Comic Book Historians

Howard Chaykin, Dark Prince of Comics part 1 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

May 31, 2019 Comic Book Historians Season 1 Episode 42
Comic Book Historians
Howard Chaykin, Dark Prince of Comics part 1 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Comic Book Historians
Howard Chaykin, Dark Prince of Comics part 1 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
May 31, 2019 Season 1 Episode 42
Comic Book Historians

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Howard Chaykin, discussing his life from when he was born in 1950 through his childhood comic book reading of 1960s Marvel, his training under Gil Kane, Wally Wood and Neal Adams in the late 1960s through the 1970s, his early Marvel, DC, Atlas Seaboard Comics, Byron Press Graphic Novels, Heavy Metal and on into American Flagg for First Comics. Music - Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at

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Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview Howard Chaykin, discussing his life from when he was born in 1950 through his childhood comic book reading of 1960s Marvel, his training under Gil Kane, Wally Wood and Neal Adams in the late 1960s through the 1970s, his early Marvel, DC, Atlas Seaboard Comics, Byron Press Graphic Novels, Heavy Metal and on into American Flagg for First Comics. Music - Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians. Support us at

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Alex:               So welcome again to the Comic Book Historians podcast. I’m Alex Grand with my cohost, Jim Thompson. And today we have an exciting guest, Howard Chaykin, who is a writer, artist, auteur, as well as a comic book historian who’s written and penciled for a variety of projects over decades. Howard, thanks so much for joining us today.


Chaykin:            Thanks for having me guys. I’m very grateful that… I’m willing to mistake attention for affection. So I’m here for you.


Alex:               All right. Jim start it off.


Jim:                Okay. So I’m going to get started-


Chaykin:            Stop fighting girls. It’s really inappropriate. Just cut it out.


Jim:                All right. So Howard, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show. And I wanted to start with the early background questions because I think it’s somewhat important, and correct me if I’m wrong, it’s somewhat important to understanding you both in terms of an auteur theory sort of point of view but also just there’s a lot of you in and your background and your childhood and your growing up in the comics. Would you say that’s correct?


Chaykin:            I’d say that is true. I mean, all of us who do this for a living, all of us who makes shit up for a living, both apply what we’ve learned and experienced in our own lives but also bring wished dreams to it. That dream is a wish your heart makes stuff, which is the way it should have been. It’s the way I’d like it to have been. That sort of thing. But yeah, I’d have to agree with that. Yes.


Jim:                And at the same time you’ve mentioned in interviews a certain, I won’t say distaste, but a lack of love or enthusiasm for certain alternate comics, autobiographical tendencies that kind of dominate the field.


Chaykin:            How do you mean? Like what?


Jim:                The ones that are not independent comics but the alternate comics, the comics journal really were advocates for… the ones that are more like…


Chaykin:            Oh, you mean the stuff that come out of the post Pekar, post Spiegelman universe.


Jim:                Exactly.


Chaykin:            I see. I wouldn’t say so much disdain but uninterest.


Jim:                I think that’s right.


Chaykin:            I don’t have a sensorious sensibility. I have an aversion to the very idea of censorship, and the problem I have with these books is less their existence than their assumption of kind of a moral plane of superiority to anything else that exists in the same sort of medium and franchise.


Jim:                And there’s certainly that notion in the way that Gary Cross talked about it but also in the way that Spiegelman talks about it or just the embracement of something like Fun Home, all of which I like, but that’s never been what you do when you bring your stuff. I almost said baggage and that’s wrong, but-


Chaykin:            I’m willing to go with baggage. I really am. Come on. I mean, look, I’m a 68 year old Jew, product of Brooklyn and New York. If I haven’t got baggage what’s the point of being neurotic?


Jim:                If you didn’t say Jew in Brooklyn in the first five minutes of this talking I would’ve felt like I had failed in this initial question.


Chaykin:            I’m here for you in that regard.


Jim:                So let’s hear that background a little bit. What-


Chaykin:            As defined as I am by that fact, by the fact that I’m a Brooklyn Jew, I mean, it really is. I was talking about this not 20 minutes ago in the context of… I live in a small town, and I was having brunch with a group of people at the beach. I mean, I live the anti-thetical life to what would assume that I was born to live through. And I explained to someone that when I was 13 years old I was very ill and I spent a week in bed and I watch television all day, and I watched, in those days in New York City, the W&W Affiliate owned the Warner Brothers product and they showed a week’s worth of the gangster comedies, the second cycle of the gangster films at Warner Brother in which the same cast and the same sets were used to tell comic stories of gangsters. City for conquest, Brother Orchid, A Slight Case of Murders, that sort of thing. And-


Jim:                This would be after the production code came in and…


Chaykin:            Oh, no. This is about ’38 to ’40, in that realm. And I realized that everybody in the movies, all these great Warner Brothers stock players, everybody in those movies was… I realized that everybody in the movies who was supposed to be stupid sounded like me, and I made it a concerted and discerning effort to cease to sound like one of the Bowery boys or Leo Gorcey or Huntz Hall because that’s what I sounded like when I was 13. By the time I was 15 or 16 I had developed, from smoking as well, I developed this voice, that voice had carried more authority than it deserves I might add.


Alex:               When you say this voice you mean your manner of speech right now?


Chaykin:            The way I sound now. I’ve always been this articulate. It’s gotten me into more trouble than you can possibly imagine.


Alex:               I like it.


Chaykin:            I mean that with all my heart. And that aspect of my childhood growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s.. I was born in ’50 and raised in Brooklyn. I was raised a block and a half and 25 years later than Gil Kane. We went to the same grammar school I might add. And my experience as a little boy was to escape into comic books. Comic books, movies, and television were the means of which… because I am basically a coward. I don’t like confrontation of any kind physically because I’m afraid of getting hurt. And comics were a place to hide, and I loved comic books and I love comic books unequivocally. I mean, uncritically everything about comic books. I love the language. And from the minute I saw comic books I recognized that someone made these things and I wanted to be one of those people.


Jim:                So what were you reading?


Alex:               Yeah, DC and Timely or what?


