Excerpt from Slush Factory 1/16/02: Howard Chaykin
Interview: Howard Chaykin
By Dan Epstein
To put it in perspective in terms of influential writer/artists in comic books, Frank Miller is number one and Howard Chaykin is probably second or third. But while Frank Miller has flopped and floundered in Hollywood until recently perhaps, Chaykin has flourished there for over ten years and is now the head writer on the syndicated hit Mutant X.
DE: How did you first get into the television business?
HC: Well. I moved to Los Angeles in 1985 to use whatever advantages I had garnered from books like American Flagg and other stuff to generate a film career. I got some work but nothing had really panned out. I got a call when I was at a convention in New York City to have a meeting over The Flash TV series which was starting up on CBS. I went in there thinking I was going to be writing a freelance episode when I was actually asked to come on as a story editor, which I did. I worked on that show for the season. I wrote or co-wrote nine episodes. I’ve been in television ever since. I freelanced a couple of years I worked on Viper and Earth: Final Conflict for a couple of years. Now I’m working on Mutant X.
DE: What’s it like hearing actors like John Shea [who plays the character of Adam on Mutant X] saying your lines?
HC: John’s a gas; he’s a total hoot. I met John about a week before we started shooting the first episode over dinner. We got along like a house on fire from word one. He has brought an enormous quality to his character. I’ll be talking to John today during the cast read through. I might add that the rest of our cast is doing a great job as well.
DE: I’ve read the a producer of the show said that Howard Chaykin is going to embody the spirit of Mutant X, what does that mean exactly?
HC: I have no idea what that means.
DE: This is your first head writer position, what were your other positions before it?
HC: I’ve been a number two on Viper. I was number three on Earth: Final Conflict.
DE: You’ve been a writer and story editor on many television shows. How is being a head writer different?
HC: Much more work. Absolutely. I’m always here first and out last. I’m frequently having a least a day of homework on the weekend.
DE: What do you bring to the table with Mutant X?
HC: An occasional loopy sensibility. An attempt to find a real world reaction to these sort of abilities that these people are blessed with and fun. I try to have fun.
DE: Besides The Flash this must be the closest to a real comic book show you’ve worked on.
HC: The fact is I surrender I give up the ghost. For example, when I’m out there pitching. I’ve pitched comic book style ideas. For a long time I tried to sell myself as a different kind of talent and finally you have to realize that you’re so backed into the world you’ve got. You give up and you do what they want you to do.
DE: How much influence do you have on the look of show like cinematography or production design?
HC: Not much, really. From a suggestion perspective of course. But we have an incredibly effective production staff in Toronto, 3000 miles away. I haven’t been up there in a while but its two autonomous units. We generate stories they generate the look.
DE: How often do you go up to the set in Toronto?
HC: I was up there a lot in the spring and the summer. But with the events of September 11th I’m not in any rush to get on a plane. I’m sure I’ll get up there sometime before Christmas.
DE: Was the show created and then you were brought on?
HC: The concept was sold. Then I came in and took the concept and developed it into a unit that made sense on a weekly basis. I beefed up the characters, created a few characters because some weren’t working. It’s an evolving process.
DE: So these are your characters.
HC: Conceptually speaking some started in a more developed way. The character names and back-stories are mine.
DE: I’ve only seen the first two episodes….
HC: Those are the first I’ve written.
DE: Some of the characters on the show seem to have similar powers from mainstream comic books. For example, Jesse Kilmartin can control the density similarly to the way The Vision from The Avengers can.
HC: Who? See here’s where the weird part about the genre comes in. I’ve done very little super-hero work. A lot of this is news to me. It’s like inventing the wheel inside a closed box. The comic books that I’ve done are erotica, science fiction, crime, so super-heroes is all new to me. So if I trip over someone else’s idea, hey life is rough.
DE: Did you decide to write the Mutant X comic book or were you asked to?
HC: I was asked to.
DE: Are you going to be drawing any books soon?
HC: Frankly, the idea of drawing anything right now even an occasional basis is beyond my ken. One of my real frustrations is like when I spoke to Mark Chiarello, he asked to me to participate in the benefit for the police and firemen. The problem is I can’t allot the amount of time that such a thing would require with a foreknowledge of when I have the time to do it. It’s not until Friday night that I figure out if I will be working on the weekend or not. Drawing requires too much time and preparation for a real commitment.
DE: How do you balance the writing you do for comic books and the writing for the show?
HC: That I can do. Writing is another story.
DE: How does your TV work influence your comic work and vice versa?
HC: Not at all.
DE: So you wont be doing super-hero books anytime soon.
HC: No more than I’ve done in the past. When the time comes that I have time to do a comic book again I have three projects on my desk that I would consider writing and drawing. One is a super-hero comedy, a fifties crime book and a completely non-genre thing.
DE: Are any of comic book peers jealous of your television work?
HC: Beats the hell out of me. I don’t really have any peers. The people in the comic book business that I talk to regularly I can count on one hand. I talked to Walt Simonson last night. I talked to Steve Mitchell yesterday I’ll probably see him tonight. I talk to Mark Chiarello. If I leave anyone out that I do talk to then please forgive me. David Tischman my writing partner. I talk to him. I live in Southern California, so if I lived in New York it’d be different. I don’t have a lot of interest in comic books. When I get my DC box I pick out the Mark Millar stuff. I love Brian Azzarello; I think he’s the best writer in comic books today. Absolutely an awesome motherfucker. One of my big disappointments is not participating in that pinup issue of 100 Bullets. It was April I was just starting up production, I was fucked I couldn’t do it.
DE: Do you read any of the Ultimate X-Men books that Millar wrote?
HC: No, I don’t give a shit about any of that stuff. I don’t care about that shit. Fact is I get DC books for free. I don’t see Marvel books because no one gives them to me. Last time I was in a comic book store was the summer before last. I don’t get out. It’s not that interesting to me. The Marvel books I read are Banner [by Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben]. But other than that I’m not interested in Marvel books.
DE: What do you like working in more television or comic books?
HC: Television. Because it’s for an older crowd and it pays lots of money.
DE: Which one is more creatively satisfying?
HC: There is satisfaction you can find in one that you can’t find in the other and vice versa.
DE: You still do whatever you want. You do comic books whenever you can and you’re working consistently in television. It’s a great situation.
HC: In television I’m a hired gun, the way I was when I first started in the comic book business. I still am in certain ways, a hired gun in the comic book business. If comic books are around long enough for me to do anything else again I’ll have some fun.
© Slush Factory