I didn’t think I was going to write about Howard Chaykin, Image Comics, and The Divided States of Hysteria. When the first controversy sparked up the beginning of last month I had already committed to an interview with a team working on a Kickstarter project for my column that followed said controversy. While people still talked about it some after I thought people had basically covered the scope of the issue and I wouldn’t have anything constructive to add.
Then this happened followed by this apology from Image Comics and Howard Chaykin. I tend to discuss these sort of occurrences in the comics community and I really haven’t lately so it’s time for me to get back to that.
Full disclosure: I have met Howard Chaykin before at a few conventions, got a Lois Lane sketch from him some years ago, and attended a panel back at the first Special Edition NYC spotlighting him with fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases in which he recommended we read the Tom De Haven novel It’s Superman which is actually quite good and one of the best things you’ll ever read that stars The Man Of Tomorrow.
I don’t want to rehash all the details you likely already know, and if you are somehow into comics enough to read columns on comic book news sites and are not aware of what’s been going on, it’s covered in the links provided. You can also type in keywords in a Twitter search and find plenty on this. So, rather than restate the information, I’ll tell you how I, someone that discusses diversity in comics and adjacent topics, read this situation.
First, nobody is ever obligated to purchase and enjoy a comic. Period. If people see a cover or an image from a comic that makes them not want to read it, they don’t have to. They’re allowed to voice their displeasure and tell their friends and the Internet they don’t want to read it and you shouldn’t either. People are allowed to look at a comic and decide against it without reading it.
It is not against the concept of free speech to openly discuss why you do not like or support something; it’s nearly the entire point of free speech. Nor is speaking out against this comic censorship. Howard Chaykin and Image Comics have every right to put out this material and you and anyone else have every right to actively not support it if you so desire.
It’s up to the marketing people and the publisher to convince people that their product is worth their time and to spend money on it. Part of the blunder that took place here is that Image had worked out getting The Divided States of Hysteria a Pride variant when the content inside didn’t fit for that audience. More eyes, including a lot more queer eyes, were on this book because of that variant and it being Pride month. Had this book come out without that variant and later on in the year I think it may have glided under the radar a bit and while their likely would have been some backlash, it wouldn’t have hit the same levels.
Another factor is that this is an Image comic. While Image does have some gruesome books like The Walking Dead, most of its line-up is pretty accessible to a wide comics audience. A publisher more well known for its over-the-top stories and graphic imagery like Avatar Press may have been able to take on The Divided States of Hysteria with less backlash.
The political and cultural environment is just not where this book is either. People are upset, depressed, and frightened by what we see coming out of the White House; I know I am. Had the results on November 9th, 2016 been different then maybe people would have been a little more open to the idea of a comic that’s talking about a horrible alternate reality. It hits a little too close to home for many right now.
The timing of this book was way off. Particularly with the portrayal of a trans sex worker being brutalized. What may have seemed edgy or even acceptable decades ago in terms of representing a trans character doesn’t fly anymore. At least fourteen trans women, mostly trans women of color, have been murdered just for being trans this year, and more trans women were killed in 2016 than in 2015. I encourage you to follow the link in the last sentence and to read the names of those we’ve lost. Audiences not only are demanding more from trans representation in all media, but it’s necessary and can save lives.
Finally, I want to talk a bit about Howard Chaykin himself. Some people have criticized him for being “an old white guy.” While there is some truth to that, it’s a bit more complicated. Howard Chaykin was born October 7th, 1950. He had a rough childhood moving many times as a kid across New York City, being raised on welfare, finding out later in life that who he thought was his biological father was in fact not and having a cruel adoptive father.
Despite all that, and despite the fact that many doors shut in front of him as he tried to develop his career early on because he’s Jewish, Howard was able to get his start in comics before branching out into other media. One of his early works, American Flagg!, was also a political satire and starred Reuben Flagg, an overtly Jewish lead at a time where that was far from common in mainstream comics. Hell, it’s uncommon now. That work, in particular, went on to inspire multiple generations of comic creators, including Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction, Frank Miller, and Brian Michael Bendis.
I’m not writing all this to make you change your mind on The Divided States of Hysteria. If you don’t want to read it, don’t. If you don’t like Howard Chaykin’s work, continue to not like it. If you want other people to know you feel that way, let them know.
What I am saying is that he is a person, he’s fought his own battles for decades to get where he is, he may have been through more than you know, he and Image Comics are in no way advocating bigotry, there is absolutely no need to make personal attacks towards Howard, and his entire body of work should not be summed up in one poorly timed and arguably poorly executed comic book.
Since every living person, as well as the estates of many of the dead, makes all kinds of “big” announcements at SDCC, the smart people (Hi, Martha!) make their big announcements the week before the show. They’ll get better exposure in the online comics news sites, and this year they avoid having to compete for attention with a 70-year old Creamsicle media hog with severe bigotry issues.
So our friends at Archie Comics cleverly chose last week to announce their latest bizarre crossover, Archie Meets The Ramones. This past decade or so, Archie Comics (as opposed to the character, Archie Andrews) have been the most innovative and risk-taking of the Original Comics Publishers. Archie has methodically testing new concepts, new interpretations of their characters, super and non, and new ways of running their company to provide the revenue to launch such projects. I think I read all of their new-material comics save their Sonic the Hedgehog line, and I like what they’re doing.
