have been an urban legend for all I know. But I heard it from a fairly reliable source.

Anderson:
Is that something that’s just stuck in your head for a long time?

Chaykin:
I heard it 20 years ago. The arrogance of shame can be profound. The human capacity to dignify embarrassment as a higher moral state is deep. And it was just a great anecdote and it seemed like a perfectly good story. I had a great time doing the Solo book. It was my pastiche of EC. I did a war story, a Western, a science-fiction piece, a liberal-hysteria shock story and a humor piece about my inability to do horror. I stand by that inability — my stuff tends to be too pretty for that sort of thing.

Anderson:
One of the things I’ve always loved about your work is the fact that you put your ethnicity into your work. It seems like a lot of comics purposefully bland themselves out, for whatever reason. You’ve always sort of worn your Jewishness as a badge of honor.

Chaykin:
I think that’s also helped keep me out of the big time. When I was doing Flagg!, I was getting hate mail from people for doing such a mixed ethnic cast. I’m a big fan of semiotics and popular culture and it’s clear to me that the reason Milton Berle and Sid Caesar went down the tubes in the mid-’50s was that television went from being a coastal to a national phenomenon and the American people who lived between the coasts had no fucking clue what these people were talking about.

There’s a piece in the new issue of the New York Review of Books — Geoffrey O’Brien reviewing DVD sets of pre-Code Hollywood films. He talks about that Midwestern audience listening to these early sound films with all the prostitution and white slavery and crime and all this other stuff and that it was so word-based it was going right over their heads. I think that hasn’t helped me much.

Anderson:
It’s very easy in our society for those who are not basically WASPs to be affected with a lot of self-hate. Has that ever crept into your experience?

Chaykin:
Well, I spent a lot of years self-loathing and a lot of it had to do with my presentation in who I was, who I wanted to be, who I thought I was. Ultimately, that stuff went away. The first thing that helped it go away was my discovery of drugs. Once I became a recreational-drug enthusiast and a drinker, many of those feelings just went away because I could do anything I wanted — It made me powerful.

But, when I got sober and clean, I had to relearn a lot of those attitudes. I grew up in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, from a real ethnic background. I grew up on a block that was black, Puerto Rican, Italian and Jewish. It was just that kind of neighborhood.

Every six months, the dads of the block — the Puerto Ricans, the Italians, the black guys, the Jewish guys — would get together, pool their money, rent a Bell & Howell projector and show stag reels for four hours on a Saturday night.

All the kids would be thrown into one bedroom in one of the apartments — one of the apartments would be taken over as the theater — and the women would sit there in a kitchen, smoking, being really pissed off at their fucking husbands. That was the nature of being a kid in a slum in New York City in the ’50s.

10-24


From Black Kiss, ©1993 Howard Chaykin.


Anderson:
The blacks and the Italians were getting along?

Chaykin:
One of the things you guys in Toronto and Canada don’t get is the obsessive sexual relationship between blacks and Italians in New York City.

Anderson:
Tell me more.

Chaykin:
There is a sexual dynamic that goes right along with that overt racism — it’s huge and goes both ways. It’s Italian chicks and black guys, it’s black chicks and Italian guys. There’s this huge covert obsession. My mother’s sister married a Sicilian. The kids were raised Jewish and Italian Catholic at the same time, so they were completely fucked up.

One cousin, who is six years older than I am, is a racist whose favorite singers in the world are Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King. His older brother, when he got out of the Navy, spent 10 years passing for black under the name of Bobby Hollywood.

Anderson:
I’ve never heard of somebody trying to pass for black.

Chaykin:
Well, Johnny Otis did.

Anderson:
That’s fucked up.

Chaykin:
Who, Johnny Otis?

Anderson:
No, just that somebody would do that in this world.

Chaykin:
Johnny Otis was a Greek guy from California. He’s Shuggy Otis’ dad. Johnny passed for black. My cousin Bobby married three black women in succession, lived in Harlem, worked as a sign painter up there and ends up, after his third marriage collapses, moving to Southern California, putting on 150 pounds and marrying this white-trash redneck and lives in Bakersfield.

