Well, it’s finally here: Sixteen interviews with comics great (and great talker about comics) Howard Chaykin, from an early 1975 interview with a young Dave Sim to a previously unpublished interview with yours truly conducted in 2010.
Chaykin is a fascinating character in the development of American comics: Steeped in the idioms and tropes of mainstream adventure comics, working mainly in the monthly serial format favored by the industry’s major players, he’s also a fierce proponent of comics as a complex medium capable of offering unique aesthetic experiences and dealing with politics, culture, and human nature with intelligence and humor. Comics may be stupid junk, Chaykin’s work tells us, but they don’t have to be. For anyone interested in the development of comics as an art form and as an industry, Chaykin’s appraisals—sometimes caustic, sometimes hilarious—of his contemporaries and their employers are must reading. I’m glad to have had this opportunity to bring them together and bring them to light again, most of them for the first time since their initial publication.
Assembling this book further cemented my firm belief that Chaykin’s contribution to comics is broader, weirder, and more varied than even many of his staunch fans usually acknowledge. The tendency to see Chaykin as playing endless variations on the first three issues of American Flagg! vol. 1 is understandable—those are aggressively ambitious comics, comics designed specifically to make you feel bad about everything else on your pull list, and many of his most persistent themes and spectacular formal effects are present there in highly concentrated form. But such a view neglects how Chaykin’s art and writing are perpetually evolving, how what seem to be the basic premises of his visual style and his thematic preoccupations are constantly being challenged (as I suggested in this post on the second year of American Flagg!). A major takeaway from the book for me is a sense of Chaykin’s basic restlessness: the Chaykin of “Cody Starbuck” is not the Chaykin of Flagg! is not the Chaykin of Time2 is not the Chaykin of City of Tomorrow, and on and on. Chaykin’s range of influences is deep and wide—and completely idiosyncratic—and his reflections on how his relationship to those influences has changed over the years offer valuable insight into his craft. They also underscore just how omnivorous a medium comics can be, capable of adapting visual styles from a diverse array of traditions into the service of narrative.
The book is available from the publisher, as well as from Amazon. Barnes and Noble has it at 10% off (as of this writing). The best discount I’m seeing at the moment is at Sci-Fi Genre, where it’s listed at $31.99. If you prefer to do your buying through the direct market, it should be in comic shops as early as this Wednesday.
I don’t want to rehash the acknowledgments page here, but: Much appreciation is due the crack team at the University Press of Mississippi, including Walter Biggins, Valerie Jones, Shane Gong, and Steve Yates for their patient and unflagging assistance throughout the process of putting this book together. Thanks to Seth Kushner for use of the cover photo. I’m glad to have this book out in the world and delighted at how great it looks.