What’s the worst thing that can happen to your dirty little secret?
Someone writes an illustrated book about it.
Last November “Union Station,” a graphic novel written by “Green Arrow” inker Ande Parks with art by Uruguay’s Eduardo Barreto, hit the shelves and tells all the gory details of the Union Station Massacre, a wild shootout that left five dead in Kansas City in 1933. The event was a catalyst to creating the modern-day FBI.
Many comic fans will recognize the name of Parks, a 14-year comics veteran, for his current work as the inker on Phil Hester’s pencils in DC’s “Green Arrow.” For Parks, this venture into true crime was inspired three years ago when the inker-turned-writer read Alan Moore’s “From Hell,” a fictionalized retelling of the Jack the Ripper story — which was later adapted for the big screen under the same name and starred Johnny Depp.
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“It hit me that Union Station was in my backyard,” says Parks, who lives in Baldwin City, Kan., roughly 30 minutes from Union Station. “I knew a little bit about the massacre, but like most people, not much. I researched the project for two years before I pitched the story, and then it took a year to execute the project.”
Though Parks was nervous about his writing debut and his labor of three years hitting store shelves, he was reassured by the rave reviews it received from such sources as the “Washington Post” — who said that readers would finish “Union Station” wishing the TV show CSI was as good.
He also isn’t so sure the folks at Union Station will welcome the book with open arms. Now a renovated railway station and historical landmark in Kansas City that attracts hundreds every day, the impression Parks gets is that the massacre is a taboo topic there.
“The policy seems to be to pretend it didn’t happen. I don’t know why they’d be embarrassed, I think there should be more there commemorating it,” Parks says. “Upstairs, there’s a big timeline, going into great detail on the restoration, but only dedicating one index card to the massacre. But it has to be in the top 2 or 3 things to ever happen at Union Station, arguably in the top 2 or 3 historical events in Kansas City.”
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For those people who know little about the massacre, the short of it is this: In 1933, Frank Nash, an escaped convict, was being transported by police and two agents of the Bureau of Investigation to Leavenworth Penitentiary after being apprehended in Hot Springs, Ark. As they arrived at Union Station, 3 or 4 gangsters, one of which has been argued to be Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, met them to free Nash. A gruesome machine gun shootout ensued, with four officers and Nash all dying.
The short-term effect was a horrified Kansas City. The long-term effect was J. Edgar Hoover seizing the moment to increase the power of the Bureau of Investigation — which, at the time, wasn’t even allowed to carry weapons — and changing the Bureau into the modern-day Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Plus, “FBI” sounds plenty tough, while “BI” didn’t quite strike fear into the hearts of criminals.
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“The organized crime going on at the time was seemingly accepted by the people — until this,” Parks says. “Hoover pinned the crime on three men, including Pretty Boy Floyd. But in my telling of the story, they weren’t even there. Hoover used him because he was a famous gangster, and he knew that would get him PR points.”
The black and white graphic novel is currently available from Oni Press, is 116 pages and has a price tag of $11.95.
“The local reaction to the book has been very cool. It was gratifying to sit at the convention in Kansas City shortly after the book came out, and have folks come up who felt the same way I did when I started this whole damn thing… they knew very little about the massacre, even though they’d lived here their whole lives, and were eager to find out more,” Parks says. “Inking comics is great, but it doesn’t satisfy every creative urge.”