Tagged: American Flagg!

John Ostrander: Great Horny Toads!

Censorship can, sometimes, be a spur to the creative mind. It’s more often a pain in the ass but there are times when a creative mind finds ingenious ways of getting around the bans, whatever they may be.

For example, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, them crazy guys who created South Park (and, even more oddly, the Tony Award winning musical The Book of Mormon) originally wanted to call the South Park movie South Park: All Hell Breaks Loose. That got rejected by the MPAA for having the word “Hell” in the title. Parker and Stone re-named the film “Bigger, Longer, Uncut,” which is more salacious. Evidently, the MPAA were the only ones who didn’t get the penis reference. Creativity trumps censorship.

George Carlin in 1972 famously listed seven words you could never say on television. Not only can I say them here, but I think editor Mike Gold would insist. They are: “shit,” “piss,” “fuck,” “cunt,” “cocksucker,” “motherfucker,” and “tits.’’ These days I think you can get away with “shit,” “piss,” and “tits” on television sometimes) but the other ones are still right out. You definitely can’t say any of them in mainstream comics.

For example, Marvel’s Luke Cage is a streetwise badass motherfucker who swears like your granny. “Sweet Christmas!” is his most common swear word. When I wrote him in Heroes For Hire, I had a villain taunt him about it. Cage, as he beat the shit/poo (take your pick) out of the guy explained it was because his grandma didn’t approve of swearing and “she was tougher than you.”

On Battlestar Galactica, instead of saying “fuck,” the characters said “frak” but we all knew what they meant. The word has gone on to enter the vocabulary of the fans and some other sci/fi works. One of the things I enjoy about it is that the process of raping the earth and poisoning it to get at natural gas is called “frakking.’’ For me, it means they’re fucking us all to get at the natural gas and its profits.

George Carlin also famously noted that when we say “Fuck you” we’re actually wishing something nice on a person. Working from that, in some sci-fi stuff I tried replacing “fuck” with “nuke,” as in “Nuke you and the nuking horse you came in on.” Or calling someone a “mothernuker.’’ “Nuke” has the harsh “uk” sound as “fuck” and hoping that someone gets nuked is not wishing them a good time. However, the substitution seemed a little forced and drew too much attention to itself. It read like the author was trying to be clever, which I guess he was, so I dropped it. Sometimes you just can’t beat the fucking classics.

Worse than that is anything sexual. You can rip a guy’s arm off and beat another guy to death with it, all the while spurting gouts of blood but you show too much skin or a couple getting it on or (Christian Right Forbid!) any sort of same sex naughtiness going on and there will be a hue and cry far greater than any uproar over profanity. See the current Right Wing brouhaha over Alan Scott’s Green Lantern being gay or Northstar over at Marvel marrying his boyfriend.

For a long time, if a movie had a couple in bed together, at least one of them had to have one foot on the floor. On TV, I remember that on The Dick Van Dyke Show, whenever they went to the bedroom of Rob and Laura Petrie, they had separate beds. Who were they fooling? I was young at that time and even I, sheltered Roman Catholic boyo that I was, knew my folks slept in the same bed. I didn’t want to think whatever else they might be doing in that bed (still don’t – shudder!) but I knew sure as hell they didn’t have separate beds.

Still, there is a certain sexuality, a certain sensuality in suggestion rather than in statement. I remember when First Comics was doing Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! everyone talked about the sex and the nudity and all except … there wasn’t. It was implied. Sexy, yes – and sensual. It was a great, classic series whose rep is dirtier than the book ever was.

Over at DC, on Wasteland, we did all sorts of crap. We tossed a baby out of a window in a story called R.Ab (which stood for retroactive abortion) and we managed to honk off both pro-lifers and pro-choicers (and, if memory serves, our publisher) at the same time. We eviscerated a biology teacher for laughs and tried to get the reader into the mind of a serial killer among other things. Without bad language and without sex. We got accused of bad taste, which we reveled in, but rarely bad language or blatant sex.

