Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Deborah Vankin's Poseurs
Joshua Hale Fialkov
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 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)
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.