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Curriculum La Vitae Loca

YOU CAN WORK AT WHAT YOU LOVE EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE — IT’S STILL FUCKING WORK.

I was born in 1950.

I am illegitimate—a fact I learned only just after I turned forty five, six months after my mother’s death, a secret, among many others, she took to her grave.

My biological father’s name is/was Norman Drucker.

I have no clue as to whether he knew of my existence.

Between the ages of four and five I taught myself to read from comic books, and could read on a fourth grade level once I entered the first grade.

My only true and truly heart felt ambition from the moment I discovered comic books was to be a comic book man.

After the man I had been led to believe was my father threw a roundhouse at my mother and knocked her down a flight of stairs, she finally decided she’d had enough, and fled with me and my two younger brothers, hiring an attorney, a friend of her brother, pro bono, to get a temporary restraining order against her husband.

My mother raised me and my two brothers—each of us products of a different father—on a welfare check of $185 a month.

I got my first job—delivering bundled laundry to old babushka ladies for tips—at the age of eleven.

I have had a job of some kind ever since.

My mother despised me and my brothers, as living reminders of her miserable life and her miserable choices.

As she never forgave me for my birth, I have never truly forgiven her for her heartlessness, her lies and omissions.

A flaw of character, to be sure.  Nobody’s perfect.

I barely made it out of high school, despite the early promise of a skipped grade and high scores on aptitude tests, squeaking out a diploma at sixteen.

I’ve been on my own since I was seventeen.

That was when I began my commitment to avoiding reality through chemicals.

I spent the next twenty five years in a state ranging from mildly buzzed to catatonic, which I’d like to think contributed to my own miserable choices, but I’m loathe to let myself off that hook.

I have a feeling I might have made those self same dreadful choices had I been clean and sober, as I have now been for three decades.

In the course of those twenty five years, I wrecked three marriages.

Needless to say, not without help. I could never have so resolutely fucked up solely on my own.

Starting at the age of eighteen, I worked my way up the ladder of my chosen profession through grunt work and take no prisoners determination, from gofer, to apprentice, to assistant, to ghost artist, to finally producing work of no particular value under my own name for nearly a decade.

And just in case you think otherwise, even by the economic standards of the 1970s, a comics income was almost laughable.

The only thing keeping me above the poverty line was side work as a storyboard, comp and animatic artist for the advertising agencies of Manhattan—skills I gratefully learned from a very difficult mentor.

Without such outside work, there is no way I could have ever afforded to work in comics.

Ever.

At the end of the 1970s, I left comic books briefly after an altercation with the Editor in Chief of one of the major publishers, and sought work as an illustrator.

This experience taught me a series of lessons, about respect for technique, about hubris, and about humility.

And, most importantly that I was never going to be an illustrator.

I simply wasn’t good enough for the demands of the market.

And like anyone in his right mind, I was deeply disappointed, and angry.

And I also never held the market responsible for my failure.  To flatter myself, it never occurred to me to do any such thing.

Within a month of this self recognition and self appraisal, I was hired by a fledgling comics company to create a new comic book.

I took this offer with gratitude and did just that.   For the first time in my life, I truly applied myself, committing every aspect of my energy, my enthusiasms, my efforts to this new project’s service.

The result was a rejuvenated career…with a very important caveat, a footnote that must be noted.

I had achieved what must be acknowledged as a succes d’estime.

As good as the work was, and believe you me I know just how good it was, it had no impact whatsoever on my commercial footprint.

Comics is not and never has been a meritocracy, and my idea of “good” had no bearing on the audience’s definition.

I had produced work of actual value, to no particular avail at all. Another lesson learned.

This was the case with all the comic work I did for the next few years, all of which confirmed for me that as much as I wanted to be a comic book man, the audience for comic books really didn’t give all that much of a shit about me, my work, or what my work represented.

Despite my smoking, drinking and drug use, I had and have a hail, hardy and hearty constitution.  Along with this enlightenment about where I stood professionally, I had the terrible fear that I might accidentally get old, with nothing to show for it but social security and a succes d’estime.

Not to mention catfood and noodle casseroles.

This is why, the day before I turned thirty five, I uprooted myself from Manhattan and relocated to Los Angeles, with the forlorn hope of translating my newly forged reputation as a transgressive talent—this, of course, only by comparison to the same old low bar vanilla comic book bullshit—into a movie career.

That movie career didn’t happen, but I did find work in television.

For a decade and a half, I served on the staffs of utterly forgettable television series, awful shows that I would never watch, working my way up the professional ladder from just above the bottom to just below the top, an effort that seemed an odd echo of my first years in comics.