Chaykin:            In ’55 I got a box of comics. I read all the DC stuff. I read the teenage stuff. I love the Archie stuff, a lot of Looney Tunes and a lot of Disney stuff. The one stuff I couldn’t accommodate was the horror stuff. For some reason the box of comics I got had no ECs in them, but they had the EC imitators and a lot of injury to the eye motif comics. And-


Alex:               So you weren’t getting the combat stuff?


Chaykin:            No, no, no. I discovered EC like many of my generation did in the in the reprints that came up from Ballantine in the early ’60s. The mad reprints were followed by a collection of the science fiction stuff and the horror stuff, and they were printed sideways in bad black and white print and Ballantine paper and they were a revelation. I had no idea where they came from. They didn’t exist. And at that point I was a golden age collector because in those days golden age collecting was affordable.


Jim:                Oh, that’s really interesting.


Chaykin:            Yeah. I was a serious golden age collector.


Jim:                So who were the golden age artists that you were drawn to or did it matter at that point?


Chaykin:            I was 12 years old, 12 and 13, and at that point I wasn’t aware of artists. I was aware of content like all kids. I mean, the brand for me in those days was the character, was the material. The maturing I evolved past that and develops the sensibility to recognize the fact that the artist is the brand, the talent is the brand. But as a child we innately understand from our perspective that the character is the brand. And I loved Jack Burnley’s Superman. And years later I realized it was Jack Burnley.


Jim:                I think it changed a little bit. I was 12 when Kirby left Marvel and went to DC, and we knew who Kirby and Ditko were partly because the advertisements were, “Kirby is coming.”


Chaykin:            I mean, look, the fact is by the time the Marvel stuff comes along… I get turned on at Marvel at around this time. Okay. I mean, and I mean I knew Jack Kirby’s work because I knew it from Boy Commandos. I knew it from Newsboy Legion. I knew it from the Challengers of the Unknown and also from the Harvey stuff. And I was a huge fan of the Fly. The grotesqueness of the Fly really appealed to me, and I got turned on to the Marvel stuff while I was at summer camp. I was at summer camp, and I came back from summer camp and the world was Marvel awash. So I bought up all the Marvels that had come out at that point. I think Fantastic Four number three was just out right. And I became a complete Marvel junkie. I mean, I turned my back on DC Comics completely. And I’ve been a silver age guy. Gil Kane was my guy. I mean, these guys were it. But in the golden age stuff, I mean, had I known the quality books, and had I had the eyes to see what those quality books we’re doing, what Lou Fine was doing,  what Jack Cole was doing, all of which was under the aegis of Will Eisner I would have been into those books as well. But I wasn’t aware of it. And the Timely books in those days were really ugly. Marvel’s books back in the Second World War were really just really dreadful looking stuff. Kirby’s work in DC was vastly superior to the stuff he was doing with Simon and Marvel I think.


Jim:                Yeah, I think so too. I like Maneely a lot.


Chaykin:            Well, I came to know Maneely’s stuff much later, and a lot of that came out of Archie, Archie Goodwin, showing me that stuff. I mean, Archie was to a certain extent the linchpin of two aspects of my life. He showed me a lot of the ’40s and ’50s stuff that I’d never seen, and he also was the one that weaned me away from science fiction into crime fiction.


Jim:                You know it’s funny. In all the interviews we do, two common threads come up. One is everybody says that they are super early readers. And I wondered about that with you.


Chaykin:            Yes. I entered kindergarten reading on the fourth grade level because of comics.


Jim:                Yeah, that’s what we hear each time. And most of the people we’ve talked to talk about Archie Goodwin as somebody that was very important to their process or their development industry wise.


Chaykin:            I wouldn’t say that he was important in that sense. I wouldn’t go that far because he didn’t edit me much. We didn’t work together all that often, but I respected his tastes enormously. He was also one of the funniest, wittiest man I’ve ever known in my life. And he was capable of being friends with people that seemed complicated. I mean, he was very close friends with Gil Kane, who was a very difficult guy and was my first boss. And Gil suffered no fools. And the fact that that Gil was close friends with both Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin it went beyond… they weren’t friendships of opportunity by any means. There were friendships of simpatico and like-minded ideas that I have to say that Archie’s tastes influenced me more than his professional working.


Alex:               Around the age of 19 or so how did you make your way to meeting Gil Kane and becoming his assistant? That was around 1969-ish.


Chaykin:            Yeah, I met Gil when I was 13 okay. He doesn’t remember this at all, but, I mean, it was like one of the critical moments of my childhood, at a used bookstore. He was looking for Will James’ books. Will James was a kid who reinvented himself as a cattle hand who wrote a series of children’s books about horses. And Gil’s drawing of horses has always been legendary and derived a lot from Will James’ depiction of horses. I was awe struck by him. He was just an Olympian figure.


Alex:               Nice.


Chaykin:            And I found out… I don’t know what it’s like in fandom today. I really have no idea. The social networking has created an entirely different universe. But in those days then we were in touch with each other all the time. We had coffee together. We drank together. And I heard through the grapevine that a guy who’d been his assistant had died in his sleep, a guy who was going to be a player, a serious talent. I guy named Kim Battersby, who worked in a style similar to Woody’s. He was one of the Woody guys. And he died at 21 of an undiagnosed heart ailment.


Chaykin:            And because of the callousness of youth I called Gill and, “Hi. I hear your guy died. You need somebody.” I went to work for him and I told him how my work was mediocre and he disabused me of this notion. He said basically this work is utter shit. There’s no value whatsoever. And my feeling was hurt. I had only one left. But ultimately I learned I owe 95% of my career to the near year I spent working for Gill more than any of the hands-on work I did for Woody or Gray or anyone else. I mean, the rhythm, I learned how to do what I do from watching Gil do it.


Alex:               Yeah. So he was essentially… was he teaching you to story tell and you absorbed it all? What kind of process was that?


Chaykin:            It was more a matter of… I couldn’t even put my finger on it. There was something about the way he lived his life, the way he approached his profession that struck me as logical and real. And I got it. I mean, right now I’m working on the second arc of Hey Kids! Comics.


Alex:               Yes.


Chaykin:            Which addresses a post silver age area. It starts in 1950 and ends in 1980. And it talks about some of that relationship in the obscure way, hopefully. Thank you very much. And I can’t really put my finger on what it was, but to this day I hear Gil’s voice echoing in my head.


Alex:               Wow!


Chaykin:            … when I find myself being pontifical.


