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Another Hard-Boiled Friday

Anyone who’s been reading this weekly thing of mine for any length of time at all will know how fond I am of crime fiction in general and crime comics in particular.

Specifically, I’ve been a fan of the crime fiction of Max Allan Collins since Ms. Tree premiered in Eclipse the Magazine, long ago.

And I'm always happy to have an excuse to run this cover, too; it's possibly my favorite thing Paul Gulacy's ever done.

I did a column about my love for those Collins comics here, and I’ve mentioned it again in this space from time to time.

I’ve always enjoyed Mr. Collins’ collaborations with Mickey Spillane, as well, in both prose and comics.

I have a soft spot for MIKE DANGER, in particular, but the Collins-Spillane anthologies are very cool as well.

So when I heard Mr. Collins was finishing up several ‘lost’ Mike Hammer novels after Mickey Spillane passed away, my first thought was, “Of course. Who else is there?”

Of these first three, I think THE BIG BANG is my favorite, but they're all good.

So when Tom Green at Titan Books offered me a review copy of the latest Spillane-Collins collaborative Mike Hammer book, Lady, Go Die! and added that he could arrange an interview with Max Allan Collins as well, I lunged at that like a bass.

I got the book last week and loved it. It’s technically the second Hammer Spillane wrote, taking place not too long after I, The Jury, for those of you who are continuity-minded; in fact, it actually shows us the moment where Mike and his smokin’-hot secretary Velda actually started to look at one another, well, THAT way, let us say.

The book itself is tremendous fun with every bit of the adrenaline rush that I expect from a Hammer book, and really captures the spirit of the original Spillane novels in a way that most series-continuation pastiches could never hope to (Yes, I’m looking at your James Bond books, John Gardner.) Beyond that, well, I don’t know what other review to give it. If you like Mike Hammer, you’ll like this. if not… well, the interview with Mr. Collins below is still interesting reading, I think. Anyway, here it is.

***

Can you tell us how, exactly, you wound up writing Mike Hammer? I know this is something Mickey Spillane specifically asked you to do, it wasn’t one of these hired-gun things like the new novels featuring James Bond or Jason Bourne– my understanding is that this is something you worked out with Mr. Spillane when he was still alive. How did that come about?

Mickey and I were friends. I’d been a huge fan of his as a kid, and later wrote a number of articles about him and his work, often defending him. He was a very controversial figure and, to some degree, still is. His first six Mike Hammer novels, and one non-Hammer (THE LONG WAIT), introduced a level of sex and violence into not just mystery fiction but popular fiction. And a lot of critics and social commentators didn’t like that. Anyway, after I began publishing in the early ’70s, we became friends and did a number of projects together, a whole bunch of anthologies and the MIKE DANGER comic book included. In the last week or so of his life, he called and asked me to complete THE GOLIATH BONE, the Hammer he was working on but would probably not be able to finish. I said that of course I would do that. Then a few days later, he told his wife Jane to round up all the unfinished materal from his sixty-year career — and there was a lot of it — and turn it over to me. That I would “know what to do.”

I was struck, reading these books– especially THE BIG BANG and LADY GO DIE– how seamless it felt, reading them. When you look at this sort of collaboration the temptation is always to try and figure out the division of labor but with these new Hammer books it really is a smooth meshing of styles. In fact, they almost felt more… I can’t think of a proper word. “Hammer-esque,” maybe…. more authentic in some ways than the later Hammer books like BLACK ALLEY. Can you talk about what your starting point is with these books, how much is there to work with, and how you go about adopting Mike Hammer’s ‘voice’? I’m assuming that’s a different writing process for you than doing your own books, but I was hoping you could describe the differences.

Each book has been different. Sometimes there are plot and character notes, sometimes the ending worked out. But all of what I’m calling the six substantial Hammer novels were manuscripts of 100 pages or more. LADY, GO DIE! was the shortest manuscript, maybe 80 pages, but I combined it with another much shorter one to bring up the Spillane content. I’m grateful that you find the work seamless, and frankly most reviewers have. My approach is one that might anger purists, but I treat Mickey’s 100 pages like rough draft, as if we were collaborating, which we are, really. I expand and extend his work, writing scenes that he skipped, and weave my writing in and around his, just as I do when I’m collaborating with my wife Barb on our “Antiques” series (as “Barbara Allan”) or with Matt Clemens, who I write thrillers and short stories with. This means there is Spillane content deep into the book, usually two-thirds of the way. So when his material drops out, and mine kicks in, it is fairly smooth.

