Gary Phillips on writing for the new pulps
Gary Phillips, the L.A.-based author, is usually considered a mystery writer. He's the author of the Ivan Monk and Martha Chainey mystery series, edited the anthology "Orange County Noir" and is on the board of the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.
And on the side, he also likes comic books.
"I first discovered pulp fiction when I was a teenager and Bantam Books was republishing Doc Savage stories in paperback for 50 cents apiece," Phillips writes on the blog The Rap Sheet. "Initially, I had no idea who this Doc Savage was other than he had a cool name and his adventures were introduced by great magazine covers...Titles such as Land of Always-Night, Mystery Under the Sea, Death in Silver, and Resurrection Day (in which Clark Savage Jr., aka Doc -- who was not only a giant of a man, supremely trained in the fighting arts, but a scientist, gadgeteer, and surgeon as well -- brings a pharaoh back to life to run amok in Depression-era New York City) had me hooked."
Phillips, who has done some comic book writing in the past, is now writing a revival of Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5, a pulp-era crime fighter that's been licensed by Moonstone Books. Moonstone sometimes sets a full page of prose opposite a full-page illustration -- they publish, their website proclaims, "fine & distinct Comic Books, Graphic Novels, and Prose... books that are meant to be read."
In his post, Phillips notes that there are competing expectations when it comes to a pulp character. Today's readers have grown accustomed to the questioning and angst of comic book heroes like the Dark Knight, which stand in contrast to the earlier era.
It seems there are the old-school pulp enthusiasts, who want a certain kind of good guys versus bad guys story, with none of those post-modern, angst-driven, fallacy-prone main characters. Then there are the more entrenched comics fans, who don’t really give a damn about the historical pulp characters, so are wondering just what the fuss is about.
He explains how he's creating the character Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5, somewhere in the middle: the book promises to include secrecy, relationship troubles, father issues plus fighting for his country and real-life Depression-era characters. The character will make his first appearance as a back-up feature in The Spider, which debuts in January 2011.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Image: Moonstone Books