Thursday, 28 February 2013

An Interview With Max Allan Collins On His "Seduction Of The Innocent" Novel, Politics, Craftmanship, Genre, Social Problems & Pop Culture

Terry Beatty's inside cover for Seduction Of The Innocent.

Not being a particular fan of Golden Age mysteries, I handed over Max Allan Collins's Seduction Of The Innocent to my wife when it arrived. Given that she's dedicated several bookshelves to a collection of mid-20th century Penguin detective novels, with their beautifully austere and iconic green covers, I thought she might be better qualified to comment on the virtues of Collins's book. For though I'm fascinated by Seduction Of The Innocent's setting, which ingeniously comments on Fredric Wertham's baleful mid-century career, I'm really not the audience for what the book's back-cover describes as "hard-boiled crime fiction".

But we were both taken by surprise by Seduction Of The Innocent. I thought I'd struggle with its genre, while my wife carries not an atom of either knowledge of or interest in comicbook history. Having asked if she'd mind casting an eye over the novel's first chapter, she disappeared for several hours before returning with an enthusiastic opinion of the whole book. Despite my reservations, I soon found myself repeating the same process, and to the same effect too. Yes, it's a sharp, witty mystery, and yes, it's a knowleagable skewering of the anti-comics moral panic of the mid-fifties. But both aspects of the book are so smartly and seemlessly combined that Seduction Of The Innocent carries the day through being that rarest of things; a thoroughly enjoyable read whose virtues speak to readers from beyond what today's marketing logic would declare its core audiences.

I was writing a review of the book when the welcome opportunity to interview Max Allan Collins arrived. Much of what I was intending to discuss in it ended up in the questions that I asked him, and the broad outlines of what would have been a highly favourable piece should be obvious in what follows. In the end, adding a review as a prequel to the interview seemed an expression of blogger's hubris. Max Allan Collins's own words makes a far better case than I ever could for Seduction Of The Innocent.

Of course, anyone in the comics blogosphere who's given the chance to ask a question or two of Mr Collins should grasp at the prospect. With more than 40 years worth of experience as a professional writer, his contributions to comics include the Road To Perdition graphic novels, the Dick Tracey newspaper strip, a run on Batman, and, of course, the Ms Tree stories produced in collaboration with Terry Beatty. Beyond comics, his achievements as a novelist and screenwriter are so numerous and notable that I can only suggest the neophyte cast an eye over his Wiki page.

Each chapter arrives with an appropriately fifties-esque Terry Beatty illustration, which helps underscore the sense that Seduction Of The Innocent has been a project that mattered to all involved.
1. It strikes me that Seduction Of The Innocent is, after its own fashion, a particularly ambitious book. It's a mystery, a historical novel, a discussion of a little-known aspect of America's cultural past, and, amongst several other things, a homage to Rex Stout's work too. And all of that had to be used to create a novel which readers who know little if anything of such things can thoroughly enjoy. Did it seem to you that you'd set yourself a daunting challenge? Even as I enjoyed the book, I couldn't help but think how much work must have gone into it being so easy and enjoyable to read. You've described yourself on Facebook as being "blue-collar" and "self-employed". That being so, there must surely be an easier way for you to earn a living?

These are very flattering comments, but what I appreciate most is that you have identified the various elements that came together to make up Seduction Of The Innocent. Even though the Jack and Mgagie Starr novels (1) don't deal with real crimes - as the Nathan Heller books do (2) - the research is fairly rigorous. I have enormous help from George Hagenauer, who has been with me as my research associate on everything from Heller to Elliot Ness, from the Road To Perdition stories to Jack and Maggie Starr. George and I met through comics fandom, and both of us are of the generation who grew up reviling Dr Frederic Wertham and loving EC Comics. So the subject matter was already of interest, and we were more familiar with it than on many previous occasions.

As for the Archie Goodwin/Nero Wolf homage aspect, and the Golden Age mystery one as well, that was just sheer fun to write. The hardest thing was balancing the history with the mystery - I usually have a really good feel for that, but both my agent and editor and agent felt I'd overdone the comics history and I edited out maybe five thousand words that would have thrilled comic book fans and bored the socks off everybody else.

This is hard work, I'll admit it. But it's creatively rewarding, obviously, and hey, I get to work at home. On the other hand, no one should think writing is easy. I have been doing this professionally since college - 1971 to be specific - and my wife Barb will tell you she frequently hears me say, "When is this going to start getting easier?"

*1:- The Jack and Maggie Starr books each deal with an aspect of comics history.  "A Killing In Comics" presents a fictionalised version of the debate over Superman's ownership, while "Strip For Murder" is based on the ill-starred relationship between Al Capp and Ham Fisher.
*2:- A long-running series of historical detective novels, in which Heller's investigations involve prominent figures from the period between the Thirties and the mid-Sixties.

Glen Orbik's purposefully pulp-exploitation front cover.

2. On your blog, you discussed the irony that you make your living from writing about pop culture while not feeling entirely "in touch" with the pop culture of today. But it struck me that one of things that SOTI does very well is discuss the culture - pop or otherwise - of 2013 as well as 1953. Is that me reading things into your work, or does SOTI comment on the present day too? From news broadcasters stirring up moral panics to "Parents (who) are always glad to have something or somebody to blame for why their brats are brats", it certainly seems so.

I am a pop culture junkie, though the drugs currently out there don't always tempt me. A lot of my fiction explores the roots of popular culture - Nathan Heller is, in part, an attempt to look at the truth behind the truth of the cliches of the private eye genre - for example that P.I.s always seem to be have been traumatised in one war or another, in one war or another, in vague back story, so I took Heller to Guadalcanal and wrote about a third of the novel (The Million-Dollar Wound) as a war story - showing how he got screwed up in the war. And Heller is a different character in books set after the war. Looking at Al Capone, Elliot Ness and Wyatt Earp in novels that hew close to history, that depend on tons of research, is a way to look at the real people from whom our pop culture have been drawn.

Seduction Of The Innocent is very much about how comics and other pop culture make an easy scapegoat. That the book came out in the shadow of the Sandy Hook tragedy - and the inevitable glib anti-pop culture knee-jerk stupidity from both the right and left - is coincidental, yet not surprising, because these tragedies are always right around the corner, thanks to the proliferation of guns in America and attitudes toward mental health.

