Category Archives: Crime Fiction

Review: ‘Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel’ by Jules Feiffer

Panel: Where Did America Go?

Jules Feiffer tackles drawing a page of comics much in the way that a painter tackles a canvas. He gets in there with a muscular expressive line and then it’s all, wow, Feiffer has landed another punch, all with such graceful fluidity. You most likely know Jules Feiffer as the writer of one of your favorite books from childhood, 1961’s “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Well, Mr. Feiffer maintains quite an output of stories both drawn and written or strictly in prose. One of his most celebrated plays, and a favorite of mine, is the 1967 dark comedy, “Little Murders.”

I’ve always admired Feiffer’s work and his quirky style of drawing. When he said in an interview that he is only now mastering the art of drawing, I could understand the modesty. It was similar to Akira Kurosawa making a similar comment about filmmaking. Feiffer was adamant about it. Kurosawa was just as humble. Great artists are their own worst critics. Feiffer was saying this in regards to his entry into the world of graphic novels. With the recently released “Cousin Joseph,” Feiffer is midway through a noir trilogy with a spirited plot and a gritty vibe reminiscent of the work of Milton Caniff. I can assure you, the master is doing a fine job here.

Sam out on a job.

What you need to keep in mind about Feiffer is that he is equal parts writer and artist. Perhaps, if he had to choose, he would only be a writer. That’s just to say that his writing is of a caliber that it can certainly stand alone. However, the drawings cannot be denied. A graphic novel, at least a good one, results when the attraction between the words and images becomes so overwhelming that a union is inevitable, essential. That’s what I conclude from reading “Cousin Joseph.” I can see that Feiffer’s narrative is bubbling with ideas. Sometimes an extended prose passage needs proper venting. But, for the most part, this is a dance between word and image.

Calm before the storm.

Feiffer is an artist in his eighties in good health and still creating marvelous work. Much like his dear friend and fellow cartooning legend, Edward Sorel, he continues to gain strength and joy from his work. Cartoonists, like many other artists, tend to live long lives. Cartoonists, in particular, seem to have really got it figured out. But getting back to the book, the story makes for a great stand alone, no prior knowledge of the first volume is needed. The main character is Sam, a police detective who seems alright with skirting the law in favor of working for a mysterious client.

All in a day’s work.

The mysterious client that Sam works for is simply known as, “Cousin Joseph.” He has a murky agenda that Sam has never questioned. In fact, as far as Sam’s concerned, the big guy in the mansion was actually doing some good, instilling solid American values. It’s America in the 1930s. Bread lines blur into persistent threats of Communists lurking in the shadows. Somebody’s gotta do something, right? That notion seems to stick for a while. Gradually, it dawns on Sam that the big guy is not the patriot he makes out to be. Feiffer paints a compelling portrait of Sam, a man with his own dark side.

Another flawed character is Valerie, the teenaged daughter of the owner of a factory who is none too keen on unionizing. Valeries’s weakness is a sex addiction. She can’t help herself from preying upon any underage boy she can get her hands on. Later, she turns to any man who she can entice. While a little older than the boys she lures into her web, Valerie is nothing more than a child herself. She, and the boys, provide an opportunity for Feiffer to do what he does so well, to speak to the often betrayed and wounded heart of childhood. The story, as a whole, speaks to betrayed and wounded hearts everywhere.

‘Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel’ is a 128-page hardcover, black & white with tones, published by the Liveright imprint. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Co. right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jules Feiffer, Noir

Interview and Review: David Pepose and SPENCER & LOCKE

SPENCER & LOCKE #1

One thing that you need to know about David Pepose is that he’s energetic and dedicated to his work. I know David from the time we both contributed to Newsarama. That was a good time. David was in New York and actually working at the home office. It was a full fledged job for him. He began as an intern at DC Comics, then came Newsarama, and other positions followed. All the while, David was considering what he wanted to do with his very own comics project. As he stated to me, “Writing is a skill that everyone has a chance at learning. In a lot of ways, it’s just like building a chair. You go out and do it.” Ultimately, what David did was create a noir mashup tribute to the work of Frank Miller and Bill Watterson. Okay, the “Calvin and Hobbes” influence is unmistakable. But just one page in, and the Dark Knight Miller influence is quite evident as well.

