Despite the long list of credits to his name over decades of industry work, writer and artist Howard Chaykin's comics catalog holds more than a few noticeable gaps. After revolutionizing genre storytelling with creator-owned work like "American Flagg!" during the '80s, the majority of Chaykin's most personal series have remained out of print in the new millennium, the hard result of both the collapse of the comics industry of the late '90s that put many of his original publishers out of business, and the fact that the artist himself spent many years away from printed art, working instead as a writer for syndicated television action shows.
As with so many long out of print comics and characters these days, the tides have turned on some of Chaykin's best work as Dynamite Entertainment began releasing a remastered version of "American Flagg!" last year and now an entire library of other titles on the way, starting with this week's "Power & Glory" collection, with volumes of "Black Kiss," "Mignight Men" and more "Flagg!" soon to follow. Combine that with a currently running "Dominic Fortune" series that allows Chaykin to finally return to a character he created in 1975, and it seems everything is coming full circle for the creator.
"I'm hoping that it's fortuitous and not a matter of [my editors] watching me circle the drain," Chaykin joked with CBR. "I think it's really a matter of coincidence more than anything else."
Like most of his creator-owned work, "Power & Glory" takes a satirical look at genre conventions, spinning the story of a genetically-engineered superhero with no heroic qualities who's pressed into action by a C.I.A. handler/defacto PR agent. While the artist admitted to not having read over the comics in a number of years, looking at the material over the past few months to prepare its new edition, he was "amazed by how well the stuff holds up." The work in that series, as well the erotic crime thriller of "Black Kiss" and the futuristic hero satire that is "Flagg!," all represent a long arc of work on his own comic boards where Chaykin focused on precision and perfection in the wake of a stint as a book jacket and magazine illustrator.
"'Flagg!' really reflected that complete and total professional commitment that I had never made before," he explained. "Once I made that commitment, I developed a level of craft that changed the way my work looked and the way I thought about the work I did. It was that commitment to craft that made it possible to me to work my way up the ladder of a television series. And when I came back to comics, something else had been added to the toolbox, which was a sense of improvisation. Before 2002, when it came to comics I'd always had an obsessive sense of structure and a belief that to get to where I was going, I had to know where the end was – the resolution and completion of a piece of artwork. These days, since that time, I have a much looser, freer sense of improvisation.
"When I did 'Power & Glory,' I knew exactly where I was going to end on the last page of that four-issue mini series. And I'm not talking about story. I still operate with story that way, because I believe the audience is entitled to a structural narrative that doesn't cheat. But I'm much more inclined to take chances visually these days. And I have no idea where that comes from, honestly. I read the older material, and I'm impressed by how it holds up in terms of text. It's always encouraging to be cracked up by your own shit. If you can laugh at your stuff, you're in a good place."
Although, aside from laughing at the end result, Chaykin looks at some of the work Dynamite has on tap with more stressful memories, as much of it was created in conjunction with his early years burning the candle at both ends as a Hollywood transplant and burgeoning TV writer. "The first job I did after moving to Southern California was 'The Shadow' revival in '85," the artist recalled. "'Black Kiss' was the first thing that I ever did in Southern California that really reflected a Southern California sensibility. It's location took place there. The backgrounds are very Burbank and Glendale – the very small, unincorporated parts of Los Angeles. I wanted to really get that across.
"'Power & Glory' was done when I was working on [the syndicated TV show] 'Viper.' And basically, I never saw my wife or my home. I was foolish enough to take on a job at the same time I was the #2 on a television series. It just wrecked my health and nearly destroyed my relationship. And it was a lesson learned because I never did that again."
While Chaykin continued scattered comics scripting work during his TV years, the grind of 80-hour work weeks and months spent scrambling for work when seasons and series were cancelled eventually led him back to his first artistic home. "When I lost my last television job in 2002, I lost my job at a point in the year where there were no jobs available. Jobs were not being given, and work would not be available except freelance until November. I lost my job in June, and by the time that November had rolled around, I had committed myself to never going back to staffing in television again. I was perfectly happy never to go back."
What that meant for comics readers was a bevy of new Chaykin work, from penciling gigs on series like "Punisher War Journal" and "Phantom Eagle," to the new Dynamite editions of his classics. And while the artist expressed that, for him personally, "this stuff has been in the planning stages for so long that the 'now-ness' of it is sort of non-existent," he told CBR that what has him most excited about the collections is the fact that they'll lead to more original stories set within their worlds. "I'd love to do some more Power & Glory material. I'd love to do some more Flagg stuff. I'm certainly going to do more Black Kiss. There's work to be done."
Meanwhile, "Dominic Fortune" plugs along at Marvel, returning both character and creator to their favorite milieu – Hollywood in the 1930s. "Let's face it, the character is a period character," Chaykin said, explaining he's never read or seen the modern day uses of the character in the Marvel Universe. "He's only existed previously in short form. There's one 22-page book that I did which I did the layouts for that [David] Michelinie wrote, and in those days, I, for some reason, allowed myself to be railroaded by other writers. He'll excuse me, but I think I did a better job with the character. But [aside from that book], it was always short pieces in various black and white magazines or the 'Hulk' color book. So this was an opportunity to do a long-form story. We're talking four issues with a darker, more epic theme to it. So I grabbed at it.
"There are elements of the 1930s I've always wanted to explore, and it fit perfectly into an idea that had been burbling around in my head. I had stacks and stacks of books that are filled with post-it flags and a stack of reference materials with wish lists of concepts I'd like to explore. The Fortune stuff fit perfectly into a whole pile of concepts I wanted to play with. That includes various attempts to overthrow the United States government in the 1930s, the way politics overtook the world, the Hollywood Hellfire Club with all these great, drunken actors – it's good stuff. And it all gelled together in a very tight little package."