Hollywood may be the land of bright lights and beautiful people, but it casts a long, ugly shadow over the streets of Los Angeles. In the new comic "Strange Detective Tales: Dead Love" from Oddgod Press, written by Jesse Bausch and illustrated by James Callahan, strange things are crawling out of the shadows.
Set in Los Angeles of the late fifties, "Strange Detective Tales" chronicles the odd case of private detectives Renfield and Igor investigating the disappearance of Renfield's dead ex girlfriend . Yes, that's the bug eating manservant of Dracula and the hunch backed mad scientist assistant and their clients aren't exactly normal either.
"Folks have described it as monster noir, which I guess is pretty accurate. I tend to think of it as a straight detective story with a lot of dark comedy thrown in," Bausch told CBR News. Here comes the pitch. After the monster movie craze hit in the 1930s, monsters all over world moved to Los Angeles to sell their stories to and make it big in the movie business. But they all got screwed over by Hollywood executives, so now they live as this forgotten underclass in L.A. Renfield and Igor are able to bridge the monster and human worlds, so they work as private investigators to protect the monsters from the humans. Mostly."
If the idea of two of horror's most famous henchmen pairing up as private detectives seems more like the basis of a joke than the basis for a comic book series, you'd be on the right track.
"The original idea started, as most of my ideas do, with a lame joke," said Bausch. "Years ago I was lamenting stupid buddy films and thought of the Renfield and Igor buddy concept. It was kinda cute, but I didn't think anything more of it. Then Jim Callahan got involved with the Oddgod stuff and said he was looking for a larger project to work on, so I started wracking my brain for a concept I would enjoy that would play to his strengths. Jim and I both love monster stuff, so I was trying to come up with something in that vein. The problem with most monster movies and comics is that you have all these boring humans wandering around. So, I wanted to do something where the monsters get a lot more screen (panel?) time. That's when I remembered the Renfield and Igor idea and the whole thing came together. "
"Strange Detective Tales" might have began as a joke, but the series doesn't draw its humor from jokes, relying instead on the strangeness of the situation to provide both the humor and the thrills.
"In terms of tone, I tried to play it as straight as possible. Most of the comedy comes from the concept itself and from the visuals," said Bausch. "Jim has a great sense of visual comedy, so I trusted in that and tried to steer clear of being too jokey. As I said, most of my jokes are pretty lame. Looking back at it, the three main influences are probably the films "The Big Lebowski" and "The Long Goodbye" and just about any book by James Ellroy. I'm a big fan of heroes who aren't particularly heroic. I don't know how conscious I was of those influences when I was writing it, but seeing the piece from the other side, it definitely draws from that vein.
"In terms of comic book influences, I'm not so sure. Miller maybe. But he really turns the tough-guy tone up to eleven in most of the 'Sin City' stuff - to the point where his dialogue is both cool and self-parodying at the same time. I was trying to come at it from a slightly different angle. Renfield and Igor are clearly not traditional tough guys, so the humor comes more from these guys trying to act tough when they clearly aren't."
Artist James Callahan's hard edged art fits the tone of the book perfectly, whether he's illustrating the normal looking Renfield, his ex girlfriend's banshee mother, or the Little Green Mafia; a mob composed of the fedora wearing Roswell aliens.
"It's funny that Jim and I don't actually talk about the book all that much," said Bausch. "Usually, I'll give him a script, we'll chat a little on reference and then a month or two later he sends me pages that make my jaw drop. I think he might be reading my mind."
The current mini series ends with issue three, but it's not the last we'll see of Bausch and Callahan's strange detectives. After "Dead Love" concludes, the private detectives to the monsters are taking their weird style abroad.
"I conceived the book as a series of mostly self-contained stories, all of which are centered around monster movies in some way. The second story will be set in Mexico and draws on the luchador movie craze (Santo and the like) in the late 1950s / early 1960s." explained Bausch, " After that and assuming Jim hasn't become a rockstar who won't return my calls by then, the third story will be set in London during the Hammer horror era. And the grand finale will be set in Tokyo. I've thought of doing more in Los Angeles, but right now I'm much more interested in sticking to the plan, mostly because I'm terrified of repeating myself."
Both Bausch and Callahan have a lot more in the pipeline than the adventures of Renfield and Igor. "I'm already working on the second story for 'Strange Detective,'" said Bausch, "I'm also working on a longer project called 'Way of the Void.' It's basically 'Kung Fu' set in outer space. I think I'll be doing that as a webcomic to start. Most of the stories I've come up with have been shorter 8-12 pagers which probably wouldn't work too well as a monthly or semi-monthly comic, but should fit into an online format that's updated every few weeks. It's my ridiculously overlong 'Lone Wolf & Cub'-style epic. Cody Miles (who did a fantastic pinup for the second issue) is lined up to do the illustration to start. The first story will probably be on the Oddgod Press website in a month or two, depending on when we feel we have a regular update schedule that we can stick to. There's also a couple of other projects; one is a suspense/horror comic called 'Secret Origin' (which may or may not involve superheroes) and the other is called 'The Last War' (which is a war comic, kinda), but they're both in that magical place where they can only be annoyingly hinted at."
Callahan, on the other hand, isn't ready to give up drawing dead folks who won't stay buried just yet. "Jim has his own graphic novel coming out called 'Rotting in Dirtville' through Gigantic Books," said Bausch. "I've seen the art for the first half of it and it looks amazing. What I've read of the story is great, too. He really doesn't need me at all. I'm just weighing him down."
"Strange Detective Tales: Dead Love" concludes this month.