Look at the way Wertham used data derived from his Harlem clinic to blame comic books - saying, absurdly, that any juvenile delinquency these ghetto kids were caught up in had to do with the comics they read, not the poverty or racism they were brought up in. I have said it before and will say it again; the place where the far right and far left meet is at a book burning ... they just bring different books, although in the cases of comics and now video games and what have you, both the far right and far left are in agreement in their choice of scapegoats. When the left and the right agree, put your hand over your wallet and keep your head down. Way down.

3. It must be difficult for a writer to discuss the prejudices of the past without sounding jarringly anachronistic. I enjoyed the way that SOTI talked about social problems such as racism, and homophobia without seeming to be preaching from a tolerant, informed 21st century perspective. These social issues do seem important to you, and I wonder how difficult it can be to present the past in a way that rings true while also challenging its prejudices?

I always have to attach a note to my manuscripts telling the copy editor that politically incorrect usages must be allowed because of the historical nature of the material - that African Americans will at times be referred to as "colored", that women may be called "girls", and so on. I have been fighting that since the beginning, with True Detective, Nate Heller's 1983 debut. Homosexuality is a problem, because a guy like Heller would almost certainly have attitudes that jar today, would use a word like "fag", for example. Jack Starr, on the other hand, has been part of the theatrical world of New York, because of his stepmother Maggie, and has been more tolerant, even enlightened attitudes. You have to be true to the times and the character.

But historical fiction, like science fiction, is a great place to talk about the problems of today ... chiefly because history repeats itself, or anyway people allow it too. The Irag War was the biggest shock of my life, because I was certain that if we had learned anything while I was on the planet - anything - it was not to do Vietnam over again. And yet we did. And are.

4.Fredric Wertham's name is still thrown around by comics fans and pros alike as a deadly, and often kneejerk, insult. In fact, I was called that by a prominent comicbook editor just last year. Yet you choose to emphasise the admirable as well as the repellent aspects of "Werner Frederick", your take on his character. Were you ever tempted to paint him in less favourable colours? You have, after all, described being a boy in the 50s and being well aware of just what a baleful influence he was.

I was pretty rough on Wertham, but that's because Dr Werner Frederick is a caricature version of him. On the other hand, Wertham, the great hater of comics, was kind of a cartoon in life. But even in a novel like Seduction Of The Innocent, where you're doing larger-than-life melodrama, you can't, or anyway I don't think you should, paint characters one-dimensionally, especially a murder victim. So I gave my cartoon version of Wertham the attributes of the real man - he was very concerned about the plight of African Americans in this country, for example.

So was he misguided or a cynic chasing media fame? Probably both. On the very day - just last Tuesday (February 19) - that my novel Seduction Of The Innocent was published, the New York Times revealed that Wertham's data had been faked, according to a University of Illinois assistant professor who studied Wertham's papers at the Library of Congress (3).

*3:- "Scholar Finds Flaws In Work By Archenemy Of Comics", by David Itzkoff, New York Times, 19/2/2013, here

5. You've talked about SOTI being the last in a trilogy discussing aspects of comics history that you "wanted to explore". Thankfully, you've also mentioned in interviews the possibility of writing more mysteries set in the medium's past. Have you had any further thoughts of doing so? What issues and events in the industry's history might tempt you to return to the Starrs and their investigations? You do, after all, have decades of your own experience in the comics business to draw on.

Right now I have two Jack and Maggie books in mind. I'd been planning to do a Nate Heller about the death of George Reeves, had done all the research and even had a book proposal ready ... and then the movie Hollywoodland came out. So I tabled it. Now it's been almost ten years since that film, which is an eternity in popular culture, so I may be able to do the novel after all ... and Jack and Maggie Starr seem better for it than Heller.

I'm also toying with something that looks at the sometimes rocky relationship between a big-time syndicated cartoonist and his assistant or assistants. I touched upon this in Strip For Murder, but that was two successful cartoonists who hated each other. I had a close look at Rick Fletcher when he assisted Chester Gould on Dick Tracey, and I got to know Dave Graue, the assistant to V. T. Hamlin on Alley Oop. I actually did a documentary a few years ago called Caveman: V. T. Hamlin & Alley Oop. Doing that documentary, I realized that the relationship between Fletcher and Gould was identical to that between Graue and Hamlin - it began as a father-and-son kind of thing and over the years deteriorated into downright resentment and even hatred, from both sides. There's a murder mystery in that.

My thanks to Max Allan Collins for answering my questions - you can find his website here -  and to Lauren Woosey at Titan for organising it all. I make it a point of not getting involved in the likes of blog tours when I've any reservations at all about the product concerned, but I have to say, I enjoyed and admired Seduction Of The Innocent, I really did.

And finally, Lauren tells me that a copy of "Seduction of The Innocent" might be won if a Tweet containing the phrase “I would like a copy of Seduction of the Innocent @TitanBooks #MaxAllanCollins” should be sent out into the Twitterverse.


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Farewell To Doctor Strange, Hello To This Month's Q!

Q #321 is out today. Read your way through Dorian Lynskey's timely piece on snob-fans, Charles Shaw Murray's recollections of Bowie, a cartoon map of Ziggy Stardust's London, and a host of other features, and you'll later or sooner bump into Q Comics. There your blogger has the pleasure of reviewing Gillen and McKelvie's Young Avengers, Will Morris's The Silver Darlings, Waid and Samnee's Rocketeer: Cargo Of Doom, Tobin and Coover's Bandette, and Niles and Mitten's Criminal Macabre: Final Night. Oh, and Red Hood & The Outlaws, but that doesn't detain proceedings for long, I promise.

And the final post in the series about Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's Doctor Strange has been posted at Sequart. (Try here.) In it, I get the chance to discuss the fact that Strange and the Ancient One often behave as if they were the rightful rulers of the world. It's all very thrilling watching them brainwash everyday mortals into forgetting that magic even exists, and there's much to admire about the way in which the two of them manipulate extra-dimensional politics. Yet underneath that is a worrying sense that typical women and men can't be trusted with the knowledge and power that Earth's sorcerers take for granted. For all that Strange and his mentor are fascinating characters, there is something rather unsettling about their attitude to the likes of you and I.

Next week, I'll start posting sections of chapters at Sequart which may, or perhaps may not, be heading for Shameless!, the book about Mark Millar's superhero comics which I seem to have been working on forever. I'll be very grateful if you'd consider popping over to Sequart and letting me know exactly what I've got wrong.

Finally, should anyone still be reading this most minor of posts, and should they fancy nominating a title from tomorrow's releases that they think I ought to pay attention to, I'd consider it a most welcome nudge.

