|Max Allan Collins|
He’s an industry veteran, a veteran novelist and one of his most powerful comic book works, set in Depression-Era Chicago and involving some notorious gangsters, is being adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks and Jude Law. Though crime writer Max Allan Collins may not yet be a household name, when the film adaptation of the critically acclaimed “Road to Perdition” hit theatres in a few months, his star is sure to rise quickly. Collins sat down to talk with CBR News exclusively to speak about “Road to Perdition,” his thoughts on adapting a comic into a film and the roots of his career in sequential art.
“I grew up in Iowa a kid loving and reading comics, and dreaming of being a cartoonist,” Collins told CBR News. “But around the seventh grade, I got interested in mystery fiction; my favorite comic books were ‘Dick Tracy’ and ‘Batman,’ so the jump to hardboiled private eyes was a short one. I began writing mystery novels in junior high, kept at it in high school — sending a manuscript out, getting it rejected, starting another — and continued the process at the University of Iowa, where I was in both the undergrad and graduate Writers Workshop. I was kind of a black sheep at that prestigious writer’s school, with my ‘commercial’ goals; but I wrote three mystery novels there, and sold all of them — the first two, literally, in the last week of class. My first novel, ‘Bait Money’ (1973), was about a fifty-ish bank robber and his young, unlikely accomplice, a comic book collector in his early twenties. A series followed — Nolan and Jon, I think around eight books to date — and all of the entries are filled with comics references. This attracted the attention of an editor at the Chicago Tribune Syndicate, who was looking for a mystery writer to take over the ‘Dick Tracy’ strip for Chester Gould; also, about a year before that, I’d done a strip for editor Rick Marschall at Field Enterprises — a private eye feature called ‘Heaven and Heller,’ which Rick bought but which never saw the light of day, ’cause he unfortunately lost his position there. But he put in a good word for me at the Trib.”
“I was given the opportunity to try out for the strip, wrote a sample story and pretty much got the job on the spot; as a ‘Tracy’ fanatic, this was a job I’d been unwittingly preparing for since childhood. I had a fifteen-year run, before I ran afoul of an incompetent editor who hated my work almost as much as I hated him. But initially my updated take on ‘Dick Tracy’ attracted quite a bit of favorable attention, some of it in the comic book industry, and my phone started to ring. Mostly I created my own features, often in collaboration with artist Terry Beatty (a fellow Muscatine, Iowa native). But sometimes I did mainstream stuff, notably an ill-fated year or so on ‘Batman’ under Denny O’Neill. ‘Ms. Tree’ however, was one of the most successful independent comics, running fifty issues and then a series of graphic novels for DC Comics, under editor Mike Gold.”
“At the same time, I continued writing mystery novels, and have been fairly successful, in particular with the Nathan Heller series – a reworking of the ‘Heaven and Heller’ concept! The ‘Heller’ novels have won two Shamus awards for best novel, and have been nominated by the Private Eye Writers of America ten times…a record. I’ve also become a specialist at ‘licensing’ novels — movie tie-ins. This also came out of ‘Dick Tracy,’ because I was hired to write that novelization since I was the writer of the strip and a consultant on the movie. Many of these books have been bestsellers – ‘Saving Private Ryan’ got on the New York Times bestseller list.”
Current ‘Road to Perdition’ cover.
Click to enlarge.
“I’ve been a fan of a comics since childhood — before I could read,” elaborates Collins regarding his interest in the medium. “I had given up my goal of cartooning long before I published my first novel; but I remained a fan of the medium. But frankly I consider myself a storyteller, first and foremost, and believe my greatest strength is an ability to conform to the very different demands of various media. Most novelists are bewildered by the visual needs of comics and screenwriting; working in these various forms of narrative storytelling comes naturally to me, probably because I have always been as big a fan of movies and comics as I’ve been of fiction. I learned more about storytelling from Chester Gould than just about anybody, except maybe Mickey Spillane. My childhood favorites are still my favorites: Al Capp, whose ‘Li’l Abner’ is the greatest of all comic strips; Gould; Eisner; Kurtzman; Caniff; Johnny Craig. The last group of artists that really hit me hard was the underground boys — Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, and so many more. But I can’t say anybody from the last twenty years has influenced me. Same is true in mystery fiction. I’m competitive as hell — the guys who’ve been working as long as I have are the competition. I don’t read current mystery fiction or comics for pleasure, nor do I seek to learn anything from them. This may be a weakness, but I seem to getting by all right, with this bad attitude.”
