Howard Chaykin: The Conskipper Interview at Terrificon 2022

Howard Chaykin’s body of work speaks for itself, but the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame recently decided to codify Chaykin’s legacy with his induction into the Eisner Hall of Fame.

While the honor is a prestigious one (and you can see what Chaykin thinks of the honor below), Chaykin’s long career in the medium, replete with comics from just about every genre, is one for the history books.

Speaking of history, Chaykin is currently chronicling an insider’s view of the industry across the decades in his excellent Hey Kids! Comics! series from Image Comics. With Volume 3 on the way, we were delighted to speak to Chaykin about the series and many other upcoming projects at this year’s Terrificon.

Your third volume in Hey Kids! Comics! is on the way soon, correct?

Howard Chaykin: Yes, it is in production right now. It is written and I’ve just finished the first ten pages of issue one. It’s about fandom in the sense of how fandom evolves into mania, and how that mania impacts commitment, conviction, and intention. Since comic book fandom derives its history from Science Fiction fandom, there’s a lot about that first generation of guys who transliterated what they were reading in Science Fiction pulp into comic strips and comic books.

It also about the evolution of the next generation who grew up reading comics and became comic book talent, and then the generation who grew up reading comics and everything else, the Stoner Generation which is mine, who read everything that preceded it, and made an amalgam.

One of the things about my generation, and the one followed it, that does not exist after it, was an omnivorous appetite for different material. I’m assuming that no one is reading it closely because I haven’t had the shit kicked out of me yet.

I don’t think the third volume will be as bitter as the first one. The first one is really a reflection of the endemic bitterness of how those guys felt about their experience in comics. I don’t think my generation had that bitterness, except for the narcissists. Whenever I hear that “Comics will break your heart kid”, there is an unspoken, unacknowledged second sentence that goes “But I didn’t think it would happen to me”. Just because you are as good as you are, and you think that you are as good as you are, that you aren’t going to get screwed like everyone else, is an enchanting and interesting aspect of the comic book culture.

My generation came in with our eyes wide open, and that eyes wide open stuff is incredibly valuable. Whatever bitterness that I may have is about being ten years too late for that fucking acknowledgement (Eisner Hall of fame) and the affirmation contains no weight based on what else they like.

Is it difficult to juggle all of the aspects of Hey Kids!, since you are dealing with your personal history in the business, as well as the entire history of the business?

Chaykin: Oh, it’s a raging pain in the ass, but that’s what the work is. I sent my editor a map of the second and third arc, and he literally eviscerated it. He felt I was spending too much time and energy on the early parts if it and not enough on the consequences of it. When he sent me back a remapping of it, I was unaware of any cuts. I felt no loss.

Now that we are in to it, he just delivered the edited drafts of issues two and three, and I am going back and saying we should add this or that, or I really wanted to nail this guy to the wall that I really hate, so we will be doing short pieces as well. We have Fred Hembeck doing a piece, and we are still discussing what the covers are. It’s an ongoing process, and every idea he has costs me time and money, but every idea he has ends up being worth doing, so I’m willing to take that.

It’s a difficult process. There are a lot of characters and they need to be re-identified, and the scene that I just finished introduces the creators of Powerhouse, who are based on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and we see them as boys. The next time we see them, they are in their late teens/early twenties. And what I’ll start drawing this week is the introduction of Benita, Ted, and Ray as ten year olds in the settlement houses.

I grew up in New York and it’s a New York business and I’m figuring that these characters were all born in 1925 to 1928, so we see them entering the poster contest for the World’s Fair; that was the experience.

The graphic novels open with the list of characters and profiles, and as I reader, I had to familiarize myself again with them before starting the second series.

Chaykin: I’ve never made it easy for my readers and I recognize that. It’s a source of regret to a certain extent, but there is nothing I can do about it. I write dense narrative, even with American Flagg!, it’s an ensemble cast, although he is a strong lead, there is just a lot of story to be told.

And even with that, there are a lot of conflated characters. One of the things that we are struggling with right now is my editor feels that I am being much to obvious with my avatar versions of the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen situation with DC, and finding a way to bury it somehow and give it more nuance.

I know that you really enjoyed the biographical mini-series based on the making of The Godfather, The Offer. Hey Kids! seems like it would be perfect for this type of translation to the television medium.

Chaykin: I do. On a daily basis I am expecting to read on Deadline that the idea has been ripped off. I think it’s a natural.

You also mentioned recently that you might be working on a follow-up to your Marked Man series.

Chaykin: It’s all done, and we are just waiting on completing a fine tooth look at the files right now and I am doing another pass on a sequel to The United States of Hysteria which is called “Hostile Makeover”.

What was it like revisiting that material?

Chaykin: Kind of charging. I was so nonplused and bush wacked by the reaction to the first one. That was my first real understanding of a major sea change with social politics. In one day, I was referred to by someone on the left as a “demon in a human skin suit” and by someone on the right as a “neutered butler of the social justice warrior movement.” I was despised by two extremities in the same day, which was staggering.

Anything else you are currently working on?

Chaykin: I am doing a lot of essay on substack and I am currently writing an essay about the concept of adjudicating the past on its own merits and the merits of your own, so we’ll see how that plays out, as it will make a lot of people unhappy.

We are talking about a culture that learned everything about William Randolph Hearst from Citizen Kane and thinks that Game of Thrones is historical fiction, so these are people who have no basis to judge the past on any other merits than its own.

Look for Hey Kid! Comics! Volume 3 from Image Comics in stores soon, and until then, check out the recent Volume 2 collection and Chaykin’s substack page.

Leave a Reply