Alex:               Did you work on Blackmark with him?


Chaykin:            I did. I filled in blacks. I erased pages. I filled in blacks, like I say, and I paste up text, and I was terrible. I was skill free. I had nothing going on. You can’t know … and in retrospect of course now that I know more about Gil’s life I realize that he was exactly me when he was that age because his work was terrible. He was awful until really until I’d say a good 10, 12 years into his career. He didn’t get any good. His work in the ’40s and early ’50s is dreadful.


Chaykin:            And then all of a sudden he develops… and he begins to imitate Dan Barry and imitate Alex Toth after spending all those years imitating Jack Kirby. And finally he finds his language. And I think a lot of that language he found was being beaten up by Burne Hogarth. He was a far better artist then, but Hogarth beat him up so much and Hogarth intimidated him so much. I mean, Hogarth intimidated him the way he first intimidated me. The difference is I got over being intimidated and I think Gil died intimidated.


Alex:               Oh, interesting. That’s funny. Okay. So when you say intimidated you’re saying at the Burne Hogarth’s school that Burne Hogarth kind of got into his head to improve as an artist. That’s what you’re-


Chaykin:            Well, Gil was an autodidact and Gil I think he resented the fact that he never had an education that went beyond 10th grade. And I said this in public more than once. One, I owe my career, I stand on the shoulders of Gil Kane, Gray Morrow, Wallace Wood, and Neal Adams, and Joe Orlando. And the one thing that separates me from those men is none of them could write worth a shit.


Alex:               Yeah, you’re a great writer.


Chaykin:            And I write well.


Alex:               Yeah, you do.


Chaykin:            Gill could write essay but he could never translate that essay skill onto a comic book page.


Alex:               Yeah. Interesting. The whole original art question. So back in DC back then they would take the original art but they wouldn’t give it to the artist. But what was the story with Gil and original art? What exactly happened there?


Chaykin:            I don’t know exactly but I take very seriously the idea that he was a thief.


Alex:               Okay.


Chaykin:            I have no doubt in my mind that was the case. I’m not a witness. But I don’t doubt it for a minute.


Alex:               Yeah. Did you like him? Was he like a second father to you in a way?


Chaykin:            He was the single most important male influence in my life. My father disappeared from my life when I was nine. My mother took me and my two brothers on the run because my father was a physical abuser. So I was raised on welfare until I was a teenager and left… I was thrown out of the house when I was 16 because I was a complete asshole.


Alex:               Was that your biological father that did that or was it the step father?


Chaykin:            No, no. I never knew my biological father.


Alex:               Okay. So it was your stepdad that left.


Chaykin:            So yes, I am a bastard literally and figuratively. Thank you.


Alex:               So Jim has some questions about some later Gil Kane works. Jim, go ahead.


Jim:                Well, yeah, I wanted to ask you in terms of Legend of The Dark Knight, 24 to 26 of Flyer where you wrote it and Gil Kane illustrated it what was that like to work with your mentor where you’re the writer and he’s putting on paper what’s in your mind?


Chaykin:            Well, Gil was the one who came to me with a generalized concept. Okay. Gil was a guy who had a nose like a toucan. And as soon as he had it bobbed off and turned into a Charles Saks, New Yorker cartoon. He saw antisemites under every rock and ironically, of course he drank cocktails with those people on Friday night, every Friday night.


Alex:               That explains the pictures being so different from when he was young.


Chaykin:            Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean I, I addressed this issue with the second arc of Hey kids by the way.


Alex:               That’s funny.


Chaykin:            cause I’m willing to go out on a limb, but the, the real irony is that he was, he approached me on this one and around the same time you approach them with a second project, which is doing an adaptation of gladiator. Ah, he was originally going to be the artist in that book. One the rest. Yes. I wrote the script and I, my working process, I don’t draw anything or have anything drawn until the entire thing is written. I mean I’m on issue five right now. The first draft of hey kids volume two, it’ll be six issues and I’m going to send my editor this incredibly rough draft as soon as they finish issue six, which will be nice a little. So he read the four issues of, of a, of gladiator. Why they call it the legend. I have no fucking idea. I couldn’t tell you. And he decided he couldn’t do it cause it was too fucking difficult. That was the bottom line. It was too hard to do too annoyed the hell out of me. It really did cause I really, I wrote it at him and it laid dormant for a cut for a little while and then there were a number of people who are attached to it and when Russ came up, I mean at that point Russ had been doing really nothing, worked for 10 years and then I happened to be in DC and I saw this the second half of that enemy, ace 1940s thing that he did that he finished up with that French guy. Right. And it just kicked ass. It was astonishing and rough and I used to live in the same neighborhood. I ran into Russ at a restaurant. I said, you’ve been phoning it in for 10 years, what the fuck? And he came on and did an astonishing job, but I still would have loved to seen Gill do it. I really, yeah. Right, right.


Jim:                Just one more question on that. I just wanted you to talk about the, the actual flyer for a minute.


Chaykin:            I have very little memory of actually doing it. It’s a long time.


Jim:                The last page of issue 25 you think


Chaykin:            All right I’m gonna take this word on this you can tell me anything.


Jim:                Where you said you have the female characters saying fulfill the destiny. I’m going to fulfill the destiny of bearing a child, your child. So like it or not liebschien. I’d suggest you lie back and enjoy it. In the right hand, bottom corner is a box that says next issue, the climax. And I just thought for a DC comic of the time that you’re putting in that level of humor, sexual humor, do you remember at all if anybody was even aware of what you were doing?


Chaykin:            No. No, no.


Alex:                Was it right under their nose.


Chaykin:            Never picked up on it at all.


Jim:                Because I just laughed out loud 


Chaykin:            I mean look if I had written..think of England would they have gotten that?


Alex:                Of course you worked with Gil Kane, then you went over and worked with Wally Wood in his studio. So what was that, 1970, 71? When did that happen?


Chaykin:            I guess there was around 70. Woody was living and working in Valley Stream, Long Island and he used to pencil kind of a vaguely salacious western strip. I was utterly unequipped to do this. I, lasted for seven weeks. I sucked. My work was terrible. Gray Morrow introduced us and what mostly came out of that was my understanding was how dreadful I was in a lifelong friendship that evolved with that, with Jack Gable at that point.