Even though Collins may not be influenced by contemporary crime fiction, he does admit that the real world has impacted his writing on more than one occasion. “As I’ve indicated, I’m pretty much a pop culture junkie. I’m as much influenced by Aldrich’s ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ as the Spillane source material. Hitchcock is as important to me as Hammett, and for that matter, Gould is as important as Chandler. I was one of the first to write about Jim Thompson and helped spark the interest in his work. I watch lots of foreign genre movies — Hong Kong, Japanese, Italian, French, you name it…I have a DVD player that plays PAL discs; my work was influenced by John Woo before almost anybody in America had heard of him (except Ric Meyers and Tom Weisser, of ‘Asian Cult Cinema’ mag…I write a column there, incidentally). Add to this a rock ‘n’ roll background — performing and songwriting since the late ’60s — and you have what my teenage son describes as a geezer into Weezer. Current events used to drive my ‘Dick Tracy’ and ‘Ms. Tree’ writing, so it’s ironic that my mystery writing claim to fame is historical fiction. I was proud of doing topics in ‘Tracy’ that anticipated something like ten ‘Time’ and ‘Newsweek’ covers. ‘Ms. Tree’ was created in part to do the topics that were too hot for ‘Tracy’ — abortion clinic bombings, gay bashing, date rape, etc. My wife Barb and I have begun collaborating on novels – contemporary thrillers — that hark back to that approach. We had a paperback bestseller called ‘Regeneration,’ a year or so ago, that dealt with aging baby boomers as they face age discrimination in the work place. Our solution was a chemical and surgical makeover that turned fifty-somethings into thirty-somethings with new identities.”
Now if you’ve read this far in the interview, you’re probably wondering what “Road To Perdition” is about and why both Sam Mendes & Tom Hanks would sign on for the feature film adaptation of this comic. “‘Road to Perdition’ is the story of a family man — in two senses,’ explains the author of the story. “Michael O’Sullivan (‘Sullivan’ in the movie) works for the Looney crime family (‘Rooney’ in the movie) as a mob enforcer. But he also has a beloved wife, Annie, and two wonderful young sons, Michael Jr. and Peter, who live a fairly idyllic existence, almost a Norman Rockwell-esque Midwestern life, particularly considering it’s the Depression. O’Sullivan’s older boy, Michael — curious about what his father does for a living — stows away in the backseat when his papa and “Crazy” Connor Looney drive off to do a job for mob paterfamilias, John Looney. The boy witnesses a mob massacre, in which his father participates, and is found out…known by Connor to be an eyewitness to murder. When O’Sullivan is betrayed by the Looneys – his wife and younger son killed — he and his surviving boy take to the road, fleeing the mob and at the same time declaring war on them, demanding of the Capone mob (affiliated with Looney) that Connor be turned over to him. It’s a violent tale of revenge and redemption, with lots of religious overtones (I’m not Catholic, by the way).”
As much as working on this project appealed to Collins, he admits that the timing had something to do with his quick acceptance of the project. “I was asked by editor Andy Helfer of DC’s Paradox Press to come up with something akin to my Nathan Heller historical novels, to write a three-part graphic novel which would eventually be collected into a book. He didn’t want Heller, though — he wanted a similar but new concept. I’d been wanting to do something with the true story of John Looney and his warped son Connor for a long, long time; I ran across information on the Looneys while researching the first Heller, ‘True Detective’ (1983). This seemed like the perfect venue. What made it an ‘irresistible creative opportunity’ was my need for work: I’d just been fired from the ‘Tracy’ strip and wanted to do something else in comics…preferably something adult, without the restraints of the ‘Tracy’ strip. And I wanted to write a novel in comics form, not an ongoing like ‘Ms. Tree’ or ‘Mike Danger.’ That fit Andy Helfer’s thinking perfectly.”
