Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 10, 2012

Comics I Read In Series Form In The 1980s: American Flagg!


Reading American Flagg! was never a mind-blowing experience for the content, at least not for me and not in the way I've seen suggested for it. To my suburban teenager's eye, what Howard Chaykin was doing with the sex and violence in his comic seemed pretty close to the Heavy Metal serials I'd occasionally buy, and a lot like the movies I made a point of seeing Friday nights with my friend whose dad taped every new offering from HBO. You'd have to be incredibly generous to grant the series' war of the sexes, mall-culture slams, heavy-handed indictment of media, political nose-tweaking and all that fetish-y underwear cutting-edge status no matter how enjoyable it might be. Where American Flagg! was different, at least for me, was in the formal play. A great example comes in issue #1 when Mandy Krieger propositions Reuben Flagg and they have sex -- probably that issue's most memorable scene. I totally got what people having sex was all about, but I failed to notice until years later that Chaykin drew the folds in our hero's jacket where it was placed right over Krieger's privates in a way that would make Al Capp blush. American Flagg! offered up satire and funny characters and all the naughtiness any boy my age would love, but what I recall mostly is that it took longer to read than any other comic going, and the lettering was more expressive, and the panels sometimes worked at cross-visual purposes to one another. I never felt hot and bothered or fired up to fight anyone after reading Howard Chaykin's book, but I somehow felt like a better reader of comics.

American Flagg! was another series where it seemed to me to be valuable solely for Chaykin's full involvement. I dropped the post-Chaykin issues of the series cold. For all I know, they could be great, but I had no interest in them and still don't. I only picked up Chaykin's return as a kind of writer/packager when the books became heavily discounted at my then-local shop. I never wanted more American Flagg!. Part of that may be the book consistently hit its entertainment marks during its initial moment in the spotlight. That first 26-issue run felt like it spanned the entire decade. In actuality, issue #26 appeared a mere 25 months after the debut. Sometimes I wonder if the difficulty in repackaging American Flagg! for other formats comes down to something spiritual. The serial comic book edition was pretty close to perfect in its way: a regular visit to a giddy clash of satire, comedy, adventure-comic beats and general rudeness delivered with aplomb by an artist working at the far edge of his talent while being supported by able, compelling craftsmen. Reading American Flagg! as comics felt like getting a broadcast from someplace else and watching it on a broken, filthy, slapped-together computer screen. For once the content of a comic book overwhelmed the delivery system instead of playing down to it. I wouldn't change a thing.
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