Chaykin has been a veteran comic artist and writer for over four decades, with notable projects including the original Star Wars comics at Marvel in the '70s, American Flagg! and Black Kiss in the '80s, Satellite Sam in the 2010s, and various super heroes, new and old as well. His current work, The Divided States of Hysteria, has kept in Chaykin’s tradition of pushing the comics medium into controversial and subversive territories. Though Chaykin attended Long Beach Comic Con for the Saturday show only, he was available at his table performing sketches and autographs and talking to friends and fans as they stopped by, and his spotlight panel was insightful due to Chaykin’s candor and multiple stream-of-conscience digressions.
The panel was moderated by Ivan Cohen, who was able to juggle both humorous and candid dialogue from Chaykin. Before the panel started, Chaykin suggested any children in attendance should consider leaving as he suffers from “four-ettes” before dropping a few expletives for good measure.
At sixty-six years old, Chaykin confessed that he is in an industry where he is older than most other folks, but acknowledges that he stands on the shoulders of giants. Though he is competitive, he couldn’t imagine how folks could get into the comics industry in the present day. Chaykin had quite a few musings on the present state of comics: They fail to engage in a subject relationship with their readers and that they are dying as they are becoming more irreverent because the Big Two (Marvel and DC) don’t even need the format anymore due to their other ventures (comic book films). Chaykin did find it humorous in that the Hollywood types were the folks that used to beat up comic book creators back in the day and are now making money off of them.
Chaykin was extremely cognizant of where he stands in the history of comics, and he made sure to acknowledge the peers, mentors, and influences that came before him, such as Neal Adams and Gray Morrow. Chaykin posited that comics in the '40s owe their debt to Will Eisner’s storytelling, and that Chaykin loves being part of this tradition, working with a medium that was crafted before he was even born and being able to expand upon it.
The '70s though, for Chaykin, were the period that he refers to producing pure dreck, in that he felt his talent was not up to snuff. He felt he had learned skill, but lacked the talent, and compared this to walking into a room with Bernie Wrightson and being in awe. During the '70s, Chaykin’s job was simply to do the work, and the money was terrible. As he progressed, Chaykin felt his skills caught up to what he wanted them to be, yet by that time, the work wasn’t what he wanted to do.
It was during the '80s that he found his success, such as with The Shadow and American Flagg!. When he was working at DC, he confessed to having been privy to reading the Watchmen pages as they were coming in. Upon seeing Watchmen, he stated it was “the knife in the heart of comics” and it should have ended the medium. Instead, it had the opposite effect, as it spawned edgy and dark stories for fifteen-year olds. For Chaykin, two generations of comic book creators have now been pilfering from Alan Moore, that there is no writer as good as Moore, and these pilferings are simply creating narcissistic comics.
One point of contention for Chaykin were the tropes and foundations he built with series such as American Flagg! have had a profound influence on present-day comics, yet readers do not recognize the influence. For Chaykin, he feels that he overestimates his own audience and assumes that they are as curious as he is. Instead, present-day comic book readers want “nice” in their comics, because it is cheap and easy. Yet, “nice” isn’t the same as “good,” as good requires action. Chaykin wants to be good, and because of this, he doesn’t feel like he is pandering to his audience. He rejects the young-adult model of storytelling in its entirety due to this nature.
In this regard, Chaykin does shy away from reading thoughts and musings about his work from either detractors or supporters. He wants to remain neutral to the thoughts about him, and any feedback he does receive comes second hand.
Chaykin felt he has been aged out of companies such as Marvel, and thus his current ventures with Image and The Divided States of Hysteria, which of course has divided viewership with controversial covers and the arguments about them. For Chaykin, when it comes to artistic expression, he loathes the phrase “I am all for artistic expression, but -” because once someone qualifies artist expression like that, they’re not really for it.
Panel photography courtesy of Michele Brittany
Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.