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Which real-life comics creators are the characters in Howard Chaykin's Hey Kids! Comics! based on?

Just bought issue #1 of Chaykin's new series which is his fictionalized take on the behind-the-scenes goings on in the world of comic books going back to 1945. I think fans of Sean Howe's Marvel The Untold Story may enjoy it. (Be warned however, some of the portraits are less than flattering.) Unfortunately one of the problems I have with it is that Chaykin (as always IMO) isn't so great at drawing faces that are easy to distinguish from one another (like Charles Schulz, he usually changes their hair style) and with this book he is asking us to follow the same characters over decades as they age. So I found it kind of difficult to keep track of who was who. Fortunately some of the people the characters are meant to represent are easy to figure out (like Bob Rose is meant to be Stan Lee; Ira and Irwin are Siegel and Shuster; Kessler is Kirby; Sid is Ditko - I think).

If anyone else reads this book, I'd be curious if they could help identify any of the other characters like Mr. Hershenson and Jess Mayberg. I was also wondering if the woman was supposed to be Flo Steinberg? Are the 2 main characters Ted Whitman and Ray Clarke based on anyone or are they just meant to be our guides through this dog-eat-dog world?

Comments

  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,308
    Didn't get by the shop this week to pick mine up. It should be waiting for me though.
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,308
    edited November 2018
    I would say the three main characters are broad amalgams of lots of people and no one in particular. Ray Clarke has a lot of Gil Kane in him though, and Ted Whitman is kind of a “what if Matt Baker hadn’t had a heart condition” type of guy. Benita Heindel is a little bit Ramona Fradon, a little bit Dorothy Woolfolk, a littld bit Flo Steinberg, but not really any of them.

    These guys are closer approximations, but still not totally analogous:
    Hershenson = Harry Donenfeld
    Milt Koenigsberg = Jack Liebowitz
    Dan Fleischer = Will Eisner
    Ron Fogel= Bob Kane
    Jess Mayberg = Harvey Kurtzman more than anyone else

    Not sure about Sid. I think he’s more of an amalgam. Some Lou Fine, maybe some Frank Robbins—too early in the timeline to be Ditko, and none of them had that type of personality.
  • VertighostVertighost Posts: 286
    @nweathington, thanks for the information. I will have to read it again with this. I'm wondering what you thought of the story overall? .
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,308
    I thought it jumped in and out a bit too quickly. With so many characters, most of whom are only named once and many without a full name, and so many years in between scenes and characters rapidly aging, it was a bit confusing in places.
  • VertighostVertighost Posts: 286
    I couldn't agree more.
  • David_DDavid_D Posts: 3,857
    Thanks for that @nweathington

    And I agree with you both that I feel like that first issue needed to either have less time periods or characters to juggle all at once, or needed to ground us more firmly in one or two points of view to carry through all those time jumps. I found I was distracted by constantly trying to figure out who was supposed to be who, as far as the analogues, and when I tried to ignore that and just deal with them like they were fictional characters and be present with them in the story in front of me, I didn't find them very interesting.

    I think the one sequence that was really vivid was when it was the year 2000 or so, and we go from the now older industry veterans sitting at a memorial service that gets cantankerous, to everyone leaving for the X-Men screening, and then the old timers standing with who I took to be Quesada, as he waits for his car service, and then is talking about how he is going to see the movie in LA the next day, and offers them a ride. They let him go, and then go to a pub and talk about how the disposable junk culture they used to make is now becoming the pop culture, and they are getting no thanks or credit for it.

    That whole sequence really worked for me, and was grounded in a moment where you could really empathize with them, and it felt like an anecdote of a particular moment. The sort of story you could imagine a book about those characters and where they ended up in the history of the place of superheroes in the culture could open with. I feel like the comic needed a lot more scenes like those, and less that felt like it was trying to be a frenetic, 'It's Mad Men, but comics!' story, but one that lacked compelling characters.
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,308
    The “kid” I took to be a mash-up of McFarlane, Liefeld, and Quesada.
  • David_DDavid_D Posts: 3,857

    The “kid” I took to be a mash-up of McFarlane, Liefeld, and Quesada.

    That's a good point- I wasn't thinking there might be composite characters in the mix, but you may be right.
  • VertighostVertighost Posts: 286
    edited August 2018
    Some great points, @David_D. The same 2000 scene worked for me as well. The other one that worked for me - the opening scene with Siegel (or Shuster) - had the same theme: how these creators got so screwed over (however legal the screwing over may have been). You also make a good point about trying to read the story as just a story without analogues and how it's much less interesting. It makes me think about what Lemire is doing with his Black Hammer stuff (which I mostly love) and how using analogues immediately gives a creator an easy bit of "fun" or interest for the reader. I'm not suggesting that anyone can just create analogues and come up with a Black Hammer, but I do think that some of the writing "work" that writers who don't use analogues have to do to make a story interesting is already taken care of.

