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
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.
The Shadow Knows! “I see a Batman in your future.”
Pulp fiction, at its peak in the ’20s and ’30s, is an often misunderstood phenomena. However, the pulps are very much still with us: accessible, iconic, and familiar, just like they were always meant to be. They have certainly evolved from the thrilling days of yesteryear. What began with the pulps made its way into other media: comics, radio, movies, and television. Pulp provided the source. Some pulp writers crossed over to other media. Other writers were influenced by the pulps. And some writers simply took characters and stories directly from the pulps and transferred them to other media. Think of it this way: Doc Savage is Superman; The Shadow is Batman. Plus a whole lot more going on. In a fascinating panel discussion at Emerald City Comicon, Rob Salkowitz moderated a conversation between comics scholar Greg Hatcher, artist Dan Schkade (The Spirit), and writer Chris Roberson (The Shadow, iZombie).
The Pulp Roots of Today’s Comics and Entertainment
Rob Salkowitz asked each panelist to name their favorite pulp character and the answers help give you a window into the appeal. For Chris Roberson, his favorite is Doc Savage. He said that growing up in the ’70s was a perfect time for a kid to read the pulps since there was a boom in avenues for distribution but limited content. So, Chris got to enjoy all the reprints of Tarzan, Conan, and Doc Savage he could ever want to read. This, of course, left a tremendous impression upon the budding young writer.
Moderator Rob Salkowitz, Greg Hatcher, and Dan Schkade
It was great to see Dan Schkade, with his witty enthusiasm, be quick to say that the best character in pulps is The Shadow. But his personal favorite character is The Avenger, “the dead middle between Doc Savage and The Shadow, both similar and less than the sum of their parts. He’s just so creepy with his dead face that he molds to look like other people. And his weapons, a switchblade and a Mauser, which he’s given first names to.”
And Greg Hatcher, coming from a historian’s point of view, recalled as a boy seeing his first comic books based on the pulps and immediately hitting the library to do research! His favorite pulp character is The Spider. “As Will Murray used to say, it was the good kids who read The Shadow; and it was the bad kids who read The Spider. There was this incredible hell-for-leather deranged momentum behind a Spider story. For the main character, Richard Wentworth, each Spider mission was personal!”
“Legends of New Pulp Fiction,” from editor Ron Fortier and Airship 27
The subject of pulp fiction is definitely not one to take lightly. Once you make one assumption, there is always something else to consider. For instance, while pulp fiction was designed to have broad appeal that did not mean that all stories were the same or of a low quality. In fact, there are numerous examples of great writing in the pulps. Great writers first began in the pulps: Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond, Chandler, and James M. Cain, to name a few. At one point, Schkade made a brilliant observation regarding how pulp is presented today. “Many people have the misconception that pulp is inextricably linked to the past, that everything has to have a retro look to it. But, when you think about it, the stories during the pulp era were set in the present.”
Pulp is with us more than you may know. Consider any number of fantastic, hard-hitting, action-packed stories that you read or view today, and they will owe something to pulp fiction. The grandest examples: Indiana Jones, Avatar, and Star Wars. The interest in pulps is tremendous and it is not an exaggeration to say that it has never let up since its earliest days. In fact, that is the deepest well of them all for fan fiction. Since the ’60s, there has been a growing New Pulp movement with fans creating their own versions of their favorite pulp stories. One recent anthology that will be of interest to you is “Legends of New Pulp Fiction,” which you can find on Amazon right here. It is a dazzling collection that includes a story by Greg Hatcher. This is a special benefit anthology. Proceeds from the book go to benefit New Pulp writer/editor/publisher Tommy Hancock suffering from congestive heart-failure. You can learn more about this right here.
William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Art: Henry Chamberlain
William F. Nolan is a writer with a brilliant career. Stephen King has acknowledged Mr. Nolan as “an expert in the art and science of scaring the hell out of people,” and Ray Bradbury has spoken of Mr. Nolan’s ability “to create an atmosphere of ultimate terror.” Crafting an interview with him can take a variety of directions. You could focus on race car driving, movies, television, horror, or science fiction. I chose to talk about genre fiction, specifically the pulp era, as Mr. Nolan is an authority on that subject. And, of course, we made our way to the biggest title that Mr. Nolan is attached to, Logan’s Run. He co-wrote, with George Clayton Johnson, the original novel and has gone on to write further Logan’s Run novels as well as the pilot episode to the television series.
