Baltimore Comic-Con 2018: Howard Chaykin And Dean Haspiel Dish Comics

by Hannah Means Shannon

Comic creators who share a past, Dean Haspiel and Howard Chaykin sat down for a panel in conversation at Baltimore Comic-Con on Saturday.

Haspiel and Chaykin spoke about the underlying “embarrassment” of working in comics in the past among creators, since very few people understand what they do or respond to it.

Chaykin said that he has no taste for “mainline, mainstream power fantasies”. Other types of fantasies are of more interest to him.

Haspiel said that Howard Chaykin’s work in American Flagg! was the first time he noticed someone using lyrics and music to underpin action scenes, which was quite a revelation.

Discussing levity in comics, Chaykin feels like it’s needed to “break shit up”, whereas Haspiel thought of it as a balancing act. Chaykin commented on a lack of self-awareness in comics, generally.

Chaykin says that he has utter contempt for the law, but a deep respect for rules, which are agreed upon in a society.

Chaykin said “Batman is about a rich kid who had a bad day when he was 8, and we’re still paying the price”, to laughter.

Discussing the early reception of American Flagg!, Chaykin said it broke because of Kim Thompson, who discovered it at Small Press Expo, but it never reached its potential sales. It’s more of a textbook now, for methods that are now widespread.

Chaykin feels that serving publishers and public is his job, and even American Flagg was part of that, rather than an auteur work, as Haspiel suggested. What he did learn from the project was about new methods and he carried that with him, Chaykin said.

When Chaykin works, he works “geometrically” with little cards with bits of information on them, he said.

Chaykin is particularly interested in stories about “transformation”, he said. Superhero stories are not really about transformation, in his opinion. For instance, the inability to keep characters dead in mainstream comics.

All of his books are “about characters who change”, Chaykin said.

When Frank Miller came on the scene, he did things that Chaykin couldn’t imagine doing, which was to bend superheroes to a creator’s will rather than the other way around. His generation just hadn’t imagined it before. Chaykin things Miller has a unique shared affinity for the zeitgeist, one which Rob Liefeld has, too.

Asked who’s doing Chaykin-like work today, Chaykin said Dean Haspiel does. But people aren’t generally wanting to do Chaykin-like work, and he’s not that guy, Chaykin said. He feels he’s a “hard sell”.

He feels he’s very disciplined these days after stopping drugs and alcohol in his life, since they used to be his method of focusing. He has a “serious work ethic”, and is “always going to see himself as an imposter” but is determined to avoid being identified publically as an imposter.

Chaykin described Haspiel’s work as “ornery” with a kind of classic “catholic” expression of “doubt”. Haspiel’s text pieces have that tone, too, and are different from Haspiel’s personality in real life. He feels it’s a persona that Haspiel has created, something that’s “very rewarding” and hard to do. Beef with Tomato is the “closest” Haspiel has come to presenting his real self, Chaykin observed.

Haspiel doesn’t like how “culpable” autobio comics have to be, he said, and Chaykin observed that there’s an arrogance that comes from “shame” presented in autobio comics. He feels that Haspiel takes responsibility for his actions in Beef with Tomato, without a lot of “self-aggrandizement”, which he approves of.

Chaykin described the art comics community as a bunch of “condescending precious ninnies” but the hard feelings seem mutual based on some of his experiences.

Chaykin feels he has the career that he deserves, but he doesn’t think Haspiel does. He feels Haspiel needs an editor, since he’s not lazy in labor, but needs some direction. He needs to remember that the readers can’t read his mind. His interesting ideas need more credit and more elaboration as well as polish. Chaykin thinks there are some amazing ideas in The Red Hook that Haspiel just “throws over his shoulder” and doesn’t explore.

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