"Clothes, Cars, Guns And Wantonness Are My Bread And Butter" – Howard Chaykin Talks The Shadow

Howard Chaykin has been interviewed a lot since taking on The Shadow: Midnight In Moscow, but it has taken the likes of fellow writer Joe Casey to come up with questions that Chaykin has enjoyed answering. The two discuss the Dynamite series and other properties from Chaykin's past.

AhadowMoscow03-Cov-ChaykinJOE CASEY: Does the new SHADOW series you're doing put the original one from the 80's into some new context (even though it takes place decades earlier)? Or does it simply stand alone as a story and fuck all the 80's nostalgia buffs…?

HOWARD CHAYKIN: As will become clear in issue six, this series leads directly into the 80s stuff.

JC: You've talked before about how you never had much reverence for the Shadow, that you weren't a fan of the old pulps, etc. Is it easier to tackle IP's that you don't have a particular affinity or nostalgia for? Does that give you a freedom to adapt the material as you see fit?

Layout 1HC: I grew up reading Burroughs and Howard, with no interest in the crime pulps. It wasn't until Archie Goodwin weaned me away from SF and heroic fantasy into crime fiction in the 70s, by which time my tastes in such things had reached a point where going back to those crime pulps was a disappointment.

That said, I can't begin to imagine writing, let alone drawing Burroughs or pastiches of his work these days, while the intrinsic tropes of the crime pulps–clothes, cars, guns and wantonness are my bread and butter.

And truthfully, I don't really think along the lines of the sort of freedom you mention. I don't honestly believe that the concepts are the brand, in our world–rather, it's the talent.

Layout 1JC: For guys of my particular generation, our first exposure to your work was probably when you adapted STAR WARS for comics. Now, it wasn't too many years after that you were doing AMERICAN FLAGG! — maybe five or six years at the most — but your art took a giant leap, in terms of style and approach. It was almost like you became a new artist in the 80's. Was that conscious on your part, that kind of reinvention? Or was it just a natural evolution for you?

HC: I'd like to flatter myself into thinking that had I had any inkling that STAR WARS was going to be such a big deal, I'd have done a better job. The work is sub-par, and will haunt me to my grave. I remain ashamed.

AMERICAN FLAGG! is the result of a few years of woodshedding in other fields, developing a respect for craft, and a deeper understanding of what both I and comics were capable of, if you'll excuse a dangling participle.

I spent six months researching comics and came up with an approach that maximized my skillset, and that was that.

Layout 1JC: When you went off to write for TV in the 90's, was it always the game plan to, at some point, come back to comics as strongly as you have in the past ten years? Or was it just a purely pragmatic (economic?) decision…?

HC: I moved to California in 1985 because I hoped to get old, and recognized that I was never going to be a big moneymaking superstar in comics–I'm just not that guy–and that I needed to plan for my golden years.

At the time, becoming a screenwriter seemed like a possible shot–which never panned out, but led me to television. I never worked on a show I'd watch, but I am forever grateful for the years I spent staffing those productions.

When I got fired from my last TV gig, I made the decision to never seek work in the industry again. I flew to New York, and stated this to the people at DC–who had a hard time believing me. I went to work for them and have been reasonably happy ever since. I should point out that I would have gone to see the folks at MARVEL at that time too, had I had any idea of the quality of work being done there since Joe Q's ascendancy. That took a few years, but I ended up there too.

Layout 1JC: One of my favorite series you did was the BLACKHAWK book for DC. That was a real eye-opener for me, in terms of how a lesser-known corporate IP can be presented to a modern audience and made into a completely viable property. It was just a shit-hot book to me. But I always wanted to know… did DC ask you to do the ongoing that spun out of it (the one that Pasko/Burchett did)? Either way, did you have more Blackhawk stories to tell?

HC: Thanks hugely. BLACKHAWK was the first comic book I ever stole, and remains one of my favorites from childhood. I wasn't solicited by DC to continue on the book. I might have embarassed them with some of the graphic and sociological elements of the miniseries.

I thought Marty and Rick did terrific stuff with their run.

I love this material, and I'd love to do more BLACKHAWK stuff, but I earnestly believe that the character and concept belongs in a forties context–which makes it commercially unviable.

Layout 1JC: When you were promoting BLACKHAWK in an interview with the old Amazing Heroes magazine, you said, point blank, "This is not going to replace sex." Which, for me as a reader and a fan, definitely put certain things in the proper context. I know you're one of those guys that just does your work and moves on to the next project, but I'm curious how you see the role of comics in a dedicated fan's life. What should it be? Is it just meant to be momentary, disposable entertainment? Or can it be something deeper?

HC: A very difficult and thoughtful question, that deserves an equally thoughtful answer.
I have a photograph of me at 17 on my bulletin board, just above my drawing table. In the shot I weigh 265 pounds, and I'm tying a rope belt. What I'm getting at here is that I used to be every Hollywood douchebag's image of the archetypal fanboy.

As I said above, I believe in my heart that the talent is the brand in our business, while the companies for whom we work have an understandably deep commitment to selling the content as the brand.
What becomes problematic is the stagnation of the marketplace. we now have men in their fifties reading the same titles that they read when they were ten. In order to make this material more palatable to an older reader, a veneer of gravity has been shellacked onto what is basically and intrinsically children's material–as if, for example, CURIOUS GEORGE were to return to Africa with the Man in the Yellow Hat to combat the Ebola epidemic.

And note, lest you think I hold myself above this sort of thing, forget about it. I'm a working comic book professional, and I swim in the same waters I've identified above.

JC: How annoying is it to answer these questions from a fellow professional just trying to promote his own Dynamite series (Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1, coming out the very same week as The Shadow: Midnight In Moscow #3)? I mean, can't we just have a normal, fucking conversation sometime…?

HC: Bullshit. This interview has been more fun and illuminating for this old bastard than anything like it in a long time–not including the fabulous chat with the esteemed Mark Waid, of course.

For more on The Shadow: Midnight In Moscow #3, click here.

About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.