PoP! Top 6-Pack: The Comics of Howard Chaykin

The PoP! Stars narrow it down to the cream of the crop in categories ranging from (but not limited to) Comics, Movies, Toys and Geek Culture in general. This is the PoP! Top 6-Pack.

Howard Chaykin is one of the most prolific writer/artists in all of comics. He’s been working consistently in the industry since the early 70’s and is still putting out work on a regular basis at the age of 63. I can’t help but to mention in the beginning of this piece that I understand that Chaykin is a very polarizing creator. Some people like his work and some people don’t, but it can’t be denied that he has a distinct style that can be identified at first glance. I’m a big Chaykin fan and if I’m being perfectly honest, I think his art has undeservedly overshadowed his writing ability. It seems as though most of the people that don’t like his work have made their judgment based on his work for Marvel over the past couple of years, which I’m not too big of a fan of either. So, if you want to give Chaykin another chance, what should you check out? Let me tell you about my six favorite Howard Chaykin comics.

AmericanFlaggAmerican Flagg! (written and drawn by Chaykin)

For my money, this is one of the most influential comics of the 80’s and should be held in the same ranks as Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. The story, set in 2031, follows Reuben Flagg, a former TV star turned cop trying to make it in a world run by The Plex corporation. The series is a mix of futuristic sci-fi, political satire, sex, and pulp action. Chaykin is at the top of his game with his page layouts in this book. This is a series that influenced many of the top creators in comics working today and was a HUGE influence on my favorite comic; Matt Fraction’s Casanova. Reuben Flagg is the epitome of the flawed hero looking for redemption and by the end of the first twelve issues, you’re not sure if he’s found it. American Flagg! is a series that expects you to keep up with its pace and if you do, you’ll be rewarded with an all-time classic.

 

Time² (written and drawn by Chaykin)

Time² (pronounced Time Squared) is some of Chaykin’s most personal work and has been called autobiographical. At the same time it also features a car that sexes people to death so do with that what you will. Time² is hugely influenced by Chaykin’s love of film noir and jazz, but still mixes in the sci-fi and sex of American Flagg!. At times Time² is downright strange, but its two graphic novels, The Epiphany and The Satisfaction of Black Mariah, are entertaining reads nonetheless. I don’t know if Chaykin’s art has ever looked better than it does in these two OGN’s.

blackhawkhouseadBlackhawk (written and drawn by Chaykin)

This revamp of an older DC character featured some of Chaykin’s most cinematic work. Blackhawk is a World War II comic which focuses less on the Nazi killing and more on the espionage aspects of the war. I don’t think that this is Chaykin’s best work in terms of writing, even though it does feature a character named Lord Death Mayhew. It falls into the 80’s edgy comic trope of featuring a rape scene, which I could really do without. On the upside, I love some of the scene transitions that are in this three issue miniseries, my favorite being a scene where a character cocks a shotgun transitioning into the bang of someone slamming a door. Chaykin’s page layout game is really strong in this series as well, almost rivaling his work in American Flagg!.

Iron Man: Season One (written by Chaykin, drawn by Gerald Parel)

This is one of the many Season One OGN’s that Marvel has released recently, giving new readers a place to start with some of the company’s top characters. Chaykin blends together the origin we get in the movie and some of the comic elements, most notably Demon in a Bottle. It’s a very entertaining Iron Man story and should work as a gateway for new readers, but most of all this makes me want to read more of Chaykin’s Tony Stark. In my opinion, the only misstep of this book is not having it set in the 60’s.

The Shadow (written and drawn by Chaykin)

This is another revamp of an older character, taking The Shadow in a fairly different direction. Chaykin decided to take the character out of the 30’s and modernize him (for the 80’s). At the time it upset many die-hard fans of the character, but Chaykin’s take isn’t far off from what we see in the current comic incarnations of the character. The miniseries is incredibly violent, even by today’s standards. Chaykin took the Shadow and made the character his own. This along with American Flagg! and Blackhawk forms a trilogy of amazing work that Chaykin put out in the 80’s.

satellite-sam-issue-1-coverSatellite Sam (written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Chaykin)

Satellite Sam is one of my favorite books coming out right now. As soon as I heard that Fraction would be writing a series about the 50’s TV industry with Chaykin on art, I was on board. It comes through that this is a passion project for both of the creators because they have put a lot of work into this series. Fraction, having been so influenced in his writing by Chaykin, is the perfect fit for this book, which couldn’t have any other artist. It just wouldn’t work. When I hear that there’s a comic that takes place in 50’s New York and there’s lots of guys wearing suits, I can’t think of anybody better to draw it. Chaykin’s art looks great uncolored and his page layouts are still exciting. If you’re a fan of Mad Men, I can’t recommend picking up this series enough.

These are just some of the great books in Howard Chaykin’s back catalogue. If you’re not a fan, but you’re looking to give him a second chance these six are a good place to start. I wasn’t really a fan of his work until I checked out American Flagg! and that book converted me. His best days might be behind him, but that doesn’t mean that he still isn’t pumping out quality work. Don’t let bad coloring discourage you from reading the work of one of the most influential creators in comics.

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Who ARE these people!?

Kelly Harrass is a comic shop worker and writer from Milwaukee, WI. You may know him as one of the regular hosts of the PoP!-Cast and the co-host of PCW. Find him on Twitter @comicgeekelly and email him at kharrass@panelsonpages.com

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