Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboying Up

My crime story graphic novel Cowboys, came out this month. Sharply drawn by a true craftsmen in the comics field, Brian Hurtt, it’s a story about two undercover law enforcement individuals. Deke Kotto is a make-up-the-rules-as-you-go homicide detective and Time Brady, is a buttoned down FBI agent. Each, unknown one to the other, goes submarine from either end of the same case. Events conspire that will drive these two together on a collision course. To pat myself on the back, the graphic novel has gotten a little luv on a couple of review sites on them internets. But Andrew Smith on a site called the Daily Republic had this to say in part,

“Because both cops are wife-cheating, smart-mouthed jerks, all the supporting characters are equally venal and unlikeable, and the criminals are the worst kind of scum, it’s hard to care what happens to any of them.”

I know better than to engage a critical review as I’d only come off as defensive. But I’m making a point by citing his remarks about this question of the moral code of your protagonist…or in this case, protagonists On one hand, it would seem Kotto and Brady, having subsumed themselves in their covers, have lost their way. For Kotto, he cuts his whiskers, dreads and dons glasses to be part of the woodwork in a highrise office of a company that’s a possible front for laundering mob money Brady doesn’t undergo a physical transformation so much as he pretends to be a square accountant-type attracted to the fast life. What I attempted to do was show how both men as they submerge deeper find themselves at a psychological quagmire, and figure just maybe their fake personas might not be a good permanent fit, if only…

To me crime and mystery stories can be about exploring what are the moral limits to a character who seemingly has no limits. A few years ago I had my agent withdraw my novel Bangers, subsequently published by Kensington, from an editor at a known New York house. She adamantly wanted me to redeem at least one of the main characters. It’s a story about a group of to varying degrees bent cops and ambitions politicians. I’m all for redemption. Really. But that wasn’t the story I was trying to tell in that book. It was about what happens when desperate characters are each playing an angle and inevitably these conflicting desires clash – which way do they jump then? Who realizes their folly, reclaim a sense of balance and seek to do the right thing and who is so blind or so greedy or driven they are willing to burn for their misdeeds?

I’ll leave you with this. I recently was asked to do an essay on Hawk, the enigmatic enforcer from the late Robert Parker’s Spenser series. Hawk is the yang to Spenser’s yin. In particular there was one novel, Cold Service, where it begins with Hawk having been ambushed on a body guarding job and laying in a hospital bed. He heals and his buddy Spenser is going to help him deal with the gangsters. Spenser knows that in helping Hawk, he’s going to go against his own code as some cold-blooded deeds will be called for before the matter is done. Yet he can’t turn his back on his friend, his comrade-in-arms.

See, that’s the stuff.


lil Gluckstern said...

I read your post with great interest, and it actually brought tears to my eyes. I have undergone a series of mishaps and found myself torn by precisely the conflicts you talk about. How do you do the right thing and take care of yourself, and your friends at the same time. I think the reviewer missed the point. The best of us struggle with our values, and in this very amoral world in which we live, these are difficult questions to answer. (And I haven't even read your book, which I will change at my earliest opportunity.

Gary Phillips said...


I hope you've come though your trails as best as can be expetced.

kylieprice said...

Even your own make up skills look much better in all the photos i've seen on your blog >.>" I can't believe the ripped you off like that!

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