Friday, 22 February 2013

On "Nick Cardy: The Artist At War"

The comicbook industry was still in its infancy when the 18 year-old Nick Cardy began working as an artist for the Eisner & Iger studio. The next four years would find him learning his trade in the company of other now-revered storytellers such as Lou Fine, Bob Powell and George Tuska. But with 1943 came the draft, and it would be another three years until Cardy could return to New York and the comics. Ahead of him was the second act of his career as an artist, which would span almost three decades and feature celebrated runs on DC Comic's Tomahawk, Congo Bill, Aquaman, the Teen Titans and Batlash. His was a humane, dynamic and often lushly-romantic style, grounded in the magazine illustrations of the first half of the century and the comic strips of Hal Foster and, of course, Will Eisner. Unjustly under-recognised for the innovative qualities of his later work in particular, his pages share a great deal of the clarity and warmth to be found in the art of John Romita and Curt Swan. Finally opting to focus on the more lucrative and less unnecessarily onerous realm of commercial art in 1974, he left behind the role of DC's leading cover artist. So successful and productive had his cover work been that it took, so Britain's Fantasy Advertiser was told, a team of five others to replace him. 

"5 Mar (1945) / Cologne/ set up tank as roadblock / took turns at guard / and liberated bottles. played Kraut Ellington records. Got drunk"
The Artist At War is a quietly remarkable collection of the art that Cardy created during his time as an infantry soldier and tank driver. In recording what he saw, Cardy filled "six pads, 3" x 5"... (with) ... twenty or thirty pages to a book". For this collection, selections from those pencil, ink and watercolour sketches have been complimented by photographs and paintings undertaken in post-War Paris. As such, The Artist At War stands as a compelling, vivid and individual evocation of the war as Cardy knew it from moment to often all-too-uncertain moment. As the Second World War inexorably passes from living memory, the everyday experiences of those who lived through it are all too often subsumed by the ever-recycled, media-friendly shorthand version of what actually occurred. Yet what Cardy observed and recorded retains a striking freshness and immediacy, captured as it was for an audience of no-one but the artist and, on occasion, his comrades. This is history as it was experienced rather than as it's all too often been shaped for mass consumption, and that, combined with the unfamiliarity of these previously unpublished pages, makes for compelling reading.

The book begins with a sketch of ships on the Hudson River, completed on the very April Fool's Day that the artist discovered he'd been drafted. On it, the young Cardy recorded that he'd been "... questioned by two mounted policemen" as to why he'd drawn what he had. From that, we follow the paper-trail which marks his journey from the relative comfort of the war's periphery in America into its terrible centre in mainland Europe. It's a progress which shows once again why John H Arnold's famous description of the reality of war has become a cliche. For here are the long periods of boredom as well as the moments of sheer terror; tanks battles as well as haircuts, hospital operations and concerts for the troops, close quarter fighting in ruined towns and long underwear hung out to dry above fires. With no other narrative but his own experience to impose as a structure on the collection, Cardy's art suggests how grindingly normal the business of war must have become to those swallowed up by it. From the most snatched of cartoons to more considered watercolour studies, everything that he portrays seems to be both remarkable and yet entirely mundane too. With what appears to have been the most unhysterical of approaches, Cardy calmly chronicled everyday life as it was experienced by the men of the 3rd Armored Division during Europe's last continent-wide apocalypse.

Cardy admirably avoids any sense of sensationalism in the reminiscences which accompany his art too. His was, after all, not a generation that was typically accustomed to expressing its thoughts and feelings about such intensely personal experiences. In that restraint lies much of the book's appeal. When the artist describes famished families seeking out accidentally slaughtered horses, or tank commanders decapitated by enemy snipers, it's with an eye on the facts rather than the importance of his role as an observer. In characteristically removing his ego from events, Cardy inspires the reader to step as best as is possible into his shoes. Most of us who try to do so will suspect that we wouldn't have been able to either record or recall events with such equanimity, accuracy and decent-heartedness

Those with any interest at all in the period will find a great deal here that's both telling and touching. Comics aficionados will in addition be able to value The Artist At War for all that it tells us about Cardy's development in a period from which little has ever been seen before, beyond a single chapter in John Coastes' The Art Of Nick Cardy. In its handsome, hardbacked form, and with its content bolstered by interviews by Alex Deuben and editor Renee Witterstaetter, The Artist At War is undeniably worth your attention. For a while at least, the reader may it hard not to look at long-familiar streets and fields, rivers and buildings, without thinking of how swiftly the most familiar aspects of our lives can be utterly transformed by war.

Nick Cardy: The Artist At War, by Nick Cardy & Renee Witterstaetter, Titan Books, 2013

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Sacrilege Of "After Watchmen"


It took less than a year before Alan Moore and David Gibbons' Watchmen was first mentioned in the pages of a story set in the DCU. In 1988's The Question #17, Denny O'Neil and Denys Cowan had shown Vic Sage reading a copy of the graphic novel and pondering Rorschach's psychopathic approach to problem solving. Yet the first, and perhaps only, crossover between Moore and Gibbon's Charlton analogues and the DCU appeared in the little-known and repeatedly delightful Hero Hotline, a 1989 mini-series which featured a team of minor-league super-people working for hire in order to pay their everyday bills.

The fifth issue of writer Bob Rozakis and artist Stephen De Stefano's short run featured a scene set in the apartment of the mysterious "Coordinator" who owned the Hero Hotline business. An obviously well-connected figure in the super-heroic community, he would have been revealed to be the Americommando had the series survived. The walls of his home were shown to be hung with a variety of photographs of super-friends and enemies alike, and each of the four decades of DC's existence up until that point was referenced there. It was a smart way of emphasising both the Coordinator's status as a significant player in the DCU and the remarkable length of his crime-fighting career.

The worrying thing about the figure of Mr Mind at top-right is that it appears to be moving. At first, it looks like a macabre memento from a run-in with the Captain Marvel nemesis. But unless the frame he's resting on is itself shaking, that Mr Mind is - gosh! - alive and spying on Hero Hotline!
At the bottom left-hand side of the panel which showed all of this was a signed and framed photograph starring a smiling post-Crisis Captain Atom and a joyless Dr Manhattan. It's a touch of playful meta, of course, since both are revamps of the original Steve Ditko version of Captain Atom from the Sixties. But since there's absolutely no sense that the Coordinator's anything other than an entirely-sincere and well-respected individual, it's highly unlikely that the photograph is a fake. Not only did Atom and Manhattan actually meet, therefore, but they even hung around to pose for a snapshot afterwards. As such, it seems to me that this has a good case for being the only legitimate crossover between the characters of the Watchmenverse and the DCU.