Despite the disdain with which I hold these shows, I am grateful for the work I did, as that work made it possible for me to grow old with actual dignity, a reality that many of my comic book colleagues and contemporaries chose to ignore when the message of an expiration date was clear as day.

Clear to me, at any rate.  I have never felt entitled to anything that I haven’t worked for.

The handwriting identifying the end game was on the wall in my thirties, and wasn’t ever going to go away.

When I lost my last television job in my early fifties, with a resume of unwatchable crap, I made the only logical decision available.  I opted to no longer seek work in television, and returned to comic books, to neither clamor nor acclaim.

Whatever moment in the sun I’d had, whatever that comic book career had meant a decade or so earlier, no longer carried any weight, as I’d feared.

I got work at both major publishers, mostly, I suspect, as a result of my work ethic, to which, as those who actually know me can attest, is legendary.

Despite this, I aged out at both the two major publishers within months of each other, over a decade ago.

I have moved on, and I have continued to work steadily, doing work of which I am proud, to no particular success of any real kind, d’estime or otherwise.

As noted above, my standards and the standards of the audience are in no way the same, and have continued to create distance between each other, maintaining ever separating and wildly divergent trajectories.

There was an enormous unexpected freedom in doing work that ignored the template of assumptions made by the enthusiast pool.

In the course of this, some years back, I produced a book that became a lightning rod for the morally performative elect, putting a permanent stain on my reputation, my legacy, and my good name.

My feelings were deeply hurt. Very little offends me, but I insult easily.

At any rate, like Gloria Gaynor, I will survive.  My self esteem has never depended on the way others regard me.

That said, I continue to work.  And do so to this day.

This to no particular interest on the part of the comic book audience, short of an infinitesimally small cadre of enthusiasts.

In this regard, it’s worth noting a simple metric.   I have more Facebook friends than monthly sales.

That keeps me humble and right sized…but it’s par for the course, and in no way disappoints me, and certainly this is not the fault of the audience. I’ve been overestimating the audience for ages.

To sum up, for those of you who’ve skimmed, a few bullet points.

I take, as arrogant as this may sound, full responsibility for most, if not all, my problems.

I am the architect of my own adversity.

Those problems include, it should go without saying, my obsession with working in comics, a business that has chewed up talent since its inception with few if any exceptions.

Unlike many of those who have taken objection to my post, I never assumed I would dodge the bullet of exploitation.

I have healthy self esteem, and equally healthy self regard, but, hey—I’m not some self deluding narcissistic dipshit who thinks “want” equals “get.”

A dream is a wish your heart may make, but there are no guarantees of dreams or wishes coming true.

Your parents should have hipped you to that. Blame them, if you so choose.

For those who paid attention in school, by Aesop’s standards, I am ant, in an increasingly grasshopper based profession, and, I fear, culture at large.

It might be worth pointing out that every professional detour I’ve taken—advertising, illustration, television—was a means to continue to support my inclination—no, fuck inclination, inoculated need—to write and draw comic books, whether you liked it or not.

I have invested over a half century of my life in comic books, despite all the incumbent bullshit suffered, entailed and earned by that investment.

At no point have I ever felt in any way entitled to a career, to acclaim, to attention, to an income.

My childhood taught me well in this and a vast number of other regards.

I keep any and all expectations—of my profession, of people, of outcomes—to a minimum.

I blame no one—not even the smugly virtuous bloviators of either political extreme who rained and occasionally continue to rain on my parade.

Everybody is entitled to at least one mistake, and these people are merely miseducated into believing their feelings are equal to facts, and that intentions carry the weight of actions.

I never start fights.  I do, however wrap them up—or, at the very least, let you and him fight and wait out the outcome.

That said, if you’re delusional enough to think by my remarks that I’m in any way suggesting that if you “Just pull up your bootstraps, you’re guaranteed to have your desires fulfilled…”

Or, if you’re somehow imbecilic and insulting enough to think my life, my work, my achievements have been simply the result of a series of “…Lucky breaks…”

Or, most egregiously, if the best you can do to justify your own professional disappointments is to fall back on victim culture and its time honored reductive presumption of privilege, and thus smugly dismiss me as no more than just another Cis Hetero White Male, that great all purpose cultural straw man you love to hate, you can collectively go fuck yourselves.

I will not be so reduced.

As noted above, and to selectively quote Walt Whitman, America’s favorite 19th century racist homosexual poet, I contain multitudes.

As ever, trust me on this.

And again, as ever,

I remain,

HOWARD VICTOR CHAYKIN…A Prince—who started out a Pauper, and has never forgotten it.

 

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