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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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For more information, you can try the following:
Gary Phillips
FourStory.Org -- and Dave
BlogMano
Nathan Walpow
Tony Chavira
Strange Suspense The Steve Ditko Archives:
The Oni Press Interview with Greg Rucka, on things "Stumptown"
Nola #1
What Happened on New Orleans' Danziger Bridge?
Recent Books of Interest

Stumptown #1 by Greg Rucka (script) and Matthew Southworth (art) (Oni Press)
Stumptown #1 Fans of Rucka's earlier Oni-published breakthrough Whiteout should be quite happy, as the writer gets back to his mystery-trope roots here in another chilly setting. Well, not nearly as chilly as Antarctica, of course, but generally colder than L.A. -- Stumptown, as those who know their logging-industry derived nicknames have already guessed, is set in Portland, Oregon. In a sense, this is as "classic" as the mystery formula gets: A detective with a gambling problem, a missing daughter (well, okay, granddaughter), the outside interest of a crime lord, randomly appearing thugs issuing -- and following up on -- "back off" threats, etc. You've seen it all before, but not set in Oregon, since Ken Kesey didn't write mystery novels. Plus, the detective is a woman, nicknamed "Dex," of so far ambiguous sexuality, so it's a good brothy stew, and one assumes in subsequent issues, Rucka -- having established the formula -- will go about breaking it in his usual surprising ways. And as a bonus for fans of Vertigo's Scalped, and tribal politics everywhere, there are Indian Casino gambling subplots & motifs throughout. Southworth's art is suitably noir-ish and "Pacific Northwest in late fall" dark, all at once...

Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives by Steve Ditko (Fantagraphics)
Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Racket Squad
A collection of early "pulp" Ditko from the pre-code glory years, done primarily for Charlton long before either he -- or they -- were doing Watchmen prototypes in the Silver Age. These horror, sci-fi and suspense stories, ripped from EC rival titles like Space Adventures, The Thing, This Magazine is Haunted, and more, help define the word "lurid," which for comics lovers ain't always a bad thing. The colors are vivid -- hallucinatory in a way almost reminiscent of Fletcher Hanks, as are some of the physiognomies -- check out the face of Rumplestiltskin in a horror-tinged retelling from The Thing. One of the most shocking images is a cover from Racket Squad (in action!): it shows a bomb pitched in through the window of "Pop's Grocery" by, well, racketeers, in the initial second of ignition, as the face of "Pop" starts to light up in terror, as the percussive effects are already tearing the clothes off his body, and that of a boy next to him. It's truly horrifying, and brilliant comic art. And in an age like the 50s where nothing could be talked about publicly for fear of upsetting the Cleavers, it makes you understand why the grown-up world freaked out and starting banning the stuff. All the more reason you should pick up this volume.

NOLA #1, by Chris Gorak & Pierluigi Cothran (story/concept & script, respectively) and Damian Couceiro (art) (BOOM! Studios)
NOLA #1 A counter-history of recent events in New Orleans (itself nicknamed "NOLA,") that opens with a reworking of the infamous Danziger Bridge showdown in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In this instance -- it's an "instant" that's intercut throughout the book, with a series of flashbacks -- a cloth & bandaged wrapped woman, looking like a cross between a Ninja and a mummy -- is stopped by the police. But she's all through with being "stopped." She's the titular "Nola," and while there's no single mind-blowing "reveal" here -- she was a beautiful woman, grievously wronged, all of it backdropped with weather reports about brewing storms, and off-hand references to hook-ups at the Endymion ball -- the first issue is steeped enough in Crescent City flavor, and character, that I want to read more. Especially after the self-assured way Gorak & Cothran weave their two stories so that each ends with an act of irredeemable violence.

Of Bike Cops, Webcomics, and Cities that Start with "L"

Gary Phillips
Bicycle Cop Dave
Bicycle Cop Dave
The first time I caught up with Gary Phillips, we were at a new book festival together held on the outskirts of Las Vegas, in Henderson. This was in the waning days of the old economy -- the one we all know isn't really coming back. In any case, the library there was flush, so they invited up a bunch of writers and comped us some rooms in a casino and we gave talks and readings and added a nice cultural sheen to the weekend, or so it was theorized.

