American Flagg!

American Flagg!!
American Flagg! #1 (Oct. 1983).
Cover art by Howard Chaykin.
Publication information
Publisher First Comics
Format Ongoing series
Publication date October 1983 – March 1988
No. of issues 50
Creative team
Created by Howard Chaykin
Written by Howard Chaykin
Artist(s) Howard Chaykin
Letterer(s) Ken Bruzenak
Colorist(s) Lynn Varley
Editor(s) Mike Gold
Collected editions
Volume 1 ISBN 1-58240-983-8

American Flagg! is the revolutionary American comic book series created by writer-artist Howard Chaykin, published by First Comics from 1983 to 1989. It was largely responsible for legitamizing and kicking off the adult independent comic book business of the 1980's, and was credited as the template for later works like the Watchmen, the Sandman and Frank Miller's The Dark Night A science fiction series and political satire, it was set in the U.S., particularly Chicago, Illinois, in the early 2030s. Writers besides Chaykin included Steven Grant, J.M. DeMatteis, and Alan Moore.

Publication history

American Flagg, which ran 50 issues (Oct. 1983 – March 1988),[1] was one of the first titles to be published by First Comics, an early alternative press comics company founded in Evanston, Illinois[2] in 1983.[3] Unusually for the time, the company offered its freelance writers and artists creator rights, including ownership of their creations.[2] Regardless, writer-artist Howard Chaykin, then living in New York City, felt trepidation when First Comics approached him to do a project. He recalled in 2010,

My concern had all and everything to do with the fact that this was a brand new company, located in [a suburb of] Chicago. I'd always worked for companies I'd visited and had day-to-day-dealings with. [But t]hey talked about a financial plan that would make it possible for me to get out from under the debt I had accrued working for [publisher] Byron Preiss [illustrating early graphic novels]. It was encouraging, so I went home and concocted a scenario, a pitch document, and that was it.[2]

Eventually, Chaykin left, to be replaced on a regular basis by first Steven Grant then J.M. DeMatteis. Grant left after only seven issues due to creative friction with the series's new artist, Mark Badger. According to Grant, he had wanted to continue doing stories in the same style that Chaykin had established, while Badger wanted to take the series in new directions.[4] Chaykin returned for a brief run to wrap up storylines before the first volume ended in March 1988. The title was relaunched a few months later as Howard Chaykin's Amerikan Flagg!. This run saw Chaykin return to writing the series, with Mike Vosburg and Richard Ory penciling and inking the interior art, but the franchise failed to recapture its early success and was canceled after 12 issues.

Plot Synopsis and Theme

The story takes place in the year 2031, after a series of worldwide crises called the Year of the Domino (1996) has forced the U.S. government and the heads of major corporations to relocate to Hammarskjold Center, on Mars ("temporarily, of course"). In the wake of the American government leaving the planet and the Soviet Union collapsing from Islamic insurrections, there was a power shift throughout the world, with Brazilian Union of the Americas and the Pan-African League becoming the new superpowers on Earth.

However, the exiled American government, its corporate backers, and a group of technicians in the defected Soviet lunar colony of Gagaringrad form the Plex: a giant, interplanetary union of corporate and government concerns that conduct commerce and govern the United States from its capital on Mars. Many population centers are grouped around massive, fortified arcologies called Plexmalls and the law is enforced by the Plexus Rangers, the absentee Plex's Earthside militia.

The story centers on the adventures of a former television star Reuben Flagg after he is drafted and transferred to Chicago's Plexmall. He witnesses widespread graft and corruption throughout the Plexmall, and discovers a series of subliminal messages implanted in a television show that are causing regular outbreaks of gang violence. After he uses his emergency powers to interrupt the broadcast, he not only ends the violence, but also brings forth a series of events that alarms the Plex leading to the death of Hilton Kreiger, Flagg's superior, and exposing Kreigers involvement with an underground TV Station.