Who the fuck? I mean that relationship is deep and profound. It is qualitatively similar — on a sexual and romantic level — to the social and sexual relationships between Jews and blacks in New York City in the ’40s and ’50s.

Anderson:
I was just about to say that you should do a comic book about that, but I get a feeling that you sort of already have.

Chaykin:
It’s a theme that runs through my shit. I just shrugged, just for the visual punctuation.

Anderson:
Another comic book that I heard about that you were going to do years ago was some kind of World War II romantic drama. Is that ever gonna happen?

Chaykin:
No; the “April in Paris” piece in Solo was a short-form version of that story. A lot of black musicians living in Europe in the ’30s got back to the States just before the start of the Second World War. Coleman Hawkins got back to New York in 1939. He records “Body and Soul” after a stint at Kelly Stables and everything changes. But I fantasized about a guy who wakes up in Paris in August and the Nazis are there. These guys weren’t hip to politics; they weren’t paying any attention.

What are you working on now, Ho?

Anderson:
Right now I’m trying to make a film. I’ve just finished the shoot on a short film I’ve been working on. I suspect my comic book career is kind of over at this point. So, right now I’m kinda looking around for a job.

Chaykin:
Really? How old are you?

Anderson:
39.

Chaykin:
Oh, you’re a baby.

Anderson:
Well, I think of myself as more of a failed cartoonist than an actual cartoonist, so I think it’s time to move on. I have said that before.

Chaykin:
I did the same thing when I went to television. I feel that my television career was a 14-year hiatus and I’m really happy I didn’t burn bridges and that I have a place to work that’s engaging and uses my skills. But I’m not too sure how long that’s going to continue with the economy in collapse. It’s a worrisome time.

Anderson:
I think you’re going to be fine, Howard.

Chaykin:
One more time — your lips, God’s ear, pal. You have my wife’s faith. I’m a guy who’s held in suspicious sniffiness by the readers, but in great esteem by the professionals.

10-25


From Scream Queen, ©2005 Ho Che Anderson.


Anderson:
You’re kind of a cartoonist’s cartoonist.

Chaykin:
Regardless of what the audience thinks, I’m a workhorse, a responsible guy and a working professional who says and does the same thing. There is no separation between the work I do and what I say about. I walk the walk and talk the talk.

Anderson:
You’re breaking up again, Howard.

Chaykin:
That’s because I’m in the bathroom again. It’s the toilet — the porcelain attracts, you know?

I’m a working professional and I’m held in some esteem. The problem is the audience these days is mostly the retailers and I’m not a beloved figure in that regard.

You’re convinced that you’re finished with comics, at least for the time being?

Anderson:
Well, never say “never.” My love for the field remains undiminished, but at the same time I feel like I’ve started this new adventure and I’m having a good time with it. I had an amazing time on the shoot and I kinda want to focus on this and see if I can take this somewhere. If not, then we’ll see. I mean, I would love to continue to work on little films — hopefully get to feature level at some point — and do comics, but I don’t see that happening.

Chaykin:
I have no interest whatsoever in going back into show business.

Anderson:
Well, you’ve lived that life for a while. See, you’ve had an established career doing both. I’m still trying to establish one as a cartoonist.

Chaykin:
You’re a credentialed guy, you just haven’t produced enough material to spread the credential around, that’s all.

Anderson:
Yeah, well, you know, that doesn’t translate into jobs. None of the comic-book companies are willing to give me a gig. I don’t know if I would consider myself as versatile as you, Howard, I would suspect not, but I think I’m pretty good at the stuff I do. If I’m given a job, I want to do the job to the best of my ability and I think that I’ve had the chance to do a varied amount of work over the years as a writer, as an artist and as a journalist and whatnot.

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One Response to “TCJ 300 Conversations: Howard Chaykin & Ho Che Anderson”

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