I was the only kidlit scribe there -- at least, the only one I knew. The only other authors from L.A. who were there were mystery writers, like Tod Goldberg. Tod knew Gary, and at one point, we were sitting "outside" in a casino -- which is to say, in the fake "outside" built inside the expansive casino grounds, at an ersatz cafe, having a drink, and watching people gamble.

Since you could smoke inside/"outside" in casinos -- at least then -- I lit a cigar. One should always have a cigar on hand, just in case. Gary, besides being the writer of highly regarded, post-Chandlerian & maybe even post-Mosleyian LA crime tales like The Jook, and the Ivan Monk mystery series, is also a fan of good stogies. The ones I had were at least passable, and of course I offered him one.

Since then, we occasionally pass each other in the green rooms of local book fests, where cigar smoking is decidedly not allowed. I also try and pick up his comics work, whenever it crops up -- like the O.J. Simpson-haunted "Angeltown."

Phillips knows his L.A., and more of it is cropping up in comics form -- web comics form -- at FourStory.org, a social advocacy/journalism website, whose slogan is "better living conditions for everyone."

On the edge of those conditions is Bicycle Cop Dave -- done in collaboration with artist Manoel Magalhães -- which has its own slogan: "Patrolling the underside of gentrification." You see? References to shifting economic sands are everywhere.

I thought it'd be a good time to catch up with Gary again, now that he's taken to writing like Dickens -- which is to say, in installments. (And also, come to think of it, about a sprawling city whose name begins with "L.")

So light a cigar then, and enjoy this three way interview with (mostly) Gary (GP), editor Nathan Walpow (NW) -- who also writes the Joe Portugal mysteries -- and Magalhães (MM) joining the e-mail fray as well.

How did the idea for Bicycle Cop Dave begin?
GP: There was a mid-90s to 2000 show on USA cable called Pacific Blue (created by Bill Nuss) set in Santa Monica, a small, generally affluent city next door to Los Angeles about these way too pretty, way too in-shape bike cops (Baywatch on bikes it was referred to) fighting crime at the beach when they weren't working on their tans. I maybe watched three or four episodes, but nonetheless that dang show blazed the trail. Then a few years later I'd seen a quirky indie film called Police Beat about a bike cop in Seattle who is worried his old lady is playing around on him as he encounters odd situations and characters on patrol.

At the same time we here in L.A. had this gentrifying landscape of our downtown area which has resulted in our own police vamping on, coming down heavy-handedly on the homeless population, the displacement of the working poor, the influx of trendy bars and so on. So for me Bicycle Cop Dave or BCD as we affectionately call him, while clearly taking its cue from those past efforts (and a nod to those goofball deputies of Reno 911! who invariably get their patrol bikes stolen), immerses its protagonist, David Richter, in this changing downtown of clashing lifestyles -- where you can literally turn a corner from being in Little Tokyo to being on Skid Row -- and a mystery that, like all good mysteries, has layers.

In the initial installment readers will learn Dave was once a plainclothes man, a detective, but is now on a bike. What happened? Was that voluntary downsizing on his part? And what about those bodies that keep showing up?

What was the thinking behind debuting a comic on a social advocacy/urban politics site? In other words... is it to present FourStory's readers with info in a new format? Is it to bring comics readers to the site?
NW: Both your suggestions are right. I'm lucky enough as editor to have no restrictions (save libel, I suppose, though we haven't pushed that limit yet!) as to what I put on the site. So we've had art, and we've had video, and we've had serialized fiction, including a novella by Gary called The Underbelly and about the first third of my fifth Joe Portugal mystery, Bad Developments. Besides Gary, our associate editor Tony Chavira has comic experience, so it was natural that somewhere in our discussions somebody came up with the idea, and BCD came out of that.

