I had barely been at Continuity for a month or so when Howard Chaykin stopped by for a visit and spent some time in the room I shared with Jack Abel. Howard and Jack, both Jewish, drifted into a conversation about the Jews in the comics since Siegel and Shuster, Lee and Kirby and everyone in between. Jack Abel explained the phenomenon by telling how the early Jewish emigrates to America couldn't get work in the mainstream industries and thus turned to the budding communications and entertainment mediums, which nobody else wanted to work in then, because they offered little promise of a good livelihood. The comics were the more obscure black sheep of the entertainment world, Jack said, but succeeded in attracting talented Jewish creators who've sat at its helm since its inception.
Howard Chaykin, whose nickname then was "Howie", had heard that the new rookie drawing comics for DC, and sharing Jack's room at Continuity, was Lebanese. He waited for Jack to finish his dissertation, then turned to me and asked:
"Are you a Semite?"
Although it's commonly understood in the world that both the Jews and Arabs are of Semitic origins, my understanding of it was a little different. I knew about Jewish roots in my family, for example, but this wasn't common knowledge at Continuity then. I had my own understanding of the Biblical stories telling about the lineage of Shem, the son of Noah, father of the Semitic people. I also understood why the Moslem world chose to claim Semitic origins at the time of the advent of Mohammad in the year 660 AD. All these thoughts crossed my mind as I thought of an answer to Howard's question.
"That depends on what you mean by Semite." I answered.
"You know, it helps to be a little crazy if you want to draw comic books" Howard said. "But try not to get too crazy about simple things. I only asked if you were a Semite."
A year later I drew a Wonder Woman comic book for DC. On the cover, the villain Osira was inciting a war in the Middle East as war planes and tanks blasted the Egyptian Sphinx and pyramids, destroying them in battle. The signature on the cover read: "Nasser & Rubinstein" giving an impression of an Arab/Jewish collaboration to tell comics stories. Howard Chaykin came into Continuity and saw the published comic book on my desk, picked it up and looked at it for a moment.
"This is a crazy cover." He said. "I like it."
Another year went by and all hell broke loose at Continuity as the comics world was buzzing with stories about how I'd become crazy and was trying to bring peace to the world through the comics. Some of the stories going around then are chronicled at the following links, in that order:
The Summer of 77 on 45th and 9th.
The Martian who Went to Titan.
The San Francisco Treat.
Playing the World Game.
Keeper of the Kingdom.
The Great Storyteller.
My hair and beard had grown then to give the appropriate impression I wanted to make. Howard Chaykin came into Continuity, took one look at me and said:
"You know you look crazy."
"I know everything." I said.
He then saw the issue of Star*Reach #12 on my desk with its first color story which I produced with Steve Leialoha "The Old, New and Final Testaments". After flipping through it, he pulled out some Cody Starbuck pages he'd brought with him.
"This is really crazy. You're doing testaments in space and I'm doing priests and nuns in space." He said. "I like that."
Years later, I emigrated to Israel, settled down and married. When I returned to New York in the early 1990's, I ran into Howard Chaykin at a New York comic book convention.
"Hey, it's the crazy Lebanese." He said, greeting me.
"Aw, c'mon Howie. I've been in Israel for more that 10 years now." I answered.
"I can't remember the last time someone called me Howie" He said.
"Must have been around the last time someone called me a crazy Lebanese." I answered.
"I heard you're married." He said.
"Three kids." I added.
"Isn't that dangerous?" Howard said, "Making more crazy Lebanese Jews?"
"Very dangerous." I answered. "You should get a bullet proof vest."
"You're still crazy." He said. "I like that."
A decade later, I ran into Howard at the 2004 Baltimore comics convention. Seeing my long hair and beard, he said:
"I heard you're still crazy."
"Incurable." I answered.
"How's the family?" He asked.
"Great." I said. "6 children, all crazy as ever."
"Good." Howard said. "I'll start looking for a bullet proof vest."
Two months later, I removed the long hair and beard I'd sported, produced The Comic Book Creator's Party web site and went to the Big Apple comics convention in New York. I ran into Howard Chaykin who took one look at me, clean shaven and wearing a suit and tie.
"Hey, you look good." He said.
"So do you." I answered.
"You don't look crazy anymore." He added.
"Don't stop looking for a bullet proof vest." I said.
"That's what I thought." Howard answered.
"You're putting us on."
Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.