They’ve done unusual crossovers before – Archie Meets The Punisher probably is the one best-known to the ComicMix audience. They’ve done rock’n’roll based crossovers before. But linking up with The Ramones is a whole ‘nother matter. The Ramones were part of the vanguard of the punk rock movement that they, in fact, started back in 1974. It was and remains as exciting and as vital to the form as the blues/folk/hippie rock from the previous decade. One might not think the Ramones to be a good fit with the Riverdale crew, and I highly suspect that previous (and older) management teams might have felt the same way.
Riskier still is the fact that almost all of the original Ramones are dead. They ran until 1996. Joey Ramone died in 2001, Dee Dee Ramone died in 2002, Johnny Ramone died in 2004, and Tommy Ramone died in 2014. Two important notes: First, the “Ramone” surname was contrived; they were no more related to each other than were the Doobie Brothers. Second, they were not the most doomed band in rock history. That privilege goes to Beatles protégés Badfinger; I mean them no disrespect by avoiding the specifics. Wiki’s got them just fine.
Let us not be confused by the fact that one of Archie Comics’ more popular titles is called Afterlife With Archie. Evidently, Riverdale’s typical teen-agers indulge in some serious time-travel. Comics fans get that. Rock fans get that. Your grandparents; probably not. They’ve been working on understanding Doctor Who since 1963.
Archie Meets The Ramones is a very, very clever concept. And it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ll see on October 5th.
The Ramones, The Punisher, KISS, Predator, Glee, Sharknado… Where does Archie go for its next unlikely team-up? Way back in the mid-1980s I whimsically suggested to then-publisher Michael Silberkleit we do a Betty and Veronica / American Flagg! mini-series. He immediately agreed; I suspect he was more familiar with Flagg!’s sales than with its content. But I can’t tell you how much I wanted to see how far I could push that one.
Sigh. Maturity sucks.
So, next time I think Archie and the band should go back in time once again and team-up with the MC5. I’m dying to see what Wayne Kramer www.waynekramer.com would say to Forsythe P. Jones – and vice versa. Maybe Brian Bendis can get a waiver from Marvel; his dialogue skills would work well here. Maybe John Sinclair could offer Juggie a… cigarette.
David (Matthew Broderick): “Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War.”
Joshua/WOPR: “Wouldn’t you prefer a good game of chess?”
David: “Later. Right now let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.”
General Beringer (Barry Corbin): Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.
McKittrick (Dabney Coleman): I don’t have to take that, you pig-eyed sack of shit.
General Beringer: Oh, I was hoping for something a little better than that from you, sir. A man of your education.
Officer: Sir, it’s the President.
McKittrick: What are you going to tell him?
General Beringer: That I’m ordering our bombers back to fail-safe; we might have to go through this thing after all.
David (Matthew Broderick): “Is this a game or is it real?”
Joshua/WOPR: “What’s the difference?”
Wargames (1983), Directed by John Badham
Last week I watched Wargames on one of my cable channels, which was a weird bit of synchronicity because just a few days before, February 18th to be exact, the New York Times ran a very interesting article about that point on the graph where fiction and reality meet. It was called “‘Wargames’ and Cybersecurity’s Debt to a Hollywood Hack.”
Wargames, if you don’t remember – and I would be very surprised if you don’t, my fellow geeks – was a 1983 movie which starred Matthew Broderick as David Lightman, a high school student who is failing every class but also happens to be a genius computer geek in an era when it was not yet totally cool to be a high school computer geek. He accidentally hacks into the Cheyenne Mountain security complex known as NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and its super computer WOPR (War Operations Plan Response). WOPR is programmed to run numerous nuclear war scenarios and their outcomes, but David, a computer game “connoisseur,” believes that he has hacked into a games manufacturer’s R & D system, and decides to play global thermonuclear war, which is listed along with other strategy-learning games such chess, backgammon, checkers, and poker. But the computer “doesn’t know it’s a game,” as David desperately tries to tell the military. WOPR is counting down to Armageddon.
Anyway, the article tells the story of how, on June 4, 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan watched the movie at Camp David. The following Wednesday, Reagan met with his national security team and 16 members of Congress to discuss the upcoming meeting with the Soviets about nuclear arms. There he asked if anyone had seen Wargames, gave a synopsis, and if such a thing was possible. Coming on the heels of his Star Wars speech in which he asked scientist to develop “laser” weapons that could shoot down Soviet (or other hostiles) ICBMs from space, everyone in the room was thinking, to paraphrase, “There he goes again.”
But as the meeting disbanded, Reagan held back General John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and told him to look the possibility of someone breaking into the nation’s high security and top-secret computer systems.
One week later, the General returned to report that the President’s question wasn’t so off the wall and out of the box at all. In fact, to quote the New York Times, what the General actually said was, “the problem is much worse than you think.”
Reality imitating fiction.
There must have been something in the air in 1983, for that was also the year that Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg hit the comic book shops. Published by First Comics – which was co-launched by Rick Obadiah and ComicMix’s own Mike Gold – Flagg takes place in the year 2031. The U.S. government and the boards of major corporations have moved to Mars, and the Soviet Union has collapsed because of Islamist fundamentalism. The new center of power is the Brazilian Union of the Americas and the Pan-African League. America is ruled by the “Plex,” an amalgamation of the U.S. government and corporations. The population of the United States is centered around massive centers of commerce termed Plexmalls; the “Plexus Rangers,” including former television star Reuben Flagg, enforce the law.