But, yeah, it's tough being a social advocacy site, when you're up against the juggernauts of Huffington Post and Daily Kos and the like, so we really are using this as a means to expand our readership. We hope to lure people who find the comic into checking out our other stuff and finding us a site to come back to.

And what of the comic's life after its web debut? Are there any models to "monetize" the work so the artists get paid? Does it get collected and "traditionally" published offline? Is that even a consideration?
GP: While it was by no means a King's ransom, FourStory.org was able to pay Mani something for his storytelling abilities. Not, mind you, what his wonderful artwork is worth, but something. This raises a very interesting question to me in this era of the internet, e-books and what have you. There are more ways, distribution streams, that the Internet affords to get your work out there be it comics, prose or even videos and films. But as you point out, how do you get paid, how do you make a living since no one, it seems, has quite figured out that model? Some entertainment sites you have to subscribe to yet there are plenty that offer their material for free so how do you compete? Maybe like National Public Radio, it's a combination of seeking underwriting and subscribers.

Or take the Image model as I understand it. I believe Image doesn't pay you as the creator(s) any up front money like say Marvel, DC and Dark Horse do. In fact, it's your responsibility to produce the entire book, writing, pencils, inking, lettering, and coloring if it's in color -- though I guess they assign freelance editors to the projects now? Anyway, the book has to sell X amount (and I don't know what that amount is -- 5,000 copies of a black and white? 7,000 for color?) for you to get a cut of the royalties after expenses are met. But you the creator(s) retain all rights. And certainly there's been those who've come on the comics scene via Image who now write for the Big Two plus One. But I also know of folks who've done Image books that have been well-received but ain't seen a dime.

As to BCD eventually being collected for hardcopy, yes, indeed, that is our intention.

NW: A secondary purpose when we started FourStory was to give creative people a paid outlet for their work. From the beginning (July 2007), we've paid our writers for feature stories and fiction. Not, as Gary says, a king's ransom, but the fact that we pay at all, I think, sets us apart from other smaller sites that cover the stuff we do. As far as afterlife, anything Bicycle Cop Dave brings is the writer and artist later is 100% theirs. We're a 401c3 nonprofit, and we're certainly not in it for the money.

Currently successful "webcomics" seem to mostly be on dedicated sites for the comic in question. This seems a slightly different model. I suppose I should throw a question mark in there to make it a question?
MM: I think webcomics are a fantastic way to display our work. While in my country, Brazil, these are not around so much yet, I think that in the USA things are far advanced. But my overall idea, as Gary suggested, is trying to get it published in hardcopy... maybe Im an old-fashioned guy, but Im not a fan of reading on the computer monitor.

GP: On my part, it was simply the opportunity as I'm one among several regular contributors to FourStory, writing non-fiction pieces, and what with our editor also being a mystery writer, the fix was in, baby!

Is pacing/structuring the work different in this format, closer to the payoff of a "comic strip" rather than pages in a book?
MM: Not in this case. Garys an experienced writer. His work is very well structured and easy to follow. When I read his scripts, the images come immediately to my mind. I just have to draw them. The only difference is that the medium is the computer. Aside from that, it was like working on a comic thats supposed to be published on paper.

GP: I had given that some thought when I was writing the script. Like for a comic strip you build in these little cliffhangers to keep the reader's interest so they come back for more. But on the other hand, with an eye toward having BCD in hardcopy at some point, you also have to construct it as a whole story as well. I think if we were doing in strip format rather than a page format, I might have written certain scenes differently knowing my highs and lows of the story happen at a different pace.

Thanks, Gents! And I guess this is a good place to end by way of noting new pages of Bicycle Cop Dave appear on FourStory every other Wednesday.

Copyright © 2009 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, which is currently being developed for large and small screens, and is currently hard at work his own, post-gentrification version of the L.A. apocalypse. He occasionally rides his bike across stretches of the Valley, and is also a contributor to entertainment biz trade papers like Variety, Below the Line, and more. He gets Twittery @mlondonwmz


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