I was out to renew the pulps, not recreate. The story needed and anchor, see, a stationary point of reference around which to warp pre-conceived notions. One of two ways this could go: either we’d enter this dark and secret world by invitation or we’d discover it ourselves, like detectives do. I kicked around the idea of following a new agent as she – it would have to be a she – was initiated into the faux Shadow’s hidden order, but that’s a tired premise. It’d only end up like MIB, anyhow, child of the nineties that I am.
So the latter, then. We’d be detectives.
Sitting again at the idea desk, eating peanuts off a paper napkin. Heroes on the iTunes – Bowie in Berlin, Gale Ann Dorsey on guitar. Bowie again. On my bookshelf, The Long Goodbye, the longest and best of the Philip Marlowe novels by Raymond Chandler— the great human writer, who happened to be American. Philip Marlowe, jaded LA private eye: on paper a poor man’s Sam Spade, but Chandler’s not interested in writing crime stories. He doesn’t revel in the mechanics of crime the same way Hammett does, or Gibson, or Dent. Chandler’s Marlowe (which sounds like “Chandler is Marlowe” when you say it out loud) is a man who’s smarter than the world he lives in, but too short on ambition and too long on heart to make much of it. He’s a small-time operator in a big bruised burg where nobody’s clean and nobody’s evil, living between joyless relationships and playing chess alone. I think perhaps Marlowe was supposed to live in the world of the Shadow and Doc Savage, where the bad guys are jet black evil and can – and must – be destroyed, but there was some cosmic mistake and instead he was born into a world where hell is other people and justice has a pause in between syllables. He keeps working, Marlowe, trudging through, always hoping in his cynical, armored way for those moments, those rarest of moments, when— through wit and grit and brains and luck— he can wring a silver stream of sense out of the soiled dishrag of life. The parlor scene. The guilty party revealed. The better guys, if not the good ones, sort of kind of win.
And then the moment passes and the world goes back to the way it’s always been, and Marlowe goes back to the job. Keeping his head down. Waiting, without knowing it. Working for that day that comes and passes and will yet come again.
Peanuts, the Long Goodbye, and we can be heroes, just for one day.
Private eye fiction is existentialist, but not nihilistic. The universe may be indifferent and the problems of a crack whore and a dead gangster and a beat-up shamus might not amount to a hill of anything in this crazy hunk of dirt-crusted rock falling through empty radioactive space, but right’s right and wrong’s not and in a vacuum of meaning we must create our own, and by that we are judged. This is the writing of Raymond Chandler, stripped down and maybe fudged a bit to suit my purposes. The beauty in a gasoline bubble.
And so it all came together around the unifying element of the great human detective. All the hard-boiled standards— The Shadow, The Spider, Black Mask Detective, Spicy Detective… and David Bowie, rock and roll, punk rock, brit rock, prog rock, the Red Rock and the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, and women. All of this, ready to be cut down and ground up and stamped into something new, like the pulp that is its namesake.
Not every day you figure out how to regenerate an entire literary movement, is it?
Named for the first girl I ever had a crush on, AVERY took form.
Here end my meditations on the birth and purpose of this project. Following posts will be looser thoughts and status updates as the project swells to completion, along with looks at the various mechanisms JD and I both are learning as we create our first long-form graphic novel.
"Graphic novel." Feh. We'll have to think of something better.
Watch this space. This ought to be fun. It might even be intelligible.