Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: The Fanboy Comics Staff and I are very excited about the release of your book, Seduction of the Innocent. What inspired you to write this novel?
Max Allan Collins: I’ve been doing historical crime novels, set mostly in the twentieth century, since the early 1980s. The most famous is a graphic novel, ROAD TO PERDITION, which the Tom Hanks film was adapted from – the incredible Richard Piers Rayner drew it. The longest-running is the Nathan Heller series – Heller is a private eye out of Chicago who gets involved in famous crimes, from the Lindbergh kidnapping (STOLEN AWAY) to the JFK assassination (TARGET LANCER). As somebody who’s written a lot of comics, I’ve long been interested in the history of comics and comic books, and wanted to do some mystery novels that explored that history. Unlike my Nate Heller series, these would not deal with crimes exactly, but subjects from that era. For example, in A KILLING IN COMICS, I look at a fictionalized version of how two kids from Cleveland got screwed out of Superman. SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT looks at the comic-book “witch hunt” of the early ‘50s, with some very real historical underpinnings, but I hope in a fun, entertaining way.
BD: Do you feel that there is still a stigma attached to comic books, and, if so, do you hope that Seduction of the Innocent will have an effect on readers?
MAC: Comic books do continue to have a stigma, but a lot of progress has been made. I think ROAD TO PERDITION, as one of the first really successful, non-superhero graphic novels, took some steps in that direction – to show the general public that comics is an art form, a storytelling medium, and not something inherently juvenile. That was a major part of Dr. Frederic Wertham’s thesis, you know – that comics were for little kids, and if the subject matter was adult, it would harm those children. SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT won’t do anything much toward removing the stigma comic books still have. But, I do hope to remind people, particularly in the wake of tragedies like Sandy Hook, that popular media like comic books and video games are an all too easy, handy scapegoat for a problem that needs real solutions, not a whipping boy.
BD: Many of your previous works, including Road to Perdition, the Dick Tracy comic strips, and Seduction of the Innocent, have been deeply rooted in mystery and featured detectives as the protagonists. What draws you to the mystery genre and detective stories?
MAC: Nice question, and one that I surprisingly don’t get asked very often. I’m of the belief that a story must have a conflict to be a “real” story, that is, a compelling work of fiction that engages a reader. A mystery has a crime at its center and automatically has a conflict. Beyond that, I like the loner hero, the man or woman who can attack a problem and, pretty much alone, solve that problem. It’s comforting to see order made out of chaos. Conversely, the noir detective story also makes us confront the darkness in ourselves and society. So, a detective like Mike Hammer or for that matter Batman may solve a mystery, but at a personal cost, to himself and even to society. That kind of character raises issues of vigilante-ism, after all.
BD: As a bestselling author, you have become a driving force in the comic book industry. What first drew you to this medium of storytelling?
MAC: I appreciate the compliment, but I am not at all a driving force in the comic book industry, and I feel lucky whenever I get a chance to do a graphic novel or comic book. Comics really are a sideline in my career as a mystery novelist, although I consider myself not so much a novelist as a storyteller, and have made indie movies and written non-fiction books, as well. Comics were my first love as a kid, but my desire to be a cartoonist morphed into wanting to be a writer, specifically a writer of private eye stories, and that was the road I went down. I went to the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, sold several mystery novels while I was there, and my career seemed to be on that path. But, my love for comics continued, and when I got a chance to try out for the DICK TRACY comic strip in 1977, I grabbed it. Once I was doing a syndicated comic strip, the doors opened for me in comic books, and I was for a while the writer of BATMAN. That was an ill-fated experience, though some of the work I did was pretty good. But, I also got to work with Terry Beatty on our very long-running comic book series, MS. TREE, a pioneering crime comic book that started way back in 1981. We also did JOHNNY DYNAMITE at Dark Horse. The breakthrough for me was obviously ROAD TO PERDITION. But, other than a run as the first writer of the CSI comic book, I haven’t done a lot in that medium lately – two PERDITION graphic novel follow-ups, and we’re talking about a new MS. TREE graphic novel.
BD: Your books will no doubt influence young writers throughout the world who share your love of storytelling. Which writers have inspired you the most?
MAC: There are so many. In comics, I would cite Chester Gould, Al Capp, Will Eisner, and EC’s Johnny Craig. In novels it would be Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, and so many, many more. I would also want to single out some filmmakers, first and foremost Alfred Hitchcock, but also Sam Fuller, Joseph H. Lewis, Don Siegel, Howard Hawks, so many others. I soaked up lots of pop culture growing up, and I would advise anybody who wants to write or draw – or write and draw - comics to immerse themselves in the related arts – prose fiction and films in particular.
This article was posted as part of the Seduction of the Innocent Blog Tour, celebrating the release of Max Allan Collins' new Hard Case Crime novel. For the opportunity to win a copy of the book, simply tweet “I would like a copy of Seduction of the Innocent @TitanBooks #MaxAllanCollins.”
Find out more about the book and the tour at www.titanbooks.com/seductionoftheinnocent.