A subversive mashup!

Let’s take a look at the comic in question. The first issue of SPENCER & LOCKE is available at your local comics shop as of April 12th. What can you expect? Well, as I began to say, this is definitely a mashup of two distinct and very different sensibilities. Going back to that first page, I think it’s safe to say that it will be emotionally jarring for some loyal readers of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip. Here you have a similar little boy and his stuffed animal (alive and real companion only to him) but they are trapped in a dysfunctional hell! The mom in the Pepose comic book doesn’t cuddle up to her son at all. No, she smacks him across the room! That’s pretty subversive to say the least. It does get our attention, and deservedly so. Onto the very next page, and that little boy, Locke, is all grown up. So is his stuffed animal, Spencer, a very much alive blue panther, at least in Locke’s eyes.

On the case.

So, you get the conceit. Now, where does it go from there? Well, that’s the beauty of this comic. As David told me during our chat, this is a wonderful opportunity to deconstruct what is going on in a dynamic involving a person who relies upon an inanimate object for support. Our hero, Locke, is a young man who has chosen a career as a police detective. He’s got that hard-boiled swagger about him, a la Dashiell Hammett. And yet he also carries around a stuffed animal toy. It’s PTSD. Locke has got it bad. And it goes back to not having a mom who cuddled with him but, instead, smacked him across the room. It’s this experience that gives Locke a sixth sense about others who have been abused and actually helps him on his way to solving cases.

Something about gumshoes and greasy spoons.

The title of this arc is “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Maybe you can’t go home again. But why is it that the past can still come back and haunt you? Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Returning home? Nope. No way. Haunted by the past? Yeah, that one you get to play with whether you care to or not. And so it is in this comic. Locke is on a case that forces him in confront his past big time: the murder of Sophie Jenkins, his childhood sweetheart. You can’t get much more cruel in a mashup of Sin City with Calvin Hobbes!

David Pepose is our creator and writer for this four-issue comic book series published by Action Lab Entertainment. As David told me, he sees the role of the creator/writer as a leadership role. It’s up to him to keep the project moving forward and finding the best talent to jump on board. David is very excited about the creative team he has assembled. David says it was a long search to find just the right artist. Once he saw his portfolio, David knew he’d found the perfect match with Jorge Santiago Jr. Another long search finally led to just the right colorist, Jasen Smith. And, of course, a spot on letterer, Colin Bell, rounds out the team. Well worth the search indeed! Overall, readers will find this comic to be that something different they’ve been looking for: a tribute to comics in general and a solid story with compelling characters.

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Filed under Action Lab Entertainment, Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Dashiell Hammett, David Pepose, Newsarama, Noir

Review: LITTLE TULIP by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

LITTLE TULIP by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq

LITTLE TULIP, a graphic novel recently reissued by Dover Publications, by Jerome Charyn and François Boucq, is definitely not something that is cooked up overnight. No, on the contrary, like anything worthwhile, this is a work that is carefully constructed with meticulous precision. It only looks effortless, and it is the sort of comics that I prefer.

Paul, the master, teaches Azami, the apprentice.

This graphic novel immerses the reader in Soviet prison tattoo culture. Within the Russian underground community, these unique tattoos formed a service record of a criminal’s transgressions. Skulls denoted a criminal authority. A cat represented a thief. And, in the case of our story, a tulip represented a young person joining the ranks of a gang. Today, these same tattoos have become fashion statements because of their mystery and fierce beauty. They were, then and now, a way to step beyond the ordinary. For our main character, Paul, they were also a way to step beyond the horrors of the gulag.