Okay, the U.S. government is still in Washington. The Soviet Union did collapse in 1991, but Vlad Putin’s “wannabe” Soviet Union has problems with the Islamic fundamentalists living in the border states. But, can you say “Citizens United?” The 2010 Citizens United Vs. Federal Election Commission case, brought before the Supreme Court – which voted 5-4 in favor of the plaintiff – changed the landscape of our political system. Although it was originally meant for non-profit corporations, the principal has extended to private corporations – our First Amendment right to free speech as been convoluted to money as people. As in, to quote Mitt Romney, “Corporations are people, my friends.”
So I watch the 2016 Presidential campaign with a besotted eye. It does seem like some dystopian science fiction movie or comic, doesn’t it? The Republican candidates are cursing like roughnecks, complaining about television make-up, throwing bottled water at each other, tweeting and trolling like sociopathic adolescents, and a billionaire head of a corporation is leading the polls. The Democratic candidates are a woman suspected of murder and of e-mailing top-secret information on a public server and a socialist Jew from Brooklyn who isn’t Larry David.
And the current President is keen on sending a manned mission to Mars.
Hanukkah is halfway over and Christmas is next week. Traditionally, columnists with no ideas use this as an opportunity to recommend gift ideas that, ideally, benefits themselves, their families or their friends.
Here’s the thing. I don’t know your gift-giving needs. I don’t know your friends. I don’t know your tastes, and your budget is none of my business. These are books that, if I didn’t already own them and love them, I would want to get. If they are new to you, I envy the good times you have ahead.
I want to start off with Mimi Pond because, well, I know her a little bit and this will make me seem important. She and I both freelanced for the fashion section of The Village Voice back in the late seventies and early eighties. Fashion was like the ugly stepchild at the paper, not worthy of the seriousness of purpose to which the alternative press was dedicated.
Anyway, over the years, Mimi has created a bunch of really, really funny books. Secrets of the Powder Room is laugh-out-loud uproarious. Shoes Never Lie made the jokes that were still being stolen on Sex and the City thirty years later.
This year, however, Pond went in a different direction (to me, anyway) and produced a beautiful graphic novel, Over Easy. It’s about her experiences waiting tables, and while that might seem really trite and banal (haven’t we read a million books about the shitty jobs artists take to support their art?), it’s really atmospheric and lovely. The characters are instantly distinct, the world in which they live is both exotic and recognizable. I loved just about everybody in it, and I was sorry to see the story end. We want more, Mimi!
I don’t know Kelly Sue DeConnick. I’d like to, but so far, the most I can say is that we were in the same room at New York Comic-Con and I thought about going up to introduce myself, but then she was mobbed and I didn’t want to be in that mob. She has a new book out, Bitch Planet and while it’s only one issue, it’s already hilarious.
Bitch Planet takes the “women in prison” scenario (or, as Michael O’Donoghue used to call it, “Kittens in a Can”) and takes it for a militant feminist whirl. It subverts a lot of my assumptions (you mean the skinny white woman isn’t the main character?) and the ads on the back cover are really, really funny.
There has been a minor kerfuffle on the Interwebs because a local comic book store wrote up a solicitation for the book and referred to Ms. DeConnick as “Mrs. Matt Fraction.” They also listed Mr. Fraction as “Mr. Kelly Sue DeConnick.” The joke misfired, there was outrage all the way around, and the store apologized (and, I hope, figured out why that was offensive).
None of this is a slam on Matt Fraction. I’m sure no one thinks he’s riding on his wife’s coattails. Along with artist Chip Zdarsky, he’s created Sex Criminals, one of the funniest comics ever. You can read the first issues in a trade paperback collection and you should. I haven’t been made to feel so sexually inadequate by a comic book since American Flagg.
The story and the characters are wonderful but my favorite part of the series is the letter column, which usually goes on for five or six pages. Readers send in not only commentary on the stories, but also shameful confessions, awkward questions, and unsolicited advice. Matt and Chip answer in the same tone. Here’s a brief sample of what they sound like.
I was really disappointed that the collection didn’t include the letter columns, although it does have some brand-new text pages that are also reasonably hilarious. Fortunately, Image collected a bunch of the letter column stuff, and new stuff with more artwork, and dubbed it Just the Tip < >, a cute little hard cover book that’s the perfect stocking stuffer for those of you who stuff stockings.
If you’ve read my column during the year, you know that I also recommend The Fifth Beatle and March and Sage and Snowpiercer. I don’t know if I wrote about them, but I liked them, and you should know.
Mindy went to her grandson’s bris today. Meyer Manuel, known in Hebrew as Avraham, is named for all three grandfathers. He had his first taste of wine, too, suckling on a cloth dipped in Manischevitz. It’s supposed to “quiet the baby,” which means lead him into a drunken stupor, so that the pain of the circumcision will be dulled. It didn’t help.
Meyer Manual cried, and Alix wept, as did most everyone else; the only ones not crying were Jeff, who did look shaky but stayed strong, looked shaky but he managed okay. The only ones who didn’t cry were the moyel (the artist performing the procedure) and Grandma me – the moyel because, well, that’s his job – and also he was wonderful, attentive to Alix and Jeff and incredibly caring to Meyer Manuel – and as for me, well, I think because I’ve seen so many circs (as we say in the biz) in my other life as an OR nurse that I knew what to expect, and also, I needed to be strong and calm for everyone else, meaning I had my professional face on.
Brit Milah: (Hebrew) “Covenant of circumcision.” Commonly referred to by its Yiddish term, the Bris, it is the Jewish religious ritual in which the male infant is circumcised at eight days old.
Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised.
Like so many Jewish commandments, the brit milah is commonly perceived to be a hygienic measure, so think about this. The early Israelites were primarily desert dwellers. Now, all you men out there, think about getting some sand between the foreskin and the head of the penis.
Pretty smart, those Children of Abraham.
Also very intriguing – although the Torah does not specify a reason for the choice of the eighth day for performing the brit milah, medical research has discovered that an infant’s blood clotting mechanism stabilizes on the eighth day after birth.
Now how did they know that? Trial and error? (I hate to think of all those newborn baby boys bleeding out before their parents got it right.) Or was it “Ancient Aliens?” Did some advance civilization, mistaken for gods and angels by the Hebrews, instruct them on the rite of circumcision?
The translation of the words sung during the opening of Battlestar Galactica is something like this, from the Sanskrit:
We meditate upon the divine light
of spiritual consciousness
May it awaken
our intuitional awareness.
Did Ronald D. Moore actually connect with the cosmic consciousness when he rebooted Battlestar Galactica? Were the three angels who visited Abraham actually Admiral Adama, his son Major Lee Adama, and Gaius Baltar?
Are any superheroes circumcised?
Certainly Gim Allon, aka Colossal Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes would be, as it has been established that he is Jewish. As would Marc Spector (Moon Knight), Pietro Maximoff (Quicksilver), Reuben Flagg (American Flagg!), and Irwin Schwab (Ambush Bug).
As would be Max Eisenhardt, aka Magneto. And Ben Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. And Ray Palmer, also known as the Atom.
Some weeks ago I wrote part one of this series then I went to France and forgot to file it before I went. Once I arrived in France I was blown away by my comic experience and wrote about intending to file this once I returned.
When I returned a suicidal next door neighbor of mine placed a bag of shit on my doorstep and that pissed me off to such an extent that I completely forgot to file the article and instead dealt with that idiot whom I’m sure will never ever look at my house again after my visit to his home.
Why, you ask, did someone place a bag of shit on my doorstep? Long story short, this asswipe keeps feeding my dogs after being told numerous times not to.
So, dogs being dogs, they keep sniffing around his yard (we share a short brick wall in our backyards and my dogs can easily jump over it) looking for food. Well one of my dogs must have left a bundle of doo-doo as a “thank you for feeding us” or a “fuck you, where’s the food” on that particular visit.
Either way, this moron picks up the doggie doo and leaves it on my doorstep. I was so livid that I forgot to file this article again. Instead, I stood in front of my neighbor’s house throwing up gang signs while the stereo at my house blasted 50 Cent’s, “my gun go off.” I knocked on his door but he didn’t answer hence my gang and 50-cent serenade. In hindsight, perhaps I should not have been yelling “Open the door, bitch!”
(And Now… Back To “Why Do I Read Comics?”)
Please refer to part oneof this article. Last whenever, I wrote about my love of comics and how I stopped reading them all together by the time I got to college. I was pretty sure that I was done with comics when Frank Miller brought me back.
I was at all places, an Elton John concert, and the guy sitting next to me was reading a Frank Miller Daredevil. I smiled remembering when I was a young impressionable lad who once wasted his time on comics. The guy caught my smile and asked “Have you read this one yet?”
I told him I didn’t read comics anymore. He asked me why and I explained that I grew out of them, yada, yada, yada. He said (and he was right) that it sounded like I stopped reading comics because of peer pressure. He also offered that I didn’t seem like the type of guy who cared what anyone else thought.
That surprised me.
“What makes you say that? You just met me.” I said.
“Take a good look around.” He responded.
I was at Madison Square Garden and I did take a look around. Nothing struck me as anything that would give this guy a clue to what I cared about or not. I was about to ask him what he was smoking when it hit me.
As far as I could tell I was one of maybe four to possibly six black people who were there to see Elton John so, clearly, he was right, I’ve never cared about what anyone thought of me. It dawned on me at that moment that I did stop reading comics because I was concerned about how I would be perceived.
The look of “oh shit” must have taken up residence on my face because my new friend just laughed. He then did something I will always be thankful for, he gave me that copy of Daredevil to read while we waited for the opening act and while reading I’m sure my “oh shit” look never left my face.
I was amazed just how different and damn good Frank Miller’s Daredevil was. The comics I read before I stopped collecting were good but this was another kind of good, this was on a level I had not experienced before in comics.
Forbidden Planet is located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and has a huge comic book community presence. The next day I went there and purchased the entire run of Frank Miller’s Daredevil and returned to my home to eagerly read them.
I had no idea who this Miller guy was but these books were some of the greatest comics I’d ever read. In fact they were some of the greatest stories I’d ever read regardless of the format. After discovering Daredevil I went on a pretty good buying spree of comics and realized quickly that the game had changed in six years so much so that I was blown away almost daily by the work that was being done.
Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg and Moore and Bolland’s The Killing Joke were among the many new (to me) comics I was overdosing on. In the six years I was away from comics there had been a sea change and I was back, like an addict at a crack house.
For me that sea change still exists in the industry and that my friend is why I still read comics. Forget about the glut of Spider-Man or Batman titles. Forget the yearly cross over or the predictable “death of” storylines. Forget the gimmicks such as variant covers or stories “ripped from today’s headlines” like the gay character or Archie kissing black girl bullshit.
Forget all that crap, some of the work coming from today’s creators is just fantastic. I picked up a trade paperback of The Twelve from Marvel while in France and it was simply incredible and that’s just the tip of the creative iceberg of what is being done today.
