Hello! If you were at Comic-Con on Friday 13th then I’m sure you did the decent thing and spent the hours of 2 to 4 at the Hermes Press booth where Howard Victor Chaykin was due to manifest in physical form, to enrich all who gathered to hear about his forthcoming BUCK ROGERS project. I wasn't there due to restraining orders and such legal trifles that need not concern us here, but I did read a HVC book so I didn't feel too bereft. So, without any further ado lets dunk the silky biscuits of our attention in the hot and steaming coffee of HVC comics! Cawfee!
"I Like Ike!"(1)
Oh yeah, this one’s for all the patriots out there!
In fact so star spangled is this post that the casual reader might spring to the conclusion that it was supposed to go up on the 4th July. However, there is a growing feeling over here that after 236 consecutive years of setting off fireworks and spitting in the direction of the Atlantic that you’re just plain rubbing it in now, so I didn't want to be seen to be encouraging you. It certainly wasn't anything to do with my innate failures of organisation I can assure you all. Anyway, Howard Victor Chaykin…
CAPTAIN AMERICA THEATRE OF WAR: AMERICA FIRST! #1 Story & Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Colours by Edgar Delgado Letters by Dave Lanphear (Also, two ‘5os Cap back-up strips with art by John Romita Snr) Marvel, $4.99 (2009) Collected in CAPTAIN AMERICA: AMERICA FIRST (2010, Marvel) Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
We join our hero in 2009 when after many adventures in the worlds of publishing and Television he is called upon to produce this one shot featuring the ‘50s Commie Smasher Cap(2). This was one of a series of one-shots featuring various iterations of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s core character, in all likelihood produced with no greater aim than getting some Cap stuff out there for when the movie opened and the population of America would rise up as with one voice and demand comics again! Surprising precisely no one this didn't happen. Wasn't it Einstein who said that repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome was the definition of mainstream comics publishing strategy?(3). Luckily, I am just a reader of comics and so all that mattered to me was the fact that I got another HVC comic. Selfish? You have no idea.
"You may not like the draughtmanship but you can't deny the environmental ambience he's building."
As a comic CA:ToW -AF is GOOD! It isn't better than that because really it's just the Senator Hightower subplot from HVC's BLACKHAWK: BLOOD AND IRON plucked out and padded to become a plot in itself. And the plucking and padding are none too suave either, with a few clunky plot developments and the inevitable HVC rush to the ending. He does give it a nice symmetrical structure though and has a lot more fun with Cap boarding a plane in mid flight and punching everyone's face in than you might expect in a comic that's largely about bemoaning the fact that liberals let the side down when they gave up the flag to the Right.
"Nick Fury telling it How It Is on Old-Timey TV."
Artistically it isn't going to be winning any awards either. There's some really nice compositions in it and the layouts read clear and easy but, the basic draughtmanship's a bit less than HVC's best. While he's still struggling to get the photo-realistic environments to gel with the drawn elements it's largely successful and, once again, Delgado's indecisiveness with regard to colouring confuses the eye on more than one occasion. But balancing that; there's a real sense of period about the piece thanks to the attention paid to the environments, automobiles, televisions, phones and clothes. HVC also keeps himself awake by having another crack at the interesting problem of depicting the shadows of leaves on the people beneath them(4). What is of most interest here to me is how HVC uses the work for hire comic as a vehicle for his own concerns. Because, yes, HVC's work does have themes and thinky stuff; brain matters which have reoccurred with unarguable prominence for such a lengthy period of time that it would be daft to ignore them.
From AMERICAN FLAGG! #3 (First! Comics, 1983) by Howard Victor Chaykin and Ken Bruzenak.
It did not escape my attention that Dynamite recently published THE ART OF HOWARD CHAYKIN, I also noted I couldn't afford it but I did look at a preview. In this preview a popular comics shaker-maker when given the singular honour of contributing to a book celebrating The Man, The Myth and The Mai-Tais of Howard Victor Chaykin found the most interesting aspect of some four decades of the HVC’s work to be the presence of blow jobs in a couple of his stories(5). I don’t know, maybe I’m biased(6) but I think HVC’s work deserves a little more credit.
"HVC doesn't insult your intelligence. He assumes you know what period specific references his characters make and if you don't, there's always The Internet!"
While I no longer go through his bins or steam open his mail HVC seems to be in an okay position now; able to sustain his twilight addictions to bingo and bespoke suits by producing a steady stream of work on a regular basis, some of which he seems to do just for shits and giggles(7). Some of it he seems to imbue with some of the Bolshevik bullishness of old. Because while HVC is in a comfortable place now, he wasn't born into one. He has characterised his childhood as being a "welfare childhood" and his parents as "popular front". Given the historical position of HVC's parents I guess here the term refers more to a left-leaning coalition of interests with a primary focus on combating fascism(8) than Robert Lyndsey goofing amiably about to no real political effect(9), which is what it means to most British people of a certain age. Old people, I'm talking about there. Old people, like me. Old people with their fondnesses.
"Howard Victor Chaykin enjoying himself here, I'd guess."