Chaykin devised a series set in 2031, a high-tech but spiritually empty, consumerist world in which the American government has relocated to Mars, leaving what remains of the U.S. to be governed by the all-encompassing corporation the Plex. The series star is Reuben Flagg, a former TV star drafted into the Plexus Rangers and posted as a deputy in Chicago, Illinois.[5]

The first 12 issues, running through cover-date September 1984, consisted of four interlocking, three-issue story arcs, centering on a Nazi villain and exploring issues of anti-semetism with a stark Orwellian background.[5] Chaykin recalled his difficulty in producing 28 pages of art and script monthly. "I was still a smoker and a drinker at the time. And [the output was such that] I'd never done anything like that before, and it was insane. It just devoured my life I had no assistants. I didn't know how to work with an assistant at that point, and it was a very difficult process. ... I was trying to do a fairly high-quality product and I didn't want to slough it off."[5]

American Flagg's first dozen issues form one complete story that has influenced comic creators including Brian Michael Bendis and Warren Ellis.[6] After issue #12, Chaykin continued the series while also working on such other projects as his revamp of The Shadow for DC Comics and the graphic novel Time2, based on characters introduced in a one-off American Flagg! special in 1986. During this time, Alan Moore wrote a back-up story that ran several issues and concluded in an issue-length story.

Later Development and Direction

As the series progressed, Chaykin took less and less of a direct role in scripting. By the third year he was only doing the cover art. Stories began to violate the rules that Chaykin had explicitly stated in the writer's bible for the series (for instance, California was said to have slid into the Pacific Ocean, but in the final year of the book, California was merely shown to have been abandoned for reasons that were vague at best), and characterizations began to drift considerably as well. (Among other things, Flagg abandoned his interest in '30s jazz, and was frequently shown listening to late-'60s rock, as well as becoming more of a traditional stern-jawed good-guy hero). Complex stories were replaced by cartoonish over-the-top weirdness. Whatever spark had flourished in the early years of the book was lost, and readership declined rapidly. After trying and failing several times to shore up declining interests, First Comics decided to lure Chaykin back into the writer's seat. "American Flagg!" wrapped up its principal storyline with issue #50. By this time, Reuben Flagg had traveled to Mars, overthrown the Plex, and become President of the United States. He then decided to separate Illinois from the United States and run it as his own personal fiefdom. All issues of this series took place in the year 2031.

The next year, the comic was re-launched under the name Howard Chaykin's Amerikan Flagg! (The "K" and a reversed "r" were to reflect the fact that most of this series took place in Russia) and picked up from where the earlier book had left off (in 2032). There is some difference of opinion as to whether this new book was intended to be a limited run, or open-ended as is the norm with comics. In either case, it ended after twelve issues. Although hard-core fans welcomed it as a breath of fresh air, it never quite managed to recapture the fun of early '80s. The first four issues of this book were mostly geared towards cleaning up the mess that the American Flagg universe had deteriorated into in the previous couple years. Flagg was arrested in Europe, the Plexmall was destroyed in an accident, and Illinois rejoined the Union. Eventually sprung from Spandau prison, Flagg made his way to Russia, where he again took a job as a Plex Ranger and had several adventures before eventually marrying.

The final issue ends with a photo album of the Flagg's future domestic life, with lots of kids, a screaming shrew of a wife, and a balding, overweight Flagg.

Explored Literary Themes and Graphical Experimentation

Sample of the unique technique of Chaykin in showing tempo in the story telling by imitating video techniques
Chaykins Manipulation of Time and Space, controlling the tempo of the story telling over several frames and with original use of lettering to move the readers eyes across the page.

American Flagg explored several breakthrough themes and techniques in story telling, which up to that time was new in the Comic Book industry. The book targeted a market that existed in direct ales comic book specialty stores rather than the newspaper distributors.

Chaykin made wide use of Craftint Duoshade illustration boards for American Flagg!, which in the period before computers, enabled him to add shaded textures to the finished art.[6] Ken Bruzenak's lettering and logowork also won notice, as it was integral to American Flagg's futuristic, trademark-littered ambiance.

