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Larry Young Drives the “The Black Diamond”

by  in Comic News Comment
Larry Young Drives the “The Black Diamond”

“The Black Diamond” #1 and #2

What do two bikers, a diner cook, an orthodontist and an elevated superhighway of the future have in common? They’re all heading back east at 100mph in “Black Diamond,” the new mini-series from AiT/Planet Lar. Written by Larry Young and illustrated in full-color “Comicscope®” by Jon Proctor, “Black Diamond” is a high-octane action adventure story set fifty years in the future, when commercial flying is outlawed, society has abandoned the socio-eco-political notions of “left” and “right” for “up-top” and “down-below,” and the future of it all depends on one San Franciscan orthodontist named Don. CBR News spoke with Larry Young about his new six-issue book, the first of which ships next month.

In the post-post-post-9/11 world of “Black Diamond’s” future, fear of terrorism has resulted in a complete ban on commercial aircraft. As such, a massive eight-lane highway was constructed to bisect the United States from San Francisco to Washington, DC. Known as the Black Diamond, the transcontinental motorway was designed to facilitate commerce and travel, but it quickly became a mess of misfits and gearheads, drug runners and “grey market” tech dealers; a society unto itself with its own shanty towns and oil barons, where auto mechanics live like rock stars and diner waitresses are worshiped as celebrities. In other words, the Black Diamond is no place for your average tax-paying citizen.

A page from “Black Diamond: On Ramp”

Meanwhile, down on the ground, life goes swimmingly for America’s “desirables.” Old ladies walk their dogs, paperboys work their routes, and nobody’s got a care in the world. Unless, as Young wrote in “On Ramp,” the “Black Diamond” “prequel” AiT/Planet Lar published way back in 2005, “an avocado-colored 1972 AMC Gremlin with laughing-gas boosters and 250-gallon drums of gas will careen off the highway 150 feet above your head and squash your mom like a bug when she’s getting the mail.”

Enter San Francisco’s Dr. Don McLaughlin, orthodontist at large. In Young’s words, Don is a green wheelman better used to braces and retainers than hot asphalt and four-on-the-floor. Don’s married to Katie, who unfortunately for him just happens to be the daughter of one Jim Maddox, the architect of the Black Diamond. It’s unfortunate because the government has decided to clean up the super highway, provoking its outlaw denizens to take drastic measures to preserve their concrete heartland and kidnap Katie in Baltimore. Dr. Don borrows the keys to a hugely illegal 1973 Cougar and hits the road to rescue his wife.

“Black Diamond” is the first full-color mini-series from Young’s AiT/Planet Lar outfit, and one of just a small handful of serialized titles released by the primarily graphic novel-focused San Francisco publisher. “Jon’s a badass colorist, so that’s simple math,” said Young of the choice to go full-color. As for the decision to present the story as a mini-series rather than an OGN, Young remarked, “[‘The Black Diamond’] is a mini because form follows function. You don’t get to drive across the country in one sitting, and you don’t get to read ‘The Black Diamond’ all at once. And my copy of the AiT playbook is 120 pages that say ‘Do what you want‘ over and over again, so there’s no deviation I can see.”

A page from “Black Diamond: On Ramp”

That “Black Diamond” is written by Young himself, another unusual aspect of this already unusual mini-series. “Black Diamond” is the first book scripted by Young in quite some time, but employs the filmic style that helped make “Astronauts In Trouble” the success it was in the first part of the decade. The first issue of “Black Diamond” details very plainly a day in the life of Dr. Don before he learns of his wife’s kidnapping, setting up for a quick change of pace by the issue’s end.

“I write stuff all the time, but a comic series or OGN only gets produced every eighteen months or so,” explained Young. “I love comics, though. I’ll probably always do a project every year and a half or so, around all the other stuff I have to do.”

Some fans may remember artist Jon Proctor from the well regarded but swiftly cancelled “Gun Theory,” one of the casualties of Marvel’s Epic Comics disaster in 2001. Since then Proctor has worked on various assignments for Marvel and DC Comics, but he came to Larry Young’s attention the old fashioned way: sending in samples. “I wrote back saying we should work together and we did,” said Young. “Kind of like ‘Alias Smith and Jones,’ except we’re not non-violent cowboy train-robbing cousins granted amnesty by the governor if we can stay out of trouble for a year. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same thing.”

Proctor’s artwork is almost entirely unlike anything else on the stands today. Simple yet intensely stylized; distorted yet deliberate, Proctor’s “Black Diamond” work leaps off the page with a psychedelic urgency that’s sure to get him noticed by more and more readers as the series progresses.

A page from “Black Diamond: On Ramp”

“Black Diamond’s” politics-heavy premise is more than just the foundation for the story’s high-concept set piece. The series promises to wrap a good deal of social commentary in its jacket of action and attitude. “You can see political commentary in it; economic commentary, even class issues and religious issues,” Young explained. “Without getting into ‘author’s intent,’ Jon and I just want to say now that everyone is correct with their own interpretations.”

Of the inspiration for the series, Young said, “[My wife] Mimi and I were heading down to LA for some meetings and there was some guy driving the speed limit in front of us in the fast lane. I thought it’d be cool if I had my own lane to drive in. Then I thought ‘Drive-in,’ which leads me to ‘Vanishing Point’ and ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’ and all of a sudden I’ve got a place with its own history in my head.

“Then I think, ‘What if Mimi was trapped on the East Coast and I had to go get her?’ I’d steal a car if I had to and not slow down for the cops. ‘Hmm, there’s plot taken care of. Wonder what Jon Proctor’s working on now?’ Zoom! We’ve got us a convoy.”

“The Black Diamond” #1 ships this May from AiT/Planet Lar. When you’re done checking out these first twelve pages, stop by CBR’s Indie Comics forum to discuss "The Black Diamond" with fellow fans.

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