But why choose DC to work on “Road to Perdition?” Collins says that his previous experiences with the company have endeared him to working there. “My mainstream comics life has always been at DC. I had friends there, like Mike Gold, Andy Helfer and Paul Levitz. Publishing is a social business — I go where they’ll let me in the door. The experience was great. I’m particularly grateful to Andy Helfer, whose editing was exemplary, and who managed to convince Paul to publish ‘Road’ even though the line of books had been cancelled. Bless them both.”
At the end of the graphic novel, the reader is greeted by a message from Collins that does call into question just how much of the story is really factual and how much is interpretation on his part. At some points in the story itself, we have characters referencing details of events of which they are not entirely sure are accurate. “I was having fun with the reader, there,” admits Collins. “My Heller novels hew close to the facts of the various crimes I explore — the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Huey Long assassination, the Sir Harry Oakes murder, etc. But ‘Road to Perdition’ is looser. The Looney material is pretty much true, though the time is shifted up somewhat, so that I could better use Capone, Frank Nitti and Eliot Ness, regulars from the Heller series. The killing of Bill Gabel (Fin McGovern in the movie) has a factual basis, as does the shooting of Connor Looney, and old man Looney’s capture in his New Mexico hideout (though it wasn’t by Eliot Ness). The Quinlan riverboat did burn; lots of historical touches like that. Looney even betrayed several trusted lieutenants, though not in the manner O’Sullivan suffers. Really what I was trying to do was something I’ve previously explored in the second Heller, ‘True Crime’ (1984): combine the two major crime motifs of the ’30s into one narrative — the urban ‘Little Caesar’ -type gangster story, and the rural ‘Bonnie and Clyde’-type saga. In reality, these two criminal classes had a lot to do with each other; but in movies and fiction, the city gangsters are painted as one world, the rural outlaws as another. I wanted to correct that impression in ‘Road.'”
“The trickiest aspect was my decision to use a first-person narration, with an adult Michael Jr. writing a memoir about his childhood experiences with his father on the road. That meant I had to use the somewhat outrageous device of having Michael tell us that he’s about to report something he didn’t witness, and is basing the upcoming scenes on true-crime accounts he’s read filtered through his own knowledge of his father. Only the comic book medium would accommodate a narrative ploy of that sort. And I love the way it plays.”
One aspect of “Road To Perdition” that has especially resonated with fans is the diverse array of characters and the way Collins was able to give each a unique identity in the story. “The length and breadth of the narrative — I had three hundred pages to tell my story! — allowed me to spend time with Nitti and Capone, and even give the opening of the final section over to Eliot Ness, without worrying about Michael and his father being off-screen. This, I hope, gives ‘Road’ a richness usually found only in prose fiction. Often in comics — at least in my experience — space confines have prevented this kind of thing. I used to have forty words a day in a ‘Tracy’ daily strip; 20 or 22 pages a month to advance ‘Ms. Tree’ or ‘Batman’ or ‘Mike Danger.’ In addition, the size of ‘ROAD’s’ landscape allowed me to write lean and clean, letting the pictures do much of the talking.”