I've little doubt that there's a 60-issue Event to be spun out of it.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

What Makes Batman #17 A 10 out of 10 Comicbook?: A Guest Blog By Forrest Helvie

By Newton, Conway, Alcala et al, from Detective Comics #526, 1983
One of my fellow bloggers over at Sequart is Forrest Helvie, who also writes for Newsarama. As I've recently said on TooBusyThinking, Forrest's an undeniably good egg with a sharp mind, and I enjoy his point of view even when the two of us disagree. These are daft, and often far worse than just daft, days in the blogosphere, with the very fact of a disagreement so often coming across as the equivalent of a blood feud. I very much appreciate how Forrest and I don't seem able to bring ourselves to either dislike each other or dismiss each other's work. Even when our opinions appear diametrically opposed, it doesn't seem to matter, and that's because, of course, it doesn't.

I suggested to Forrest that he might contribute a list of his favourite Joker stories to TooBusyThinking. It struck me that it might help me understand more of what he saw in Snyder and Capullo's work. You can find that list in his piece below. But Forrest also took the opportunity to work through his case for giving Batman #17 such high marks, and I'm very glad to have the chance to post what he has to say.

But first, why not pop over to Newsarama, if you've not already, and take a look at what Forrest originally wrote. Then, you ought to know that Forrest describes what follows as an off-the-cuff piece, which developed as he thought about how to define what a great Joker story might, or might not, be. Off-the-cuff or not, it certainly raises issues which, quite frankly, this blogger has rarely had the sense to consider. For example, there's a focus on matters such as inter-textuality and fresh, daring spins on well-established conventions which helps to explain why our two opinions of Batman #17 are so different. We are, it seems, starting from such different positions that we're barely seeing the same comic at all. And why not? Let a thousand flowers bloom, etc, etc ....

Variant cover for Batman #17, 2012, by Tony Daniels
                                  Reviewing Batman #17  

Recently, I’ve wrote a review of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman #17—the much-anticipated finale for the “Death of the Family” story arc, and I gave it a solid “10.”  I’ll spare the details as the review is available here on Newsarama.  This week, I also had the opportunity to share a conversation about this particular issue of Batman with my fellow comic-file, Colin Smith, whose opinions I enjoy following on his blog, Too Busy Thinking About Comics, and at Sequart too.  One question that came to mind after talking about our approaches was,  “what makes a 10 when it comes to a comics review?".

So what does it mean to assign a comic a "10" as opposed to a "9"? Can I confess something? I'm not entirely sure. It feels kind of arbitrary to me in some ways. Is there really a difference between an "A-" and an "A+"? Sure, but at the end of the day, we're still looking at an "A" level product. Am I not being critical enough? It's perhaps the one place where I freely admit my review is weakest. That said, I still feel the content of what I wrote has merit, but I think it's going to take a few more times working through the rating scheme to truly get a handle on quantifying quality in this regard. What I hope my review expresses, however, is that within the context of the current series, this book delivers the capstone to a memorable, contemporary Joker story.

This notion of Btaman issue 17 as a capstone to the "Death Of The Family" story led me to yet another line of thought. What makes for a truly memorable story? There are essays and books that need to be written about this, and perhaps there are already. For my part, it's all about how well a comic delves into the psyche of the Clown Prince Of Crime and how integral he is t the Batman mythos. Moreover, I'd argue that a comic that contends to be a true contender for any sort of "Joker Hall Of Fame" needs to do more than just tip the hat to these themes and issues. It also needs to add something to the discussion which previous creative teams had not considered. The questions did not fail to end here, however, as I began asking myself: What are some of the most memorable and significant Joker stories out there?

Copyless cover for Batman #17 by Greg Capullo

First off, I make no pretensions to offer a definitive list of any sort. I find them to be exercises in futility and attempts to offend someone or marginalise an otherwise viable but overlooked subject. All the same, I do believe that there are a handful of quite memorable and mythically significant stories fans of the Joker would do well to know (if they don't already). In no particular order;

·         Batman Issue #1, by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.
·         The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.
·         Batman Issue #251, “The Joker’s 5-Way Revenge” by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.
·         Batman Issue #s 426-429, “A Death in the Family” by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo
·         Detective Comics #s 475 & 476, “Joker Fish / Sign of the Joker” by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers.
·         The Batman Adventures: Mad Love by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

By Alan Davis, Mike W Barr, Paul Neary et al, from Detective Comics #570, 1987

Honorable Mentions:
·         Arkham Asylum and Arkham City—the video games. 
Note: I’m going to do a seriously anti-academic and uncritical thing at this point and simply state that if you don’t know why these entries deserve recognition, go do your homework! :-)

         The question remains: Does my rating Snyder and Capullo’s Batman #17 a “10” somehow earn it a place of equal standing alongside the issues I've just listed?  I’m not sure it does. I found much of Steve Morris’ critique on The Beat to be quite fair and well said.  However, I would contend that it is an issue that is worth looking at within the context of the aforementioned issues, and most notably for the psycho-sexual tension this creative pairing attempt to draw out of the Batman-Joker relationship—something Snyder and Capullo do add to the collective conversation that few others have so successfully brought to the forefront.  It’s hard not to notice the constant reiteration of “love” Joker feels for Batman and his jealous desire to remove the competition for Batman’s attention.  There have been constant references to the “dance” these two entities are locked into and the cover to this issue plays upon this convention—one that is explicitly raised in The Killing Joke—and it is consummated in a macabre and hellishly deranged feast “lovingly” prepared with the best intentions (and we all know where those lead).  In fact, the final panels with Joker and Batman portray them locked in this dance, drawing one another close, and whispering secrets into the ear of the other—secrets to which only they are privy.  

          It's also worth noting there is a nod to the Joker-Harley relationship within the story arc as a whole - and her absence at the end of it speaks to the absence she feels in Mad Love. In fact, Joker's use of Harley Quinn in the first issue was perhaps one of the more disturbing elements of the entire "Death Of The Family" arc, and I'm continually surprised this is often left unexamined by and large. There is a relationship Joker has devoted himself to, but it isn't the one he's had with her. That Joker rejects Harley in favor of his pursuit of his latest and "greatest" scheme centred upon elevating Batman to all new "heights" speaks to the psycho-sexual tension Snyder is weaving into this story. Harley is used and cast aside, a mere pawn to help the Funnyman Fatale consummate his nefarious designs against the Batman. This is certainly an even darker re-imagining of the degradation which she subjects herself to in order to please "Mr J", and it's one of many examples that highlight the depravity and inhumanity of Joker. And while I am hesitant to say the Joker gets what he deserves, and brand myself the "Hannibal of comics criticism", it is hard to feel bad for the beating the madman finally receives from Batman in light of his demeaning treatment of one who he ought to have treated with at least some .. modicum of decorum if not deranged affection. But then, would he would still be the Joker if he did? After all, what does finally happen to Harley, and Joker clearly does not care.