I’m not saying that the envelope shouldn’t be pushed or that censorship is a good thing. However, if you try to establish boundaries and tell creative folks not to go there, odds are the creative folks figure out a way around it, if they can. That’s why they’re called creative. They’re never more creative when trying to do something naughty. Or juvenile. Or naughty juvenile.

Whoaaaa! Sounds dirty, that! Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more!

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

MARTHA THOMASES: More For The Gift-Giving Challenged

I don’t know about you guys, but I could use a laugh. One would think comics would be a great place to look for laughs, since, you know, they’re called “comics.”

And yet…

But I don’t want to bitch and moan about stuff that’s not funny. I’d rather celebrate what is. Different people find different things amusing, but I suspect that at least one thing on this list will do it for you.

Here, for your entertainment pleasure and in no particular order, are some really funny books, done in the graphic novel format.

Kyle Baker is one of my favorite humans. There isn’t a book he’s done that doesn’t thrill me. The Cowboy Wally Show made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe. And if you want to know how he does it, you could do worse than track down How to Draw Stupid and Other Essentials of Cartooning, which is more hilarious than any educational book needs to be.

Another funny guy who works in the comic book business is Evan Dorkin. And luckily, Dark Horse has published a collection of his flagship series, Milk and Cheese.

Howard Chaykin is a known more for his elegant drawing style, his brilliant use of page design, and his sharp insight into the dark side of human society. I, however, love his sense of humor, which I first discovered in American Flagg. I mean, the man made up a character named Pete Zarustica. I’m in love.

Another comics genius known primarily for brilliant use of the medium and his expansive and cosmic intelligence is Alan Moore. He’s funny, too! One of his first series, D. R. and Quinch, is available in a collected edition. It’s like, totally amazing.

Am I stuck on English language humor? Maybe. It is the language I speak and the language in which I form thoughts. That said, I am no cultural imperialist. For example, the Japanese series, What’s Michael, is my idea of brilliant. There are more than a dozen collections, but this Dark Horse edition is a good place to start. Warning: It probably helps to live with a cat.

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was no Internet and people got their news from newspapers, and, when they wanted other points of view, from alternative weekly newspapers. These papers were great places to find brilliant comics, starting with Jules Feiffer in the Village Voice (also syndicated to “normal” newspapers). After a few decades, there were syndicates for these cartoonists, and, today, it’s possible to buy collections of two of my favorites. You don’t have to be queer to laugh at Dykes to Watch Out For, but you do have to be able to recognize that “political correctness” started out as a left-wing joke. If you followed my advice and bought The Complete Wendel you’re familiar with this meme. Ripped from the same pages, and long before The Simpsons, Matt Groening was giving us a guided tour of hell. The nuclear family and all its intermeshed relationships were never so radioactive.

The comics page in daily newspapers is still alive, if not always well. If you miss your laugh a day, you can catch up with excellent compilations. I’m always happy to read Get Fuzzy and would enjoy a whole bunch of them together. And one of the great, and most hilarious, strips of all time is now in one big book. It’s enough to make a person love alligators.

Some jokes are universal, and then there are inside jokes. They not only make us laugh but they also make us feel understood. For us comic fans, I recommend Fred Hembeck who was a regular feature in The Comics Buyers Guide. His work is really dense, and really funny. I also adore Keith Giffen, for his Justice League, his Legion of Substitute Heroes, especially when he’s working on Ambush Bug with Robert Loren Fleming.

I’m sure I’ve left out some brilliant work, but you could do worse than start here when the holiday cheer gets you down.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

ComicMix’s Bob Greenberger Chronicles Career of Howard Chaykin

Legendary for what he has done on the page and infamous for what he has said off it, Howard Chaykin ranks among the superstars of modern comics. In [[[The Art of Howard Chaykin]]], written by Robert Greenberger, go behind the scenes with the creator whose pioneering works include American Flagg!, The Shadow, Batman, New Avengers, Dominic Fortune, Black Kiss and more. Experience the stories of Howard Chaykin’s life as only he can tell them. Filled with no-holds-barred perspective from his longtime friends and colleagues, and featuring an extensive selection of artwork from throughout his career, including many never-before-published pieces from Chaykin’s own archives, The Art of Howard Chaykin takes readers on an in-depth journey from the 1970s to today with one of the medium’s great storytellers.