Alex:               Oh Nice.


Chaykin:            Jackie was there,


Jim:                Oh ’cause he was there wasn’t he? He was part of the group at that time.


Chaykin:            Well, he was renting space alongside Syd shores. Both of them had studio space there and Woody planted me in the same room as them. And within a day or two, Jack Abel spent his entire day fucking with Syd shores, just, just mocking him. And it went right over Syd’s head and he realizes it within a day or two that he had a henchman in me and then from that point on I was, Jack’s bitch. We would just be, we’re horribly cruel to Syd, who never was aware of that at anytime. He died having no good, no clue what we were doing. That codified my place on the, the Jack Abel shit list. That was the first name on the list. Was that a glory? It was a glorious list. I might add.


Alex:               What prompted you to leave Gil Kane and then work with Wally Wood.


Chaykin:            The work ended.


Alex:               The project was over. Okay. And then how did you meet Wally?


Chaykin:            I was introduced to him by Gray Morrow.


Jim:                Okay.


Chaykin:            Gray was, was one of the kindest man I’ve ever known. Just an absolute prince, you know, I got to know Gray I think I met briefly and I think that made him an Alan Weiss who introduced this again or it might’ve been on one of the first Fridays at Jeff Jones’ place. I don’t recall. Gray was a real sport. He lived in Brooklyn. He had two apartments, one on top of the other, a different Brooklyn then there is today I might add. He put me in touch with Woody and that’s how it happened.


Alex:               That’s how it happened. And so how was that working with Wally Would?


Chaykin:            A real learning experience. As I’ve said more than once that I wanted my life to end up like Gil Kane but I had a terrified experience that it might that up like Wallace Wood. Woody was a miserably depressed, angry by that point in his life racist and antisemitic drunk and Raver. Was was just a terrifying presence.


Alex:               But he knew you were Jewish and you guys were friends, right?


Chaykin:            I wouldn’t say we were friends.I mean he was, I think he was far friendly with guys who preceded me. With guys like Ralph and Larry, maybe Paul Kirschner, those guys. I wasn’t there very long. You know Woody was just a really miserable, bitter, unhappy man. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that have you read, Hey kids! the first volume?


Alex:               Yes.


Chaykin:            Okay. Thematically speaking what that five issue arc is really about underlying it all is that every one of those guys of that generation believed that they were in comics as a stepping stone to something else, that this is going to lead to some other aspect of their lives. I think Alex Toth always expected to become an illustrator of some serious importance.


Alex:               Right.


Chaykin:            And they all were looking and for them I think a lot of it has to do with the newspaper strips. And then of course they come up against the glass ceiling effect of the newspaper comic Strip world isn’t really open to Jews. It’s a waspish business, at least it was then. And the truth is the difference between that generation in mind and this comes out in the, in the second arc and it’s stated explicitly is that my generation does not come into this with any real bitterness in the sense cause we came in knowing exactly what we were going to get, what we wanted.


Alex:               Yes.


Chaykin:            Um, the difference between, you know, Jack Kirby’s alleged, the comics will break your heart kid, you know that kind of like Warner brothers melancholy melodrama bullshit. These guys were really disappointed by the lives they ended up living, and they did get ripped off. They did get burned. You know.


Alex:               And you feel like Wally didn’t get what he was expecting.


Chaykin:            Oh but Woody was also the key. He’s incredibly self destructive. He just, you know, he drank at problems.


Alex:               Right. Did you feel like his leaving Mad magazine was the beginning of that?


Chaykin:            Yeah, I do. Unequivocally


Alex:               Unequivocally.


Chaykin:            But his relationship with Gaines had deteriorated to the degree that I don’t think he could have stayed.


Alex:               Right. Interesting. So Dan Adkins did, you never met him?


Chaykin:            Nope, never met him never knew him.


Alex:               Never met him, never knew him. And then you started working on fanzines around this time in 1970, is that correct?


Chaykin:            I don’t recall. Maybe.


Alex:               Okay, Maybe. Alright.


Chaykin:            I mean, look, we’re talking, you know, a number of.. years


Alex:               A long time ago. Yeah. Long time ago, this was before I was around.


Chaykin:            My first professional job on, on my own name was a one pager for Murray Boltinoff, Neal Adams you know, basically forced down his throat and it was terrible. I had no skill set and I didn’t learn how to work until I was 25 years into the business. My work was terrible. I mean, it was, Gil was right, the work had no value whatsoever. It was complete shit. It wasn’t mediocre. It was dreadful. I mean, I am the least naturally skilled and talented member of my generation. I am, I am nothing but a grind.


Alex:               I don’t know about that.


Chaykin:            It’s the truth. I mean I learned everything I know is cerebrally based. I learned how to do everything I know I had to do and I’d much rather, I mean, I look at a guy and I don’t think it’s easy for these guys. Believe me. You can’t know what it’s like to have that limitation of skill set and walk into the room and had Bernie Wrightson waiting for you.


Jim:                Wow, yeah.


Chaykin:            The difference really is that I was smart enough to recognize my own limitations and do something about it.


Alex:               Right.


Chaykin:            And most of these guys, an enormous number of guys believed that their skillset granted them a free ride and that this is going to be it forever. You know, that endless summers sensibility, those surfers that wake up at 55 years old and realize, oh my God, what did I fucking do with my life?


Alex:               Yeah, interesting.


Chaykin:            You know what I’m saying? I mean I live in a town filled with those guys.


Alex:               So what was the Overseas Weekly?


Chaykin:            The Overseas Weekly was a newspaper sold exclusively on PXs on military bases around the world. Woody had to deal with them to produce comic strips. He did Sally Forth and Cannon, which were, you know, they had nudity. They had no fucking, but they had a lot of nudity, and the same thing is true of the thing I did. Shattuck I mean, I ended up dropping it. Dave Cockrum came in and took it over and did a much better job. Cockrum skill set was in place by that time. My skillset didn’t really emerge until the late seventies and a lot of it came out of shame. I was shamed by my public performance.


Alex:               Did Wally Wood pretty much ink over your work?


