Howard Chackowicz launches his much-awaited magnificent hate fest, Howie Action Comix
In local artist Howard Chackowicz’s first full-length collection, Howie Action Comix, the funny pages are stained with tears. And bile.
From the title-page drawing of a fat scrunch-eyed Buddha with a tin crown, a bobble-head boner and a tiny, ugly inner child screaming blue murder, to the one of a strung-up fish who sings about his own imminent demise, Chackowicz’s tortured beings beg for, and sometimes demand, psychiatric help. Or a coroner, in the case of his namesake, the "Howie" of previous Howie Action Comix chapbooklets – a morbidly obese, naked schoolboy who toddles around town providing a target for the cruelty of schoolmates, teachers, passersby and his own mother. A bit despite himself, Chackowicz has euthanized him.
"I can’t do Howie-the-fat-kid anymore," announces the artist from across the table of his Fairmont Street kitchen, while an impressive array of Ray Harryhausen models stare out from their shelf behind his head. "In the past, when I drew [those comix], I used to find them very funny… my childhood was a source of endless comedy for me for an entire decade. ‘Howie’ is autobiographical – he’s naked, he’s impossibly huge, and he’s the ultimate victim of cruelty, and all he wants to be is good, and to be loved."
So after all these years of gleaning comedic inspiration from the mulch of human misery, what has changed?
"It must have been the therapy," says Chackowicz. "I remember telling all these stories to my therapist about my life and laughing all the time, and she was almost teary-eyed. And… it hit me like a rock. For so many years, it was just great material, you know -cruelty is always funny, right? Then it hit me: I don’t find Howie-the-fat-kid funny anymore."
The book, which is 80 per cent new material, consists of massively varied, beautifully hand-drawn renderings of depravity and pathos: Poor Bobby Boner (a kid with a sorely argumentative erection) gets his day, as does back-to-the-earth Farmer Farmerstein, or the deadpan cat in the business suit who has just turned a mouse inside out. Whether person, critter or thing, nothing under Chackowicz’s pen is spared, and, like their creator, these drawings exude an oddly intense compassion that wouldn’t ring true without the venom.
"I love life," says Chackowicz, by way of clarification. "I think life – trees, birds, people, all that shit – is wonderful, but… I feel like the whole world’s on fire, and we’re all part of it. Most of the art that I see, especially coming out of youth culture and young people who are supposed to be rebels, is drawings of unicorns and flowers and personal dramas, you know, love stories, and they’re really commercially minded and have a great sense of saleability. They’re completely unchallenging of this orgy of technology that’s part of our lives now. My roots are underground comix, underground art, outsider art, whether it’s angry or offensive or perverse or challenging or provocative, that’s the stuff that always inspired me. In life, all I give a fuck about is being a good person, and I feel like the angry stuff in the art is an extension of my trying to be a good person."
Howie Action Comix
Book launch, with music by Nutsak and Bug-Eyed Monster
At Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent), March 14, free