Page from LITTLE TULIP: New York City, 1970

Our present setting is New York City, 1970. There is a serial killer on the loose. Paul runs his own tattoo shop and is also a police sketch artist. His work with the police is more than just a gig but a calling, a way to seek justice. Not only does Paul have that uncanny ability to render a likeness based upon a witness’s verbal description, he also has a sixth sense about criminals. He will often act as a medium for hard to crack cases. There may be honor among thieves but, for Paul, there are crimes that compel no mercy.

Paul came from an American family that chose to live in Moscow for a while. The timing could not have been worse since this was the 1950s during the reign of Stalin and the secret police. One misunderstanding too many and the whole family gets shipped off to Siberia where they are immediately separated into a gulag. But, just as all hope may be lost, Paul, now Pavel, has inherited from his father an artistic sensibility that will help him endure the worst.

Page from LITTLE TULIP: Train Trip to Siberia

This is a story as much about one man’s journey among hardened criminals as it is a story about how life and art commingle, how art can save one’s soul. This is a multi-layered masterpiece of a script by renowned writer Jerome Charyn; and a breathtaking, bold, and completely enthralling work of art by renowned artist François Boucq. The structure of this graphic novel is just impeccable: a story told at a easy and natural pace with room enough for metaphysical musings.

More more details on LITTLE TULIP, and how to purchase, visit Dover Publications right here.

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Filed under Comics, Crime, Crime Fiction, Dover Publications, François Boucq, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jerome Charyn, New York City, Russia, Tattoos

Review: THE DREGS, published by Black Mask Studios

Arnold on a metaphysical hunt for clues.

Arnold on a metaphysical hunt for clues.

THE DREGS, published by Black Mask Studios, is one of those ideal experiences in comics: a work that lifts you up with something to say, whispers it as if only to you, and then sets you back down all the better for it. The script by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson crackles with wisdom and originality taking you places you might never see along with places you don’t want to ever see for real. The artwork by Eric Zawadzki is so full of humanity and keeps you turning the page. The colors by Dee Cunniffe pull it all together with shades of melancholy and grit. This is a weird story and so much more.

The concept is an intriguing riff on the legend of Sweeney Todd, the London barber who murdered his clients and then sold meat pies made from their flesh. In this case, gentrification has run so far amok that the homeless are not only being squeezed out of space, they are being dispatched and turned into gourmet delicacies for all the new trendy boutique restaurants. No one is going to eat the rich, as Rousseau once championed. It’s the homeless who are going to be eaten in this story.

THE DREGS, published by Black Mask Studios

THE DREGS, published by Black Mask Studios

There’s no one who can stop these killings except perhaps for one intrepid homeless man. Arnold feels that he’s tapped into the mind of detective Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s novel, “The Long Goodbye.” One thing is for sure, Arnold knows to be a fact that three of his homeless friends have completely disappeared, most likely murdered. For the rest of what he needs to solve this mystery, he has to rely upon his own special brand of deduction.

This is an exceptional work in its boldness and intelligence. It has its gore and it’s guided by a plot that would make both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett proud. An interesting side not is the fact that Chandler and Hammett wrote some of their earliest work from the 1930s for the pulp magazine, Black Mask. It just seems quite fitting to have this work in comics published by a publisher undoubtedly aware of that history given the name it chose to publish under, Black Mask.

The first issue of THE DREGS is available as of January 25th. For more details, visit Black Mask Studios right here.