Yes, comics for the most part are the same superhero crap that it has been for decades but the best of this industry, the original outstanding work being done in comics translates into the best of any industry.
Film, television or under-fucking-roos, the best material from comics makes any other medium worth watching or, in the case of Underoos, worth wearing.
To put it simply, I still read comics because no matter how old I am (21, Jean) comics are the best entertainment available for my money today and I don’t care who knows I think that way.
Oh, I’m sure some of you are wondering why the black guy from the hood was at an Elton John concert. The short answer is like comics; Elton John’s music is something I enjoy because he’s just that good. For any other explanation, consult someone who gives a fuck what other people think.
Dean Haspiel strikes me as a creator who’s constantly growing. He’s an artist, he’s a writer, he’s won an Emmy for TV design work, and in the last year he’s started up a new project, Trip City, a “Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon” with an eclectic mix of comics, stories, realism, sci-fi, and more. Now, don’t get me wrong – I obviously love superhero comics, and the people who create them, but I also love creators who can and do cross genres and try new things. Dean is clearly one of these.
While Dean is perhaps best known for his work with Harvey Pekar (e. g. American Splendor and The Quitter) and for his “last romantic anti-hero” Billy Dogma, his current project that’s caught my attention is Trip City, via the sample booklet Dean shared with me at Baltimore Comic Con. While there’s no denying I am hooked on the Internet and social media, I am admittedly also one of those people who still generally prefers reading a paper book when it comes to fiction and creative works; which means that having a paper selection of Trip City’s offerings to lure me to the content on the web is a smooth (and effective) move.
The booklet is a combination of short stories and comics from a variety of creators, and runs the gamut from tales of relationship heartbreak or zombie science to a whimsical “missed connection” ad. It’s definitely a “something for everyone” kind of collection, and while not every selection may strike every reader’s fancy, they’re all quality work (and I, personally, enjoyed them). The best part, of course, is that if you want to read more, you can easily hop over to the site, which hosts a large and varied collection of content, as well as a regular podcast [http://welcometotripcity.com/category/podcast/]. I’m definitely going to spend some time over there, I can tell.
Another cool thing about Dean is that he’s a natural storyteller and born conversationalist. This made for a fun interview when I chatted with him at Baltimore Comic Con. Read on to hear what he had to say!
Emily: Walt Simonson’s work on Thor was just honored at the Harvey Awards. I know you’ve worked with Walt. Tell me about working with him; and did you have some work in the award-winning collection?
Dean: In 1985, I was a senior in high school, at what was Music and Art, which got married to Art and Design and became LaGuardia High School in Manhattan; so I was in the first graduating class of LaGuardia High School. I had befriended Larry O’Neil, Denny O’Neil’s son, who was in school with me, and he would get wind from his father of when some of the local artists might need assistance. Larry went on to become a filmmaker; but at one point during our initial friendship he wanted to be a cartoonist, and he got a gig working for Howard Chaykin on American Flagg! Howard Chaykin shared a studio called Upstart Studios with Walter Simonson. At one point Frank Miller was in that studio, and Jim Starlin…it was this amazing studio. The studio at the time was Howard, Walter and Jim Sherman.
Down the hall, Bill Sienkiewicz set up a studio with Denys Cowan, and Michael Davis (fellow ComicMix columnist!), who was part of creating Milestone Media. Bill Sienkiewicz was looking for an assistant, and I got that gig. So I would work with Bill, and sometimes he wouldn’t be there but I’d come in anyway; so then I’d work in Upstart with those guys, until eventually I became a second assistant for Howard Chaykin. Larry and I both worked on his monthly book. While there, we got friendly with Walter, who would sometimes use me as an assistant as well, and if you know his run on Thor, at one point, Thor becomes a frog; which was so absurd that Walt was a little worried that it wouldn’t fly – but it totally flew. I remember that distinctly because I remember working on some of those stories. My artwork of that time would be more prevalent in Chaykin’s American Flagg!, because I actually drew the backgrounds with Larry on that book; but I did work with Walter.
The way Walter worked (and this was before Photoshop) was that he would do these amazing thumbnail layouts that he always wanted to try to keep the energy of, because when you initially draw something, that’s almost like the best version of that art; because after that you start to finesse it, and sometimes you can cripple it by overdrawing or over-rendering it, or tightening it up too much. And Walter’s style has a loosey-goosey kind of line and he does a beautiful thing with a crow quill pen and brush; so part of my job as his assistant was to take his thumbnail layouts, and use this machine called an Artograph to blow them up onto boards that he would then fully pencil or ink.
Knowing what he was trying to capture was actually harder to work on because you’re trying to be in his arm and his mind, and take his scribbles, and enlarge them onto the projector-sized paper; and I didn’t have the faculty for that. Not only was I not as good an artist as I hope I am today, but also you’re trying to draw like someone else, which is hard. And then of course he would mostly erase it and go on and do his own version. But it was very good training; and also I would fill in the blacks and erase pages and things like that.
But: yes, I did work on some of those famous Thors, and Walt is like a mentor to me. Because another thing that happens, when you work with guys like this for a year, is that it’s the best kind of school. It’s not like, “here’s how you draw a panel, or a page, or rule it” – you do it by example. You do it because you’re around people and you’re getting that energy, and you learn – that’s the only way really to learn these things. He and Howard Chaykin have been mentors to me since 1985. And he’s pulled pranks on me and stuff like that.
