When it comes to publishers, I tend to think of Tor as all about SF/Fantasy/Horror, though of course I ought to know better. Aside from skimming the spines lined up on my own bookshelves, I’ll point to their site/blog at www.tor.com, which I follow via BlogLovin’, and enthusiastically endorse. There’s a lot of interesting reading to be found there, in addition to the usual new release info and promotional content.
Case in point: Award winning short story writer and Southeast Asia scholar T.R. Napper’s recent “Hardboiled World: Four Creative Noir Traditions From Around The Globe” (link below). Napper explains in his opening, “I spent three years of my doctorate defining noir and its direct descendant, cyberpunk, and their representations in film and literature outside the U.S. – in particular Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Viet Nam.” Citing Noir scholar Phillipa Lovatt, Napper points out how this thing called ‘noir’ was trans-national from its inception, rooted in everything from German expressionism to French poetic realism and, of course, American hard-boiled pulp fiction. So, Napper looks at noir archetypes from gunslingers to private eyes and their expressions in global noir culture, in particular in Asian film and literature, ranging from apocalyptic noir to what he calls ‘Sunshine Noir’ and more.
Yes, ‘noir’ simply means black, but it really means so much more, doesn’t it? And, so much more than simply a group of 1940’s – 1950’s Hollywood crime melodramas with visibly dark looks and unrelentingly bleak narratives. Could Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton and their kin have foreseen what I like to think of as ‘Noir Culture’, or noir-homages like L.A. Confidential, neo-noir like The Last Seduction or dystopian noir like Blade Runner when penning their genre-defining articles 60 and 70 years ago?
Sounds silly to say ‘noir of many colors’, but in a way, it’s true. This thing called noir comprises everything from the post-WWII classic film noir era, along with the countless gritty (sometimes saucy) and hard-boiled detective, mystery and crime novels from that same era’s paperback originals (along with the dwindling number of similar short fiction works from the fast-shrinking pulp fiction marketplace). But the aesthetics and the themes from those stories, books and films have since been reimagined, repurposed and otherwise appropriated in films and novels, but also fine arts, comics/graphic novels, fashion photography and even music, resulting in an ever widening (and increasingly tribal) collection of noir subsets: rural noir, desert noir, femme noir, neo-noir, dystopian noir and on and on. The tropes and themes cross borders, adopted by artists, writers and filmmakers in non-U.S. markets and often in entirely different and inventive ways. Admittedly, some creatives merely extrapolate clichés with little understanding of what the genre – if it is one – is really all about. Black & white images outfitted in double-breasted pinstripes and hats with netted veils, propped with venetian blinds and fat-fendered cars, populated by thugs spouting cartoonish Brooklynese and sultry femmes fatales hiding .22’s in their purses – that’s all enough to evoke vague notions of noir for many. Meanwhile, others adopt the isolation, fatalism, anti-heroism and doomed romance of the genre’s film and fiction roots and reinvent those themes in entirely new ways and for new audiences, often discarding the stereotypical iconography altogether.
T.R. Napper’s Tor.com article is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding the scope of this thing called ‘noir’, but as good a place to start as any other, like looking at noir classics through another culture’s viewpoint, or tracing an artistic line from 1947’s Dead Reckoning to Ellen von Unwerth’s photography, Gina Higgins’ gallery paintings or Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ comics. Pop over to Napper’s piece to think a bit about the many ‘colors’ of noir and the far-reaching span of global noir. If nothing else, it might be your first time reading about ‘samurai noir’.