So, this year is the 35th anniversary of the publication of AMERICAN FLAGG!, the comic book that demonstrated that I had potentially more to give than the uninterested and uninteresting hack who delivered second rate work on Star Wars some few years before.
To this day, as I’ve said, I have no clue as to why Mike Gold and his cohort were willing to take a chance on me on so untested a project.
As noted elsewhere, FLAGG! never reached a huge popular audience for a number of reasons—a smallish company published it, it was odd in its presentation, and more importantly it wasn’t a costumed/masked/caped superhero book, and so there was no way it could be neatly tagged and absorbed into an enthusiast’s proscribed and all too dogmatic set of enthusiasms.
That said, don’t be surprised if you’ve neither seen it nor heard of it. I would wager that more than half the English language reading comics enthusiasts in the world are unaware of its existence to this day—since those enthusiasms that diminished interest in it in the first place remain intact and continue to flourish in our ever—shrinking audience.
I can say without informed contradiction, despite sounding like a narcissistic twat, that this comic book was profoundly influential on the next generations of talent. Whether they care to admit it, or are even aware of it, a slew of tropes from FLAGG! became absorbed into the vocabulary and syntax of modern comics, which in turn influenced the next generation, and so on.
What this means is, as noted elsewhere, that many of those with no use for me personally or professionally are using techniques I introduced into the medium. Irony is drowning in a sea of bullshit, but it occasionally does struggle to the surface for a last gasp or two.
What little talk about the book in this anniversary year often refers to how much I “got right…” in regard to the dystopic future portrayed in the series. Computer generated imagery, ecological devastation, reality television, the decline of the United States, the (imminent) desertion of the country by the people responsible for the decline…there’s likely more, but you get the picture.
For the record, I got plenty wrong, too—but to my mind, neither is relevant. The motivation behind FLAGG! was my young man’s outrage at the triumph of Reagan’s administration, which for me was the exhumation of Herbert Hoover and his plutocratic shmuckery, here to dismantle and demolish everything Franklin Roosevelt did to create a truly modern America.
It’s no accident that I placed the action in the 2030s. It is to his credit that only the late Clay Geerdes noted and acknowledged the significance of a book about a worldwide calamity and its impact on the United States a century after the decade that most Americans—or at least that cohort of Americans who’d paid attention in high school—as the nation’s second nadir—after the Civil War, inarguably its greatest calamity until 2016.
In FLAGG!, I wanted to convey the weird mixture of nihilism and optimism, skepticism and cynicism, fear and faith, all of which had an overwhelming presence in all the reading I’d ever done about the 1930s—in a satirically dystopic burlesque comedy narrative that still had a measure of hope—and a lot of sex, in a medium that was, to my rebellious mind, too prissy for its own damned good, and far more interested in the titillation of cheesecake pinups than in the joy, delight or consequences of actual coupling.
Typically, the sexual element tends to be what all too many of the few readers I had seem to recall above all. And speaking of sex, one of the things I never anticipated, let alone got wrong, was the internet…
…Which, of course, brings us to the modern world, and the current shitstorm in which we find ourselves, the United States’ third and potentially final and most devastating nadir.
What do I mean, then by Weimar America? Well, I’ll tell you.
In the years between its humiliation by the Allies and the rise of what came to be known as the Third Reich, many if not most Germans didn’t completely embrace the programs, the aims, the very philosophy of National Socialism.
But time, persuasion and simple success in improving the basic quality of life for the average citizen lucky enough not to be Jewish wore down many if not most of those resistant to the Nazis, and ultimately, a frightening number of those good Germans became, if not good Nazis, willingly complicit citizens of a fascist authoritarian state, denouncing their fellow Germans for reasons ranging from genuine political convictions to simple self-serving nihilism.
Many of these accusations were based on overheard remarks, or of recollections of past deeds and associations in the old and now regarded as decadent post Great War Deutschland, all of which had become verboten in the new Germany.
Thus, when the second World War was over, they could, by their own flexible and plastic nihilism, claim they were never Nazis. Certainly—but they sure as fuck profited as fellow travelers to that crowd—at the very least for the decade and a half that the Thousand Year Reich bestrode the Earth.
And speaking of fellow travelers, the United States, in the postwar witch hunt and blacklist that resulted from one of our various red scares of the twentieth century, designated those Americans prescient enough, or rather, by the committee’s sensibilities, foolish enough, to have recognized the danger posed by Germany before the American masses did, as Premature Anti-Fascists…not to mention all those friendly witnesses naming names to the committee.
See above in regard to irony.
All this is to indicate that the modern world has a long history of unearthing previously perfectly acceptable actions, now become, by way of social adjustment, inappropriate behavior…as well as an equally long history of normalizing events and the reactions to those events today that could never have been countenanced as normal yesterday.
What brings this to mind, of course, is the current spate of exhumations of various remarks and posts made by various public figures over the past decade or so, that have come back to haunt them.
This haunting is, of course, exacerbated by a culture of outrage, that rewards performative morality and guileless self-regard in lieu of an intelligent and patient reasoned perspective, and that will seek denunciation and annihilation of a complex ally willfully manipulated by the insinuations of a canny, cunning and unprincipled enemy…
…And naturally, the fatuous and credulous eat this shit up with spoon—just to let their digital allies recognize beyond the shadow of any doubt their virtue as citizens above suspicion, watching with glee as the cart full of now disgraced fellow travelers trundles toward the guillotine.