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Filed under Black Mask Studios, Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Gentrification, Homeless, Pulp Fiction, Satire

Review: DEAD INSIDE #1

DEAD INSIDE #1

DEAD INSIDE #1

DEAD INSIDE is a new crime noir comic book series, written by John Arcudi; art by Toni Fejzula; colors by Andre May; published by Dark Horse Comics. The main character is Linda, a deputy who has recently been promoted to detective. Linda is a hard case all to her own: does not play well with others, whether professionally or personally. Between the talents of Arcudi and Feizula, they have created a tough character, all sad and lonely, you know, dead inside. Funny thing about death, it comes in many colors. The first thing to really bring Linda to life in years is all about death: a really twisted murder-suicide committed by a most unlikely character.

dead-inside-dark-horse-comics-2016

Detective Linda Caruso can’t let go of the fact that the murderer, so small and slight in stature, would have been able to bring down a bear of a man. This was supposedly an easy enough crime to solve as it took place inside a prison, a minimum security prison at that. This is the first case for Linda at the Jail Crimes Division of the Sheriff’s Office in Mariposa County. Nothing unusual is supposed to happen there. Except Linda now finds herself confronting a crime that becomes more bizarre the more she investigates.

Page from DEAD INSIDE #1

Page from DEAD INSIDE #1

This is a series that will have special appeal for fans of crime and prison television, such as Law & Order, NCIS, Orange Is the New Black, American Crime Story, or Making a Murderer. This is a new series from Rumble writer John Arcudi and Veil artist Toni Fejzula. DEAD INSIDE all adds up to a great study in character and a compelling murder mystery full of gritty style. This resonates with the reader. An intriguing case. And an intriguing detective. Who could ask for more?

Page from DEAD INSIDE #1

Page from DEAD INSIDE #1

DEAD INSIDE #1 is available as of December 21st. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime, Crime Fiction, Dark Horse Comics, John Arcudi, Noir

Review: MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #1 by Howard Chaykin

Howard Chaykin

It’s always good to read a comic by Howard Chaykin. I can tell that Mr. Chaykin is having a grand time writing and drawing his latest comic, “Midnight of the Soul.” It wasn’t very long ago that I was marveling over another of his works, “Satellite Sam,” also published by Image Comics. As long as there are good comics being made, I’ll be writing about them. And this one inspires my own creating of comics. I admire many things here. Chaykin has a naturalness about him. He has an enthusiasm to share with you as much as possible.

Howard Chaykin wants nothing less than to drench you in the era his story is set in, wants you to appreciate that people ate, slept, shit, fucked, yelled, cried, murdered in this time he’s taking you to. And maybe they did things a little differently back then from the way things are done today by a new generation. A little more blunt and raw, not so pretty. But, one thing is for sure, they lived!

The time for this story is 1950, five years after World War II. The boys, now men, must find their way. For many, the war had never left them. It certainly messed up one Joel Breakstone, former GI and liberator of Auschwitz. Joel thought he might find the answers as a writer. But, too much booze and little discipline have soured his pipe dreams. Maybe he was never cut out to be a writer. Patricia, his girlfriend, tries to get him to wake up. All around him, everything is falling apart, including his relationship with Patricia, including Patricia herself!

Chaykin Midnight Image Comics

Few cartoonists embrace the old school tradition as well as Chaykin: both writing and drawing his work consistently over decades in his distinctive style. To do that, and do it so well, that makes you a legend. But what makes you someone to remember is real passion. Chaykin has such a crisp style, its stark beauty creates a certain distance between the reader and his characters. It is sort of like he doesn’t want you to get too close to these people he creates. Mostly, these are not very nice people to begin with. There’s a very intriguing dark world that Chaykin wants to share with you. These people are broken and are apt to do ugly, even unspeakable, things. Disconnection. Dissonance. Ah, the stuff of noir!

Image Comics Midnight Chaykin

Creating the right mood is so important. Chaykin is such a masterful draftsman that he can easily use the same drawing, even the same set of panels, again in the same issue. If the artwork is strong and interesting enough, and it lends itself to a satisfying reverberation, then why the hell not? Anyway, it is done to great effect here. This whole first issue to a must-read. For fans, you’ll find Chaykin just as gritty and tough as ever. For new readers, you’re in for a wild ride.