Collins also wowed readers with his balanced depiction of hit man Michael O’Sullivan, reminding the reader he isn’t a saint nor is he a ruthless killer, a depiction that struck a chord with many a fan. But Collins contends that there is no real secret to making such a character sympathetic and says that his past writing experiences aided him in this aspect of “Road To Perdition.” “I have written about bad guys as protagonists from the beginning of my career: ‘Bait Money’s’ Nolan is a professional thief, not adverse to killing people who cross him; my character Quarry — who first appeared in ‘The Broker’ (1975) — was the first professional killer to star in a series of novels…back when Quentin Tarantino was still in his underroos. My private eye Nate Heller — like Mike Hammer before him — frequently murders the bad guys; in ‘Angel In Black,’ he burns a man to death by pouring liquor on him and setting the guy afire. In the new one, ‘Chicago Confidential,’ he talks the murderer into committing suicide. And yet almost everybody who reads those books has no trouble identifying with Nate Heller. The secret to reader sympathy is no big deal: these men have to be the best men in their world; they live by a code of ethics, within their unethical framework. And, in contrast, the bad guys have to be really bad — sociopaths, usually. Why do we like Tony Soprano [from HBO’s ‘The Sopranos’]? For all his faults, he’s the best man in his world. In real life, that was true of Frank Nitti. Michael O’Sullivan was betrayed. John and Connor Looney crossed the line, and murdered O’Sullivan’s wife and child…innocents. Of course we root for O’Sullivan. At the same time, this tale intends to confront you with O’Sullivan’s hypocrisy: you cannot be an evil man at work, and a good man at home. Such compartmentalization is both immoral and naive. Anyway, ‘Road to Perdition’ is not O’Sullivan’s story: it’s the boy’s story …Michael O’Sullivan, Jr. And he’s easy to root for, since he doesn’t deserve any of this bad shit.”
Many critics have commented that the main themes in “Road To Perdition” are love, honor and loyalty, but Collins has a contrasting opinion. “Frankly, loyalty and honor are what Michael O’Sullivan thinks this story is about. What it’s really about is how foolish anyone is who thinks there is such a thing as honor or loyalty among thieves. But it is also about unconditional love: the father loves the boy, and the boy loves the father. That is O’Sullivan’s hope, his possible redemption. At the same time the notion that if young Michael can just get his father to a priest, Papa can confess his sins before dies and therefore go to heaven…well, that’s meant ironically. It’s meant to show how foolish, how backward the thinking of these people is.”
Long time and astute comic book readers will no doubt notice the similarities between “Road to Perdition” and the classic Japanese comic book series “Lone Wolf & Cub,” a connection that is far stronger than many people realize. “‘Lone Wolf & Cub’ is a masterpiece. Prior to ‘Road To Perdition,’ I wrote a lengthy article about the manga and the movies it spawned that was published in ‘Asian Cult Cinema’ and elsewhere. Part of ‘Road’ is my attempt to do an American homage to that great manga — it seemed to me that a godfather was like a shogun, and a mob enforcer was like a samurai. I acknowledge the debt with an epigram at the start of the book from Kazuo Koike: ‘You must choose a road for yourself.’ So you have a father and son fleeing betrayers, and seeking vengeance. That said, this is only one element of ‘Road,’ one ingredient. The real-life Looney story was at least as important, and I wanted to explore a father and his adolescent son — an infant had no interest for me – to examine the conflict between the hero-worshipping image we often have of a strong parent and the disappointing reality of who that parent really is. In addition, my story ‘Mommy’ — which led to both an indie film, a sequel to that film and two paperback bestsellers — is about a perfect, country-club mother whose young daughter gradually discovers her June Cleaver mother is a sociopath. ‘Road’ had roots in my wanting to do a father-and-son variation on that theme.”
“And then there’s Richard Stark’s Parker books — Donald Westlake’s pioneering series about a professional thief. My Nolan books followed in those footsteps, and ‘Road’ is similarly indebted — Parker is betrayed in ‘The Hunter’ (filmed as ‘Point Blank’ and more recently ‘Payback’) and steals from the mob to get even. Anyone who dismisses ‘Road’ as an imitation or rip-off of ‘Lone Wolf’ is either not very familiar with the latter, hasn’t really read the former, or just doesn’t know how to read. At any rate, I would cherish any reader or reviewer who found ‘Road’ to be a worthy American cousin to ‘Lone Wolf;’ and would be thrilled if ‘Road’ led more readers to this wonderful work.”