This was far from your first collaboration with Mickey Spillane, obviously. Can you tell us about some of the others? You did some anthologies together, you did the documentary film about him… and my personal favorite, the comic book series MIKE DANGER.

Really I just like running these cool covers.

Can you tell us any stories about some of those other projects? How was it to work with Mickey Spillane? What was it each of you brought to the table?

With the exception of a short story that I developed from a radio play of his, we didn’t collaborate on any fiction. The anthologies were just a matter of discussion about what stories to use, when we were selecting stories by other writers for a colection. When it was a collection of his short stories or his comic strip or his one-page fillers for ’40s comic books, it was just me convincing him the material was worth re-publishing. I wrote MIKE DANGER, but we created it together in a brainstorming session in South Carolina. Of course, the Danger character pre-dates Mike Hammer, but the idea of infusing the Danger stories with science-fiction, and specifically using time travel, came from our brainstorming. Mickey also did a draft of a Danger novel, which I hope to polish and publish one of these days. Mickey acted in two of my indie movies and fully cooperated on the documentary, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane,” which is featured on the Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-ray release of the great Spillane adaptation, “Kiss Me Deadly.”

Are there any other non-Hammer Spillane books that you’re planning to finish up?

There are two more that I think would make good Hard Case Crime titles some day. One is called A BULLET FOR SATISFACTION, there’s about 90 pages of that, and the other is a smalltown corruption tale like THE LONG WAIT. There are also four screenplays that would make good novels, one s-f tinged set in a carnival, another about a monstrous serial killer, and even a western that was written for John Wayne. There are a number of short Hammer fragments gradually being turned into short stories, and three more significant novel fragments, in the 40-page range, that may be developed as well. That depends on the public.

We live in a world now where almost any and every comic book series is getting the archival hardcover treatment, or at least some kind of trade paperback… and yet no one’s reprinting MIKE DANGER or MS. TREE or JOHNNY DYNAMITE. It seems to me like MS. TREE, especially, would be a natural, what with Kinsey Millhone and V.I. Warshawski on the bestseller lists.

I am pretty sure Ms. Tree predates both V.I. Warshawski AND Kinsey Millhone, actually.

Is there any hope that some of these comics will get the trade collection treatment?

First Comics will eventually do MS. TREE and a new MS. TREE novel. But the project has been stalled by other commitments that Terry Beatty and I have. Terry is drawing the PHANTOM Sunday page for King Features, you know. There is discussion about reprinting the MIKE DANGER comic book as graphic novels. The Dark Horse mini-series about Johnny Dynamite has already been reprinted. Some of the original Dynamite was reprinted in an anthology a year or two ago.

Any other projects you want to tell us about?

My wife and I have ANTIQUES DISPOSAL out right now, and the previous one (ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF) is out in paperback.

That’s a very funny series and doing quite well. Amazon has reprinted the entire Nathan Heller saga, with a new novella collection out now (TRIPLE PLAY), and Perfect Crime has done the early Quarry novels and have just brought out the Nolan novels.

Heller has done exceptionally well in the e-book market — TRUE DETECTIVE made number one on the Kindle bestseller list — which I hope bodes well for the new Heller, TARGET LANCER, that will be out in November. That’s about the JFK assassination. A second JFK assassination Heller novel will be written this year — as soon as I finish COMPLEX 90, the next Hammer.

***

And there you have it. Thanks both to Mr. Collins for taking the time, and to Tom Green at Titan for setting it up. Lady Go Die! will be out in stores May 8th, and I hope this leads you to check it out. Seriously, Hammer fans, it’s the real deal.

See you next week.

10 Comments

happy to hear about those Ms. Tree reprints!

I’ve only read Kiss Me Deadly, but I dug it. This makes me want to read more, especially as I’ve never read a Max Allan Collins story I didn’t like.

I just love those Hard Case covers, too. It’s great Titan is keeping it going.

Great stuff, Greg! I’d love to read Ms. Tree in trades, since I missed it the first time around. The premise of a slain P.I.’s Gal Friday/wife taking over her husband’s old detective agency is a great one.

It’d also be cool to read more interviews by you. You’ve got a knack for it!

Travis Pelkie

May 5, 2012 at 1:16 am

Wow, this was cool. I like Spillane, I like MAC, I love Ms Tree. My local library has that Criterion Kiss Me Deadly on DVD, so now I’ve got to take it out to see the doc as well.