“Big thanks to everybody at Dynamite for the incredibly flattering job they’ve done, making me look good in this volume,” stated Howard Chaykin.  “Since I’m always willing to mistake attention for affection, I’m basking in the love.”

“At a time when many fresh new art styles while gracing the pages of comics, there was a boldness to Howard Chaykin’s figures that set him apart,” states The Art of Howard Chaykin writer Robert Greenberger. “He carved his own path, first as an artist, then as a writer exploring the limits of what can be done in graphic arts, informed by the great illustrators that came before him. Like his work, the man is larger-than-life filled with provocative observations that are always informed and defensible. Getting to know him has never been less than fascinating and getting to write his story was an opportunity to learn more about what him tick.”

“Howard Chaykin is a good friend and is an unparalleled creator in the comics medium,” says Dynamite President and Publisher Nick Barrucci!  “We made sure to pull out all the stops to make this the definitive guide for Chaykin fanatics everywhere.  Also, having a Brian Michael Bendis forward and afterward by Walter Simonson is just icing on the cake!”

MICHAEL DAVIS: My Secret Origin

Editor’s Note: This originally appeared at www.michaeldavisworld.com on January 28, 2011. It is being reprinted here without permission. It’s been reformatted to meet ComicMix’s high editorial standards.

A long time ago in a galaxy, blah, blah, blah…

…Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and I shared a studio next to some creators who are all legends now. It was the second silver age of comics and we were in the thick of it.

Howard Chaykin was doing American Flagg!, Walt Simonson was on Thor, Al Milgrom was doing Spider-Man. Jim Sherman was in the studio but I forgot what he was working on, I do remember it was bad ass.

The studio where all those superstar upstarts were was called Upstart Studio.


Also at Upstart was Frank Miller who was doing Daredevil and about to do Ronin. I seldom saw Frank but when I did more often than not he would ask what I was working on and was just a great guy. I remember being a bit jealous when Bill and Frank started working on Elektra and for the life of me I can’t remember why.

All that said, how’s that for a line up?

Those guys (Denys included) sounds like a comic fan’s dream team even now. Speaking of my best friend Denys a few years forward in time from our studios days would see him nominated for an Eisner for best penciler… twice. People forget just how badass Denys Cowan is.

Our studio never got an official name although Bill liked to call it Bill and his little helpers… the bastard.

As far as what we were doing at Bill and his little helpers Studio, Bill was working on Elektra and The New Mutants; Denys was doing The Black Panther for Marvel, V (the comic adaption of the original TV series) and Vigilante for DC.

What was I doing? Nothing great in comics, that’s for sure.

I was working on children books, movie posters, etc. I had one comic book assignment for the Marvel magazine Epic. The assignment was given to me by the late great Archie Goodwin. I made an appointment with Archie hoping for a cover assignment I never dreamt he would give me an interior job.

I loved comics but I was trained as an editorial and mainstream illustrator. I never learned to do comics like, say, a Denys Cowan who can imagine and draw anything from his head. I need reference, I need to look at stuff, and I need dozens of layouts before I start a finished piece. Comics that are fully painted and tell a non-liner story at that time were rare. I was always jealous (still am) of guys that can do that make it up from nothing jazz.

Dwayne McDuffie recently commented on multitalented guys that can write and draw. Truth be told Dwayne, just as a writer, is light years away from where I will ever be as a visual storyteller. That, to me, is multitalented. When Christopher Priest was the editor on the Spider-Man book he once dissected a cover painting I did for him like he was a high school science teacher and I was the frog. He’s also a hell of a writer and just as good a musician. Reggie Hudlin glides between producing and directing movies and TV shows to writing some of the best comics I’ve ever read. Those guys are multitalented.

20 or so years ago, except for Heavy Metal and a few other outlets, painted comics were few and far between. The graphic novel as a fully painted editorial piece of art and content was not quite there yet. It was about to come into its own lead by people like my brother from another mother Bill Sienkiewicz. The work of Kent Williams, George Pratt and Dave McKean was just around the corner as well but not there yet.