Much of the landscape of the story line, within the Plexmall of Chicago, was percipient of a number of political, economic and social issues which had baring on the immediate future of its publication date (1983) and which have largely manifested itself in the current age of the early 21st Century. [7] Corporate control of institutions without regard of government oversite through internationalization of corporate interests is an ongoing theme that relatively was new in the 1980's, but played out loudly in the 2016 Presidential Election. Communication control, which was explored by George Orwell and others, was expanded in the Comic. The idea of a group of octogenarian information and video hoarders who trade their access to free information and sports information echoes in today's debates on Network Neutrality and the Copyright wars, Eric Snowden, and Aaron Swartz. Called the Witnesses, they are described as "Senior Citizens. Most of them are pre-collapse Rads, Bohemians, troublemakers-- the kind the Plex didn't with scrounged and cannablized equiptment, they formed their own retrieval well as selling social services the Plex won't provide...literacy volunteers, non-combat related education... And retrieval and cateloging of pre-collapse videotapes"[8][9]

Howard Chaykin introduced new styles for framing and lettering which gives visual cues to the manipulation of the tempo of events and the flow of time. The effect was widely adapted by artists and writers in the comic book industry and paved the way for much of the new adult targeted graphic novel industry.[10] Such narative pacing is considered a core skill for comic writers according to Chaykin, where he said during an interview

"Because so much of my interest in comics is based on narrative pacing. That’s a really big deal for me. It’s very important. It’s something I think I do very well, I mean, Christ, I teach it. It’s important for me to find new ways to take advantage of the narrative structure of comics. Toldja! Long answer short question."[11]

Twenty years later, in 2009, Rob Sharp, wrote in the British Paper, the Independent:[12]

Confused yet? That is, partly the point. Chaykin's art inundates the reader with huge quantities of raw, unfiltered information. Characters talk over television screens, advertisements and sound effects, to the extent that the reader does not know what to read first.


Collected editions

American Flagg's first nine issues were released by First in a series of trade paperbacks, but after the collapse of First they went quickly out of print. Dynamic Forces and Image Comics announced a reprinting of the first twelve issues in both hardcover and paperback editions in 2004,[13] but complications throughout the production process saw publication delayed until July 2008. This edition, entitled Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 (ISBN 1-58240-983-8; signed and numbered, ISBN 1-58240-984-6; Titan Books, ISBN 1-84576-102-2), features the first 14 issues of the original First Comics series, an all-new Flagg! story written and drawn by Chaykin, and a foreword and afterword by Michael Chabon and Jim Lee, respectively. Dynamite Entertainment have also produced a hardcover collecting the prelude and the first twelve issues of American Flagg (ISBN 0-9749638-4-4).

There is also a series of trade paperbacks:


  1. ^ American Flagg at the Grand Comics Database
  2. ^ a b c Schwieir, Philip (July 2010). "Flagg! Unfurled". Back Issue!. TwoMorrows Publishing (41): 3. 
  3. ^ Harris, Franklin (February 17, 2005). "'80s publisher First Comics' legacy still felt". Pulp Culture Productions. Archived from the original on June 22, 2010. 
  4. ^ Grant, Steven (October 2010). "Steven Grant on American Flagg!". Back Issue!. TwoMorrows Publishing (44): 79. 
  5. ^ a b c Schweier, p. 4.
  6. ^ a b De Blieck, Jr., Augie (September 3, 2004). "Pipeline: A Little Bit of Flagg!-Waving". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  7. ^ Brannon Costello. Howard Chaykin: Conversations. Univ. Press of Mississippi, Jul 7, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Comics Review: American Flagg!: The Definitive Collection, Volume 1, Howard Chaykin". Retrieved 5 January 2018. .
  9. ^ "Howard Chaykin". "American Flagg!! V1 No 3". 
  10. ^ {{Cite book|title="Neon Visions: The Comics of Howard Chaykin"|author="Brannon Costello"|publisher=LSU Press, 2017})
  11. ^ "Short Questions, Endless Answers: An Interview with Howard Chaykin 02/16/2011 1:34pm". Retrieved 7 January 2018. .
  12. ^ "American Flagg! is back". Retrieved 7 January 2018. 
  13. ^ "Image & Dynamic Forces wave American Flagg! in November". Comic Book Resources. August 27, 2004. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 

External links