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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Meltdown Comics
Gary Phillips
Doselle Young
Deborah Vankin's Poseurs
Joshua Hale Fialkov
Moonstone Books
Vertigo Comics' Cowboys
Dark Horse B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs., Vol. I
Interesting Lengthy Butcher Baker review from Major Spoilers
Recent Books of Interest
Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, #1 by Joe Casey (writer) and Mike Huddleston (art) (Image Comics)
Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, #1 Butcher Baker is a retired superhero who may remind you of Watchmen's Comedian, with his vaguely Captain America-esque costume, and his penchant for stogies and government black ops allowing for state-sanctioned murder. Of course, he may also remind you of a Mark Millar comic, with his deconstructed anything-but-super dissolute personality, or perhaps something by Howard Chaykin circa Black Kiss, with its explicit nudity and its particular choice of "superhero lair" -- the now defunct, pre-AIDS NY Swinger Club, "Plato's Retreat." It's all a titillating stew in this first issue -- replete with hard nipples, hard language, and hard morality -- but it's also hard to know where it's all going. Or rather, if it's going somewhere differently that where we've seen other bleak anti-hero comics headed -- I mean, heck, Batman taught us they're all psychotic. The most intriguing detail is a multi-dimensional one, alluding to a "President of Reality" presiding over... well, we're not sure, yet. Many spheres, it seems. Butcher Baker used to do Comedian-like things for him. Apparently. This could be really good, but it's only one issue in yet. I guess we'll need to see what happens once it's all collected.

B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs I by Mike Mignola with lots of collaborators (Dark Horse)
B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs I This collects various runs -- yes, including Plague of Frogs -- from the chronicles of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, after the stogie-chomping and wisecracking Hellboy (it now occurs to me he owes a conceptual debt to The Thing, rocky skin and all...) has quit, leaving, mostly Abe Sapien and the ol' firestarter herself Liz Sherman in charge. If there is an "in charge" with the veils between worlds are sundering open, the dead won't stay dead, and every other manner of crisis is being fought by our ostensible government (you think they only lie to us about radiation levels and use of torture!?). It's fun stuff, and like Guillermo del Toro's movie adaptations, is more about the characters and moment -- scene and settings -- than a specific plot "paying off." It is, in other words, more about the humorous, yet Lovecraftian journey. Though sometimes the stories -- like "Drums of the Dead," about the American slave trade's deadly "Middle Passage" -- are surprisingly affecting. Anyway, Abe Sapien was always one of my favorite characters of the bunch, and if you're a fan of the milieu, this fat hardcover will definitely keep you engaged.

Talking Crime Comics with Gary Phillips

Gary Phillips Yup, we talked with Gary awhile back when his Bicycle Cop Dave first appeared on the web. But this being the ides of March and all, it's time to talk to him again. Why?

Well, if you're in the L.A. area, you have a chance to see Gary and some fellow crime comic writers, this very Saturday. The event is described by Gary thusly:

"On Saturday, March 19, at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd, from 1-2:30 pm, I'm mc'ing a panel on the writing of crime comics. Panelists are: Doselle Young, who wrote Authority for Wildstorm, a rugged superhero book if ever there was one, but also did some fine crime short stories for DC's Gangland, Deborah Vankin who is a journalist and editor and her first graphic novel is Poseurs, described as "party noir" and Joshua Hale Fialkov whom I'm sure readers know from his acclaimed Elk's Run and Tumor tough and terse graphic novels. So come on down."

Come on down, indeed. I will actually be at a Little League game then, but you, oh local dear reader, can still skedaddle down there. Meanwhile, since I was going to have to miss, I figured the next best thing would be to pick Gary's brain about the current state of crime-in-comics, and noir in particular.

To wit:

Angeltown: The Nate Hollis Investigations

NG: The blurb for your graphic novel Angeltown opens with "Los Angeles is the birthplace of noir because the brighter the sunshine, the deeper the shadows and the more deadly the mischief that goes on in the dark." Fair enough -- but can you expand on why, L.A.? Why not NY? More betrayal from more dashed, sun-dappled dreams here?
GP: Los Angeles is a deceptive city. The generally mild climate, wide openness and those palm trees -- which are not native to the state -- suggest, as the boosters from the 20s did in their come-ons to the rubes, you could cure your bad lungs out here, buy yourself an orange grove, and sit under the stars at night. That you could re-invent yourself here because you were inventing the dream you wanted to live. What better place for the fleeceers, grifters, grabbers and those on the run to come to and set up shop? On top of that, given the harsh winters back east, The Factory of Fakery, the movie business, which began in New York had to come west 'cause they could shoot the year round out here. What a confluence. And now nearly a century later, the suckers and the scammers still come out here. It's the end of the mainland, the last place to go bust or stake your claim.

