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All American hero

With a penchant for eroticism and violence, US comics visionary Howard Chaykin is releasing another groundbreaking work. Miles Fielder chats to him

merican comics were dragged kicking and screaming out of adolescence in the mid- 1980s with the double whammy of Alan

Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns. The twin iconoclastic sci-ti superhero graphic novels continue to be widely recognised for

bringing maturity and broader credibility to the medium. but there was a third title that contributed to

the comic book revolution: Howard Chaykin‘s visionary sci-f1 satire American Flagg.’

Loaded with adult themes and content. American Flagg.’ was and is - just as radical and as prophetic

as Moore and Miller's efforts. Set in the year 203]. it

imagines that a series of global crises have prompted a morally bankrupt US government and its supporting

corporations to relocate to Mars. governing America

via Earthside militia the Plexus Rangers led by a

disillusioned ex-TV star named Reuben Flagg. Mixing

pulp thrills with biting satire. American Flagg.’ was originally serialised between 1983 and 89 predicting.

among other 21st century phenomena. the collapse of

international banking. the war with the Middle East. media saturation and the rise of reality TV.

‘I didn‘t think I was seeing anything that wasn‘t obvious to everyone.’ Chaykin says. ‘It was all based on my reading of culture at the time. The US was in a trough of political conservatism with Reagan. who was a fraud. thief. liar and a cheat. I also wanted to do a fun. violent. sexy. dirty story with a strong political underpinning and a streak of hysterical humour. l was laughing at the edge of the precipice. I was such a nihilist back then.‘

Arguably more so than his contemporaries. Chaykin pushed the boundaries of comics with challenging

40 TH. LIST 28 May—11 Jun 2009

adult content. l-‘lagg.’. and to an even greater degree his 1988 transgender 8&31 noir lilac/r Kiss. mixed socio-political satire with foul language. kinky se\ and graphic violence. ‘I always liked sexy and \ iolenl stuff.‘ he says. ‘By the late 7()s I wanted to do a book that reflected my sensibilities rather than the generic material that was being pumped out. So I just started doing stuffthat interested me. And I feel like I opened enough doors for people to be able to push their own envelopes.‘

Chaykin took an extended break from comics to work in television in the l‘)‘)()s. a lucratiye career move that allowed him to return to his first love earlier this decade. Now contentedly subxerting Marvel Comics titles from his northern (‘alil‘ornia borne. the New Jersey-born cartoonist's outlook has mellowed into bittersweet as he approaches (ii).

‘We have a worldscape primed to be run by morons] Chaykin says. ‘We‘ve had an imperial presidency with Bush that makes Nixon look like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and. most dispiritingly. we have the return of religion to public discourse. I wasn‘t planning on spending my late middle age in a holy war between two bunches of religious fanatics. Islamic and Christian. with me caught in the fucking middle. Nevertheless. l’m vital. hardy and healthy as I watch the collapse of the American empire. Still. I have a good life and I'm a much happier guy now. because I‘ve learned to accept the fact that it's a scary world we live in and that life is unfair..

American Flagg! Volumes One and Two are published by Titan Books on Fri 29 May.

lit >l<


* Karen Campbell One of the more recent exponents of Tartan Noir heads Leithwards to chat about her new book featuring the travails of Sgt Anna Cameron. Waterstone's, Edinburgh, Thu 11 Jun.

3|! Janet Palsley The short story writer. poet and playwright talks about her latest novel. Warrior Daughter. Which sounds a bit scary. Kilwinning Library, Ki/winning, Tue 2 Jun; Mitchell Library, Glasgow, Wed 10 Jun.

* Tralnspotting Tours A fascinating and insightful traverse of the corners in Leith which inspired lrvine Welsh's landmark tome. Skag not provided. The Port O'Leith Bar, Edinburgh, Sat 6 Jun.

* Tony Black Another hot new name on the local crime- writing block chats about his latest book featuring anti-hero Gus Dury. Waterstone’s, Edinburgh, Tue 9 Jun.

* Vital Syn: Fife scribe John Burnside and US poet Linda Gregerson read at this ever- popular evening of verse. Sloan ’3, Glasgow, Tue 9 Jun. 3|: The Blg Reads Yet more poetic antics from Burnside and Gregerson. Scottish Poet/y Library, Edinburgh, Wed 10 Jun.

3|: Brian McCabe The Scottish poet plunges headlong into a poetic exploration of word and numbers. Blackwell, Edinburgh, Wed 10 Jun.

ill: Howard Chaykin See preview, left. Titan Books.

* Helen FltzGerald The Glasgow-based antipodean author follows up her breakthrough book Dead Lovely with a tale which somehow manages to successfully straddle the rather opposite genres of noir and chick-lit. See review, page 41. Faber.