While Collins may have easily found thematic inspiration in many contemporary work, it didn’t eliminate the need for factual accuracy and this naturally led to a lot of research. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the hardest part of writing the story and Collins explains why. “Research, as with the Heller novels, was considerable. I had the help of George Hagenauer, as usual, but also Rock Island local history expert, BJ Elsner. One of the trickiest things was finding visual reference on the Looneys and Rock Island — the Quinlan riverboat, for example — to send off to artist Richard Piers Rayner in England. Just gathering the New Mexico visuals was a chore, but a worthwhile one. This was not a hard book to write. Once I found the tone, the contrast between the nostalgic voiceover and the leanness of the dialogue, I was home free.”
“But I did worry about the ending. I originally did not want the finality of what occurs at the end of the road to Perdition, Kansas. Andy Helfer felt that was the only way to go — to truly, irrevocably end the journey; but I envisioned the saga stretching out, ‘Lone Wolf’-style. Then when I got to the finish, I did what felt right. The best thing about the book — omitted from the movie, I’m afraid — is the surprise finish, revealing the adult Michael’s current occupation. And it was not planned — I didn’t know that was what would happen until I typed it.”
“And knew it was perfect.”
“Andy was pleased, too.”
Collins also adds that the experience of writing “Road to Perdition” was a pleasant one, even if things didn’t always go the way they were scheduled. “Originally, ‘Road’ was structured to be published as three issues, as were the other Paradox Press mystery series. But ‘Road’ was the last of the Paradox mysteries, and was published only in book form. However, I wrote it pretty much the way I would a monthly comic book: when my editor called me, needing pages, I wrote them, sent them off, and forgot about it. Richard, wonderful as he is, is not fast. Often I would write thirty or forty pages, send them to Andy Helfer, he’d forward them to Richard, and months would go by…sometimes six months.”
“Then Andy would call and say, ‘I need pages.'”
“And I would say, ‘Pages of what?'”
“ROAD TO PERDITION! Remember?”
“And, every time, I would haul out my script, re-read everything to date, and then start in again. All three hundred pages were written that way. My main source of inspiration was John Woo. I was trying to write a John Woo movie. Instead, Sam Mendes made ‘The Godfather’ out of it…but that’s cool, too.”
Collins chose Richard Piers Rayner as the artist for “Road to Perdition” and explains that upon seeing Rayner’s work, he knew that the right artist had been found. “I’ve often worked with fairly cartoony artists, from my various ‘Dick Tracy’ collaborators on. For ‘Road’ I wanted a realist, who would bring the history to life. Several artists were considered, but when Andy Helfer showed me Richard’s work, I connected with it immediately — the linework evoked quality magazine illustration of the past, and of course there’s a quiet, poetic aspect to it, as well. I actually have not met Richard. We have spoken on the phone, exchanged e-mails and FAXes…and I hope to finally meet him, perhaps at the premiere. He’s a splendid chap (he’s a Brit, so I have to say it that way).”
In the end, Collins only has one regret about his time with “Road to Perdition” and surprisingly, it doesn’t directly relate to the work on the graphic novel at all. “I wish I had not agreed to do a novelization of the screenplay, as opposed to novelizing the graphic novel. I wanted to back the movie, but it was not the correct creative decision…though the tie-in novel, on its own terms, is fine. It’s just could have been great.”
The acclaimed author also notes that the writing process involved with producing a comic differs greatly from writing a novel, which results in some unique frustrations for Collins. “Like screenwriting, comics scripting is all about thinking visually — keeping the dialogue and narration to a minimum, telling the story through pictures as much as possible. Even better than cinema, comics can lead a reader through a story, emphasizing moments, revealing emotion, slowing, compressing, speeding up time, offering a control of pace unique to the medium. What I don’t like about comics is that I’m not doing the drawing — so, ultimately, my storytelling is turned over to other hands. One reason I stayed with Terry Beatty for so many years was his respect of my writing; we were on the same wave length, and that’s very important — my ‘Dick Tracy’ collaborators, neither of them, really connected with my approach…so the work was good, not great.”
