Crime novel readers at large know Gary Phillips as the author of the Ivan Monk mystery novels. But comic fans likely remember his name best as the other Oni Press writer into guns and double-crosses, thanks to his four issue miniseries, "Shot Callerz," which was released last spring.
Now Phillips has reloaded and is coming back for more, with a four issue series beginning in March 2003, with art by Jeremy Love, inked by Jeff Wasson, and covers by Mike Huddleston.
"'Midnight Mover' is the classic crime story set-up," Phillips told CBR News on Wednesday. "A guy seemingly just going through life gets entangled in a murder that not only implicates him, but serves to reveal his troubled back story as well when he goes on the run. The title comes from a line in a Wilson Pickett song, Mustang Sally I believe -- 'I'm a midnight mover, a stone soul groover.'
"Danny Shaw is our erstwhile protagonist, an early thirties slacker who is not so much a hero as he is a mover, if you will, in the events of the story. In the mix are also LAPD plainclothes detectives Cynthia Oh and Frank Padilla. Ms. Oh has a few secrets of her own that play a role inthis story. And there's Captain Herman Drake of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division who is the Javert to Shaw's Jean Valjean -- at least that's what we initially think."
Phillips is leaving out an important element of the story, however: The murder takes place against the backdrop of Los Angeles' other powerhouse entertainment industry, the adult film industry.
"Where the story came from is a layered answer. A friend of mine, a young filmmaker named Brandon Wilson, and I have been tossing around a big idea for some time as a screenplay. We knew the backdrop was the homegrown cottage industry of L.A. the porn business which is now a multi-million dollar a year, world-wide enterprise. There's just so many interesting facets to
that business -- who's in it, who gets trapped in it and why, and so on -- that you can't help be drawn to it for the multiple stories potential. That screenplay will yet be done one day and it will incorporate some of my friend's characters and two of mine, my P.I. Ivan Monk and a cat called Marley. But as I said, there's all sorts of stories in the, er, Naked City, so Danny's was one such look at this world. Down the line, there will be some stuff that appears in 'Midnight Mover' that may find its way into one of my novels and, for sure, this screenplay me and Brandon will write some day."
The choice to do crime stories set in world of the porn industry is a natural, Phillips said.
"How can one not 'do' the adult film world? It's sleazy and arresting, it's tawdry and complicated. It has heartbreak and triumph, anti-heroes, sharpies, dingbats, the disillusioned and the true believers. Like rap, unlike say being a jazz musician or jet pilot, you don't have to have any particular technical acumen to break into the porn business. This is the flip-side of the American Dream, baby. Everyone can play in some capacity and try to get rich."
Residents of Los Angeles invariably find themselves a few degrees of separation closer to the porn industry than to, say, Kevin Bacon. The roommate of a girlfriend, the fraternity brother who dropped out of school, the guy you talk to at the dog park. Phillips demurred when asked how well he knows the porn industry.
"Being a middle class, middle-aged man with teenagers and a house note, I'll take the fifth. Though I will admit that as my background includes being a union organizer, I once did some work for a friend who was part of the American Federation of Theater and Radio Artists (AFTRA), and he'd been approached several times by porn actresses to mount, no pun intended, an organizing campaign of adult industry talent. We had several discussions of such a venture. We just couldn't figure out how to explain a campaign like that to our wives."
But why would a middle class, middle-aged man with teenagers and a house note want to be writing about bad people in bad situations at all?
"Having been weaned on Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Ralph Ellison, Rod Serling, Donald Goines, with some Mark Twain, Joyce Carol Oates and Charles Dickens thrown in, what else could I write? Plus growing up in South Central L.A., where one was often trapped between the antics of the gangs and the then infamous cops of the 77th Street Division, I draw from what I know or have heard about. Crime and mystery stories allow you to explore and tell the many sides of the human condition, as us humans are indeed most vexing and compelling creatures."
In Los Angeles, some of the traditional protagonists in crime stories, the police, occupy a difficult gray area, thanks to the well-publicized actions of certain officers. The LAPD's troubles over the past decade have become known worldwide, but for an Angeleno like Phillips, familiar with the decades of scandal, the temptation to comment on the police force might be too great too resist.
"Yes, the LAPD is indeed a subject from which many stories can be mined. And in fact my background includes being a anti-police abuse activist when I was younger. The two cops in 'Midnight Mover' don't represent a critique of the LAPD per se, but are, hopefully, interesting characters that help tell the story. Concurrently, I'm finishing a novel called 'bangers' (small 'b') that will be published next year by Kensington. In this book, the main characters are five cops on the TRASH (Tactical Resources Against Street Hoodlums) squad, and the reader takes a bumpy ride in the front seat of their hoopties (customized cars) as they commit varying degrees of street justice."
For comic readers looking for more of Phillips work between finding back issues of "Shot Callerz" and waiting on "Midnight Mover," the writer has a few suggestions.
"I'll let the work speak for itself, and urge the reader to check out a couple of the latest efforts, 'The Perpetrators from Ugly Town' and the paperback of 'Shooter's Point' from Kensington. You can also go to my Web site at www.gdphillips.com for a few other tidbits."
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.