    One last critique I had about "Hey Kids! Comics!" Is that cover. Why Chaykin went with that cover I have no idea. It has nothing to do with the story inside.
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,308
    The cover may not have specifically had anything to do with the plot, but I think it's representational of the theme of the story in that it shows someone trying to take advantage of a comic book creator for personal gain. Because you know when someone brings you a pile of copies of the same book to sign, they’re not doing it because they’re a fan. Just one more reason for a creator to be disgruntled with the industry.
  • David_DDavid_D Posts: 3,857

    The cover may not have specifically had anything to do with the plot, but I think it's representational of the theme of the story in that it shows someone trying to take advantage of a comic book creator for personal gain. Because you know when someone brings you a pile of copies of the same book to sign, they’re not doing it because they’re a fan. Just one more reason for a creator to be disgruntled with the industry.

    I think that is a good explanation of the cover, and it does fit the theme. I have to admit, though, it's a really ugly cover. And I love Chaykin's art, I have for a long time. I try everything he does (though, truth be told, I have been let down by several works of his in a row, so I am starting to get wary about that immediate buy). I think it is partly that I don't like photo covers on comics, and also that there is so much negativity and cynicism baked into that one image. It's provocative, and I guess that is the point. But then much of the issue, for all of the hardship and injustice to be had in the story, also has some really great, again Mad Men comes to mind, period art to it. The cover makes me think this will be some sort of caustic satire shooting fish in a barrel, but the interior is something much more complex than that. But I certainly didn't buy this for the cover:

    image

    And looking ahead, the rest of the series will have more of the same:

    image

    image

    Of course, this is just the first issue. But I would be interested to see if the series does address the notion that fans of these creators enabled the ways they were treated by the industry. I definitely get the sense of these covers, at least 1 and 3, addressing dehumanizing treatment of creators like him by the fans, but I would like him to make that real in the narrative, as well. And maybe help us understand that in a way that is a little deeper than these cheap shots on the cover.
  • VertighostVertighost Posts: 286
    edited August 2018
    Judging from these covers only issue 2 has anything to do with the story we've seen so far. And while they may all reflect a theme, I agree that they're pretty darn ugly. If not for the fact that I already knew that it would be a behind the scenes history of comics, that cover certainly would have kept me from even picking it up to look through it. Chaykin's name - had I noticed it- would have made me pick it up to look through it but I would have just assumed it was a Chaykin story about office people squabbling and having sex in the mid-20th century and not picked it up. However the cover to issue 2 would have made me curious enough to look through it and realize the story must be about comics creators who've gotten screwed over and I would have bought it.

    I've listened to quite a few interviews with Chaykin since I find his interviews riveting (he's refreshingly uncensored and blunt almost to the point of being obnoxious ) and I get the sense he's reached the point in his career where he's thinking there's nothing more he can do to grab anyone's attention; you're either a fan of his or you aren't. I think he's mistaken but I'm also certain he couldn't care less what I think. He's correct in assuming his name is a brand in and of itself, but I can say for myself that I will only pick up certain work by him depending on what the story's about.

    Coincidentally I've finally gotten around to reading a collection of American Flagg! I purchased some time ago. Good stuff. I'm wondering if he was the first comics creator to use the idea of using tv channels to establish context and environment. Even if others had done it before, he seems to be taking it to a new level in the way Miller would later use the idea in the Dark Knight. It's also interesting to see which of his futuristic concepts came true and which didn't.
  • ToneboneTonebone Posts: 860

    Judging from these covers only issue 2 has anything to do with the story we've seen so far. And while they may all reflect a theme, I agree that they're pretty darn ugly. If not for the fact that I already knew that it would be a behind the scenes history of comics, that cover certainly would have kept me from even picking it up to look through it. Chaykin's name - had I noticed it- would have made me pick it up to look through it but I would have just assumed it was a Chaykin story about office people squabbling and having sex in the mid-20th century and not picked it up. However the cover to issue 2 would have made me curious enough to look through it and realize the story must be about comics creators who've gotten screwed over and I would have bought it.

    I've listened to quite a few interviews with Chaykin since I find his interviews riveting (he's refreshingly uncensored and blunt almost to the point of being obnoxious ) and I get the sense he's reached the point in his career where he's thinking there's nothing more he can do to grab anyone's attention; you're either a fan of his or you aren't. I think he's mistaken but I'm also certain he couldn't care less what I think. He's correct in assuming his name is a brand in and of itself, but I can say for myself that I will only pick up certain work by him depending on what the story's about.