      While the "death" that takes place is seemingly the trust between Bruce and the Bat-Family, there also seems to be a problem of trust between Batman and the reader; after all, why aren't we in on the secret? And when we lose just a little faith in our heroes, even if only for a short time, don't we also experience a sense of loss?  Maybe I’m guilty of reading too much into this issue.  On the other hand, the grotesque tapestry Capullo creates in the banquet hall invites us to read into this series. It encourages us to consider the different ways in which this pairing have tried to pay homage to the past history between the Batman and Joker, and to note that they've done so while spinning the tale in a way that gets contemporary readers to respond, pushing the discussions initiated in earlier comics to new and transgressive levels. Are there flaws?  Sure.  But there are flaws in even the best Batman and Joker stories; yet, in spite of these flaws, they are still the ones readers remember to this day and creators continue to grapple with in their four-colored funnies.  

So with that, I’ll end my defence of this issue and my thoughts following Colin’s kind invitation to join him in a discussion of what it is that makes for a truly great Joker story.
By Denny O'Neil, Ernie Chan, J L Garcia Lopez et al, from The Joker #3, 1975

My thanks to Forrest, and of course, your feedback to this as well as your own nominations for the best ever Joker stories would be most welcome.


A Baker's Dozen Of The Very Best Joker Stories

Having expressed such a less-than-glowing opinion of Batman #17 in the last post here at TooBusyThinking, I thought I might at least put my arguments into the context of my own taste. And so, in this blog's tradition of Baker's Dozens, I offer up my favourite Joker stories. I make no claims for them being the most important, influential or outstanding of the hundreds of tales about the character. Nor have differentiated from stories in which the Joker is the lead and those in which he's been put to work as part of an ensemble. These are simply the tales that I've most enjoyed, and the order which they appear in reflects nothing but the order in which they were published.

Please do feel free to mention in the comments the comics that you would have chosen, and also to suggest which of my choices appear to be .... questionable.

Finally, I've completely ignored everything but the comics here. Almost 75 years of Joker appearances in the pages of DC's product was enough of a challenge in itself.

By Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson et al

1. The Joker versus The Batman/The Joker Returns, Batman #1, 1940

By Bill Finger, Lew Schwartz, Win Mortimor et al
2. The Man Behind The Red Hood, Detective Comics, #168, 1951

By Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, Charles Parris et al
3. The Joker's Crime Costume, Batman #63, 1951

By Alvin Schwartz, Dick Sprang, Charles Parris et a;

4. The Crazy Crime Clown, Batman #74, 1953

By Edmond Hamilton and Dick Sprang et al
5. Superman's And Batman's Greatest Foes, World's Finest #88, 1957

By Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff et al
 6. The Joker Jury, Batman #163, 1964 

by Neal Adams, Denny O'Neil et al
7. The Joker's Five Way Revenge, Batman #251, 1973

8. The Laughing Fish/Sign Of The Joker, DetectiveComics #475/6, 1978

by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Gerry Conway
9. The Last Laugh, Batman #353, 1982 

By Frank Miller, Klaus Janson et al
10. The Dark Knight Returns, 1986

By Paul Dini & Bruce Timm et al
11. The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, 1994

By Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark et al
12. Gotham Central: Soft Targets, 2003/4

By Paul Cornell, Jimmy Broxton et al

13. Knight & Squire #5/62011

And coming soon, Sequart and Newsarama writer Forrest Helvie and his take on what makes a splendid Joker story, as well as his nominations for his own individual canon of Joker tales.

Monday, 18 February 2013

On Batman #17:- That Cowardly & Superstitous Batman, That Heartlessly Persecuted Joker

Well, why doesn't the Batman simply kill the Joker?  You'd think the answer would be obvious. Yet fans the blogosphere over appear quite flummoxed, if not dangerously apoplectic, about the matter. The Joker can't be reformed or contained, they howl! If he's allowed to live, even more innocents will inevitably be tortured and murdered! Ipso fatso, reasons the reactionary mind, the only truly heroic response to the Crown Prince Of Crime's continued existence is to end it.

Obviously the fact that it's both ethically and legally unacceptable to murder our fellow civilians doesn't register with these representatives from the hang-'em-high fraternity. Similarly, the indisputable truth that the Joker is demonstrably criminally insane, and therefore quite obviously blameless for his crimes, appears to be considered irrelevant too. Even Bruce Wayne's traumatic aversion to both guns and killing shouldn't, it appears, hold him back from what's seen as the greater good. The reasoning seems as obtuse as it's heartless, and yet the meaning is clear; a true hero will always struggle to overcome moral, physical and psychological constraints in order to murder in the name of justice.

In the climax to the Death Of The Family crossover that appears in Batman #17, writer Scott Snyder flirts with this very issue. The Joker himself spins out a theory of why he's not been murdered by the Batman. Could it be that Bruce Wayne is simply scared that he'll not be able to ration himself to a single assassination of a super-foe? It's not an argument that Snyder has Batman recognise as valid, but it does touch upon the underlying logic of the fannish belief that the Joker must die. For if the protection of civil society demands the slaughter of perpetually-escaping and murderous super-villains, then none of that breed can be permitted to remain alive. If the Joker must be put down, then so must the rest of Batman's gallery of costumed and uncostumed antagonists alike, and the necessary killing could hardly stop there.
Oddly enough, Snyder never again refers to any of the legal, ethical, cognitive, or even logical issues that his story quite deliberately raises. When it comes to the matter of whether to liquidate the inconveniently and dangerously insane, Snyder's Batman relies on a stance equally mixed from a petulant machismo and a worrying degree of cod-mysticism. Indeed, the closest the writer comes to referencing the fundamental objections to arbitrary murder occurs when he has the Batman declare that he will not break his "code". No matter how the Joker goads him to do so, he's not going to be ignobly bullied into changing his mind. "Why have you never killed me?" demands the Harlequin Of Hate, to which Batman replies not "Because you're blameless", or "Because there's a law about that", or even, "Because I don't believe that's moral". Instead, Snyder has his hero offer  the rather pathetic retort of, "Because you'd .. win". Reducing an ethical conflict to a matter of uber-blokeish stubbornness, the Dark Knight expresses his determination not to be forced to change what he stands for. What that platform might actually consist of is left to the imagination of the reader, although the evidence of the script is that it's anything but informed and humane.