Emily: Oh, give us an example!
Dean: Here’s a famous prank. I kind of made a joke at the Harveys about the fact that some of the stuff I learned in their studio was about Warren Zevon and Van Morrison and the writing of Jim Thompson; and they’re the ones who introduced me to Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo. Because at the time I was like, “It’s 1985, I’m into hip hop; I’m into Prince, I’m listening to what kids listen to.” And in the studio they had this record player, and they were always playing Van Morrison and Warren Zevon and this kind of rockabilly music, and I was like, “I don’t want to listen to this stuff, whatever.” At the time, okay? Now I’m older, I can appreciate it. So they allowed me and Larry to play one record each, and I was way into Prince, so I brought in a 45 of “Little Red Corvette.” So once in awhile they’d allow us to play our song, to be democratic.
One day while working with Howard and Larry on American Flagg!, Howard encourages me, “Hey Dean, why don’t you play that song you like? Play your Prince song.” So I put it on, and it starts playing, and I go back to my seat and I’m drawing. Suddenly I hear Walter’s chair slam against the floor, and he gets up, and he’s huffing and puffing. He’s really upset; and he’s like, “I fucking hate this song, this is bullshit.” And I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what’s happening?? This was sanctioned, why am I not allowed to play it?” And then he goes over to the record player, and I look up at him, and I see this raging – he looked like a monster; and if you know Walt Simonson, he’s the nicest guy in comics ever. I didn’t know who this was, and I got so scared, I turned away. I hear him yelling again about how he hates the song, and he takes the record needle, and he scratches it across the entire song, and I’m just hearing this ripping sound, and I actually start to get sick, and he takes it in his hands, and crumples the vinyl, and I’m thinking, “I’m dead,” or it’s not happening; like I go into shock.
And Walt says, “Dean, I have something for you.” And I’m thinking, “I don’t want anything!” I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And he brings over his portfolio, and he pulls out a 12-inch version of “Little Red Corvette”! And at one point I’d looked at Larry O’Neil and Howard Chaykin, and their faces were pressed against their art tables, because they were trying to stifle laughter, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought they were afraid and cowering as well. And then everyone starts laughing; and I’m having heart palpitations – I want to vomit; but the thing that was cool was that it made me feel like I was part of the gang. You pull a prank on someone like that, and it means they’re okay, they’ve been green lit in a way…But the collector in me is a little pissed off that that 45 got destroyed!
Emily: Hah! I bet. Now, you’ve also worked with Harvey Pekar; tell me about that.
Dean: It took me awhile to finally do something with him. I would send him samples, and I think he thought I was probably too mainstream, because he wouldn’t react. I actually wrote and drew a two-page comic about it, called The American Dilemma, which I published. It was basically about me sending him my artwork, and feeling like by the fact that he didn’t respond, I was going through a scenario of paranoia about how he was rejecting me; so I published that, to show I could create an auto-biographical story about me and my feelings. It was with other comics that are auto-bio, which I did with Josh Neufeld. It was called Keyhole, and again: nothing. So now I’m publishing things about him and he’s not responding to that either; and I was kind of getting a little pissed off, to be frank.
Then a couple of years later I get a phone call from a guy who I thought was pretending to be Harvey Pekar and pulling a prank on me (because now I’ve had pranks in my life thanks to Walt Simonson!). So he says, “Hey, do you want to do a one-page comic?” And I’m like, “Is this really Harvey Pekar?” I’m starting to question him and who he is. And he says, “Come on man, don’t you want to make some bread?” And I’m like, “Now he’s lying; this guy is a bad Pekar; talking in his lingo and stuff.” And finally he tells me to fuck off and hangs up the phone. And I’m thinking, “How is that a funny prank, if it ends like that? Where’s the prank part?” So I start realizing, “Holy crap, that was probably Harvey Pekar.” And this was before caller ID. So I called up Josh Neufeld, and first of all I thought he’d been the caller, but he says, “No man, what are you talking about?” and then I tell him what happened, and he’s like, “That was Harvey!” So I said, “…can I please get his phone number, and I’ll call him back?”
I call him back, get him on the phone and apologize, and he says to me, “What can I do to prove to you that I’m really me?” And I say, “Can you give me that job that you’re offering?” And he did, and it started this relationship. At one point, I had only done one- or five-page stories with him, and then I’d been an assistant to a film producer named Ted Hope, and I knew Ted was a comics fan, because I’d see a lot of his comics and I would file his comics at times. Ted had a couple of scripts, and one of them was a defunct American Splendor script. So it occurred to me; I’ve worked with Harvey; it would be great to make an American Splendor movie; and I suggested it to Ted, who said, “I would love to try to do that.” So I said “I’ll talk to Harvey and hook you guys up to have a phone conversation.” They did, and a year-and-a-half later, it won the Best Picture at the Sundance Film Festival.
Because of that, Harvey wanted to thank me by doing something more substantial together, and that’s where The Quitter arrived. I’d pitched it to Vertigo; they wanted to start branching out and doing more indie stuff and autobiographical. So we did The Quitter together; and then I brought American Splendor over, because it had been at Dark Horse for awhile, but it wasn’t doing well, or they couldn’t produce or market it right. It was always a hard comic to sell anyway; it’s a particular kind of franchise. It’s not superheroes, it’s about a grumpy guy writing about the mundane things in life; like how much of a fan base can you have? You can hear about it, but does that mean you went and bought it? It’s a Catch-22. So I got two miniseries’ at Vertigo of American Splendor, that became collections, and we did a couple of other little things, and then unfortunately he passed away. He was a great guy to work with. As much as he had his curmudgeonly persona, he was a sweetheart; a mensch. He always looked out for his artists, and he was just a great guy.
