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Equality. Equity…

And over familiarity.

I am often taken to task by enthusiasts for my dismissive, ruthless and callous dismissal of much, if not most, of my early comic book work—say, the first decade of my career. Of course, much of this reaction is in defense of the tastes of those taking task, deriving as it does from an unconditional love for the content of that work on the part of those enthusiasts, ignoring, as is so often the case, the dismal execution.

Again, of course, all is forgiven here, since, and one more time, again, of course, you were twelve, if not physically then certainly in any and all of the other ways that count here, and didn’t really know any better.

With all due respect.  Again, and as ever, of course.

Unfortunately, and I can feel another “of course” coming on, it’s mainstream comic books we’re talking about here, where subtlety, nuance and critical observation based on a wider and deeper view of reality, not to mention actual human nature as depicted in narrative, is thin on the ground, in lieu of the embrace of hyperbolic chazerei.

Sophistry, obscurantist complication and, for fuck’s sake, that loathsomely beloved phenomenon, Easter Eggs—my fingers gagged as I typed that—are the all too beloved substitutes for all that other above-mentioned stuff.  On this basis, and through so narrow and specific a filter of judgment, no one, or should I say I, should have expected otherwise.

The general reaction to my often-stated disdain for the first ten years of my professional output has often characterized me as self-deprecatory at best, self-loathing at worst.  These days, with everybody and his mother a Google matriculated expert at just about everything, the all-too-common mainstream comic book enthusiast who fancies him or herself a sofa-based psychotherapist should surprise no one.

Sorry, but no, to this all too rampant, not to mention facile, diagnosis.  Too lazy in its conclusion, and too easy on both of us, you and me, too. But, as noted, it is mainstream comic book enthusiasts we are talking about here, where all that saturated color printing serves to conceal all that deeply engrained black and white thinking, so what else is new?

And just to be clear, my distaste for this work is mine and mine alone.  You are perfectly welcome to love the living fuck out anything you choose.  But here’s an oft repeated lesson that is worth relearning for all the post adolescents out here—loving it doesn’t make it good.

My wife loves me. I hesitate to say so, but I do so hope, that this love is unconditional. That love does not make me universally lovable.  Thus, many, if not most, do not share her affection.

Your affection for anything doesn’t grant an imprimatur of quality to anything, certainly not to disposable pop cult crap, which, in a just and fair world, would be just as lost to history and justifiably forgotten as Joe Penner, Kay Kaiser, and Rootie Kazootie, for three perfect examples of once inexplicably popular entertainments that have vanished from memory.

My two favorite sorts of fandom—and, for those who might not have been paying attention, I use the word “favorite” here ironically in the extremis—are toxic and proprietary.   Elements of both are part of the above, and, to an unfortunate extent, these two states of mind often follow fans who become professionals into the mainstream comic book business.

This wildly presumptuous line of thinking brought to mind more than a few incidents over the past year or so, of a curious and too chummy overfamiliarity on the part of newcomers, aspirants, and believe you me you’re never going to make it so just sit over there and shut the fuck up why don’t you types, too.

In enthusiasts, this unwelcome collegiality acts itself out in a fan’s analysis of work that typically and yes, banally speaks more about the analyst than the analyzed.  In the profession, just because we work in the same business, newcomers seeking a place at the table, where I’ve been justifiably installed for four of the five decades in which I’ve invested toil and sweat to more than earn my seat, are not my equal.

Certainly not yet, and maybe never.

Who can say whether you ever will be?  And furthermore, as per the enthusiast’s analysis, behaving as if you are says more about you than I care to know—specifically, that just showing up puts you on par with a longtime veteran of hard-earned skill—which is, of course, just utter nonsense.  Until you’ve proved yourself, by dint of producing work, and doing so for more than a weekend, I am your better.

Not so fucking self-deprecatory now, huh?

I’ll wait while you readjust your psychoanalytic judgment of me from sad sack self-loathing to who the fuck do I think I am monomania.

And we’re back.

I am a septuagenarian, and I came of age in fandom before conventions were so, well, conventional. I was a DC fan, then a MARVEL enthusiast, then a Golden Age Collector, then an EC collector, by which time the only interaction I’d had with a comic book professional was an encounter with Gil Kane in a used bookstore just after my Bar Mitzvah. I was so intimidated, flabbergasted and flummoxed by meeting so Olympian a figure that I was speechless.

Really.  This was a few years before I came out of my shell, to the regret of some of you, I would guess.

I went to work for Kane some five or so years later.  To be clear, he had no recollection of meeting me, of course.  At the time, I had no clue why he hired me, but in retrospect, I’ve come to believe he brought me on because we were Landsmen, and he could speak to me freely, Jew to Jew.  His generation was most MOTs, while mine was decidedly not.

Because his colleagues were in and out of his place, I met a lot of his contemporaries, none of whom paid me any attention.  But speaking of attention, I paid plenty of it—and heard many of the anecdotes that inform the first volume of HEY KIDS! COMICS!, my fictional history of the comic book business in comic book form.

