Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: You recently released the novel Complex 90, which was an unfinished manuscript by famed crime novelist Mickey Spillane. When did you originally become aware of Spillane’s writing?
Max Allan Collins: When I was 12 or 13, I was watching private eye TV shows, including PETER GUNN, 77 SUNSET STRIP, and MICKEY SPILLANE'S MIKE HAMMER (the Darren McGavin version, not the Stacy Keach . . . that came much later). I was always a kid who wanted to read the source material for TV shows and movies, and this was no exception, particularly when I saw the great, lurid paperback covers on a spinner rack at a local drug store -- drugs is right! For a while, I couldn't buy them -- the books had a not completely undeserved reputation for being "dirty" and violent. The first Hammer I bought, ONE LONELY NIGHT, I had to lie about my age, saying I was 16, not 13.
BD: Spillane may be best known for his detective character, Mike Hammer. How have Spillane’s writing and Hammer, as a character, influenced or affected your own detective tales?
MAC: Spillane is only one of perhaps half a dozen writers who influenced as a teenager -- I'd include Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Jim Thompson . . . later, "Richard Stark" (Donald E. Westlake's penname). But, Spillane probably had the biggest impact on me, as a reader and as a budding writer. I was struck by the speed and brutality of his action scenes, and by the noir poetry of his descriptive writing. The opening of ONE LONELY NIGHT, where Hammer contemplates suicide on a bridge in rain turning to snow, is amazing. I think, too, that Hammer as a man with a code, a tarnished knight in a corrupt world, appealed to me -- personal justice and sometimes revenge as a theme. Hammer very much grows out of the disappointment of returning WW 2 veterans to an America that wasn't living up to expectations.
BD: Given that the Mike Hammer character (then known as Mike Danger) was originally envisioned as a comic book character, did you consider adapting Complex 90 in a graphic novel format?
MAC: No, that didn't occur to me, frankly. But, the idea of doing Hammer in graphic novel form does appeal to me. There have been talks about adapting the early Spillane novels to that form -- Marvel was very interested a few years ago, but it didn't come to pass.
Recently, I edited a collection of MICKEY SPILLANE'S MIKE HAMMER: THE COMIC STRIP for Hermes Press, a complete reprinting of the one-year run of the Hammer strip written by Mickey in the early '50s. It's a beautifully put together volume, and is out now.
BD: As a professional and personal friend of Mickey Spillane, you later became his literary executor. What was your experience in accepting this mantle, and what was it about Complex 90 that motivated you to take on the project?
MAC: Mickey had been my hero growing up, and when I finally met him years later, he lived up to my expectations. He was a warm, down-to-earth, generous guy. I was one of his few writing friends and when I'd visit him at his home in South Carolina, we would talk into the night. I know the endings of some of the unfinished works, because he shared them with me in those conversations. Shortly before his death, Mickey asked me to complete his final Hammer, THE GOLIATH BONE, and then told his wife Jane to round up all the other unfinished material and give it to me -- "Max will know what to do." That's a great compliment, and a huge responsibility, but I am not intimidated -- Mickey believed I could do it, and that's all I need to know.
COMPLEX 90 was one of the most interesting of the unfinished books, because it takes Hammer into the world of James Bond right at the peak of the spy craze, 1964. It's also a follow-up to Mickey's 1961 novel, THE GIRL HUNTERS, which is probably the best of the later Hammer novels. So, this was enormous fun. It takes Hammer to Russia, deals with the space race, KGB assassins, an African-American sidekick for Hammer, with a particularly wild ending, as well as answering lots of questions about Mike's secretary/lover, Velda. I think it's probably the most fun of the posthumous Hammer books for any reader.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you are able to share with our readers?
MAC: I have a thriller from Thomas & Mercer coming out in August, WHAT DOESN'T KILL HER, which I'd say is vaguely in the GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO area, but it's very much an American story. Just recently my wife and I had the latest in our ANTIQUES series come out, ANTIQUES CHOP, under our joint byline, "Barbara Allan." And, in October, the conclusion to my JFK Trilogy in the Nathan Heller historical thriller series, ASK NOT, will be published -- it deals with the many dead witnesses that turned up in the wake of the assassination.