Howard Chaykin isn’t the kind of guy to parse words. Both rebellious and in-line, Chaykin has the keen ability to speak his mind without burning bridges, evident in his four-decade-long career as both an artist and writer. Chaykin’s work has been seen on comic-book shelves in books published for both Marvel and DC, but don’t call him a fanboy: when he’s not illustrating, he’s critiquing the pop-culture-obsessed generation that has usurped the comic-book throne.
Chaykin began his career in the ’70s, illustrating various projects for DC Comics’ Weird Tales and Heavy Metal magazine. It wasn’t until the ’80s that Chaykin came into his own, starting the decade off in a big way with American Flagg!, a prescient, satirical look at politics and mass media published by First Comics. Later, Chaykin would publish his most controversial title, Black Kiss, a tale of Hollywood excess starring sexually charged vampires.
Which leads Chaykin to Hypno Comics on Main Street this Saturday, where he’ll be signing copies of Black Kiss II, a prequel to the 1980s parent-enraging hit.
“The comic-book audience is more conservative than it appears to be from the outside,” said Chaykin, who has called Ventura home for the better part of a decade. “I think that there’s a perception of the comic-book audience as being wild and crazy, but I think basically it’s a fairly socially conservative group of men and women. They still have the ability to be shocked and surprised.”
Since the ’80s, comics have taken a gradual turn from being art-focused to more of a playground for writers, which Chaykin sees as both a good and bad thing. Being both a realist and a connoisseur of making a living, Chaykin left the comic-book industry in the ’90s to pursue a career in television writing, but returned in the early part of the last decade.
“I worked on stuff I never watched,” said Chaykin, whose résumé includes executive script consultant for The Flash television series. “I was lucky enough to not have burned bridges at DC, so I approached them and pitched an idea that they bought.”
The idea was Mighty Love, a rom-com in the vein of You’ve Got Mail with more nudity, sex and violence. This marked a return for Chaykin that has seen him busy, working on various titles for both DC and Marvel, as well as indie comics for Vertigo and Boom! Studios.
But Chaykin returned to a world ravaged by fanboy(and girl)-ism. The popularity of The Dark Knight and television programs such as Doctor Who have made what once was a guilty pleasure rife with embarrassment and parental disappointment into a world overrun by geek culture. Geek is chic, and Chaykin is having none of it.
Asked to speak on a panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the country’s largest comic-book convention, Chaykin put in his hour and then bolted for the door.
“There are 25,000 people who are professional and genuine enthusiasts, and another 100,000 people who are there for the Mardi Gras culture,” Chaykin says. “What you’ve got is this circus atmosphere of horseshit, surrounding what little there is that remains of professional stuff. Most of those people at the comic book convention didn’t give a fuck about comic books. They’re there to catch a glimpse of Robert Pattinson.”
Chaykin’s ability to adapt to a new generation of readers, alongside his supernatural ability to be on time and respectable to his editors, are the key to his longevity in the business. His philosophy requires a separation of professionalism and hobbyism in a definition that might seem a better fit in a smoky nightclub with a notebook and pen.
“Comics are more like jazz in the sense that it’s a small audience of people who actually care about the stuff, but on a mass market level has no impact whatsoever except that it develops ancillary products like movies and television.”
Chaykin’s Black Kiss II prequel is a limited run of six issues with twelve stories and a return to a difficult format – black and white.
“You can get really spoiled by reproduction in comic books. The color is phenomenal, the quality of production is absolutely astonishing. Working in black and white means not having that parachute.”
Black Kiss II is a return to form for Chaykin in a new millennium that has seen decapitations and dismemberment, gratuitous sex and vulgar hedonism on daytime television and in comics for years. Though young readers might take it all for granted, Chaykin, alongside his peers Frank Miller and Alan Moore, set the bar high for adult themes in the ’80s, and will continue doing so regardless of the cultural shifts.
“It’s hard-core, it’s nasty, and I’m very happy with it.”
Howard Chaykin will sign copies of Black Kiss II on Saturday, Aug. 4, from 12- 4 p.m. at Hypno Comics, 1803 E. Main Street, Ventura. WARNING: This event is not suitable for young children. Chaykin’s content contains explicit sexual images.