Howard Chaykin saw over 20 years ago where comics were going and produced a few painted books before just about anyone did.

Like an asshole, I tried to do comics the way Denys, Walt, Howard and Frank did. I was too stupid to listen to Howard Chaykin when he told me, “Do what you do, the industry is changing and you can bring something new to it.’

Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. It’s right up there with, put your hands on the wheel and answer in a civil tone of voice, “Yes officer, whatever you say officer.”

I wish I was joking about the cop advice, but I assure you I’m not.

I did not listen to Howard. Years later Mike Gold told me the same thing after I delivered a Wasteland story, which was not my finest hour. I didn’t think he would but Mike gave me another Wasteland story and said, “Do this like any other illustration assignment.” The story was about South Africa and I nailed that mother.

Of all the high profile regular illustrations gigs I was doing (Newsweek, NBC, etc.) the assignment I was the most excited about was Epic. It was a six-page story I was writing and drawing and taking forever to do because I wanted to do it like “regular” comics artists did. Could not do it then, can’t do it now.

Long story short, I will never forget those late night talks with Howard, Bill, Frank, Jim, Al and Denys. It was indeed the second silver age but for me it will always be my golden age.

Bill and his little helpers. Somehow that does not brother me anymore.

Yeah, I know this is pretty damn sappy.

That’s OK. Sap is the new black.


Mike Gold gets Dick Giordano Humanitarian Of The Year Award from HERO Initiative

We are exceptionally proud to note that our own Mike Gold, Editor in Chief of ComicMix, was given the first Dick Giordano Humanitarian Of The Year Award from the HERO Initiative at this year’s Harvey Awards ceremony at the Baltimore Comic-Con. The award was presented by Mark Wheatley.

While note was made of Mike’s long career and assistance to various creators and causes, and the publishing of Dick Giordano’s last major comics work, White Viper, he was singled out this year for the efforts in raising money to save comics writer John Ostrander‘s eyesight.

In his acceptance speech, Mike thanked Gail Simone and Adriane Nash, who worked with him on fundraising.

Mike is a 30-year veteran of the comics industry, having served as group editor and director of editorial development for DC Comics, founder and editorial director of First Comics Inc., and publisher of Classics Illustrated. Prior to ComicMix, Gold had been editorial director for ArrogantMGMS, creating intellectual properties and overseeing media and ancillary rights and packaging comic books published by numerous comic book imprints, including Image, Acclaim and IDW.

He was a pioneer in the creation of an American market for graphic novels, and edited more than three-dozen graphic novels and anthologies, including the bestsellers The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, The Joker: Stacked Deck, GrimJack: Killer Instinct, Jon Sable Freelance: Bloodtrail and American Flagg!.

In addition, Mike has an extensive background in the media and in the youth social services field, having been a broadcaster and radio personality, director of communication and education for a major Chicago drug abuse prevention program, cofounder and director of communication of the National Runaway Switchboard, and creator, and managing editor of Video Action magazine.

He has been an author and editor of, or contributor to, more than one dozen books, including, as Mark was quick to point out, [[[How To Draw Those Bodacious Bad Babes of Comics]]] with artist Frank McLaughlin. His work has appeared a wide range of newspapers and magazines, including The Chicago Tribune, The Realist and the British edition of MacUser magazine.

He has also served as a consultant to the Organic Theater of Chicago (home to Dennis Franz, Joe Mantegna, Ray Bradbury and David Mamet), the Stratford Connecticut Shakespeare Festival Theater, to numerous political efforts, and to The Child Care Center of Stamford, an award-winning Head Start and early childhood education program, as well as a media coordinator for the Chicago Conspiracy Trial.

Mike has received numerous awards previously, including the prestigious Comics Buyers’ Guide Award as favorite editor and the Golden Apple Award for best comics limited series (Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters).

First Comics, First Second Books, First Comics News, and firstcomics.com — Confused Yet?

Before the panel starts at San Diego Comic-Con, we hope somebody addresses the issues of potential for confusion in the marketplace and possible violation of trademark.