For this is a Batman who's even entirely ignorant of the most basic facts of criminal psychology. To him, the Joker isn't to be pitied for his insanity, but loathed. Once the Batman was able to clearly differentiate between the suffering individual and the appalling consequences of their disorder. Now he's shown raging at his opponent as if the Joker were entirely responsible for his behaviour. "I'll destroy you for this" he distastefully growls, before later declaring, "I hate nothing more on this Earth than you, Joker. Nothing." This is, of course, the language of rightful, noble, crowd-exciting vengeance, and it suggests that this version of Batman is as callous as he's ignorant. After all, Snyder has also included a scene set in Arkham Asylum which shows that Wayne has long understood that  the Joker 's quite insane. But then, how could the baying audience's desire to see the Joker pounded and humiliated be fulfilled if there was mercy and understanding at the story's core? Only by conspiring with the popular prejudice that the criminally insane deserve to suffer, and suffer terribly, for their actions can this story please the peanut gallery.

In truth, the climax of Batman #17 simply won't deliver the requisite degree of catharsis unless the reader has been longing to see the Joker not simply defeated, but beaten and demeaned. It's a scene that relies on hatred and nothing but to make it work. Indeed, the entire structure of the issue works to place Batman into a position where he can mock and beat his opponent while still appearing heroically hard-done by. Accordingly keen to drag out Joker's vicious humbling, Snyder presents us with a Batman who remorselessly prolongs the final set-to. Not only is there nothing to be gained by doing so, but the younger members of the Bat-family have been drugged into fighting each other to the death elsewhere. Showing not the slightest desire to turn away from his satisfaction, the Batman knowingly chases Joker towards the dead-end of a precipice above a subterranean river. As he does so, he effortlessly brushes off Joker's attempts to overcome him. Even the arrival of a very big axe from out of nowhere fails to cause the Batman to break sweat. Yet despite having Joker at his mercy, the Batman chooses to tool up from the fists which have served him well. Having cornered his prey, he opts not to use his evident physical superiority to put an end to things. Instead, he chooses to beat Joker with what appears to be a metal rod. Fisti-cuffs are too civil a matter for the punters at the DC Comics Colosseum, it seems.

Of course, Batman #17 is revenge porn and little else. For all its creators' undoubted skill, it's a pitilessly manipulative experience which relies upon its audience ignoring the hole-ridden plot and its thoroughly unpleasant values. Vengeance and the longing to see vengeance acted out is what drives this story, and it's that rush towards revenge which carries the audience over every ill-considered absurdity. When Snyder has the Batman declare to his foe that "Everything that happens to you tonight happens by my hand", he's emphasising the exquisite pleasures of dominating a despicable opponent. Such thrills don't come from the restoration of order and the fulfilment of justice. Instead, the story's charged up by the sight of the Batman cowing the Joker. As such, the matter mustn't be dealt with quickly and with compassion, because the excitement is being generated by the protracted suffering of the entirely irredeemable Other.

And so, spinning out the confrontation, the Batman pushes Joker towards the edge and then, holding him over the abyss, delivers a typical Snyder dues ex machina. For the Batman suddenly reveals that he knows who Joker was before his super-villainous career began. Somehow, this previously unmentioned fact means that the Dark Knight has gained the ability to shatter his enemies' self-regard. Why such knowledge would cause the Joker to so fracture is never explained, but then, there's a host of senseless scenes in Batman #17 to which Snyder pays no attention to. What counts is the public emasculation of the Joker. As he's made the Bat-Family suffer, so Batman will do to him, and there's no suggestion that sanity brings with it an obligation to behave humanely. Even stooping to mock the Joker by calling him "darling", Batman delivers what he believes to be a shattering psychological revelation while also holding his foe above a dead fall. That the Joker should respond by pushing the Batman away was surely to be expected. Bruce Wayne is, after all, a super-genius, and presumably remains so despite his ignorance of matters of social science. As such, it can hardly have been a surprise to the Caped Crusader that the Joker should have ended up plummeting into the darkness below. At best, Batman's actions are disturbingly negligent. At worst, it seems as if Wayne has simply placed the Joker into a position where he was likely to get rid of himself. Only an idiot can have thought that such an outcome was in any way unlikely.

Of course, this climax is presented as a triumph for good old day-saving Batman. Yet Snyder still has time to deliver one last baleful twist to this aspect of his callous tale. For he adds a scene in which Wayne explains to Alfred why he's never opted to kill the Joker. Once again, it seems initially to touch on some familiar and laudable ethical concerns, before unexpectedly speeding away in the direction of black magic and devilry;

"It's true I don't do it because of my code, because of what I stand for, but there's another reason too ... I truly believe that if I did it, that if I killed Joker, Gotham would just send me someone worse. Maybe even send him back, worse than before ..."

How refreshing it would have been to have a superhero express an unconditional allegiance to the most fundamental of legal and moral issues. Regrettably, Snyder leaves these central, and so often demeaned, principles and laws unmentioned. Of far more importance, it appears, is the deterrent value of Wayne's suspicions that ill-defined, and perhaps even entirely non-existent, occult powers will punish him for any ill-doing. How better to close an issue which often seemed designed to resemble an ethical debate than with a great reason-undercutting slab of hooey?
And so a character who began in 1939 as a rational crimefighter preying on the superstitions of criminals has become an irrational brute whose actions are determined by vague, untestable superstitions. Of course, having such a Batman allows the audience's taste for shock and blood and avenging to be pruriently and profitably indulged in. What behaviour can't be justified by such an absurd belief system? But just as Snyder's stories so often sidestep sense for the pleasures of throw-them-to-the-lions spectacle, so too have the ethics of his epics slipped free of their traditional moorings. By chance or design, the text and sub-text of Batman #17 work together to appeal to those who want to be flabbergasted and titillated by illiberal behaviour. In that, Snyder's is a Batman for a new dark age, and not so much a champion of the downtrodden as a representative of the darkness itself.

