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How Hard Case Crime Will Bring a Seedy Underbelly to Comics

by  in Comic News Comment
How Hard Case Crime Will Bring a Seedy Underbelly to Comics

Since 2004, the Hard Case Crime publishing line has been beloved by crime and noir fans the world over. The lineup of talent is undeniably impressive, featuring new novels by Stephen King and Lawrence Block, to reprints of old novels by Harlan Ellison and Gore Vidal, to books that have never been published by James M. Cain and Samuel Fuller. From day one, Hard Case Crime’s library has been filled with crime novels, pulp stories, and noir tales, all with great cover art. So when it was announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego that the line will expand into comics with a new imprint published through Titan Comics, it was a pleasant surprise that made complete sense.

With Hard Case Crime Comics slated to launch this fall at New York Comic Con, CBR spoke with three of the launch’s helmers. Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case Crime and also an award-winning crime writer, and writers Christa Faust and Gary Phillips spoke with us about the new line and its initial releases, “Triggerman” and “Peepland.” In a wide-ranging conversation, the three discussed the line’s launch, teased a little about future projects, and offered an exclusive look at what readers can expect.

CBR News: I want to start with you, Charles, because mystery and crime fans know Hard Case. I’m sure there’s plenty of overlap with comics fans, but could you talk a little about what Hard Case Crime is?

Charles Ardai: A dozen years ago, Max Phillips and I got together over drinks and cooked up the idea for a line of books that would revive the look and feel and the storytelling style of the old pulp fiction of the 1940s and ’50s; short, tight, high-velocity novels with plots that grabbed you by the throat on the first page, no shortage of sex and violence, and beautiful painted covers that made your palms sweat.

We’ve now published more than a hundred books, won a bunch of awards, and earned praise from fans ranging from Stephen King and Michael Crichton and J.K. Rowling to comics mavens like Ed Brubaker and Brian Azzarello and Max Allan Collins.

What prompted you to start publishing comics?

Ardai: I’ve been reading comics since I was a kid in the ’70s. “The Flash” was my main book, the classic Barry Allen years, but I also loved all sorts of other comics — a truly eclectic mix. I created one comic back in the ’90s, a short-lived science-fiction anthology series called “Orbit.” I’ve been dying to get back into comics ever since.

You’re launching the Hard Case Comics imprint with two miniseries.

Ardai: That’s right, “Triggerman” and “Peepland.” Actually, our first half dozen titles will all be miniseries, typically running four or five issues, which we’ll then collect into single-volume graphic novels. The miniseries format works well for crime fiction, since there’s no guarantee the main character will survive. If it’s a continuing series, Superman and Doomsday notwithstanding, you pretty much know the main character can’t die.

What is “Triggerman”?

Ardai: The legendary screenwriter and movie director Walter Hill (“The Warriors,” “48 Hrs.,” “The Getaway”) wrote a script set during Prohibition, about a gunman sprung from prison by the Mob to track down a half million dollars of stolen money and punish the men who stole it. Our hero doesn’t actually care about the money — he’s looking for the girl he lost when he went to jail. But as it happens, the girl and the money are being held by the same person. So he’s got his own reasons for wanting to see this vendetta through to the end.

Christa, Gary, what’s “Peepland”?

Christa Faust: “Peepland” is a story about the people in and around Times Square in New York City in the 1980s, before Giuliani and Disney chased all the sex and drugs out. The main characters are women who work in a Times Square peepshow, and their lives are upended by a particularly ugly crime and the effort to cover it up.

Gary Phillips: To me, “Peepland” is about desperate people in desperate straits. It was an opportunity my friend Christa offered me, to come along on this journey with her to add to our respective takes on what noir means. The story is a collision of what happens when a bottom-feeder inadvertently sees something he shouldn’t, and how the pursuit of the evidence of that crime by a certain blowhard real estate developer, a man on a mission to clean up the “filth” of Times Square, lies at the center of a series of decisions our characters make out of greed, guilt or sacrifice.

Faust: I’ll add that it’s also the most personal and autobiographical project I’ve ever done. I like to refer to it as a love letter to Times Square and the adjacent neighborhood where I grew up. The setting is like a unique and memorable character in itself, and many of the human characters are based on people I met when I was working in the peep booths in the late ’80s.

Gary, you’ve written plenty of comics over the years in addition to your novels, but Christa, this is your first comic. How have you found writing in the medium? Has been a big adjustment for you?

Faust: For me, it was definitely a big adjustment. Everything needs to be condensed and externalized, and you have to accept that some of what you imagine in your head will be lost or changed in the translation. Dialogue, which is my strongest skill in fiction, needs to be limited to what can fit into word balloons. Also, it was a challenge to learn how to think in these frozen moments, but Gary is such a visual thinker with an instinctive understanding of how to make images flow naturally from panel to panel. Working with him taught me so much.

Phillips: I’ll just add that being a lifelong comics fan, and now as a writer, I still get a kick out of seeing the images that the artist derives from the script. How they make the words come alive on the page. Even though superhero comics are the bread and butter of the comics industry, material like the “March” trilogy, “Special Exits” and crime fiction fare like the late Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of the Westlake “Parker” novels shows there’s a broader readership out there for comics to tap.

Christa, people will read the description of “Peepland” and likely feel there are some similarities to the two novels of yours which Hard Case published, “Money Shot” and “Choke Hold.”

Faust: Maybe on some level, since all three deal with characters in and around the adult entertainment industry, but “Peepland” feels so different to me. It follows a diverse ensemble cast with interlocking storylines, whereas the Angel Dare books are centered around one character and told in the first person. Plus, Angel is very much an L.A. woman, even though she grew up on the south side of Chicago, while “Peepland” is all about New York City. The two series feel as different to me as those two cities.

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