“My scripts for that reviled run of ‘Batman,’ some years ago, were terrific — I kid you not; but over ten issues I had nine artists and some questionable editing, and the result made me look like a fool…. Some comic book fans still judge me by those miscarriages. I quit the book, by the way…I had a contract for two years, and was despondent about the situation. Denny O’Neill made it up to me, years later, by approving and publishing my ‘Elseworlds’ ‘SCAR OF THE BAT,’ an Eliot Ness/Batman graphic novel beautifully drawn by Eduardo Barretto, who also drew the best ‘Mike Danger’ issues. Screenwriting can be even worse than comics — unless you direct the picture yourself, which is why I pursue low-budget filmmaking. But with prose, it’s all yours — nobody fools with the words, except the occasional copy editor. It’s just you and the reader – two imaginations converging.”
Despite the increased attention on Collins and “Road to Perdition,” don’t look for him to be lured into writing any superhero titles any time soon. “I’m always up for writing ‘Batman’ or other costumed heroes, in the Zorro/Shadow tradition; superheroes — super-powered heroes — aren’t really my cup of tea. Never say never, though. A certain amount of super powers can be interesting — I love the character Kai on the wonderfully warped ‘Lexx’ TV series, a living dead man who cannot be killed. Still, Kai has weaknesses — he needs proto-blood to survive, for example. But generally a super-powered hero is the kind of character only a kid can identify with — a kid wishing to be an adult, essentially. In storytelling terms, if the hero has greater powers than his adversaries, what’s so heroic about him? Underdogs are easier to identify with. Batman may be a remarkable human being, but he is human — he bleeds; bones break.”
If you’re wondering how “Road to Perdition” made the transition from comic book to major motion picture, Collins is glad to explain how it all came about. “My literary agent, Dominick Abel, saw the potential in ‘Road’ and showed it to Hollywood agent Dan Ostrow. Dan showed it to Dean Zanuck, who loved it, and showed it to his dad, Richard Zanuck, who also loved it. Richard Zanuck showed it to Steven Spielberg, who loved it, and Steven Spielberg showed it to Tom Hanks…and so on. It’s a goddamn good graphic novel. Hollywood relates to comics because they are user friendly — that simple. People involved in a visual medium can easily relate to another visual medium. Also, filmmakers generally hate to read. That’s why ‘Road’ became a movie before Nate Heller.”
And while Collins wasn’t given much input on the screenplay itself, he seems pleased with the end result and is quite excited about seeing the complete film. “I haven’t had any input into the screenwriting. I wanted to write it myself, but was not given that opportunity, despite my having had four screenplays produced (okay, so I produced three of ’em myself). David Self’s original screenplay was so close to the graphic novel that most of the dialogue was mine. Subsequent rewrites — by uncredited hands – have seen my dialogue mostly leave; but the spine of the story, the characters, and the spirit of the piece remain. The major difference seems to be, Mendes’s story is about a hitman father who tries to prevent his son from going down his murderous path, and succeeds; while mine is about a hitman father who tries to prevent his son from going down his murderous path, and fails…at first, anyway.”
“The Looney/Rooney figure is more overtly a father figure to O’Sullivan in the movie than in my work (a good change); and the Jude Law hitman character is just a walk-on in my work, and having somebody pursuing the father and son, on the road, is a good addition, too. My graphic novel, of course, was much more violent. Otherwise, that’s my story, all right. All I’ve seen are some previews and, frankly, I was blown away — gorgeous stuff. Most of the clips had direct parallels in my graphic novel.”
“Right now I am about to go into promo for the film — without much encouragement so far from DreamWorks, by the way, but I have two books to hawk — with the idea of informing the world that this is a comic book movie. Much of what is wrong with the comics industry today can be seen in how ‘Road’ has been perceived in the world of comics. DC — perhaps embarrassed that they didn’t convince Warner’s to make a movie out of ‘Road’ — has done little promotion of the reprint, and only brought it back out at all because comic-book shop retailers demanded it. The comics press hasn’t even noticed that a Tom Hanks/Paul Newman/Jude Law/Sam Mendes movie has been made out of a graphic novel. Even my good friend Maggie Thompson omitted ‘Road’ from a ‘CBG’ [Comic Buyer’s Guide] issue entirely devoted to upcoming comics movies.
