was at the Ottawa Writers' Festival today, talking on "Banned in Canada". Except that this really wasn't what he talked about.
The story I had heard was that his comic Black Kiss 3
was not allowed into Canada because of its sexual content. Well, I've had friends enough whose comics were confiscated at the border. It was plausible enough.
But it turns out not to be the case. What happened was that the distributors - Diamond, I assume - decided not to ship the comic to Canada because they thought it might
be stopped at the border.
Which is why so many comics don't make it to Canada.
"Lame-asses," Chaykin called them, pointing out that this is a big danger with censorship laws - that they make people hesitate to risk breaking these laws when they are the result of unclear wording and fuzzy thinking. In the case of Canada, "undue exploitation of sex" is not allowed, but what is "undue exploitation of sex"? What makes it undue rather than due? And where does depiction end and exploitation begin?
This isn't an issue likely to be settled any time soon, but I think it makes my culture poorer for it - not because we need more porn, but because it shows us narrow-minded, unwilling to take intellectual risks - and that's what it is. And why let in comics written by, say, Garth Ennis, and not Howard Chaykin?
Chaykin said it was not the first time something he'd written had not made it to Canada - someone thought a line implied child porn. Chaykin was 'bemused'. He cited a time he was 'ambushed' in the UK by a fan who was angry because Chaykin wrote something that offended him, and he 'had to buy it' because he was a Chaykin completist and a fan.
"My life," said Chaykin, "is a balance of hard work and calculated mischeif. Violence and sex should always be gratuitous... I'm grumpy but happy."
He said that most comics are aimed at an adolescent sensibility of people now in their fifties, and he finds most of them boring. "I love the form. Not so much the content."
He said that a lot of Americans think Canadians are just like American because we look alive and talk English - but that Canadians are very different, with a distinctly different culture and history. "There are only forty-six people here, right?"
He said that most people have no idea what comics are. "Batman is a guy who had a bad day when he was eight... A story about Batman as a private sector investor isn't very dramatic." At one point he pitched a story about Superman flying over Metropolis listening to "I Believe In You" on his Walkman.
He taught a course in storytelling to Norwegian filmmakers, who said it changed their careers. He's a "romantic queen at heart" who loves television: Downton Abbey
, Night Court
"before it lost its way"... But hates Big Bang Theory
"I've had to reinvent my career every four to five years," he said. "I've worked with much better draftsmen But I'm still here because I work so hard, and I'm smart, too."
He talked about Satellite Sam
, a comic he will be working on with Matt Fraction, about a murder involving a kids' TV show. And about his Italian Western, Century West
, which has not so far been translated into English. He's also working on a left-wing Buck Rogers
and a spiritual story that he has been planning for many years. Even though he says he can't write espionage stuff, he wants to do a spy comic. "I'm really busy," he said. "I shouldn't be in Canada."
He talked about The Good Wife
as "the most morally ambivalent show on TV - better than Mad Men
"I have not written a novel," he said, "because I like to get paid. If I were twenty years younger and had the money I have now, I might do it. But comics is my medium. I love the synergy of words and pictures." He said that he likes to draw fucking and he likes "pretty stuff... I like finesse." Yet he called Robert Crumb
a god. "His work boggles the shit out of me. There's such a sense of labour in it - the laborious quality of his work - and the fact that he lives in southern France and refuses to speak French, bringing xenophobia to new heights."
Asked what other artists he likes, he listed Eduwardo Risso
, the artist on 100 Bullets
; Leinil Yu
; Chris Sprouse
, and Sean Murphy
. He called Ross Andru
"a great forgotten talent".
He quoted Walt Simonson as saying that "Comics are illustration with the application of time." As for the "flash and dash" of many comics: "Liefeld and those mutts - they're irrelevant - no offense - fuck 'em."
Asked what children should be given to get them interested in comics, given the dearth of good American comics for children these days, he suggested Tintin
and the "Essential" series of DC reprints.
Concerning comics today: "Everything is writer-driven and that's dangerous. There's a group of writers wo want to be David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin, and they don't write visually. There are three styles of comic book writing: Harvey Kurtzman, who gave information; Will Eisner, who was emotional, who pulled the heartstrings in short stories; and then Kirby and Lee, who were all violent impact. These guys are trying to do Kirby/Lee impact with Kurtzman style. The problem is that these writers are 600-pound gorilla who run the business."
His motto: "Deadly serious. Casual mischief.... My work is always funny even when it's dark, even when it's dirty. I have an attitude problem that doesn't seem to be going away. My country is full of people who take offense at nonsense. I don't give a shit."* * *
A few hours after his talk, when I was walking home, I passed Chaykin on the street and he recognized me, and said hello.
I was impressed: an intelligent, articulate man who knows what he is doing and why. I hope to discuss his comments at more length ... when I find the time.