Imagine yourself a young person with big plans to embark on a career in writing. It’s the 1950s. You’ve made it out to Los Angeles. You grew up reading pulp fiction. You adore it. Max Brand Westerns are the best! But you also love hard-boiled detective stories. Who better than Dashiell Hammett to deliver on that score, right? And then there’s science fiction. If only you might meet up with your hero, Ray Bradbury. Wouldn’t that be the tops? Sure enough, you meet Ray Bradbury. Not only that, Mr. Bradbury takes you under his wing and helps set your writing career on a high-flying course. That would be your first published story, “The Joy of Living”, in If magazine in 1954. Welcome to the life of William F. Nolan.
We focus on three major writers and, in turn, see how Nolan learned from them, adopted their techniques and tenacity, to become a professional writer in his own right. We talk about Ray Bradbury and his penchant to pay it forward with other writers. “We all support each other,” Nolan says. We talk about Frederick Faust, known as “Max Brand,” among other pseudonyms, and his uneasy relationship with fame. As for Faust’s all-time famous title, “Destry Rides Again,” it paled in comparison to his devotion to writing poetry, which never sold. It’s a similar case with Dashiell Hammett. Despite his wildly popular “Thin Man” stories, he wasn’t satisfied and had hoped to develop writing beyond his genre, but never did. Oddly enough, despite any reservations from Faust or Hammett, all three of these writers are held in high regard. But only Bradbury was to live to see and appreciate his place in fiction as well as his notoriety.
It’s a perplexing predicament to be, or aspire to be, a writer. “The problem is that most students of writing are lazy,” Nolan points out. “They want to become Stephen King over the weekend. Well, you can’t become Stephen King over the weekend. Stephen King couldn’t do that. People have some idea that he’s always had it easy and been rich. But, no, he spent ten years writing and struggling before ‘Carrie’ came along and made him a tidy sum of money.” And far be it for a writer to always be the best judge of his own work. As the story goes, King threw away the manuscript to “Carrie” in a fit of frustration. He tossed it into a waste basket only to have his wife fish it out and persuade him to send it to his agent. Good thing he did just that.
“Writing is like a roller coaster,” Nolan says. But he is also inspired to share the fact that hard work will pay off. What best illustrates this is just talking shop with him. For example, you get great insight exploring the work that Nolan has done with George Clayton Johnson. Among the dozen or so writers that Nolan has worked with, it is with Johnson that he wrote his first teleplay and, years later, his first novel. It was to be firsts for both of them. In 1959, Nolan and Johnson wrote their first teleplay, “Dreamflight,” for “The Twilight Zone.” It was never produced. Thanks to the jet age, the show found itself with one too many airplane-related stories. It’s since been printed in the anthology, “Forgotten Gems.” And it is a gem, a modern day take on Sleeping Beauty.
In the intervening years, Nolan and Johnson would continue to grow as writers, in no small measure due to the collaborative process they developed as part of what became known as The Southern California Writers Group. And so they did work together again, including two unproduced “Star Trek” teleplays, finally leading up to one of the best collaborations ever, the original “Logan’s Run” novel.
As we closed out our interview, I asked about upcoming projects and William F. Nolan is, at 87 this March, as busy as ever. On his list of top priority items, he included his longtime friend and collaborator, writer/artist/filmmaker Jason V. Brock, who is set to work with Nolan on a new Logan’s Run novel that will deconstruct what has come before and is entitled, “Logan’s Fall.” Also on the list: “Images in Black,” an edited collection of Ray Bradbury stories with an African-American theme; “A Man Called Dash,” a definitive biography of Dashiell Hammett; “Soul Trips,” a collection of Nolan poetry; and a Nolan horror collection for the series, “Masters of the Weird Tale,” to be published by Centipede Press.
Just click below to listen to the podcast interview. Enjoy:
“Velvet,” published by Image Comics, is your next spy thriller addiction. It is written by one of the best crime fiction writers that comics has ever known, Ed Brubaker. And he is teamed up with one of the best artists he’s ever worked with, Steve Epting. This new series blasts away from the start. We have the dark and moody color palette that Brubaker favors, provided by colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. We have the nondescript lettering, as if out of typewriter or teletype machine, provided by letterer Chris Eliopoulos. Yes, this comic is like a good martini, shaken, not stirred.