Sympathy for the so-called devil will sound like a ridiculous idea to those who've loved this disturbingly callous issue. Yet for all that Snyder and artist Capullo's work has been effectively constructed, its values are cruel when they're even coherent. The Death Of The Family Event was ultimately about "shocking" the rubes before satisfying them with an Other-stomping conclusion. But there's no compassion or logic here beyond the fuzzy sense that the good super-people have been saved and the very bad man satisfyingly punished. There's definitely not the slightest hint that Snyder has ever once thought of the pernicious labels which society applies to the psychologically disordered. Why challenge labels when they can be so lucratively reinforced?

Batman #17 is a prime example of the superhero book brilliantly reduced to a reactionary's wet dream. As such, it will sell and sell and sell.

Anyone looking for a review which discusses the plot-holes in Batman #17 ought to look no further than Martin Gray's TooDangerousForAGirl. I wouldn't want to suggest that he shares anything of the opinion expressed above, but his reviews of the New 52 Batman issues have been well worth reading; try here.

Friday, 15 February 2013

On 21 Years Of "Tripwire": An Interview With Joel Meadows

Joel Meadows isn't bragging when he writes that Tripwire has "the best contacts and the best access of any magazine of this kind". Sceptics need only visit the Kickstarter page for Tripwire's 21st anniversary edition, where they'll encounter fond, enthusiastic quotes from the likes of Michael Moorcock and Ian Rankin, to realise that he's simply stating the truth. Equally fascinated by comics and film, Tripwire is a seriously well-respected, impressively well-connected publication.

Yet Tripwire's story is more than a record of the remarkable cast of creators who've featured in its pages. Of course, its success in earning the goodwill of, for example, Morrison, Moore, Mignola and Millar speaks for its estimable qualities. But there's also the matter of how Tripwire's been constantly reshaped over the past few decades, as Meadows and his collaborators have worked to fulfil their ambitions while negotiating an ever-changing, perpetually demanding marketplace. What began as a hand-to-mouth and at-moments spiky fanzine in the early nineties has evolved into today's sharp, opulent, digital labour of love. (*1) As such, the magazine's progress has reflected many of the fundamental changes which have so profoundly altered not just publishing, but the entertainment industry as a whole over the past few decades. 

*1:- If you haven't already, the free digital edition of November 2012's edition, which focuses on the Dredd movie, can be read here. It's well worth looking out, and you can see its front cover further down this this page.

Work in progress: a double-page spread from the upcoming Tripwire 21st anniversary edition
What follows is an interview that I suggested to Joel when we briefly discussed Tripwire's 21st anniversary. It struck me that it would be an opportunity to help highlight his campaign to fund a sumptuous celebration of Tripwire's achievements. But I'll readily admit to entirely selfish motives too. As someone who fondly recalls buying the earliest issues of Tripwire from Gosh! during sadly infrequent returns to London, and who's read every issue since, I can't help but be curious about the magazine's development. Since TooBusyThinking is essentially a comics blog, I focused on that aspect of Tripwire's history, but I hope that doesn't obscure its fascination with film too.

 My thanks to Joel for all his help.

1. Earlier this year, you discussed the history of Tripwire with Bill Baker. I was fascinated to read that you and your then-collaborator Simon Teff didn't at first “have a bloody clue what we were doing then and we certainly didn’t have a game plan”. What were the pros and cons of starting Tripwire in such an off-the-wall fashion?

We were pretty young and clueless and we just wanted to publish a magazine that covered comics and music in an interesting fashion. We didn’t plan particularly far ahead but we managed to include the occasional feature that no-one would have thought of, like the Bisley/ Morrison Tapes, which was Grant Morrison chatting to Simon Bisley, which is still quite amusing even now. We definitely learnt on the job but it is a little bit galling to look at some of the more primitive issues of the magazine.

2.  What would the young Joel who began Tripwire think of all you’ve achieved, and perhaps, what you haven’t? 

That’s a very intriguing question. I think he may be amazed that the magazine still plays some sort of part in my professional life all these years later. Hopefully he’d be proud of all the people we’ve covered over the years and some of the things we’ve done like directly commission covers from Fox and still be seen as some sort of influential force in the market, although I don’t know how influential we actually are anymore, or even if we were ever influential.

3. And what would you advise that younger Joel Meadows about the road ahead of him in 1991 if you could?

 I think we should have ditched the music earlier and replaced it with film and TV. But the music came out of TRIPWIRE because I had a massive falling out with the aforementioned Mr Teff. We never covered music properly because he wasn’t up for doing music interviews. Film and TV ended up in the magazine because I had met Gary Marshall, who suggested we should include it. I would also tell him not to sign with our now-defunct newstrade distributor MMC, because that led to a huge waste of money and being forced to wrap up the magazine in 2003, a break which lasted until 2007. I may also want to tell him not to bother with the gatefold silver ink logo cover we did to commemorate Star Wars The Phantom Menace back in 1999. There were a few moments when things were at a particularly low ebb thanks to the time and money invested in TRIPWIRE but in retrospect I am mostly glad about what we’ve done.

4. As you've said, you didn’t have a game plan for Tripwire when you started. But you must have developed a sense of what is and what isn’t right for the magazine as the years have passed. Can you recall particular moments when you really felt that you knew what Tripwire should and shouldn’t be?

I would like to think that we did. We didn’t touch much in the way of mainstream superhero coverage unless it related to an interesting or notable creator taking on a superhero title or series. I suppose our remit was the most interesting end of mainstream comics and then film and TV. Ironically our short-lived full colour ‘monthly’ back in 2003 was ahead of the game. We tried to cover genre, film and TV the way a mainstream magazine would but we were hindered by the greed of our distributor and the newstrade outlets who refused to stock us unless we paid them for the privilege. We didn’t always get it right but we covered people like Moore, Morrison and Milligan long before almost anybody else. We gave Vertigo more covers than any other publisher and I think we were right to support them. That was partly because we wanted to help British talent. We also tried to cover independent comic creators like Ed Hillyer, Roger Langridge and the Metaphrog people.

5. In 2002’s 10th Anniversary Issue of Tripwire, you wrote that early issues had seriously annoyed “a number of prominent figures in the comics industry”. Yet Tripwire has had a remarkable degree of support from comicbook creators and publishers alike. How did you earn such good will while also making waves? (Is it important that a magazine like Tripwire does piss off prominent folks at times?)

