Return To Hallowed Ground
Howard Chaykin just spoke exclusively to Tripwire’s contributing editor Scott Braden about the genesis of Time (Squared) and its return coming from Image Comics soon…
In late 1986, Howard Chaykin returned to his award-winning series, American Flagg!, to lay down the beat and preview his latest creation – a jazz-infused, supernaturally tinged, film noir fantasia that the acclaimed creator coined Time(Squared). And the readers came. But although most Chaykin fans dug the darkly heroic story’s superbly stylistic look and compelling plots, the graphic novels eluded mainstream acclaim and commercial success. It was too complex, some would say. And, let’s face it – the sophisticated suspense of DC Comics’ mature readers Vertigo line and the like was years off.
Still, Time(Squared) had its cult status, and the readers who dug it really dug it. More importantly, its creator dug the concept – and has returned to Image Comics to complete the trilogy he started decades ago with the four-color standalone narrative, Hallowed Ground (Zero).
First, though, what’s the secret origin of Time(Squared)? What led to its creation?
“Time(Squared) has its origins in my childhood in New York,” Chaykin said. “Spending time with my grandmother, a tiny kitchen witch of a woman who was a peddler, in the dry goods wholesalers who were her suppliers on Sundays. Spending time with my aunt who took me to the movies and live theater on Broadway . . . all this seen through the scrim of crime fiction, film noir, and jazz. I pitched the book as ‘[s]word & sorcery for people who prefer crime fiction.’”
Since Chaykin introduced readers to his amazing four-color “underworld” within the pages of First Comics’ one and only American Flagg! Special back in ‘86, there has been nothing close to his innovative, critically acclaimed series. Ever. Why did it take him four decades to come back to this fertile storyline of his?
“That’s very flattering,” Chaykin said, “but really – the book never found an audience in its time, neither with the enthusiasts nor those who review such things. Not that I disagree, if you’ll allow me a moment of guileful self-regard, but there’s at least one internet feature about the material that literally addresses the book’s failure as being directly related to my overestimating my audience.
“All this said, it’s three-and-a-half decades, thank you very much—and the third and final volume owes its existence to the nudging insistence of Thomas K., that man of mystery who’s been editing my work for the past eight plus years. He also owns the original art for the cover of The Satisfaction of Black Mariah, volume two in the trilogy.”
Time(Squared) featured the best elements of Chaykin’s finest stories – sexual tension, film noir, hot jazz, dark humor, and strong characterization. But what one really notices was the visual aspects of the series that has never been challenged or replicated by another. There is a style and a joy to the author’s work that is rare in any project – let alone a series of graphic novels that were directed to a mature audience. Looking back at his work, which was so ahead of its time, what made the visual aspect of Chaykin’s storytelling so compelling to readers and what about it should appeal to readers today more than 40 years on?
“Once again, you flatter me – and, at least for the moment, I’ll pretend to mistake attention for affection,” said Chaykin. “But to answer your question, I wanted to find a visual equivalent to Bebop, with its spontaneity, its quotations, and its rhythmic repetitions – played out in a landscape that is all about geometry and neon, translating the imagery we associate with film noir into luridly colored and dissociative design.
“This world always struck me as seductive and frightening, every gesture seeming to carry a suggestion of illicit innuendo – sexy and confusing in equal measure.”
The final story in the Time(Squared) trilogy, Hallowed Ground (Zero), features the return of romantic lead Maxim Glory and his girl, Pansy. Will we also see the return of other favourites —like a certain devilish Inspector Bon Ton MacHoot?
“All of the cast we saw in The Epiphany and The Satisfaction of Black Mariah play a part in Hallowed Ground (Zero), in a story that addresses the threat of urban renewal on the cityscape that is Time(Squared).”
Fans of the series have waited for its return for some time now. What made Chaykin choose Image Comics as the publisher to bring back this bewitching series?
“Image Comics has published the lion’s share of my work over the past decade,” Chaykin said. “It made the most sense to bring the new book, as well as republishing those first two volumes, not to mention the Flagg! Special, out under the Image imprint.
Mixing 1940s New York City with tantalizing aspects of mythic hell, Chaykin has created a unique series with a lot (and this is understatement) going on. What kind of research did he do to create Time(Squared)’s mythos?
“There is a wealth of photographs documenting the world that I’ve used as the jumping off point for the fantasia of Time(Squared),” explained Chaykin. “From Berenice Abbott to Arthur Fellig to Herman Leonard, their images provide me with an embarrassment of riches.”
Getting back to the look of Time(Squared), Chaykin had played with corporate logos and modern art with his first two graphic novels from First Comics back in the day. Will he continue that celebration of pop culture in Hallowed Ground (Zero)?”
“Naturally,” said Chaykin. “This is a branding element of the world here, and thanks to Ken Bruzenak, that element continues and then some.”
And last but not least, for fans like myself who have waited a long, long time for the return of what was very much a “Lost Tale,” how much time has passed since the release of The Satisfaction of Black Mariah (which saw print in 1987) and the upcoming debut of Hallowed Ground (Zero)?
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” admitted Chaykin, “and that is the absolute truth. This is, after all, a world in which time is frequently functionally irrelevant.”
That may be the case, but irrelevant is something that Time(Squared) is certainly not.