You say you want to be a life coach, a personal assistant, a yoga guru, a personal trainer or come up with a religion you can sell through infomercials, this is the place. But remember as L.A. native Jack Webb intoned on Dragnet, "Son, no matter how you slice that, that's dangerous." In that regard, Angeltown: The Nate Hollis Investigations is a bit of a hybrid. The Moonstone edition reprints the Angeltown mini-series I did for Vertigo a few years back. The plot concerns this cool L.A. private eye Nate Hollis (who like Chandler's Philip Marlowe, used to be an investigator for the district attorney) looking for a super star pro basketball player, a "baller," who may or may not have just killed his ex-wife for publishing a tell-all book. The story riffs on the notion of celebrity and all that glitters beneath the surface in La-La Land. To sweeten the pot, and this is the hybrid part, I've penned two new short prose stories, "Hollywood Killer" and "King Cow" (ya gotta read it to appreciate the title… ha) though accompanied with illustrations, for this edition also featuring Hollis.

NG: Expanding on that, how is noir fairing in comics in general -- compared to either films or prose, classic or contemporary?
GP: Well of course there's always been crime comics, old school titles like Crime Does Not Pay, Crime Detective Comics or Crime Patrol, often with lurid covers of damsels in distress, or dames wielding roscoes, mirroring the paperback covers of prose crime and mystery books. Noir, to me, has a rather narrow definition, essentially a character heading to a bad end due in no small part to his or her own weaknesses for money, gold, jewels… or your neighbor's spouse. You want something you don't deserve, but that doesn't stop you -- it only fuels you toward your doom. Dark Horse did the well-received Noir (in which I happen to have a story) a little while back, an anthology homage to the halcyon days of those 40s and 50s comix with several short stories of desperate and grasping characters. Ed Brubaker's and Sean "no relation" Phillips' fine Criminal, even their Sleeper which had noirish touches about super-powered gangsters, is in that territory. The dark coolness of You Have Killed Me by Jamie Rich and Joëlle Jones, and of course those two masterful renditions of Parker novels, The Hunter (filmed as one of the best 60s existentialist crime films, Point Blank) and The Outfit, by Darwyn Cooke, certainly attest to noir, or at least some aspects of that condition, resonating with today's comics reader.

I wonder though -- is there much of an overlap between the crime and mystery prose reader and the crime comics audience? Not sure, but I do know some mystery-themed bookstores are starting to carry crime and mystery graphic novels.


NG: Tell us a little about your upcoming Vertigo project, Cowboys.
GP: Interestingly, Cowboys is not is not set in L.A. Though noir does infuse its telling. The setting is an unnamed big eastern city à la the city with no name in the Hill Street Blues TV series. The story arose out of the infamous Sean Bell incident in Queens a few years ago. This had to do with a group of young African American men leaving a strip club after a bachelor party for Bell. Undercover cops (some of whom were black I might add) had the place under surveillance and what happened next has been the subject of varying versions in and out of court, but what is clear is that after fifty shots fired by those policemen, the unarmed Bell, the groom, was dead.

Will Dennis, the Vertigo crime line series editor, and editor on the original Angeltown, and I got to talking about this via emails and I recalled this statistic that in new York City, there had been several shooting of black undercover cops by on duty white policeman, but never the other way around. Using these real life situations as the volatile grist, Cowboys is about a tough black undercover detective, Deke Kotto, the kind of cat who doesn't mind bending a few rules and breaking a few heads to get the job done, and Tim Brady, a straight-laced FBI agent, infiltrate a case from different ends. Their respective agencies are not communicating with each other and these two are on a collision course as they lose sight of their missions. Physically and psychologically both men undergo transformations; Kotto's marriage is already rocky, given his infidelities, but he is devoted to his handicapped son. While Brady drifts further and further from his wife and two kids in suburbia as he's seduced by the life he pretends he's part of in the story.

As comics are a visual medium, I can't praise enough the artwork of Brian Hurtt who brought Cowboys to life on the page. No offense to the superhero artists, but Brian expertly depicts real people and real objects, interiors and buildings like nobody else. People are going to be mighty impressed with what he's done on this book.

Turns out too, rather coincidentally, Cowboys and Angeltown: The Nate Hollis Investigations will both drop this July.

NG: Where's crime-in-comics headed? Are we approaching a "1986" moment where we have the crime/detective versions of the Watchmen/Dark Knight breakthroughs, busting open genre conventions? Did we have it and not realize it?
GP: I'm hoping to see more hybrids. For instance Moonstone is looking to premiere this fall a pulp magazine wherein prose and sequential stories of pulp character take place. I think such a package might appeal to the crime comics and get a few of the prose audience, who don't read "funnybooks" to maybe try that kind of format if such were done for crime and mystery stories.

And there you have it readers. Gary & Co. will see you on Sunset Boulevard -- hey, has that title been used for a noir yet!? -- this weekend!

Copyright © 2011 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series. Strong rumors abound about its eBook return. Meanwhile, he contemplates whether the twain of YA and noir should meet. He also gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.

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