Emily: You’ve done a lot of really cool things. What are you working on now?
Dean: Recently I drew Godzilla Legends #5 for IDW. I just drew a Mars Attacks Christmas story for the Mars Attacks holiday special, coming out in October; I wrote and drew a 12-page story for that, which takes place in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I’m doing a couple of little things right now, and I’m also working on the second season of The Five-Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies, a webcomic with Ben McCool over at Shifty Look. Namco Bandai is working with different houses to produce these comics at Shifty Look. We worked with Cryptozoic; they also produced The Lookouts which Ben just did, which is a new comic.
I’ve been doing Trip City, where I’ve been curating and creating content; it’s a Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon online. We also have these paper curated anthologies just to give people a taste of what is online. It’s prose, some comics, multimedia and a bunch of other stuff. I have other things I want to flex, other things I want to do; not just draw comics. I was recently at Yaddo, which is a writers’/artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, NY, where I completed a feature-length screenplay, the first part of a novel, and a new comic book idea in 24 days.
I’ve been itching to do this stuff, and I had it in the back of my mind, so I went into the woods in a cabin, and did this and walked the dog. It’s the best thing – you should try it! I recommend it to anyone who can afford to do a retreat like that. I just did a print version of The Last Romantic Antihero, which isalso up at Trip City; but believe it or not, even if you give it away online, some people will only read it if you put it in their hand or create a different kind of delivery system. So I’m testing the waters with that.
Emily: What do you think today are the most effective ways to reach people with new material?
Dean: I think using the DIY tools that have been given to us, like Twitter and Facebook, is good. We’re all still figuring out how to navigate that, and when is it too much, or not enough – how and when to use it. Figure out a destination point where you put your stuff up, where you can link to something that’s all yours. Also, be communal. You can’t just be me-me-me-me; because after awhile, people get bored of that and who cares? So share what you like, show up to the party. Be informed, be aware. Luckily, I like a lot of other things much more than what I do. I love other people’s stuff, and promote that; and I don’t waste my time hating stuff. I hate stuff; but I’m not going to publish and promote that I hate something. That’s a waste of time. I sometimes feel like the Internet is made for hate, and I’m like, no, no, no; use it for good. So that’s what I promote.
Emily: There are always people looking to break in, or for tips on what to do in the industry to get noticed. Things have changed a lot from year-to-year. What would you tell people today?
Dean: Use the Internet. If you’re not Alan Moore… Listen, no one’s standing in line knocking on my door; I’ve got to let people know what I’m doing. What’s great about putting even ten images up with your name and a contact is that it works as a 24-7, 365 resume. It’s working for you while you sleep. You may get someone knocking on your door from that. And as important as it is to have something up that shows off your wares, also show up to the party and be part of the community. Find your people. You’re not going to love everybody, you’re not going to like everybody, and not everybody’s going to like you; but find your people, truck with your gang, and luckily you can do it virtually. You can do it from your basement or home.
Emily: I’ve heard some artists say DeviantArt is a good place to showcase work; if you don’t have your own website, do you think that’s an effective place? What do you think is helpful?
Dean: This will show my age a little bit. I don’t have a DeviantArt and I don’t have a Tumblr; and I hear about Tumblr and DeviantArt all the time. If I’m hearing about it – and I hear some of my favorite artists do get a lot of work through their DeviantArt pages – then it sounds like it’s probably a good idea to have that. You don’t have to have your own website. You’re part of a community when you’re on DeviantArt and Tumblr, as with Facebook and Twitter. You can curate who you know, and keep a public presence so people can stumble upon you. The key, though, is to respond to other people’s work; comment; spark a dialogue. Yes, I understand that it’s another job sometimes; but if you’re trying to engender work and get people to know you, you’ve got to get to know other people. That’s the only way it works.
Emily: A sentiment I totally agree with. Thanks, Dean, for sharing some amazing stories and your outlook with us!
Everyone, go check out Dean’s work and the new content over at Trip City. And until next time, readers: Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Does Ralph Ellison
You’d think with the Olympics going on and all that sloppy security Mitt Romney told us about, the authorities would have more important work to do than to count the number of penises (peni?) Howard Chaykin can squeeze into a single comic book. But – obviously, since I’m writing this – you’d be wrong.
I got an email from a British comics shop owning friend of mine, subsequently confirmed by our pal Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool, that Chaykin’s Black Kiss II #1 was the only title missing in his shipment from Image Comics. Knowing I have a long-standing friendship with the writer/artist (and, ahem, edited his American Flagg! and Blackhawk), he thought I’d be amused.
He’s right about that. Howard’s pushing 62 – not quite as hard as I am – and he’s still raising a ruckus. He’s more than my friend. He’s my hero of the week.
With the Olympics in town, perhaps the Brits are simply wallowing in testosterone and can’t handle Chaykin’s multitude of peni. Perhaps they can’t tell the difference between Black Kiss and Beano. Or maybe they’re simply very insecure.
Howard’s response to me was “And I can only hope Canada is next!”
Black Kiss II #1 goes on sale tomorrow at the more sophisticated comics shops across the nation.
Howard Chaykin will revive Buck Rogers. The veteran cartoonist has been announced as writer and artist on a new Hermes Press comic book series.