Chaykin:            Look, Woody, let me tell you about woody. The way Sally Forth and Cannon were done was he had an assistant who would go through, he would hand the assistant as I recall it was a double tier, Okay. Like a top half page of a full sized newspaper, Okay. And he would have an assistant, I won’t name the name of that assistant, he’s not dead yet. Who would come in and go through the swipe file and trace other artists’ work, photographs, everything just to fill in the double tier with autograph tracings, okay, from everybody. From Caniff, from Toth, from Foster, from illustrators, from photographs. And then Woody would come in with a brush and ink it and it would end up looking exactly like Wallace would.


Chaykin:            You can’t. I mean, years ago one of my colleagues who had ended up penciling for Woody was going around using the page that he penciled for Woody as samples, which is completely inappropriate because his pencils were invisible underneath Woody’s inks. Woody’s inks, he would make anybody look like Wood. His brushwork, his line was so indelibly his that it didn’t resemble anything that had been done, it became Woody and I can’t think of anybody around today who fits that bill. Yeah. I don’t think of anybody doing that, but then again I don’t pay much attention to the breakdown in penciling and inking these. For me it’s, I never learned how to ink, so I learned how to do drawings that could be reproduced in black and white. That’s as far as I got.


Jim:                Yeah inking doesn’t seem to have the same significance as it did when we were reading comics at least in that it’s almost as if the colorist has supplanted him as the other additional partner.


Chaykin:            I think that’s probably true. That’s the result of the digitizing of the universe.


Alex:               Right.


Jim:                So just super quick, I just wanted to obsess about horses for a minute. Did you draw?


Chaykin:            Always a good idea to obsess about horses. How can I help you?


Jim:                So did you draw horses for Shattuck at all or did you avoid that?


Chaykin:            They were terrible. I drew terrible horses.


Jim:                And you’re not alone in comics, It’s one of the hardest things and I speak as sort of an authority on that. There’s a lot of bad horses drawn.


Chaykin:            You’re obsessed with horses aren’t you?


Jim:                Yes. 


Chaykin:            I mean, I mean Gil, the thing that Gil always said, and this is not a joke, is he said that one of the great separating elements of his generation in mind is that my generation never learned how to draw animals. But he did Rex the Wonder Dog, you know he did a bunch of horse comics. He did Hop along Cassidy. All those guys learn how to draw animals. Okay.


Jim:                I think Kane was one of the best.


Chaykin:            What’s that?


Jim:                I think Kane was one of the best at the animals. His horse’s were fantastic.


Chaykin:            Well I mean it was one of the things he would mock Carmine about all the time because he felt the Carmine animal drawing was just dreadful. Well they hated each other’s guts. I mean I got a lot of blow back from that relationship at DC comics when it, when Carmine was in charge.


Jim:                Oh really, interesting.


Chaykin:            Yeah because I was associated with Gil and rightfully so.


Jim:                So I just wanted to make one observation then give it back over to Alex to talk about Neal Adams. You’ve previously stated that superheroes were never your thing really, that you like to do things about guys with guns or guys holding swords in their hands.


Chaykin:            Well, the reality is this is self serving in the sense that when I started getting work, like I said it wasn’t very good and I wasn’t good enough to do that sort of stuff. I didn’t have the skill set required for it. The only guy in my generation who came in when I did, a little bit before I did, was ready for that was Buckler. Okay, I mean Rich Buckler arrived fully formed, he really did. He had his skill. He had a perfectly matched skillset to do superhero comic books.


Jim:                Right.


Chaykin:            And there was so many complex reasons as to why he did not become a demigod that you know, that it’s an entirely other conversation. Starlin comes in a couple of years later, but Buckler was there from the start and then, you know, he was the only one. I mean look at that. You know you look at Kaluta, Wrightson. and Brunner, Weiss, Simonson, me. None of us are really superhero people.


Jim:                Right.


Chaykin:            And I was certainly the least skilled of that. So I had to literally find other stuff to do that I could match what little skill set I had to.


Jim:                Well it seems like your mentors, those first two were perfect for you then because Kane was you know, interested in doing things like Savage and Blackmark and Wally Wood in 1970 was doing sword and sorcery stuff, barbarians predating Conan so it’s like you went to the right people to not do superheroes.


Chaykin:            I mean for me these days the stuff of Wood that I look at almost daily, is the shock, suspense stuff. The stuff that he did you know, for the liberal hysteria comics that you see. That stuff, I mean, his, his depiction of the crumbling and American city circa 1952, 53 is the archetype of my visualizing in my head of what my childhood looked like. When I read Jim Thompson novels, it’s Wallace Woods imagery that comes to mind.


Jim:                Wow. Thank you


Chaykin:            If you were that guy you would be drunk and dead.


Jim:                Yes, I would be.


Alex:               Now around 1972 you left Wally and you met Neal Adams. Tell us what had you leave the Woods studio and then how did you meet Neal Adams?


Chaykin:            Well, I didn’t have the skill set that could sustain. I didn’t know how to do a long work. I get bored really easily, I get frustrated cause my talent wasn’t there. Neal saw something in me, which I’ve never been able to understand that he changed my life. He really did. He pushed me around, he yelled at me, he manipulated me. But he forced me to get work and he got me work and for which I will forever be grateful. You know, he’s a very difficult and controversial figure. I’m using the word controversial in this context, but I know him personally so I’m saying it. But he’s a difficult guy, but I owe him that aspect of my career. I truly do.


Alex:               How’d you guys meet?


Chaykin:            I met him at I think at DC comics and when, you know, he was working in the bullpen, at DC opposite, Murphy Anderson. And those days, a lot of guys work in the office. It’s a conceit that I’ve fictionalized in the Hey! kid stuff, but most of the most didn’t but some did. That’s where I met Neal and we started hanging out. And I met him again at one of the first Fridays. Um, originally the first Fridays were at Roy Thomas’ and then they moved to Jeff Jones’ place. It’s where I met Bernie, it’s where I met Michael and Allen and frank and just all these guys.


Alex:               Yeah.


Chaykin:            Roy Krenkel for Christ’s sake. And Neal was there and yeah we started hanging out. I mean, you know we hung out as a group, you know, in those days, the coffee room at DC comics was the apex of DC on one arm and independent who’s on the other. We hung around there. That’s how you got work. You know, if someone needed something fast over the weekend, you got a job


Chaykin:            You spent the day drinking coffee in there.


Alex:               And Neal introduced you to Boltinoff and Julie Schwartz at D.C. comics. Is that correct?


