Howard Chaykin interview

Chaykin is probably best known as the creator of American Flagg. In his career in comics he has also penned DC? Blackhawk, and recently, with co-writer David Tischman, DC? Secret Society of Super-Heroes and DC/Vertigo? American Century. This month, Chaykin & Tischman, along with artist Philip Bond and cover artist Arthur Adams, give a Vertigo twist to DC? classic characters, Angel & the Ape. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Chaykin about Angel & the Ape and American Century

Westfield: What attracted you to doing an updated version of Angel & the Ape?

Howard Chaykin: I loved the Oksner book many years ago when it first came out. I think the franchise has a lot of charm and fun. In searching through the DC archives, it has always struck me that an absurdist take on it deserved the attention we’re finally trying to get it.

Westfield: For people who might not be familiar with Angel and the Ape, what can you tell us about them?

Chaykin: The original franchise was drawn by Bob Oksner, and I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember who wrote it. Maybe John Albano, and I’m ashamed to say there’s a maybe in there. That really makes me embarrassed. It was about a cute blonde, in a very late-60s Oksner-esque way, who is partnered up with an ape who’s a cartoonist and a comic book artist, named Sam Simeon. We’ve taken that basic concept and gone with it. We’re doing pretty much the same thing. Ours is a very contemporized story, it’s a Soho book, it’s a Vertigo book, so it’s the rare idea of doing a humor book for Vertigo. Vertigo has not really demonstrated that it’s particularly interested in humor books.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story of the mini-series?

Chaykin: It’s a murder mystery. It’s done very much in the form of a traditional whodunit. My writing partner, David Tischman, and I concocted a very strong New York sort of background. It’s being drawn by an absolutely sensational British artist named Philip Bond, who’s previously been known for Kill Your Boyfriend. He’s concocted an absolutely delicious and saucy style for the material. It’s just great looking stuff.

Westfield: Given the opportunity, do you have other Angel & the Ape stories you’d like to tell past the mini-series?

Chaykin: Oh yeah. Quite frankly, my writing partner called me as soon as we both got the first issue’s black and whites. We both decided at that moment that the job was so hot looking, it was such a great looking job, that we figured DC would be crazy not to lock us down for another one. I’m serious. It’s a great looking book and it’s a lot of fun.

Westfield: As you said, you’ve done a lot of work recently with your co-writer, David Tischman. What’s your working relationship like?

Chaykin: David and I have been friends for about ten years. We started out developing screen concepts and we ended up going back to comic books. He’s always been a comic book reader, but never worked on them professionally. I just sort of dragged him in and he’s been having a great time.

Westfield: How do you work together on a book? Do you both contribute to the plot and dialogue?

Chaykin: We approach it very much the way we both approach television. We use index cards, we card the material out, each card represents a page. We structure the story, we page the material. Once that’s done, we write a fully evolved scripted outline. We write full script, we don’t do Marvel style, or whatever that’s called today. I believe in full scripts, even for my own stuff. From that, David writes the first draft, I take that draft and rewrite it completely, and then we wrestle back and forth on what the rest of the material’s going to look like.

Westfield: In addition to Angel & the Ape, you also have American Century coming out now. For those who haven’t read it yet, how would you describe the book?

Chaykin: I would say shame on you. It’s an absolutely splendid comic book. You should all be ashamed of yourselves if you don’t have this book. And I’m going to be snitty about it and I’m not going to describe it. Just kidding.

I wrote this little column, On the Ledge, for the Vertigo books, where I described it as being sort of a left-wing Steve Canyon and I stand by that. It very much takes the idea of an adventurer in the 1950s, in a post-war world where the Cold War is just beginning to kick into gear and runs with that, with a Liberal perspective.

Westfield: What can people look forward to in upcoming stories in American Century?

Chaykin: The second arc in American Century is an adventure that takes place in Hollywood in the early 1950s. It’s jammed with concepts and plot. We’ve got comedy teams, scandals, betrayal, the Red Scare, it’s all sorts of cool stuff.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you’re working on?

Chaykin: In the comic book universe, we’re doing a new book called Blackhawk 4000, which revives the old Blackhawk characters and does World War II in space. We’re doing a sequel to our Secret Society of Super-Heroes from last year with Barry Kitson. It’ll be a 2-issue Prestige Format product. David, of course, is writing Cable for Marvel right now. David and I are going to be doing a mini-series for Marvel, tentatively titled Female Problems, which is a sexy look at the private day-to-day lives of Marvel Super-Heroines.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Chaykin: We’re doing Mutant X, which is the new TV series from Marvel, Fireworks, and Tribune. We’re hoping that people who love my stuff in comics will want to watch the TV series.