WonderCon: Phillips Plays With "High Rollers"

Popular L.A. crime novelist Gary Phillips will return to comics later this year as BOOM! Studios announced his new book "High Rollers" Friday at WonderCon in San Francisco.

Phillips, who has written nearly a dozen novels including both his 'Ivan Monk' and 'Martha Chainey' series, previously penned "Angeltown" for Vertigo and "Shot Callerz" and "Midnight Mover" for Oni Press.

Phillips says "High Rollers" is a modern gangster story.

"There are going to be some fresh elements in it, but there are also certainly some echoes to 'The Wire' and even 'The Sopranos' and 'American Gangster.' Not to say that it is all rolled together into one but it is certainly a classic tale, at least in this stage (laughs), of the rise of a homegrown gangster," Phillips told CBR News. "There is a little international flavor in the book as well, but I don't want to give that away. But that will be there, too."

The four-issue mini-series is set in Los Angeles, Phillips' hometown.

"It is set up as a four-issue arc and at the conclusion there will certainly be a satisfying resolution to the initial story," offered Phillips. "But the way it ends there are some things that will be left dangling. Hopefully, people will want to see more how that plays out and we will have another series after the first one but obviously, we will have to see what the reaction is and what the sales figures are."

Phillips revealed that the central figure in "High Rollers" is a young man named Cameron Quinn.

"He's mostly called C.Q. by his friends. When we first meet him, he is an enforcer, the muscle for the existing gang lord," explained Phillips. "And without giving away too much on that end, where I think we start to see some interesting side notes, is not only with C.Q., but when his sister enters the scene. Her name is Rita Marston.

"She is kind of the opposite of him. As he is more of the hoodlum, gangster-type, she is much more the white collar professional. But certain things happen in her world that force her to come into his orbit more, against her will. She is purposefully distant from her brother and his activity but she has to do some things that force her to get closer to her brother for different reasons."

Like any good crime writer, Phillips hopes to grab the reader's attention right away in the opening pages of issue #1.

"Cameron Quinn is very much the anti-hero. He's not the guy with the golden shield and the all-American smile. He is very much a dark character, a very complex and conflicted character," explained Phillips.

"Even in those first few pages, C.Q. does a fairly dastardly act and then you see the flipside of him a little ways later on. I think for the readership, this is a character that they are going to want to see more of. Because, they want to see what really makes him tick. There are certain situations that he gets pulled into and we'll get to see how he reacts to them.

"What I am hoping to portray is that he is not the one-dimensional, one-beat kind of gangster. There is more to him than just being the enforcer. There is more to him than just being the muscle for this guy. He has more going on than that. And that is what creates his internal conflicts."

When asked to paint a picture of his leading man using the current Hollywood landscape, Phillips had a few GQ names to capture C.Q.'s games.

"That's interesting. He's really hot now and I guess he is going to play James Brown, but I can definitely see somebody like Usher as Quinn because he has that kind of range as an actor. And he's older now, but Tyrese Gibson from 'Transformers' would play an interesting Quinn, too," responded Phillips.

While a release date for "High Rollers" is yet to be set, Phillips said his instructions were to get the book to BOOM! Studios ASAP.

"This week, I will finish off the first issue and get it in for edits. Hopefully, it goes out to the artist next week. What I've been told is get these damn scripts done as quickly as you can," laughed Phillips.

The artist on the book is Brazillian artist Manuel Magalhaes.

"For the American audience, because he's not real well known here, I think they will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of Manoel's craftsmanship," said Phillips. "He's really clean and elegant and very, I guess rustic would be a good word."

Phillips said his long history with many of the principals at BOOM! Studios led him to their doorsteps for his latest foray into comics, but its his hardboiled quality that landed him the gig.

"It helped that in other incarnations, I actually knew [Editor-In-Chief] Mark [Waid] way before now. And I knew [Marketing and Sales Director] Chip [Mosher], as well. Chip and I have known each other for quite a while. And then there is Tom Fassbender too, who is over there as the VP of Publishing, so it is all very incestuous because Tom and his partner Jim Pascoe, used to be publishers of a small press and they actually published one of my novels, 'The Perpetrator,' so that all helps too," explained Phillips.

"But the main reason is that with my background writing crime and mystery novels and short stories, I have been nicely pigeonholed into that kind of writer and bringing that kind of hardboiled quality to a book."

Phillips says he loves working in a climate that not only accepts, but encourages cross-pollination between comics and novels, and TV and film.

"It's a reflection of the maturity of the audience. The audience is demanding more and you have to give it to them. And that's good," said Phillips. "That is a good sort of pressure to have as a storyteller, to be able to hit the high mark. To be able bring stuff up to a certain type of level, be it comic books, novels, TV, film, animation or what have you.

"The interesting thing that has happened in comics, the audience does demand more in terms of characterization and what is the motivation of a character. Sometimes it gets way out of hand but the reality is that it still helps you as a writer or as a storyteller to really ground your characters no matter how fantastic they might be.

"There is a certain reality that we all have an affinity for. No matter how insane it gets with Spider-Man, he is still this nerdy guy who just happens to have these weird powers so what do you do with that? Everything proceeds from that."

Phillips said while he is fairly entrenched in the crime genre, he would love to word balloon some capes.

"There are definitely different characters out there that I would like to have my take or say on," said Phillips. "Understanding that there is a whole continuity already in place in terms of how these characters already exist and move, that's the fun part as a writer, to see what you can do given all that weight and baggage. Or at least, what can you do in certain situations that you might present those characters with."

In closing, Phillips said as humans, we are "hardwired" for good storytelling and that's what he hopes he brings to the table each and every time and specifically to "High Rollers."

"I can't remember who said this, but he talked about the human brain being hardwired for stories. It must be true -- ever since we sat around the fire in the cave we have been telling stories on the wall or what have you.

"I guess the brain seeks order out of chaos. but people do want a narrative. They do want a beginning, middle and end. And we want that over and over and over again."


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