“‘Spider-Man’ is seen, by comics fans, as a big deal; ‘Road to Perdition’ rates a ‘huh?'”
“So you tell me — how does the future of the funny-book business look?”
When asked about his perspective on the industry’s health, Collins explains why he feels that the industry has a long way to go. “American comics, for the entire span of my lengthy career, have been plagued by the dominance of superheroes and other fantasy subjects. I love superheroes, and I love fantasy; but this dominance has kept us in the fanboy ghetto. Look at ‘Road to Perdition’ — everybody from DreamWorks to Sam Mendes and even Dick Zanuck and Tom Hanks have tried to distance themselves from the graphic novel. They are vaguely embarrassed – even though I know they loved the book! That’s why they made a ninety million dollar movie out of it. Comics needs brave publishers and a really crafty, in-for-the-long-haul re-education PR campaign, to convince America that this is a wonderful storytelling medium, as valid and compelling as motion pictures.
“We seem stuck in a rut — a handful of comic book shops driving the industry (God bless them) and very little mainstream acceptance…This in a world where ‘Spider-Man’ tops the box office and Tom Hanks stars in ‘Road to Perdition.’ Getting back to the perception problem, my issue — the unheeded shouting I’ve done for two decades now — is that the industry only knows how to promote two kinds of comics: superheroes, and arty stuff. I don’t disparage either animal. But a medium that has no middle ground between ‘Superman’ and ‘Ghost World’ is clearly in trouble.”
However the future of comic books may be, Collins already has plans for some future projects and they include reviving some of his old favorites. “Frankly, I would just like to get ‘Ms. Tree’ up and running again, in revamped form…possibly starting fresh, like the superheroes do every decade or two. I’ve always wanted to do a Mike Hammer graphic novel. I came close with ‘Mike Danger,’ the science-fiction variation on Hammer that Mickey Spillane and I created for Big Entertainment in the late ’90s. It ran for two years and was the most successful of that line of comics. The ‘Johnny Dynamite’ mini-series Terry and I did for Dark Horse is a good example of what I like to do. You have to understand, I don’t sit around dreaming; I make things happen — that’s my blessing and my curse.”
Collins admits that he doesn’t read many current comic books, but has a few favorites that he’s glad to promote. “I don’t read many current comics. I actually kind of soured on the medium, after getting fired from ‘Dick Tracy’ and then having ‘Road to Perdition’ come out to very little attention. I considered ‘Perdition’ my strongest work in the medium to date, but (prior to the movie, that is) it garnered little notice either in or out of comics; wasn’t nominated for an Eisner, for instance. So I took the hint and got out. But they keep pulling me back in…!!! Among current guys, I admire Stan Sakai; he really knows what he’s doing. I read manga occasionally, and of course am following the Dark Horse reprint of ‘Lone Wolf & Cub,’ which is my favorite comic book of all time. My biggest comics-type enthusiasm of late is the anime ‘Cowboy Bebop’ — remarkable stuff, absolutely great. The mangas of that are weak, though; I’d love to do ‘Cowboy Bebop’ comics…There’s a dream project!”
So what is next for Max Collins when it comes to published work? “I’m in the middle of a Batman project called ‘Child of Dreams,” reveals Collins. “It’s a massive graphic novel by Kia Asamiya of ‘Silent Mobius’ fame; I’ve been given a rough translation and carte blanche to do the American version. It’s an interesting piece of work, and I’m always happy to do a ‘Batman’ gig, if for no other reason than to irritate the fans who hated my ‘Batman’ tenure. Recently I did my first Marvel job — a Captain America eight-pager for an upcoming anthology — and I was contacted just yesterday about writing a five-issue mini-series based on the ‘CSI’ TV series (I’ve written two ‘CSI’ novels already for Pocket Books).
Before he returns back to working on all the above projects, Collins has a few words that he wants to share with both the fans of his work and comic book fans in general.
“To my readers, I would say ‘thank you.’ To fans in general, I would say, “If you’ve never read my comics, please try the reprint of ‘Road to Perdition.'”
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