When we started, I was young and I wasn’t a journalist or an editor really. I was just feeling my way around and so we did piss off a few people. I used Speakeasy and the music papers, NME and Melody Maker, as my template, so we were far less reverent towards subjects than the Americans who covered the material. But if we had continued on this path, then the magazine wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did, so we changed tack with our approach. I would like to think that the reason we have had decent access is because we love comics and feel that the people who create them should be accorded the same respect as people who work in film, TV or any of the other creative arts. We have had a long relationship with many of the people we have covered over the years, like Mike Mignola for example, who we first interviewed way back in summer 1996. I think we had more Hellboy covers than any other character during the print run of TRIPWIRE. So we try not to make waves anymore although there are still creators who are mercurial, who we helped to get attention for, who for whatever reason feel that we are no longer worth speaking to any more, which of course is their prerogative. Also, the big two publishers seem less interested in listening to other voices to advise them on their future plans, so I feel like we would be wasting our breath.

6. To what degree have your own endeavours to keep the magazine alive and vital helped you understand the challenges which have faced the comics industry over the period?

That is a big question and doing TRIPWIRE has hopefully allowed me to better understand the mindset of the dominant companies, the changes in the market and, while some decisions really frustrate me, I can usually understand the reasoning behind them. Sadly, it seems to me that the bigger players in the comic market have become so driven by their corporate masters and owners that many of their decisions seem motivated by short-term thinking and placating their shareholders to the detriment of the quality of the material. Of course, comic publishing is a business and an industry and you can’t blame publishers for trying to make money but I do feel like the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, especially since the changes at the top of Marvel and DC.

7. Are there a few particular highs, and perhaps even lows, which come to mind when you consider the past few decades of Tripwire?

That is also a tricky question to answer. I am proud that we managed to support British independent and left of centre mainstream creators like Milligan, Fegredo, Phillips and US creators like Mignola and Wagner. I have been sifting through old issues of TRIPWIRE, partly to assemble the 21st anniversary book and I am struck by just how imaginative and visually interesting some of our covers were. We didn’t get everything right: the JM Straczynski interview we ran back in 2010 read like a rather noncommittal email interview and the fact that, after DC made such a big fanfare about him taking over Superman and Wonder Woman, he walked soon after anyway. But hindsight is all well and good. It is hard to pick specific highs although I still have a soft spot for the TRIPWIRE Spring Special 2000 we did, with its pastiche circus cover that integrated JH Williams’ Promethea image, and Volume 4#9, which was our Dark Knight Strikes Again special. Despite the fact that the series wasn’t very good, I think the cover still looks striking and holds up over a decade after we put it out. Lows also included dealing with WH Smiths and being dropped by Diamond, which we were quite a while ago. We have always tried to punch above our weight and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

8. How different is the business of producing a magazine such as Tripwire in 2013 compared to 1992? Would it be possible to start a Tripwire now, and, given today's challenges, how are you planning to take Tripwire forward?

 If you were launching TRIPWIRE now, you would probably have to put it out as a digital publication. With the demise of Borders UK and the rest of the UK book market and the newstrade seemingly lumbering from one crisis to another, you’d need very deep pockets to do a regular full colour magazine about comics. Admittedly, Future’s Comic Heroes, which I contribute to, makes a decent fist of this but Future is a public company. As for the future of TRIPWIRE, we are launching a regular digital edition, a bi-monthly from the end of February, with a similar approach to the print magazine although we shall be giving greater emphasis to books and films and original graphic novels. Additionally we shall be offering TRIPWIRE 21, our 21st anniversary book through Kickstarter UK. We tried to do a TRIPWIRE 20 through Unbound in 2012 but that didn’t work so we’re renaming it and having another go. I would like to think it will do better because Kickstarter is packed with comics projects.

9. In your editorial for the 2007 Tripwire Annual, you wrote that “This is the most exciting and evolving time for comics in recent memory … .” Is that an opinion you still hold? How do the comics and the comics culture of 2013 compare to those of the past few decades?

Ironically, it is still an exciting time for comics and comics culture. We’ve seen two of the highest grossing films of all time come from the world of genre, two graphic novels have been nominated for the Man Booker Prize and the stigma of reading comics seems to have lifted. It is a golden age for reading graphic material and the quality is even higher when you look at the publishers outside of what used to be called the Big Two. Both Marvel and DC seem determined to put out juvenile and hackneyed titles, marginalising the more sophisticated comics.

10. It would have been hard to foresee in 1992 how pop culture has merged with the mainstream in the 21st century. What does Tripwire offer in a world where graphic novels are reviewed in the Sunday supplements as well as featured in an unbelievable number of fan sites?

Hopefully TRIPWIRE offers a level of professionalism, intelligent discourse and accessibility that is lacking in many of these places. I have written about comics and genre in places like The Times, Time Magazine, Big Issue in The North and Independent on Sunday and pop culture is something that I genuinely respect and care about, so when I see a lazy, poorly researched article about comics in the papers or on a website, it makes me very sad. Hopefully we also offer more depth and context for the reader, making them more aware of the history of the subject.

11. The 21st anniversary issue obviously needs to catch the interest of both the folks who know something of Tripwire and those that may not even heard of it before. How do you intend to attract what in some ways are two very different audiences?

This is another tough question. We have always tried to approach matters in a professional and intelligent way. Wizard’s approach was never for us as we have never been fanboys towards any of the material and have always been more interested in getting under the creative skin of the people who work in genre, whether that’s comics, film, TV or books. Genre has become mainstream culture and for just over twenty years, we were at the heart of what was going on, trying to dissect it and try to make sense of the material we felt deserved greater respect. So the anniversary book, and it will be a book rather than a magazine, will hopefully distill everything that’s been good and interesting about TRIPWIRE, offering reprints of its best material and a slew of new artwork and commentary on what’s happened since 1992 in a book that people will hopefully be proud to have on their shelves. I am trying to make it the sort of book that, if I wasn’t publishing it, I would buy it myself.

12.  What ambitions do you still have for Tripwire? Is it possible to envisage a 30th and even 40th anniversary issue?

I need to get the 21st anniversary edition out of the way first. I haven’t given any thought at all, to be honest. I would never have imagined, if you had said to me, twenty years ago that this thing that started life as a bit of fun would still be part of my professional life now. I am hoping that the regular digital will give it a new lease of life and the provisional plan is to collect the best of the digital in a once a year annual. But we’ll see.

Thank you, Joel.

  • That Kickstarter project can be found here
  • Tripwire's homepage is here. There's more than just the Dredd issue that's available there, and it's all worthwhile material.
  • And Bleeding Cool has printed a welcome, broad range of features from Tripwire's past. A few comics features, since this is a comics blog, to start you off; Mike Mignola on Hellboy, Alan Moore from 2002, and Grant Morrison and Simon Bisley from 1994.