Chaykin:            Yeah, well Julie wouldn’t use me because see for Julie, the archetype of artists with Julie Schwartz was Murphy Anderson. Julie represented a sensibility in the science fiction world of as literal minded a take on SF as you could possibly imagine. If you look at science fiction illustration, there’s a, there’s a gap that exists that’s leaped between the work of guys like Jack Gon and Ed Emchweller. And then all of a sudden you see guys like, you know, Boris Vallejo show up and you know, like even Bob Abbott’s take on with the John Carter of Mars covers and the Tarzan covers, and then Michael Whalen comes along and Whalen’s take on the Burroughs material to stick with the John Carters stuff is phenomenally literal minded, okay. And Julie Schwartz really represented that literal minded nature, okay. When Murphy died, his archetypal artist was Dave Cockrum in that sense of just, you know there’s nothing challenging or threatening about that work.


Alex:               Yeah, it’s kind of a smooth kind of line there.


Chaykin:            Yeah and I mean Julie could never embrace Joe Kubert’s kind of approach, whereas he loved, he loved Mike Grell’s stuff cause Grell reminded him from Julie’s perspective, Grell was simply another version of Neal Adams.


Alex:               Oh, Okay yes.


Chaykin:            Okay, and the way that for, for Roy, when Roy couldn’t convince Bernie to come over to Marvel he got Brunner and from Roy’s perspective, Brunner was a perfectly good substitute for Wrightson.


Alex:               Interesting. So you worked on romance gothic stuff …


Chaykin:            Terrible. Oh God, it’s horrible. if I had any shame left, I’d kill myself. Look I really had no, I mean people laugh at me, they think I’m being falsely modest or overtly self deprecatory but the truth of the matter is the work is dreadful.


Alex:               Really.


Chaykin:            And then I got good, but it took a long time to get good because they didn’t have anything natural going on from me. I mean, look right now I’m sitting in my guest bedroom, Alright, I’m on the bed. To my right is a Bernie Fuchs painting from 1962 directly in my eye line is the original poster for the Outsiders by David Grove. And my left is an Edwin Georgie painting. To the right of that is an empty shell portrait of Johnny Hodges. I am surrounded by the work of giants and the work is here to intimidate and remind me of being humbled within my own, in my own insignificant.


Alex:               Nice.


Chaykin:            And quite serious.


Alex:               Interesting. So those first, those major D.C. stuff you did like sword and sorcery one through five, weird world, you don’t like looking at those.


Chaykin:            I’m literally trying to learn something and I’m getting there, but it’s like, I’m like a bottom feeding knuckle dragging loser, getting someplace. It’s nothing happening that has any real value and I don’t want to take away from people who love the work there. You’re entitled to love whatever you fucking love. I really mean that. But the truth of the matter is, from my perspective, I didn’t get good until I was driven out of comics and was away for a couple of years developing a respect for craft and came back and did American flag. The work I did in the 70s and I include in that the work i did for Byron Price is numbing and its lack of understanding of the value of what I could bring to the table.


Alex:               Oh, interesting.


Chaykin:            By the time I got to do flag, I had actually discovered who I was and come to terms with who I was and was able to put it on paper, both in text and visual. So that’s really what it’s about.


Alex:               So Killraven with Neal Adams and amazing adventures…


Chaykin:            It would be the first major mistake of my career.


Alex:               Why is that?


Chaykin:            Because Neal took eight months to do 12 pages or 12 months to do eight pages and I did the rest in a weekend. And no good deed ever goes unpunished.


Alex:               So was it Neal that introduced you to Marvel also?


Chaykin:            No.


Alex:               Okay. How’d that work?


Chaykin:            Roy called me for some reason. I have no idea why.


Alex:               Okay cause you guys were hanging out on the first Friday thing.


Chaykin:            I met Roy at a couple of places, you know.


Alex:               Yeah


Chaykin:            You know Roy and I were, and these guys were all 10 years my senior, I was born in 50′. Roy was born, again, in 40′. You know, there’s that mean generation of guys born between 38′ and 40′. You Steranko, Neal, Archie, Roy. Skeates. They’re all those guys born born back then. And then they’re a tiny generation and then my guys come along. You know, you know the oldest one is like born in 46′.


Alex:               Yeah.


Chaykin:            I think, I think Simonson was born in 46′ and Wrightson is born in 48, I’m born in 50.


Alex:               Yeah.


Chaykin:            You know I’m the youngest guy in that group, Okay. And I had the biggest mouth and nothing to back it up with.


Alex:               So you were doing work for the Marvel black and white magazines, right?


Chaykin:            Yeah I did some stuff. I worked for everybody back then. I worked at D.C, I worked for Marvel, I work for Warren. You know, you worked because basically by that time, the Shibboleth of working for two companies at the same time was gone. And all those guys, all those silver age guys who went to sneak over to work at marvel, you know, under pseudonyms, you know, like Gil did and like Jack Abel did, a bunch of these cats. That was gone by that point. You could work for both companies. You work where you could get work.


Jim:                So that includes Atlas. Let’s talk about that a little bit.


Chaykin:            Yeah, well Atlas was was fabulous. It was Martin Goodman wanting to get his son a job and to piss in the face of… And I mean, recently somebody posted something to Facebook, let’s stop talking about the next marvel, you know, whatever that may be. And every comic book company wants to be the next marvel comics, but that’s like lightening in a bottle. It doesn’t happen.


Alex:               Right.


Chaykin:            He started this company and he had a lot of money. He spent a lot of money and what Atlas is really achieved, I can’t speak for anybody else, but it’s certainly achieved for me is it doubled my rate at both marvel and DC.


Alex:               Yeah, Right.


Chaykin:            You know and they were right around the corner. You know Marvel was on Madison. We could just between 58 and 59, I’m sorry, we can sit between a 57 to 58 and Atlas was on 57th street.


Alex:               Did you meet Jeff Rovin and Larry Lieber and Martin Goodman. Did you meet those guys?


Chaykin:            I never met Goodman, I’ve never met Larry. I’ve certainly worked with Jeff. Jeff and I have had a checkered relationship for many, many years.


Alex:               Oh did you get your art back?


Chaykin:            I did. I did.


Alex:               Oh, that was part of the agreement?