Now as I’ve noted above, I’m no prognosticator. For confirmation of that, I assumed that the 2008 election would be a contest between Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani—with America’s Mayor coming out on top. Who knew we were in for something, only a few years later, that would make that almost acceptable by comparison, right?
I am, however, a skeptic and a realist by nature and nurture—and for all my hopes and dreams that our current state of national affairs will come to a satisfying end ever, let alone in my lifetime, those wistful fantasies aren’t supported by anything resembling optimism.
Every day brings new fears, concerns and confirmation that where we are as a nation today is where we will remain for the foreseeable future, with no real reason or justification for unguarded optimism. As much as I’d love to believe in a coming blue wave, I’m neither whistling in the dark nor holding my breath. I would invite you to join me in this regard.
While the various streams of the Democratic party continue to shit on each other’s parade, the marching morons of the one-time Republican party, now merely a totalitarian cult of willfully ignorant and easily flattered serfs egging on a bully, are poised to provide the muscle behind that booted foot on a human face, forever—in the service of a well-hidden ruling class that finally figured out a way to make eugenics—social, as opposed to surgical—work for their best interests.
The United States has coasted for well over two centuries on the clearly mistaken assumption that we could never become the sort of authoritarian super state that has defined the various empires we’ve watched come and go in our time as a nation. Certainly, the current administration goes a long way to prove the point that this assumption is conclusively dead wrong.
And, as a free press continues to lose its grip on the American reality…as more and more citizens come to regard only what they choose to believe as the truth…as our innate cultural belligerence, heretofore restrained by a certain self-aware shame, becomes our national and foreign policy…we are well on the way to becoming that very super state, albeit with a folksy, Fascism with a smile, all American Evangelical Christian sheen.
And once that becomes the norm—not if, I deeply fear, but when—all the posts, in all the various and sundry social media that you, and I and all those who agree with us have been spreading on the internet stating our distaste for this administration will likely be used against us by the authorities of that dangerously likely authoritarian police state.
For the record this isn’t going to stop me or a lot of people like me. In my case I’m simply too old to give a fuck. You’ve got your own reasons, and most of you will likely go down shouting after I’m long gone. As the Celts have it, good on you.
But those of you younger than I, be prepared for just this sort of reaction from what was once your government…maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon—and potentially for the rest of your lives.
And like so many of those free-thinking Weimar Germans, who, as Nazism became the norm, evolved into another sort of Good German entirely, be prepared as well for the distinct possibility of being denounced by some of those who are now your own contemporaneous fellow travelers.
Like those Germans, there will certainly be acquaintances and potentially even close friends of yours, with whom you now share the popular distaste for the current administration and the totalitarian state of affairs it seems bent on imposing on us, who will ultimately bend to the will and the ever-blowing wind of persuasion and become just that sort of Good American…who will denounce their former colleagues in the name of any number of what appear to be perfectly acceptable, reasonable and justifiable reasons.
Naturally, the Black, the Gay, the Brown, the Transgender, the Jew, the Lesbian, the Muslim, the Asian, hey, maybe even the Catholics, by the light of the Evangelical Right…other than those identified as “The good ones,” if such a loathsome idea and concept is allowed to exist in the next, likely far more extreme iteration of this decades long and patient coup d’etat…will have no say in the matter.
Despite the curiously muddled casting of the television version of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, that coming dystopia is going to be all white, all nativist, all the time.
Needless to say, I dearly hope this isn’t what we’re in for. I’ve got grandchildren who deserve better. One of those grandchildren is eighteen, and I certainly hope her inchoate rage translates into a vote in November—and that this applies to all those other apoplectic, first time potential voters.
But I fear that my hope might be unwarranted. The rather dull, all too private act of voting has little appeal to a cohort cursed with a desperate need for the attention derived from performative morality…
…Not to mention all those angry man-boys who may not fall into the category of the involuntary celibate(or, as we call them around the bunkhouse, guys who think pornography is a realistic portrayal of a romantic life and that they’re actually entitled to this sort of thing, despite all evident reality to the contrary), but are deeply resentful of being identified as standard bearers of the patriarchal problem before they’ve even had a chance to fuck up their own lives.
The smarter ones might vote blue, but there are all too many ill-informed, self-regarding and angry young fools who’ll vote for a bully who seems to be impervious to the sort of accusations they themselves, in their delusional hearts of hearts, fear.
Please, please, please—prove me—that would be me of little faith—wrong.
There’s no confirmation of it, but Mark Twain is often credited with saying “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” I pray that this isn’t the case, and that my fears are unfounded, but I’m waiting for rhyming history and its older sister, reality, to set me straight.
And finally, in the name of irony, it should be noted that, the day after the nightmarish ascension of November 2016, my wife and I were offered sanctuary in Germany by a dear friend.
Germany, for fuck’s sake.
This is the sort of thing that makes it possible for me to push on, despite the shitstorm around us all.
As ever, I remain,
Howard Victor Chaykin — a prince.
Howard Chaykin is a longtime veteran of the comic book business, serving as an artist and writer for nearly every publisher of comics in the past four decades…and counting. He took the ’90s off to work on mostly unwatchable television, so he missed the money and dreck that was comics in that execrable decade. He is responsible, some might say culpable, for introducing a number of previously unexplored themes to comic books. If you’re not hip to what that’s supposed to mean, there’s always Wikipedia. His newest book, HEY KIDS! COMICS! arrives in comic stores and digital on August 8th.