HVC is an old person(10) but his fondnesses do not include poverty or fascism. Here though he isn't mistaking fascism for Communism, although until I came back and typed this bit you could be forgiven for thinking he was. No, but nor is he unaware that the fight against Communism allowed elements of fascism to creep in under the guise of patriotism. HVC seems like the kind of man who's hard scrabbled his way up and appreciates where he's ended up but isn't the kind to kick the ladder away after him. That's conjecture of course; what isn't conjecture is his concern for patriotism and how The Right has hijacked it. Hey, don't be getting all up in my business about it either, he's said as much in interviews. The '50s Commie Smasher Cap is a great fit for HVC here ,because he gets to air all his concerns in a way that allows his audience to believe he is sending the whole thing up, when in fact I don't believe he is. The dialogue below might be a bit rich for the modern palette but I bet HVC means it.
"Black lines or darker base colour lines, Edgar Delgado, one or the other - not both!"
And why wouldn't he? What exactly is wrong with that. Sure, Lincoln doing a peek-a-boo over Cap's shoulder is a bit of humorous over-egging, but it doesn't mean HVC isn't serious. The set up of the comic with patriotic Cap being undermined as a Red by a Senator who is in fact a Red posing as a patriot allows HVC a lot of leeway. HVC gets to baldly state all the things he thinks are great about America and all the while his audience probably think he's taking the piss. (Memo: Never play poker with HVC; he'll take the shirt off your back.) It's also kind of great that Commie Smasher Cap is a teacher in civilian life, as liberalism of this period is often denounced as a top-down imposition of elitist ideals spread through such mechanisms as education. Which is one way of looking at it but, I feel, probably not the most constructive. So, HVC serving up another slice of entertaining comics that refuses to believe that you have to be dull to make a point and proving once again that his heart's in the right place; behind the breastbone in the chest cavity. (B'dum!)
"America! F***, YEAH!!"
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, so Samuel Johnson(11) is famously recorded as opining on April 7th 1775 just before lifting his leg and letting off a fruity tribute to the chef, probably. Having read much of Howard Victor Chaykin’s work I’d have to say he is of the same opinion; regarding patriotism anyway, as for trumping I’m sure he’s a pretty liberal guy too. I guess it would be important to clarify that Johnson is not saying that all patriots are scoundrels, rather that there’s little more scoundrelly than a false patriot. Howard Victor Chaykin is no false patriot, my friends, Howard Victor Chaykin is the real deal. He might be a tiny bit of a scoundrel(12) too, I guess that's why he's so lovable!
Vaya (Comic-)Con Dios, muchachos!
(1) Dwight D. Eisenhower 34th President of The United states of America. Largely notable for his campaign slogan "I Like Ike!". Later Presidents attempted to ape this with varying degrees of success: "Kennedy’s The Remedy!", "Johnson’s Not Wrong, son!","Nixon’s a Dick, son!","Ford Works Hard!","Carter’s Smarter!" and "Reagan’s Not Something I Really Want To Get Into On The Internet But He Was Good in Don Siegel’s The Killers, I’ll Give You That My Free Market Friends!"
(2) Understandably perhaps, HVC's original pitch for the comic : Captain America: Commie Cock Toucher never got further than this panel:
(4) See also DOMINIC FORTUNE: IT CAN HAPPEN HERE AND NOW (Marvel, 2010)
(5) I mean, I try not to swear because in a man of my age it's unbecoming, but sometimes when it comes to modern comic creators words just fucking fail me.
(6) Being biased has been much on my mind lately, after Gentle Jeff Lester’s wise words about declaring them so that everyone knows where they stand. Upon examination I found myself totally without any biases whatsoever but I appreciated the sentiment.
(7) When HVC does his mainstream gigs these days they tend to come in one of three flavours: he writes for someone else, he draws for someone else or he writes and draws. The success of the first approach depends on whether the artist is actually awake during the process; if not the result will be something like that bloody terrible SUPREME POWER stuff circa 2009. But that was okay as it was the wrap up to the terrible JMS series that was basically MARVELMAN BOOK3, but at the speed of frozen treacle and with none of the wit or intelligence. The success of the second option depends on whose words are defacing his magical illuminations. So his TOM STRONG story is fine, but that NEW AVENGERS arc he did actually resulted in my LCS mysteriously failing to send the final issues so strong was my puling about the piss-poor writing. Yes, NEW AVENGERS is so inept my LCS actually staged an intervention. So, thank Kirby for the third option where HVC gets to write and draw. This is one such comic I'm on about here.
(8) I may be mistaken here and corrections and clarifications here, as anywhere in the piece, are welcomed.
(9) Citizen Smith. Ask Glamorous Graeme McMillan.
(10) I bet he could still take you down, pal. He goes for the eyes, I hear. No quarter.
(11) He wasn't the biggest fan of American Independence, though, I'll give you that.
(12) It's okay, Beatific Brian Hibbs just loves talking to HVC's lawyer; it keeps him out of mischief!
That's the end of the awful meandering prose and the difficult to navigate footnotes but not the end of my creepy love of HVC or, indeed, my love of COMICS!!!
Vaya (Comic-)Con Dios indeed, muchachos!