Chaykin:            Oh yeah, by that time where were we getting art work back, yes.


Jim:                Oh that some people say they that that was a fiction and it didn’t happen.


Chaykin:            Oh no we were getting art back by that point. Yes.


Alex:               That’s actually good. What was your impression of Jeff Rovin when..


Chaykin:            I won’t say he’s too litigious. I’m not going to say anything.


Alex:               Oh interesting okay.


Jim:                Well let’s not either, Alex.


Alex:               Yeah let’s not either, my God. Okay so, now Jim go ahead with Scorpion and all that.


Jim:                One of the things that you did at Atlas with Scorpion, which had longer legs than one would expect because you left it and they did something crazy with it, but you took it back sort of as Dominic Fortune, correct?


Chaykin:            Yeah. I basically walked around the corner. I said, fuck those guys. How would you like to do the Scorpion? Or you’re with a different name? And they said, sure. You can’t understand how loose things were in those days. That was the entire pitch. Even though I had written this Scorpion stuff, they weren’t gonna let me write it at marvel. You know, I mean, so much underpinning why I became a writer of my own stuff was that I realized that most of the people who were being accredited to write the material that I was drawing had failed as artists.


Jim:                But now tell us about when it, after you did it in the color comic, it went on and became part of the magazine line and you were painting it, right?


Chaykin:            I was doing it in full color and marker, it was kind of a mess. Again, I was applying limited versions of the technique that I used in other places, you know. It was a job of work. I didn’t want to do their stuff. I wanted to do my stuff and I was willing to strike the devil’s bargain of selling myself out from under. But getting to do stuff I felt like doing, that was the bargain. You know, I hate reading that character written by other people, including by writers whom I rather like, because they don’t have anything in the other voice for, because I broke the character.


Jim:                There was some bad use of that character at various points.


Chaykin:            Oh God, oh God.


Jim:                But that’s true with all, you know, if they last long enough, they become ruined it at some point.


Chaykin:            Of course, that’s the nature of the beast. I still, I mean, as much as I have utter and complete disdain for mass market superhero comic books, I remained utterly awestruck at anyone who can find anything interesting or new to say about characters that have been around for between 50 and 80 years. I’m stunned by this, you know, my entire relationship with this material is utterly based on nostalgia. You know, my favorite superman products in the past 25 years is this Tom Dehavens novel, It’s Superman. You know, I have no interest whatsoever in any of these things. I just, but again I’m awestruck. As much as I dislike him intensely, Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman was just lovely.


Jim:                Oh yeah. It’s one of my favorite Supermans.


Chaykin:            It’s beautiful. It really is. I mean it’s aided along by the fact that he had and Vince did an astonishing job just together. There’s a great synergy between the two of them, but the work really is moving it really is, it’s astonishing. And again, this doesn’t in any way to integrate with the fact that I loathe him. By the way. He loathes me. So there’s a spoiler alert there. You know, he despises me as well.


Jim:                I’m going to be a coward and let Alex ask you about Star Wars because I don’t want to do it.


Chaykin:            Sure. Now don’t be a candyass.


Alex:               Is it true that George Lucas personally requested you?


Chaykin:            Yes. Yes, it is. He’d seen the Cody Starbuck stuff I did for star reach.


Alex:               Right, ok.


Chaykin:            Lucas was a half owner of a comic book store in New York City called Super Snipe. That’s what he was doing for money between the time of American Graffiti and Star Wars.


Alex:               I see.


Chaykin:            He’s partnered up with a guy at summer who had been one of the other graduates of that class at USC film school. Lucas has seen, this work, I mean, certainly Han Solo was deeply inspired by Cody Starbuck. Anybody who knows comics knows that. But to say it publicly I just sound like a bitter old man, so I’m gonna keep my mouth shut. Oops I just said it in public. So yeah, he did. I think he regretted it because I think people look at Star Wars in retrospect, in the same way they look at Jesus. You know, when Jesus was around, if he was around for his 33 years lifespan, there wasn’t much said.


Chaykin:            It was all basically what happened after the fact that mattered. You know what I’m saying? And Star Wars, I mean look, I saw the movie two days before it opened nationwide and I was stunned because had I known it was going to be this big a deal, I’d like to think I could have done a better job. I’m not sure I could have. The material didn’t translate as well to comics as you think. And I mean, I did the breakdown of the script because one of the reasons that writers liked working with me in those days is that I could take that script and break it down into six issues and they would know full well they could work with it. I mean, you know, Roy, when I look at those pages, Roy’s is writing and writing and writing and writing and writing. There’s no faith in the reader just to read narrative content and individual, and that seems to be the case today. That sensibility has won, but the Star Wars stuff on the page and in the stills read like any number of, you know, cheap jack soup, you know, science fiction movies you’d ever seen. There was nothing special in it. I mean, anybody with any grounding in SF could see every single place that Lucas borrowed from.


Alex:               Right.


Chaykin:            You know, consistently. And that’s okay. You know, I mean, again, it was a job of work. I mean I’m 24 years old. I’m living in New York City. I got a, you know, an apartment. It’s support, you know, I’m married and I’m working. And you work.


Alex:               Nice. So around 1978, you know, this is around the time when Wrightson, Kaluta, Jones, and Smith had their studio and you had your own studio upstart associates with Starlin, Simonson and Val Mayerik. Tell me about that time period a little bit.


Chaykin:            Well, we all, I mean we were all living and working in the city. We needed a place to work. We found a joint. You know, I’ve never been to, Wrightson and Jones’, Kalutas and Smith’s studio. Those guys always had a kind of a legendary quality about them that, you know, I had no part of, I didn’t really have that kind of mindset at all. I was you know, I’m a man among men and a worker among workers and I felt that way about my life all this time, but we got a space, you know, it was a large square room. We each took a corner. The center was our common area and it was a great working space. I was there every day. I lived closest. I was the only one who walked there. I lived on, it was on 29th street between seventh and eighth. And I lived on 25th street and Second Avenue. And so, no New York City, the only way to get there was on foot or cab because public transportation would go around to get there. So I walked there every day and I was on a kind of a mindset schedule that got me there at seven in the morning, I’d show up with two bagels and four packs of cigarettes. By the end of the day, bagels were gone. and so were the cigarettes. I was a pretty heavy smoker at the time.