To start, we have First Comics. First Comics was a publisher co-founded by ComicMix’s own Mike Gold in 1983, notable for series like GrimJack, Jon Sable Freelance, Nexus, Badger, Whisper, Dreadstar, Shatter, Munden’s Bar, Classics Illustrated, and American Flagg! It published early work from John Ostrander, Timothy Truman, Norm Breyfogle, Mike Saenz, Mike Baron, as well as the first color appearance of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It went out of business in 1991, and has published nothing in the twenty years since. Some of the series previously published by First have found their way to being published elsewhere, including ComicMix publishing GrimJack, Jon Sable Freelance, and Munden’s Bar.

It has been announced that will be a panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con heralding the second appearance of First Comics, which will be starting in a few minutes.

And speaking of second, we have First Second Books, a publisher of graphic novels, and an imprint of Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, one of the largest publishers in the world. Since it started publishing in 2006, First Second has published a number of acclaimed titles including the Eisner and Harvey Award winning [[[American Born Chinese]]] by Gene Luen Yang, The Black Diamond Detective Agency by Eddie Campbell, [[[Tiny Tyrant]]] by Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme, [[[Life Sucks]]] by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece, [[[Little Vampire]]] by Joann Sfar, and Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. They’re up for four Eisners this year.

Then just to add to the confusion, we have First Comics News, which has been running for a little over a year, and which is using a logo that’s very similar to the original First Comics one.

Incidentally, I’d link to First Comics as well as the other two publishers, but they don’t seem to have a web site– for that matter, they don’t even seem to own the domain: firstcomics.com is for sale for just under $2000. The current owner has had it since 2007, but since First Comics hasn’t published anything in that time, they will have a very hard time getting it back under domain squatting rules since they haven’t done anything to hold onto the trademark. It’s a bit surprising, considering the way the industry has been stampeding to digital, that this hasn’t been locked down yet.

And now we’re hearing whispers that because of the potential for trademark confusion, Diamond will not be carrying their titles– which is not unlike what happened a few years ago when there were two companies laying claim to being the heir and name rightsholder for Valiant Comics.

So with this many potential trademark pitfalls, one has to ask: can the name First Comics be resurrected? Can there be a second First if there’s already a First Second? And where should we go for First Comics news?

We look forward to any answers the panel might provide.

MIKE GOLD: Hey, Here’s A Surprise!

Well, I’m having fun.

Back when we started out, ComicMix used to run all these fabulous columns written by all these swell writers and, well, by me too. Those columns disappeared after about a year and a half and a lot of people told us they wanted ‘em back. Among those people were most of the columnists themselves. And me. Man, I bitched up a storm. And nobody can bitch up a storm like me.

So we re-geared out operations (that term creates the ambiance that we actually have a clue as to what we’re doing), and, effective right now, we’re reinstating our daily columns. Joining returning writers Dennis O’Neil, John Ostrander, Martha Thomases, Michael Davis and myself are two newcomers: Marc Alan Fishman and Mindy Newell.

You know Marc from his frequent contributions to ComicMix. He’s just a kid, which is weird because his wife is pregnant with a smaller, younger kid. A life-long comics fan who knows his barbecue, Marc is part of the mighty Unshaven Comics crew. That’s at www.unshavencomicsonline.com, where he’s joined by his buddies and my pals Matt Wright and Kyle Gnepper. Together, they publish indy comics that are truly worth reading; that’s how we found Marc in the first place. Check ‘em out at their website.

Chances are pretty damn good you’ve also heard of Mindy. She’s making her return to comics here at ComicMix; she spent about five years editing at Marvel Comics and ten years writing such features as Wonder Woman, Catwoman, the Legion of Super-Heroes, American Flagg!, Daredevil, Black Widow, The Next Wave… you get the idea. She’s also an operating room nurse, which I think might come in handy around here. Somebody told me – I think it was Mindy – that I cannot live on barbecue alone. I try.

We’ll be focusing more solidly on comics than we did last time around. Not to say we’ve abandoned the heavy political/social stuff: Martha, Michael and I have been writing those type of columns every week for www.michaeldavisworld.com for a couple years now and we’ll be continuing to do so until we get arrested for sedition.