Best known for its reprints – including some of the legendary pulp hero – the publisher has promised an “all new take” on the character by the American Flagg! creator.
“When [Hermes publisher Dan Herman] casually asked me whether I had any interest in reviving Buck Rogers, my reaction was first physical – genuine goose bumps – followed by complete delight at the thought of paying back a concept that was so utterly seminal in my thinking about our medium and our field,” said Chaykin.
The science fiction hero first appeared in Armageddon 2419 AD in the pages of the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, written by Philip Francis Nowlan.
The comic will be unveiled at the “Buck Rogers, Past, Present and Future” panel at 6pm on Friday, July 13 at San Diego Comic-Con International.
Saw my niece Isabel last week. She’s finished The Complete Bone Adventures, Volumes 1 and II and is now reading a collection of Calvin And Hobbes. She also told me that she’s in love with the Percy Jackson And The Olympians series by Rick Riordian; she had already read The Lightning Thief, and was deep into the second book, The Sea Of Monsters. Although by now she’s quite possibly onto the third title, which is The Titan’s Curse. She’s a fast reader. Based on her critiques, I have ordered The Lightning Thief from Amazon, and expect I’ll be ordering the rest of the series, too.
Last I heard Watchmen had not entered the public domain, so I will not be buying any of the Before Watchmen books. I think the whole idea stinks. I don’t understand how other creators who profess to respect creator’s rights could sign on to a rotten deal brokered on a broken promise by DC to Alan Moore. It’s a slap in the face to Alan, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins. Oh, wait. John Higgins participated in this mockery? Says a lot about your character, doesn’t it, John? If you need money that badly, there are other ways to prostitute yourself. And that goes for the rest of you, too.
John Ostrander’s latest column about “bad things he hates that he loves” caused me to go to my DVD cabinet and pull out a couple of movies that I should despise but actually love:
World Without End (1956), in which a rocket ship returning from Mars breaks through the time barrier and deposits four astronauts on an unidentified planet, which turns out to be Earth in the year 2508, 400 years after a nuclear war. The surviving humans live underground and are dying out because the men are scrawny, weak, and unable to perform their manly duties. In other words, they’re impotent. Which sure sucks for them, because all the women of the year 2508 are curvaceous, beautiful, and very, very horny. The reason the humans don’t live on the surface is because of the “surface beasts” – the descendants of those who did not flee underground during the atomic holocaust – roam the countryside. They look like mutated Neanderthals, and all they want to do – well, the men, anyway – is get their paws on the hot tomatoes living underground. Our brave, resourceful – and, of course, American; this was the 50’s, remember – astronauts reinvent the bazooka (“The good ol’ bazooka!” one of the astronauts says with a backslap to his pal) and defeat the mutated Neanderthals, and help restart human civilization on the surface for the Eloi. Oops. Sorry, wrong story. The horny women get the horny astronauts in the end, so everybody lives happily ever after. Except for the impotent guys, I guess.
Queen Of Outer Space (1958) in which ZsaZsa Gabor plays a Venusian scientist on a planet on which once again all the women are curvaceous, beautiful, and very horny. Except for the Queen, who is curvaceous and very horny, but mysteriously wears a mask. But even though Venus is the planet of love, there’s not a man to be found. The story begins when our brave, resourceful, and yes, once again, American astronauts, on board their rocket ship – which looks exactly like the one in World Without End – and on their way to a space station in orbit above Earth, are hijacked to Venus by a strange red ray, which turns out to be the Beta Disintegrator. The ship crashed into snow-covered mountains that look exactly like the snow-covered mountains into which the ship from World Without End end-crashes. Turns out the Queen hates all men, and she imprisons the astronauts. But she’s got a hard-on for the Captain. “A Queen can be lonely, too,” she tells the Captain. The Captain decides to take her up on her, uh, offer to “get information.” This makes ZsaZsa very jealous: “30 million miles away from the Earth,” says one of the astronauts, “and the little dolls are just the same.” Because she has a hard-on for our Captain, too. (No, his name is not James Tiberius Kirk.) Anyway, just as the Queen goes in for the face-suck, the Captain rips off her mask, and – OMG! Her face is burned and scarred and horribly mutated! “Men did this to me,” the Queen says with hatred in her voice. “Men and their wars.” Then she seductively turns to the Captain. “You said I needed the love of a man,” she whispers as she puts her arms around him. “If you will be that man, I will let you all go.” But the Captain is trying not to vomit. Dumb ass. Put a bag over her head and do it for the flag. So the Queen sends him back and aims the Beta-Disintegrator at Earth. Talk about a woman scorned! You really have to see this movie!
It really sucks when your parents are sick.
Here’s the truth. The only thing I really hate about women’s costumes in the comics is that I’m not buff enough to wear any of them.
Political diatribe for the day: Vote for Romney, and we really will be living in the world of American Flagg! (We’re almost there now.)
I can wait for the Garfield/Stone Amazing Spider-Man to hit DVD. I loved the Maguire/Duns Spider-Mans. Perhaps if TPTB had moved the story forward, merely replacing Maguire/Duns with Garfield/Stone, I would have more interest.
Just finished The Lost Wife, a heartbreaking, “based-on-a-true-story,” and beautifully written story about a husband and wife, both Jewish, separated by World War II. He gets out of Europe, she is first is sent to Theresienstadt and then Auschwitz. Highly recommended!
In the middle of The Hunger Games. Loving it. Have to recommend it to Isabel.