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Comics and crime: a dynamic duo

October 14, 2008 |  9:57 am

Geppismuseum_1014

The news that major comics companies like Marvel and DC are having banner years when the rest of publishing struggles in the face of economic hard times would not surprise anyone who was in Baltimore last week for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. What was once an unthinkable crossover between comics and crime fiction is now so commonplace that DC Comics used the mystery genre's annual fan gathering to reveal further details about Vertigo Crime, a new branch of its storied graphic novel imprint that will feature new works from crime writers Ian Rankin, Jason Starr and Gary Phillips, as well as from Brian Azzarrello ("100 Bullets").

The sparse lighting and half-full attendance gave the Friday afternoon panel, moderated by Crimespree Magazine editor Jon Jordan, an appropriate underground flavor. So did the slideshow of stark black-and-white imagery playing over the panelists' heads, an illustrated preview of what's to come when the books start rolling out in 2009 with Rankin's "Dark Entries," a new story featuring John Constantine of "Hellblazer," and Azzarello's 1960s-set noir "Filthy Rich." But DC's John Cunningham and Will Dennis, Azzarello, Starr and Phillips also had lots more to say about their enthusiasm for crime fiction in prose and graphic novel format, working with talented young artists like Victor Santos and Mick Bertolorenzi (a 22-year-old Italian whom all panelists agreed had a knack for drawing "really hot women") and making sure, in Starr's words, to concentrate on "the big moments" so that the story plays out more with visuals than with reams of words.

Earlier that day, Geppi's Entertainment Museum hosted a number of crime fiction and comics writers signing their wares, and the one word that kept popping up from visitors and writers alike was "overwhelming" (though "mind-blowing" and "unbelievable" were commonly used phrases, too.) Consider that Phillips and Max Allan Collins ("The Road to Perdition") were signing comics and novels surrounded by row upon row of vintage pop culture paraphernalia. Or that the next room over Lucille Ball mispronounced "Vitametavegamin" from a replica of a 1950s TV set situated next to all manner of Howdy Doody memorabilia. Not to mention the strange sense of convergence of Duane Swierczynski in a green Batman T-shirt signing comics contributions from "Cable" to "The Punisher" beneath a gigantic Batman statue.

Geppi's used to be the private collection of Diamond Comics CEO Stephen Geppi but opened to the public in 2006 as a museum celebrating the history of pop culture in all its eye-popping, richly hued glory. Murder By the Book owner McKenna Jordan marveled over the foresight in making sure certain items would remain in mint condition, even down to the last button, bauble or bangle. My own eyes kept wandering to the "Expanding Universe: 1971-1990" section, time-warping back to first-run "Star Wars" posters or Michael Jackson action figures from his "Thriller" heyday. Visiting Geppi's was like eating an entire pound of chocolates in one sitting, leaving an aftertaste of wonder that demands multiple future visits. 

–- Sarah Weinman

Photo: Geppi's Entertainment Museum. Credit: A. Cullen.

Sarah Weinman, who writes the L.A. Times crime fiction column "Dark Passages," is, with the help of doctor-prescribed medication, recovering from Bouchercon.

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