But here at ComicMix we’ll be mostly talking about comics and directly related media and phenomena. We’ll probably be talking about the comics related movies and teevee shows and, if we can find somebody wealthy enough to buy tickets, even to comics related Broadway plays. Perhaps I’ll even do an expose about just how many Wonder Woman statues a 35-year-old woman can squeeze into her basement apartment.

Most important, we invite you to join in on the fun. We’re in for some hectic times in the greater comics world. DC is recreating itself again, and Marvel going nuts with special events. Everybody’s got something new, and new publishers continue to pop up like rabid Whac-a-Moles. Please feel free to comment until your fingers fall off. It’s probable that the relevant columnist will play in and we can get a nice little dialog going. Think of ComicMix as sort of like Twitter with an attention span.

And bring along your sense of humor.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil!

The first-ever appearance of Prince William in comics!

From the pages of American Flagg! #3, published in December 1983 by First Comics, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin and edited by ComicMix‘s own Mike Gold, and set in the year 2031. When the comic was written, Prince William wasn’t even two years old.

American Flagg! © 1983 Howard Chaykin Inc. and First Comics Inc. All rights reserved.

Review: ‘Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!’


Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!
By Howard Chaykin
Dynamic Forces, July 2008, $49.99

Science Fiction has never been quite as successful in comics form as it seemed it should have been. Oh, sure, there have been plenty of vaguely SFnal ideas and premises – from [[[Superman]]] to [[[Kamandi]]] to the [[[X-Men]]] to the [[[Ex-Mutants]]] – but they were rarely anything deeper than an end to the sentence “There’s this guy, see? and he’s….” One of the few counterexamples was Howard Chaykin’s [[[American Flagg!]]], starting in 1983 – that series had many of the usual flaws and unlikelihoods of near-future dystopias, but it also had a depth and texture to its world that was rare in comics SF (and never to be expected in even purely prose works, either).

American Flagg! suffered from Chaykin’s waning attention for a while, and then crashed and burned almost immediately after he finally left the series, with a cringe-making overly “sexy” storyline utterly overwritten by Alan Moore. American Flagg! limped from muddled storyline to confused characterization for a couple of years afterward – but the beginning, when Chaykin was fully energized by his new creation and the stories he was telling, is one of the best SF stories in American comics.

The series has never been collected well, though a few slim album-sized reprints were once available, and may be findable through used-book channels. This Dynamic Forces edition, reprinting the first fourteen issues of the series, is quite pricey. (Especially for a book with no page numbers, and one in which the pages are precisely the size of the original comics – not oversized, as those previous album reprints had been.) This book has a strong, thoughtful introduction by Michael Chabon – which has already appeared in his [[[Maps and Legends]]] collection, presumably due to the delay in the American Flagg! book – a gushing afterword by Jim Lee, and a new short story written and drawn by Chaykin.


Review: ‘Maps and Legends’ by Michael Chabon

Review: ‘Maps and Legends’ by Michael Chabon

Maps and Legends
By Michael Chabon
McSweeney’s Books, May 2008, $24.00

Michael Chabon has had the good luck to be writing in an era when it’s possible to both be a respected, bestselling literary writer and have a public, abiding love for some of the more disreputable genres. His best-known novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, is not only a fictionalized story of the fledgling comic-book industry during World War II, but also has a very definite fantasy element. And his latest novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, is a detective story set in an alternate history – tying it into two types of genre fiction.

If he’d started writing twenty years earlier, or even ten, he probably wouldn’t have been able to do that; only in the last decade or so have writers like Chabon (and Jonathan Lethem, who transitioned from genre science fiction straight into the “literary novel”) been able to admit to their love of genre. Previously, literary writers could go slumming and use genre ideas once in a while – think Doris Lessing with the “Canopus in Argo” series, or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – but they could never admit to reading or liking books actually published in that genre. Kurt Vonnegut, after all, was only taken seriously because he ritually denied being a SF writer every day before breakfast.

But Chabon goes even further than his pop-culture-loving compatriots do; he doesn’t just admit to liking science fiction and detective stories – he’s even willing to claim that comics can be pretty damn good, and that some of them have influence him.