I eventually became a working professional, and developed relationships with contemporaries of my own.  Needless to say, there was plenty of inter-generational distaste between those old fucks in their forties and us young fucks in our twenties…

…But, while we talked shit in private about their shortcomings, at least for public presentation, we maintained an attitude of detached and distant respect for those ancients. We understood, and respected the very idea, that we were in comics because they’d been there in the first place.

It never occurred to most of us, except for a precious few narcissistic self-mythologizing creeps, that we might, someday, be treated as equals by those who had built the road we trudged, let alone transcend our influences among them.

Years passed, and the first generation died, and we of the second generation became the status quo, with new young talent working their asses off to get their seats at the table, a natural chain of events that naturally continues to this moment.

But there was a mindset, almost a social landmine, with an impact on those newer generations who’d bought into the “We’re just a wild and wonderfully wacky bunch of comic book loving guys and gals” bullshit.

This bill of goods, relentlessly sold by a notoriously ungrateful corporate shill and windbag, punched holes in that wall separating enthusiasts from professionals—not to mention between newcomers and veterans. Those dumb as shit fucking alliterative nicknames should have alerted us, but unfortunately, we paid them no mind.

Among the general and all too frequent presumptions of those mistaking collegial proximity for professional equality, two recent incidents come to mind.  The first occurred when I posted a colored page, absent of text, as a preview.

This unknown fellow swooped in, first to criticize my drawing of pants(!), and then to gotcha me, taking me to task for what he perceived as an error in judgment, which was actually a specific part of the narrative, which this person might—not necessarily but, with the benefit of the doubt, might—have realized with the presence of text.

His tone was so collegial, so much that of another fellow veteran, albeit with a certain, Eric Idle “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we’re all men of the world here” tone, that my first assumption was that he was one of the many working talents I’ve never heard of.

I visited his page, and I was stunned, yes stunned, to find the work visible there was that of a clownish amateur. I concluded that engagement was pointless, and blocked this talent free Canadian.

In another instance, another person, again unfamiliar by name to me, responded to a post, dropping a series of names I did recognize, all of whom he identified implicitly as talent who’d been very impressed with his work.

A brief reality check led me to understand that he’d been politely treated by those in my field who are generally nicer than I am—a low bar, to be sure—and had mistaken good manners for endorsement.

These are only the most recent examples.  Going back six years ago, among the many entitled newcomers and aspirants who decided to burn me as a witch, I remember being bemused and yes, amused by a proudly identarian cartoonist whose name I don’t recall, a woman I’d never heard of, with no idea where she is now, declaiming that she would make certain I “…never worked for (the company we both worked for, that had made the ghastly error of publishing something of mine she didn’t like) ever again.”

As Carlotta sings in Stephen Sondheim’s FOLLIES, “…I’m still here…”

Now, not to go all Panglossian on you, but in the best of all possible worlds, all men are created equal.  All men are equal before the law.

Aspirationally, of course, if not in reality, which has a discomfiting tendency to fuck with itself, as those of us blessed and cursed with curiosity and an actual attention span can confirm.

All that said, performance, talent and skill will, by necessity, upset the dynamic of equality, and to be clear, equity as well.  This, despite the inane participation culture in which those of us of limited actual gifts have had to work our asses off to achieve our goals are stuck, watching with dismay.

To be honest, I do believe I have transcended some of my influences.  Some, and in some but hardly all ways.

And there are contemporaries of mine who continue to startle me with their excellence; and talent who arrived after me, and continue to arrive, that humble me in their brilliance.

As noted above, I’m an old man.  In the course of my over half century career, I’ve gone from hobbyist, as all of us in comics do, to professional, and back to hobbyist—but with the skillset and commitment forged by those decades of work still in application in the production of work for which I no longer bill, willing as I am to hope for a back-end payment.

And maybe the fact that to be any good I have to, as noted, work my ass off contributes to what might seem an overweening pride, an elitism—a sense of a disciplined hierarchy of which I am a valid and yes, valuable part.

And yes, maybe it’s those generations raised to believe that just showing up was enough, that have broken down the barriers, transmuting proximity to the work into parity with the achievement of status through craft and sweat itself.

If this be the case, in a world of Eve Harringtons, I remain Margo Channing, bumpy night or not.

As ever, I remain,

Howard Victor Chaykin, a Prince.

But hardly to the manor born.

 

As a postscript, it might be worth noting that when I do convention appearances, as I often do, I will often repeat to those who are kind enough, interested enough, curious enough, to visit my table, the following mantra.

“The convention is my client. The conventioneers are my client’s customers. I am here to be of service.”

I spend those days at conventions committed to spirited engagement—this, to the pleasure of some, the distaste of others.

To quote Henry James, “I don’t want everyone to like me; I should think less of myself if some people did.”

And of course, that engagement, that service, is defined by vague and necessarily subjective parameters, wherein boundaries are frequently only identified when they’ve been breached.

And, again, of course, the best lives are those that include risk.

I look forward to seeing some of you soon.

 

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