Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Eisner vs Chaykin

American Flagg #1 (First Comics, 1983); Blackhawk #1 (DC Comics, 1987)
Art by Howard Chaykin
(from A Spirited Life Blog, 9 June 2006)
...I was a guest at the [Barcelona] convention. As per Joe Kubert's recollection and Will [Eisner]'s recollection, we were talking about Blackhawk, but we got onto American Flagg, and Will accused me of producing fascist comics. I realized after the fact this was based solely on his interpretation of the cover imagery. I love fascist imagery, it's extremely powerful. I like what the Italians did, I like what the Germans did. I don't subscribe to their politics. I am a huge fan of Ludwig Holhein, for example... He was an advertising artist in Germany in the '20s and '30s who became a very important player doing posters for the SS. Amazing graphic designer. Very influential to this day... The influences on the covers for the Flagg books were poster art. I've never been happy with my cover work, but I think I finally achieved some measure of success with those covers.

...I have an enormous respect for Will's work. In the book I hope to write, I give Will credit for basically creating the vocabulary for the medium in which we are working. He codified the language. Up to that point, it was a series of experimental ideas. Then Harvey Kurtzman made it better.

Will would make pronouncements based on what little information he had. He tended to imply he knew more about something than he did and frequently got away with it. He never read much contemporary comics stuff. He had no understanding of the context in which those covers existed, and yet he was willing to call me a fascist. And that's just something that I will not accept.

I am a child of liberal parents. I'm proud of my distinctly left liberal place on the planet. I have been called a left wing faggot on the Internet too often to accept otherwise. I am not a bleeding heart—I'm a Cold War liberal, a classic socialist Jew. I was raised in a predominantly secular home... I'm not going to hit anybody -- but I was very annoyed. I offered Kubert $10 to kick his ass, and Kubert said that for $20 he would think about it. I was being facetious. I found him insulting and condescending. And I found his relationship with most people was profoundly condescending, yet they were willing to take it because he was so beloved a figure.
Eisner/Miller edited by Charles Brownstein (Dark Horse, 2005)
Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman (M Press, 2005)
(from A Spirited Life Blog, 5 October 2006)
...I was certainly aware at all times talking to Eisner that he had decided some time ago that he was the top of the heap overall and was largely disinterested in my work except in a very cosmetic way. It wasn't until I read the dialogue with Frank Miller that I realized that it wasn't just me. He really wasn't interested in what other people were up to.

The situation with Chaykin is a little different because it comes down to whether or not fascism extends to the fascist aesthetic and that's a very Jewish discussion. Wasn't it just last year that Wagner was played for the first time in Jerusalem since the war? The point Eisner was trying to make, I think (and badly) was that when he invented Blackhawk, he took the uniforms from the SS uniforms because aesthetically they were more dynamic than anything the Allies had to offer. It's not readily apparent that he did so, but I think it is something that he thought was a natural choice to make in his twenties that he came to regret over the years. His verboten Nazi associations extended more widely than did Chaykin's and when Will looked at Reuben Flagg's uniform he saw the same aesthetic being applied -- particularly the leather jacket, the Hitler haircut, the jodhpurs and the jackboots and he wanted to draw a sharp distinction that he had regretted his own flirtation with that sensibility as making use of a harmless visual effect. Unfortunately, in drawing that distinction he offended against Chaykin's own aesthetic which says that you can make use of the visual shorthand devices used by German designers and illustrators c. 1930-1945 and still be a 100% squeaky clean Fellow Traveler.

Chaykin's response is to indict Will for what Chaykin sees as far more grievous offences -- like jumping back and forth between businessman and artist depending on which row Will was hoeing at the time. I'm a conservative so that just looks to me like Marxist posturing on Chaykin's part, but I certainly understand the compulsion to try to keep your own track record 100% clean in your own frames of reference if, as Chaykin has, you've made certain sacrifices to maintain your own integrity in your own eyes. There was no way they would ever reach an accommodation. Will would've just seen himself as having struck a raw nerve in the Socialist Jew who was using Nazi visuals to sell his comic books and Chaykin would be unshakeable in his view that aesthetics and politics are two different categories...


Anonymous said...

Dave Mk. III is a conservative who has no problem with Eisner's actions, but Dave Mk. II took offense at publishers' exploitation of creators. Chaykin's criticism of Eisner was not that Eisner ran a business, but that Eisner ran a sweatshop -- exploiting his fellow creators.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, wwa

Ethan Burns said...

Dave Mk.II would've just said that if they were self publishing they wouldn't have ended up in the sweatshop.

Anonymous said...

True enough, Ethan! But he would also have excoriated sweatshop owners (and publishers generally) as being less moral and worthy than creators.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, mma

Tony Dunlop said...

I admire and respect Dave Sim, but he's not a conservative in any meaningful sense of the word. Conservatism is about respecting the wisdom and traditions of one's ancestors and viewing innovation with suspicion, always being aware that unintended consequences are often more pronounced, and long-lasting, than intended ones.

Dave has basically invented his own religion, by adopting his self-deduced and highly idiosyncratic (understatement alert!!!) interpretations of the holy texts of the three monotheistic Abrahamic faiths. No conservative would think of doing that.

Michael A Battaglia said...

Ooops! Sorry Dave, but according to Tony Dunlop, it turns out that you're not actually conservative, because you invented a religion by utilizing more than one Book of scripture in your effort to live the Word of God. Whoops. Guess you have to change your entire world view and lifestyle and inner life and abandon everything that is of deep importance to you so that you can get on board with Tony Dunlop's brand of 'conservatism'.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, Michael, oh dear. You're continuing the same line and tone (b&w cartooning joke) that's got you banned from two forums that I know about. Dave himself called you demon-possessed. Please consider that not everyone who disagrees with Dave Sim is wrong, stupid, and evil by definition.

All of us who visit and comment on this site are united by one thing: we all find Cerebus and/or Dave's other work interesting. Your comment above is uncivil and contributes nothing to that interest.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, MSW

Anonymous said...

Well, that escalated quickly.

I really dug that Miller/Eisner book. Think I'll pick me up Fagin the Jew and Black Kiss next time I hit the comic shop...

- Wes Smith

Garnet said...

Chaykin once described himself as having a "mugged-liberal" sensibility, and this informs a lot of Flagg and his Blackhawk: the idea that brutes and tyrants need to be physically resisted and punished, not just admonished. Eisner's generation were the ones who lived this lesson out first, but that's irony for you.