“Midnight Of The Soul #1” is available as of June 8th. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Howard Chaykin, Image Comics, Noir

Review: HIT: 1957 #1 (of 4)

Del-Rey-Boom-Studios-Hit-1957

Las Vegas. It’s a dead end for some and paradise for others. Maybe it’s a little of both for Bonnie Brae. It’s 1957. A lot of water under the bridge since things heated up a couple of years ago. The plan had been to go incognito, start a new life in San Clemente as Marie. But, no, Marie was not going to be left alone so easy. If you were a fan of Hit: 1955, or if you’re new to the party and looking for some good noir comics, this new Hit series is for you.

HIT-1957-Boom-Studios-2015

You’ve got the team of writer Bryce Carlson and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey back to deliver more. Each page is teaming with intrigue graced by Del Rey’s fluid line and Carlson’s gritty narrative. Los Angeles is one big corrupt mess. We find our anti-hero Detective Harvey Slater pushing back on Domino and his Syndicate. He can’t catch a break from the boys in Internal Affairs. And Bonnie Brae is missing. But that is only the beginning. We have ourselves here a deep and dark tale unfolding. Much transpires. A new killer on the loose. And, of course, you didn’t expect Bonnie to just sit still all this time, did you?

Good crime fiction needs to establish a rhythm quickly and then maintain it. Set up your hooks and beats. Cue the atmosphere. Lower the shades. Carlson loses no time creating a pattern and evoking a certain kind of melancholy. You need doomed characters who don’t know they’re doomed. Carlson rolls out our ongoing theme: “Things change. But people don’t.” Del Rey works wonders with her brush: scribbles here form a shadow, overlapping lines there build up to loose crosshatching signifying lust, despair, and a cavalier stare back at death.

BOOM-Studios-HIT-1957-Del-Rey

“HIT: 1957 #1” is available as of March 25. For more details, visit our friends at Boom! Studios right here.

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Filed under 1950s, Boom! Studios, Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Los Angeles, Noir, Vanesa R. Del Rey

Review: THE FADE OUT #1

The-Fade-Out-Ed-Brubaker

“The Fade Out” is the new noir series from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It opens up with a recollection of the “phantom planes” over Los Angeles, the Japanese bombers imagined but never actually in the air, following Pearl Harbor. Hearing them up above became a nervous habit hard to break. And so the world of Charlie Parish, a schemer and a screenwriter in Hollywood, seems to be just one big bad habit.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime, Crime Fiction, Ed Brubaker, Hollywood, Image Comics, Noir, Sean Phillips

Review: BURN THE ORPHANAGE: REIGN OF TERROR #3

Burn-The-Orphanage-Daniel-Freedman

You drink the wise blood
You’re gonna hear about it
You’ll be taken down brick by brick by brick
Burn the orphanage
You’re gonna pay for it
They will purify block by block by block

From “Demons” by Sleigh Bells

“Burn the Orphanage” is a bold and sexy beast of a comic. Created by Daniel Freedman (Undying Love) and Sina Grace (Not My Bag), it gives you lovable dead-enders on their way to hell. Now, that’s entertainment.

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Filed under Action, Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime Fiction, Daniel Freedman, Image Comics, Noir, Sina Grace

Review: Frank Miller’s BIG DAMN SIN CITY

Frank-Miller-Big-Damn-Sin-City-Dark-Horse-Comics

“Frank Miller’s Big Damn Sin City” is just what the doctor ordered, if he has a decidedly dark side. “Take one volume of Sin City and repeat until you have completed the omnibus.” Big Damn Sin City collects Frank Miller and Lynn Varley‘s seven stories: The Hard Goodbye, A Dame to Kill For, The Big Fat Kill, The Yello Bastard, Family Values, Booze, Broads, & Bullets, and Hell and Back. That totals 1,344 pages. All in time for the much anticipated Sin City sequel, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” set for August 22, 2014.

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Filed under Comics, Crime Fiction, Dark Horse Comics, Frank Miller, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Noir, Sex, Sin City