And Hard Case does great stuff. They got one of the best Stephen King books in a while with…oh, the title slips my mind, but they based a Syfy show on it. (Ah, wait, the Colorado Kid, I think, and Havoc…something with an H was the TV show.) The Donald Westlake stuff is cool too. I’ll have to remember to look at the MAC stuff next time I take stuff out from the library.

The wikipedia says Warshawski and Millhone first were published in ’82, so almost concurrently, so female PIs were in the zeitgeist, apparently.

And look at that talent on that Eclipse Monthly issue. Is that Harvey Pekar in there? (GCD says yes, and is the Lenny Kaye that does the Luke the Drifter the guy that played with Patti Smith? Whoa!)

Great interview, Greg, and thanks very much to Mr. Collins as well. And I’m happy to hear that there are at least plans to get some of that Ms. Tree material reprinted – that’s something that is way, way overdue.
I have to say, though, that I’m actually much more a fan of Collins than Spillane – in fact, the only actual book by Spillane that I’ve ever read was the rather recently published “Dead Street” which was ‘prepared for publication’ by Collins. I enjoyed that well enough and will very likely be picking up some of the titles you suggested. By the way, and for what it’s worth, I just wanted to make my own recommendation for those Hard Case Crime books. I have a small pile of those and just love everything about them: the fun hard-boiled stories, the mix of new and classical novels and writers, and the awesome retro cover art. The only thing I don’t like is that the newer editions are being printed as larger TPBs rather than in the smaller, mass market format like the earlier books.

http://www.soundonsight.org/how-serious-can-a-comic-book-movie-be-discuss/

Considering what Christopher Nolan directed film will come out in a few months, let me note this quote from MAC in 1987:

“I’m afraid what I’m running smack up into is the old Batman TV show controversy: the old business about, Gee that was a TV show that made fun of Batman and made fun of comic books, so we have to show people that Batman and comic books are serious and they’re adult and accordingly all the fun goes out of it. There was a reason why that TV show was played for laughs and that is when you put actual human beings in those costumes and act out those stories, it looks stupid. They betray their juvenile roots. It can’t be done straight. I defy them to do the movie straight”.

Collins then said “I predict it [the then upcoming Batman film] will be an embarrassment if they try to do it without a sense of humor……….”.

Collins made the same prediction in the book The Best of Crime and Detective TV, which he co-wrote with John Javna.

That quote from 1987 is one that Batman fans like to beat me over the head with. The state of filmmaking twenty-five years ago was such that a lot of what has made a straighter Batman possible has to do with advancing technology. The battle armor approach over tights made a big difference.

That said, I’m not a huge fan of any of the Batman movies. I find Nolan’s version overwrought and, yes, silly at times if not quite stupid. Case in point: Bale’s spooky Batman voice, which he even uses to talk to Alfred before he’s left the batcave.

But I no longer think that a good costumed hero movie is impossible, and there have been some great ones — KICK-ASS for example.

Oh, Mr. Collins I did not particularly enjoy Keaton’s films, either. (An urban legend driving around in a car with wings on it stands as a bit odd.) They had little narrative drive. I tend to feel, as many do, in those relatively early times, the onslaught of the marketing helped propel the first Keaton film, as well as Jack Nicholson, of course.

http://www.soundonsight.org/all-hail-the-king-the-work-of-stephen-king/
Distressingly, comic book based films (or insipred films) have tended to produced larger grosses than films based on adult thriller literature, even more jovial novels such as the Stephanie Plum books. (I do not include the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or the Hobbitt as adult literature.)

http://www.soundonsight.org/all-hail-the-king-the-work-of-stephen-king/ has a long list of authors whose film adaptations did not produce franchises (you will have to scroll down to the end of the article proper)

In his book Overkill: The Rise and Fall of the Thriller, author Bill Mesce considered adult thrillers from 1995 to 2002. He included The Road to Perdition-which came from a comic book from Mr. Collins. Road to Perdition had the highest gross of the thrillers listed. However, Mesce found that most of these films had respectable grosses, but not stellar grosses.

http://forums.comicbookresources.com/showthread.php?394170-Attempts-to-turn-adult-adventure-or-thriller-literature-into-film-franchises-have-not/page6

Anyway, I look forward to any projects Mr. Collins has from Moonstone. I heard he might write some Saint (Simon Templar) projects, as well as Green Hornet short story. I have found a couple of copies of his Dick Tracy prose anthology and enjoyed one of his prose Dick Tracy novels.

[...] Another nice interview with lots of comics images can be found at CBR’s fun site. [...]

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