    Coincidentally I've finally gotten around to reading a collection of American Flagg! I purchased some time ago. Good stuff. I'm wondering if he was the first comics creator to use the idea of using tv channels to establish context and environment. Even if others had done it before, he seems to be taking it to a new level in the way Miller would later use the idea in the Dark Knight. It's also interesting to see which of his futuristic concepts came true and which didn't.

    I met Chaykin at the NC Comicon last fall, and was so afraid of him being a brash, obnoxious guy. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I presented him with some Evanier and Siegel BLACKHAWK comics that he had done the covers for, and he waxed nostalgic for about 10 minutes. He was so excited and positive and engaging. He came across as a really great guy.

    I love his art, but have a hard time with his "adult" type stories... just too seedy and darkly depressing for me.

  • David_DDavid_D Posts: 3,857
    edited September 2018
    I'm sorry to say that the second issue of this is much like the first. On the positive, like the first issue, the time period, and period piece art of New York City itself is excellent. It looks great, and there is vivid "acting" from the characters. I feel like the visual storytelling is clearer and stronger, and less over-busied by text than some of his recent work.

    But the overall approach to this story still feels too diffuse in time and character for me. As with the first issue, there is a vivid scene or two that pop, but it is hard to feel connected to a particular character's journey, so it feels like a collection of anecdotes, and a theme that basically boils down to "This is a terrible business". And, I think, we knew that already. But I would feel more connected if, even though these are analogues and composites of real people, we could commit fully to the biography (even semi-fictionalized) of a person or two more deeply and, if not chronologically, then at least logically. To judge by the first two issues, the combination of jumping around, and putting the focus on the anecdote over the character, makes this feel like a kind of greatest hits of moments when the business was terrible to people, as opposed to a story. Which is disappointing as I think this is a great setting for a story.
  • VertighostVertighost Posts: 286
    edited September 2018
    @David_D ,

    I couldn't agree more with your assessment of it as more of a collection of anecdotes than an actual story (you're 100% right I think) but I actually liked this issue quite a bit (as opposed to the first issue). The attempts at pretending this is a story (like Ray's affair) don't really work for me (since they don't really go anywhere and are ancillary to the main theme: Jewish business men royally screwing over other Jewish creative men - I think the Jewish part is worth repeating since I think it's important to recognize that this genre we all love was primarily built by the children of Jewish immigrants), but I found the rest of it much easier to follow since much of it (primarily the second half) was focused on how the 3 main characters were reacting to the constantly growing popularity of an art form that was once viewed as disposable kid stuff and how bitter they must feel. I found the second half of the issue easy to follow since it's entirely focused on the reaction of the 3, as opposed to issue 1 which was introducing too many characters I can't differentiate from one another.

    I agree we're all familiar with this tale (this really is a story that would be "Inside Inside Baseball" - the only people who'd be capable of appreciating what this story is trying to do have to know alot of it already), but I found the specific anecdotes compelling enough (can there be enough said about the extent of Weisinger's awfulness?) & the bitter reaction of the three leads (especially the character of Ray, who I assume is both a cypher, but one with Chaykin's temperament and personality) compelling because at one point I thought there might be a moment of catharsis where Ray actually punches the new guy who is "swiping" his stuff. But that wouldn't be realistic and I like that he didn't. There is no moment of catharsis for these men.

    For me, this issue does a great job of presenting the profound anger and bitterness the Siegel and Shusters and Kirbys must've felt on a day-to-day basis as they watch their creations vacuum up hundreds of millions while they get none of it. It's a story I'm familiar with, but my sympathy for the wounds they suffered feel even fresher given that the creations have only gone on to make ever more millions and Chaykin does a good job of illustrating what those fresh indignations would look and feel like with the 1965 New Yorker cover story (a warning shot of the screwing over that was to come) and the modern comic-cons.(Oh, the indignity and pain of watching a young creator whose popularity was built off what he did with your characters receive far more money, cheers and applause then you did for creating them.) There was also an element I found new and that was the presentation of Stan Lee (Bob Rose). As Chaykin notes later, he's such a nice guy that everyone likes him, but the amount of screwing over he did here seems alot more than I usually think of with him. When you see him assuring his artist that "he'll be taken care of" it feels like this was almost certainly something that did happen, and of course we know these artists weren't taken care of unless the company was shamed into doing it.

    I also got a genuine laugh out of the "EC" horror comics ad on the back cover - specifically with the chauvinistically coddling "horror" title, "Mildly Disquieting Stories for Girls". I also found the Jerry Ordway-drawn one-pager, "Yankee Hobby Hints w/ Athena X" to be masterful satire on recent political dynamics. I'm sure some might be offended by it, but like any great satire (IMO) it's got teeth.

