Although HEY KIDS! COMICS! #1 isn't going to set the world on fire, Howard Chaykin's WOLF OF WALL STREET meets MARVEL: THE UNTOLD STORY premise about the comic book industry is fascinating. There's betrayal, corporate greed, and resentment. While it's rough around the edges, anyone who wants a semi-realistic account of the heyday of comics will enjoy it. Otherwise, if you're looking for a general history of comic books or a parody of superhero comics, this isn't it.
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Cartoonist Howard Chaykin is putting a new spin on the inside story behind the comic book industry with HEY KIDS! COMICS! #1. You may remember Chaykin from DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA which featured a controversial cover. With this series, Chaykin sets his sights on the history of comics and puts a cynical twist on the formula. The result is a story about a group of artists who don’t get their dues and the two comic book publishers who profit off their work. After all, making comics is tough business.

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The Cut-Throat World of Freelancing

HEY KIDS! COMICS! #1 follows three characters: freelance comic book artists Ted Whitman and Ray Clarke, as well their friend Benita Heindel, a writer. First, there’s a prologue that sets the tone of the story. In 1967, a washed-up artist crashes the red carpet Broadway premiere of Powerhouse to speak to a couple. Then, the man reveals that he was an editor back in the day and that he co-created Powerhouse (think SUPERMAN).

Throughout the story, Ted and Ray learn how hard it is to find decent work in the comic book industry. Often, they have to float between Verve and Yankee Comics, fictionalized versions of Marvel and DC Comics. Meanwhile, Benita bounces around various publications while trying to help Ray and Ted.


Courtesy of Image Comics

Then, the story jumps to 2001, where Ray, Ted, and Benita are old and cynical. Notably, a funeral brings a bunch of comics book industry folks together to remember Alfie Kessler, an artist. However, time doesn’t heal old wounds because there’s a lot of anger and resentment between Ray’s crew and their former bosses. Here, Chaykin points out that work-for-hire artists don’t get financially rewarded because Evolution Teens (an X-MEN reference) premieres in theaters and a Stan Lee-type character takes all the credit for it. It’s not often that we get to see this side of the industry although creators such as Alan Moore are vocal about how they got mistreated. Thus, this makes HEY KIDS! COMICS! #1 intriguing because this is as close to an inside look as readers will get this year.

The Racism, Sexism, and Exploitation of Artists

Courtesy of Image Comics

Furthermore, Chaykin captures the racism and sexism of the 1940s-1960s quite well. Namely, Ted, who’s African-American, deals with subtle racism when he gets hired for a desk job at an ad agency. Ted’s boss, a white man, hires Ted so that he can help market products to the “burgeoning negro market.”  All the while, Ted has an uncomfortable look in his face as the scene ends but it’s effective in communicating Ted’s feelings.

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Meanwhile, Benita deals with her share of sexism. When we first meet Ted and Ray, Ray makes a crass remark hoping that publishers care about superheroes and big breasted women. However, Benita hears this and calls him out on it before sarcastically remarking that he hasn’t changed. Later, Benita gets hired to works at Verve as an assistant editor and laments that no one would care if she complains. This is good commentary on how women in the comic book are unsung heroes in comparison to their male colleagues.

Solid Cartoon Style Art

Courtesy of Image Comics

With HEY KIDS! COMICS! #1, Chaykin goes for a conservative art style to reflect the era. He does 1940s-1960s New York justice by bringing to life a gritty city where suits and ties were all the rage. Also, as the plot jumps through multiple decades, he does a great job aging up the characters from wide-eyed youths to wrinkly, old faces. However, some may have a few gripes about the art; one is that the hands look deformed in various panels. In addition, the art looks grainy at times, for better or worse.

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Good Color Work

Meanwhile, colorist Will Quintana does a good job capturing the vintage grittiness of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s New York. Although the colors look washed out at times, it feels like a New Yorker cartoon with dark blues, soft reds, and brown hues. If anything, Quintana’s biggest strength is rendering faces realistic, as well as making offices feel alive. Often, a comic’s biggest mistake is having too many textures in a page, which distracts readers from the dialogue. Thankfully, Quintana knows this and successfully avoids it.

Closing Thoughts on HEY KIDS! COMICS! #1

HEY KIDS! COMICS! #1 is not for everyone because it requires knowing about the history of comics in order to appreciate all the references. As a result, it’s hard to recommend this series to new readers. However, if you’re a fan of Howard Chaykin’s previous works, then you’ll feel right at home with this issue. If anything, Chaykin does a good job of capturing the sexism of the 1940s-1960s. In addition, there’s something fascinating about revisiting the comic book industry’s Golden Age through the lens of freelance artists.

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