Alex:               Was there a sense that you, Starlin, Simonson and Val Mayerik, that you guys were going to be the next generation of storytellers?


Chaykin:            No, not at all. We were there to work.


Alex:               Right.


Chaykin:            There were a lot of laughs. There’s a great anecdote of Simonson sitting in a file cabinet, but that’s another story. We had a great working space. It was, it was really good to be there. I loved it. I loved being there. We had great parties there. We had a huge balcony out front that made for nice springtime parties.


Alex:               Oh, nice.


Chaykin:            It was good.


Alex:               So before Jim starts off on the 80s, in 1979 you worked on world of Krypton about Superman’s origin. I love that story, I do love it.


Chaykin:            It’s because you were a child and you loved it because…


Alex:               I read it for the first time two years ago because I was one when it first came out.


Chaykin:            One, one, one! What one means to me is the song at the end of the chorus line.


Alex:               Yeah. The only thing I was staring at back then was my one penis and that’s it. And so it was a very busy time. And you also worked on Alfred Bester Stars My destination.


Chaykin:            The reason I did this world of Krypton was to support myself while I was doing the work for Byron.


Alex:               Oh, okay.


Chaykin:            Because Byron paid nothing. Byron paid absolutely nothing. And I had to support myself by doing hack work at other companies.


Alex:               Sword of heaven flowers from hell with Michael Moorecock.


Chaykin:            That was not with Byron, that was for heavy metal.


Alex:               That was for heavy metal and you did some design for heavy metal the movie as well.


Chaykin:            Well it was my first real introduction to understanding of how, the difference between California and New York mindset. They’d spent six weeks and a lot of money trying to get designs for the last episode in heavy metal movie, which by the way was a piece of shit and they couldn’t get anything out of these guys. And they hired me to come out. I was there for 10 days. It paid me per diem. They put me up in a hotel and I was able to deliver the work that they needed from me and finish that work by noon every day. They showed up everyday at four and by that time I was freelancing at the same time for A&M records. I had a friend of mine who worked in the art department at A&M and I picked up some work from them, but I was working on there during the weeks. I made a great deal of money that week, relatively speaking.


Alex:               Right. That was the Jesse James Album covers.


Chaykin:            Yes, and also some stuff with the Police.


Alex:               Yeah that was cool.


Chaykin:            At any rate, it finally came clear to me that this is my version of that tank, that telegram, that Herman Mankiewicz sent to Ben Hecht in 1927 which was, and this is a quote verbatim, “There’s a fortune to be made out here, and the competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.” And it’s, really terribly true because the, the California bred talent were utterly unmotivated to make any real action. If you move to California with a sensibility that comes from a work ethic from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Jersey, you’re gonna kick serious ass out here.


Alex:               Right.


Chaykin:            And that’s been my experience. Okay. So basically just working hard, but I mean, besides doing the work that I was hired to do for them, I also ended up designing a female character for Wonky Menaces piece, the Harry Canyon piece, because he couldn’t see exactly what they were looking for. He kept coming back with a femme fatale and I basically did a white girl version of someone singing Santa Baby. So, yeah, that was my first introduction to animation and one of the very few experiences I’ve had working in it.


Alex:               Interesting. You mentioned Byron Preiss. During the Steranko interview, he had mentioned that Byron was on the search for the graphic novel, for the true sequential graphic novel. Tell us about your role meeting Byron Preiss. Do you feel like he succeeded in achieving the final graphic novel? Tell us about that.


Chaykin:            I don’t, I believe that Byron operates from the perspective of loving the idea of comics, but having contempt for the language. And its work consisted of trying to find a way to reconstruct, deconstruct and reinvent, something that had already been done just fine.


Alex:               That’s an amazing legacy. Okay.


Chaykin:            He also had his head shoved so far up Steranko’s ass that you know, he could see through his nostrils.


Alex:               Was Steranko an influence on you?


Chaykin:            Not really. You know, I liked Jim personally quite a bit. I mean, the last time, I haven’t seen Jim in many years and the last time I saw Jim was in a convention in Ohio and we ended up shooting the shit for a couple of hours and he turned me onto something I had no idea existed for which I am eternallygrateful, which is totally outside of comics is the piano trios of Andre Previn. I mean, Jim has really good ears. He really does. Politically speaking, Jim and I exist on different planets, you know, um, his politics and mine differ radically . But no, not really. But again, but I like the guy.


Alex:               Yeah,that’s awesome. All right Jim, go ahead.


Jim:                All right, so briefly back to Marvel just for a minute and you’re kind of departure there. Talk about For Your Eyes Only adaptation for a minute. That’s when you had a falling out with Shooter, right?


Chaykin:            Yeah, I did. Shooter and I, for a while there Shooter was telling me what a wonderful guy I was, well Shooter hated me and I’m not all that fond of him either. You know I represented the other side of comics to a guy like Shooter. Or even John Byrne. You know, these are guys who did, you know, I mean Shooter started working in comics when he was what, three, six, something like that I think.


Jim:                13 I think but…


Chaykin:            Yeah, whatever. And you know, like the guys of the previous generation.


Chaykin:            And to a profound extent, he never really moved past that sensibility, you know, and I took on that assignment specifically so I can get the opportunity to do the cover.


Jim:                Right.


Chaykin:            And you know, getting eaten by Vinnie Coletta was not high on my list of desires out of my future okay?


Jim:                Yeah.


Chaykin:            And I wasn’t good enough to survive underneath Vinnie’s onslaught okay? And he and I had words about a decision he’d made in the office on Good Friday. It put an end to my presence at marvel for a while and it drove me out of the business for awhile. I ended up doing paperbacks were a couple of years and happily so. And then when First made me the offer on Flag. I jumped on it because there was an opportunity to come back to comics which I didn’t realize at the time, which would turn out to be a clean flight.


Jim:                So we might owe a Flag to Shooter and for your eyes only because if it hadn’t been for that you might’ve stayed at Marvel for a while.


Chaykin:            Quite likely, yes.


Jim:                Ah, well I’m looking at that work differently now.


Chaykin:            Yes without question. I mean you know, I was doing okay financially, you know, it was fine.


Jim:                Alex and I both want to talk about Flag because that’s obviously a big departure. I mean that is, as you said the a turning point in your career. Alex?

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