  • More “who’s who”:

    Pete Sawyer: an amalgam of Walt Kelly and Milt Caniff
    Lotte Zauck: Dorothy Woolfolk
    Alfie Kessler: I'm thinking Bill Finger is a significant part of the equation, which would mean...
    Jess Mayberg: Has some Bob Kane in him. Seems like he has some Bob Kanigher and Mort Weisinger too.
    Sid Mitchell: Has now taken over the Kirby role.
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,308
    edited October 2018
    More “who’s who”

    Lazlo Fabin: Alex Toth (Although the scene with Fabin/Toth dangling a DC editor out of a window is only partially true—it's often attributed to being Toth, but it was a different artist, and the real-life artist only threatened to throw the editor out the window, he didn’t actually dangle him.)
    Brian Callanan: Joe Maneely (Although Howard has him being run over by a taxi instead of a train, the being drunk part is almost certainly accurate.)

    And the part about Ray/Gil Kane stealing artwork is absolutely true (though I've never heard anything about a loan shark or prostitutes—though several artists have talked about getting together and hiring prostitutes.)
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,308
    But the best part of issue #3 was the faux Hostess Fruit Pie ad at the end drawn by the esteemable José Luis García-López!
  • In issue #5, Brian Callanan appears to have at least some Sol Brodsky in him. Brodsky had been penciling and inking for Atlas up to that point, and became Stan’s production department after the layoffs in 1957, so that lines up with Callanan being the only person Bob Rose doesn’t let go. I don't think other appearances of Callanan line up with what little I know of Brodsky’s personality though, so he’s likely representing at least one other creator.

    This issue is the most scathing of the bunch, and that’s saying something.
  • Hi All,

    My first post on the forum. This was the first "who's who" result on Google for Hey Kids! Comics! And i was impressed with the discussion going on here since Chaykin gets 0 mainstream attention.

    One thing I wanted to add that I liked about the book is the page layouts. It's classic comics as music stuff to emphasize the similarity of what each of the main 3 characters is going through. Though it's done with a layout that I haven't seen given that treatment before.

    To add to the Who's Who. I stole this list from user Chemicals and Lightning on the Collected Editions forum and added my notes on Benita, Alfie and Mike Dunn. I hope this helps!

    Ray Clarke: Gil Kane

    Ted Whitman: Matt Baker (if he had lived) as a foundation, but elements of Bill Finger/Jerry Robinson and every under-acclaimed/under-paid DC/Marvel artist

    Benita Heindel: A female amalgam heavily referencing Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin [I would add Patricia Highsmith because in issue #2 Benita gets a novel deal and denies she ever did comics]

    Irwin Glasen: Jerry Seigel

    Ira Gelbart: Joe Shuster

    Mayer Hershenson: Harry Donenfeld

    Milt Koenigsberg: Jack Liebowitz

    Bob Rose: Stan Lee

    Sid Mitchell: Jack Kirby

    Ron Fogel: Bob Kane

    Lazlo Fabin: Alex Toth

    Dan Fleischer: Will Eisner 

    Lotte Zauck: Dorothy Woolfolk

    Brian Callanan: Joe Maneely

    Jess Mayberg: I see as the amalgam DC editor Julius Schwartz/Mort Weisinger/Bob Kanigher's pipe

    Pete Sawyer: an amalgam of Walt Kelly and Milt Caniff (who both testified against comic books in the Kefauver hearings)

    Alfie Kessler: [Heavily references Bernard Krigstein. He worked for EC, tried to start an artists union, thought of comics as art]

    [Mike Dunn: Maybe bits of Wallace Wood? He was an Eisner ghost and alcoholic. Though never pushed a girlfriend out of a window]

  • David_DDavid_D Posts: 3,857
    Welcome aboard, @Owaddled ! And thanks for that post.
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,308
    Owaddled said:

    Ted Whitman: Matt Baker (if he had lived) as a foundation, but elements of Bill Finger/Jerry Robinson and every under-acclaimed/under-paid DC/Marvel artist

    Honestly, if Whitman was not a black character, I don’t think anyone would be equating him with Matt Baker. The similarities between the two are mostly either superficial, or could be equated with many other artists just as easily. Baker was paid pretty well during his time at St. John, which accounted for almost half of his short career, as he was their art director (for their comics and their magazines) and a favorite of publisher Archer St. John (even going on trips out west with him). He also didn’t socialize with many artists inside or outside of the studio, and that became even more profoundly the case once he went freelance. He never worked for DC, and only drew two or three westerns for Marvel.

    I think of all the characters in the series, Whitman is the least representative of any one particular real-life creator, and instead acts primarily as a catch-all of sorts for a large number of creators. None of the characters in the book are pure one-to-one stand-ins, of course, though some are more pure than others.
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