Old women living in shoes. Eggs having great falls. Lost sheep. Merry old souls. Welcome to the world of Fairy Tales. Now, if you remember those fun childhood stories with a certain fondness, then a recently published book by Frank Cammuso called “Max Hamm Fairy Tale Detective” is one you should be investigating.
“‘Max Hamm Fairy Tale Detective’ takes classic children’s literature and plops it right in the middle of a 30’s-40’s Hollywood type town,” writer/artist Frank Cammuso told CBR News. “It delves into the seedy side of Storybooks. The stuff your parents never told you about when you were a kid. It’s what I call Fairy Tale Noir. It’s kind of an E! True Hollywood story for Fairy Tales. All that, and it’s told though the eyes of a snub-nosed, two-fisted, gumshoe, named Max Hamm, who just so happens to be a pig.”
For Cammuso, the inspiration for this book comes from a variety of loves, especially those of great animators and comic creators.
“I’ve always loved film noir,” said Cammuso. “And I’ve been a huge fan of Will Eisner, Walt Kelly and Walt Disney since I was a kid. So when I came up with this idea it was really a marriage of some of my favorite things.
“The fairy tale angle just took on a life of it’s own. Probably the coolest thing was, once I started to write it, I found all these similarities between 1930s-40s Hollywood and fairy tales. It works great because most of the characters are well known, not unlike celebrities. So everyone is familiar with their stories and background. Not to mention that they’re all public domain.”
Cammuso blends the worlds of sequential art found in comics and illustrated prose found in story books in this dark examination of the underbelly of the world inhabited by the stars of your favorite Fairy Tales. While the book may pull from stories best loved by children, the book’s edge will appeal to the adults in the audience without alienating younger audiences. In this first book, the book’s star, Maxx Hamm, investigates a missing flock of sheep in a story titled, “The Big Sheep.”
“‘The Big Sheep’ is a story in a story and I wanted a visual way to separate the two. Most of the book is Max telling a tale to his captors. I figured if he is going to narrate it, why not draw that sequence like a traditional storybook. It just seemed to work with the material.”
While satire of the classic fairy tales has been done before, Cammuso found an angle to explore with “Maxx Hamm” that, to his knowledge, hasn’t been done.
“As I said before, one of the great things about the book are the similarities between old Hollywood and fairy tales. To the best of my knowledge, that’s never been exploited. I also show a lot of the behind the scenes stuff. Things you may have wondered about but never knew.”
Cammuso is self-publishing the book, a not so easy task, and decision he made after being inspired by his fellow cartoonists.
“About five years ago I went to the [Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland] and I came away really impressed. It looked like a lot of much fun. All these people doing their own thing, and not caring if a major publisher would take it. It really made me want to self-publish my own comic book.”
That’s not to say Cammuso didn’t shop it around, but ultimately he found the self-publishing route was the best one for him.
“I sent around a proposal, but it didn’t get any nibbles,” said Cammuso. “I was concerned from the beginning that it might be a hard sell. I think without seeing the book, it’s a difficult concept to grasp. Especially since I really was making up the form and look of the book as I went along.
“In the publishing world today there seems to be a need to pigeon hole things. My literary agent has been shopping the finished book around and it’s gotten lots of praise. The biggest problem people have with it is they can’t categorize it. Is it a children’s book or a graphic novel? I don’t know why it can’t be both.”
This isn’t Cammuso’s first time self-publishing. Last year he did a flip comic, “Tex Laramie,” with his friend Michael Jantze, best known for “The Norm.” That book was well received and he decided to give it another try by doing something longer. After contributing a Max Hamm short story to last years SPXPO anthology book he decided this was the perfect subject to expand upon.
“At first, I was intimidated by doing something this long. I’m a political cartoonist by day, so my work is usually one stand-alone image. This was 48 pages, a whole story. But I planned it out and everything worked great. The only tough thing was the business aspect of it all. I’m not only the artist and writer, but I’m the designer, publisher, salesman and marketing agent. A lot of those jobs were quite new to me.”
While Cammuso’s name may not be well known by most of CBR’s readers, he’s been drawing since a young age and is active in a number of daily and weekly periodicals as a political cartoonist.
“I was born in Ithaca, NY and grew up outside Syracuse in the town of Baldwinsville. I’ve been drawing comics since I can remember. So I went to college for art, illustration to be specific. Soon after I graduated from Syracuse University I got a job with the Syracuse Post-Standard drawing political cartoons. Since then, I’ve won several awards and have had my work reprinted in the Washington Post, The New York Times and Newsweek. I also a write short humor essays with my writing partner, Hart Seely. Our essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Op-Ed, The Village Voice and Slate. We were also regulars on NPR. And we had a book of our essays published by Random House in 2000.”
Will there be more “Maxx Hamm” tales in the future? Cammuso answers that question with a definitive yes!
“There will definitely be another Max Hamm book. I’m working on it now. I’d like it to be a series/ I had so much fun doing the first one. Plus, there is just so much material out there. I have some great ideas for things I want to do.”
“Max Hamm Fairy Tale Detective” is published by Nite Owl Comix, is 48 pages, black and white and available through Diamond Comics Distributors. If you’re interested in getting a copy, ask your store to for “Max Hamm,” Diamond number SEP022254F. For a review of “Max Hamm,” see Augie De Blieck Jr’s review in Pipeline Commentary.