From Mike Vosburg’s fun Retrowood from 2013, a ‘sorta-kinda’ mid-twentieth century Hollywood (but not really) hard-boiled noir with private eye J. Parker Wrighte mixed up in mystery and murder among the decadent tinsel town’s stand-ins most devious (and pervy) denizens. The story is dark but goofy fun, and the art’s almost sedate for Vosburg, while still indulging the figurative master’s flair for lovely — albeit lethal — ladies.
I expected something akin to Affair In Trinidad or even Gilda, two cherished South American locale films noir teaming Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford. Well, The Big Hoax isn’t quite like those films, but is still a very intriguing piece.
This is a 2020 Hard Case Crime/Titan Comics 124-page hardcover edition of the 2001 graphic novel by Carlos Trillo and Roberto Mandrafino’s – the Argentine writer and artist, respectively. In what appears to be the post-WWII era, the banana republic of La Colonia’s corrupt regime is a notorious vice haven run by gangsters and ex-Nazis, populated by a devout but downtrodden peasantry and threatened by rebels. Disgraced former detective Donald Reynoso, a useless drunk when we first meet him, is hired by the lovely Melinda Centurion to retrieve some very compromising photos, which pit the duo against corrupt cops, revolutionaries and a ruthless and relentless hit man. Precisely why Melinda must get these revealing photos back is a whole other story, and what the titular “Hoax” is about.
Trillo’s story veers between bawdy humor and pure hard-boiled banter and action, frequently stepping back from the narrative for various characters to briefly narrate vital backstory. All of this is depicted in Roberto Mandrafino’s fluid and energetic artwork, which has a touch of caricature about it, but always stays focused on telling the tale. Even if it wasn’t at all what I first expected, I really got a kick out of The Big Hoax, but then, I’ve yet to be let down by any of Titan’s Hard Case Crime comics.
These femmes fatales are devilish enough, but this isn’t another Halloween post.
I confess: I’ve seen some of these illustrations lurking around sites and blogs forever and always assumed they were retro styled but recent comic or pinup art. Not so. They’re but a few of dozens of cover illustrations from French paperback and digest novels done by “R & R Giordan”, which is really the brothers Raoul and Robert Giordan, who had a long and successful career doing comics, book covers and spot illustration work in the 1940’s through the 1970’s, particularly popular in science fiction and adventure titles.
The Giordan brothers came from Nice, Robert born in 1922, Raoul in 1926, and worked at a hotel during WWII. After a brief postwar stint at an animation studio, they began working in comics, much of their 1950’s-60’s era work being graphic novel style adaptations of popular science fiction books. In the 1970’s, Raoul began to drift away from comics and illustration work to focus on his own painting, and some years later, both had stopped commercial work altogether. Sadly, brother Robert passed away at the young age of only 61, though Raoul gave an SF/Fantasy comic one more go as late as the 1990’s. Raoul Giordan passed away in 2017.
Even though they’re best known in European science fiction/fantasy/adventure circles, the brothers did a lot of covers for mystery/crime fiction digests and paperbacks as well, some of which are shown here. Le Diable En Bas Nylon by Gerald Rose (The Devil In Nylon Stockings, no surprise) from 1952, and others, are indicative of their consistent style: A particularly ‘fatal’ femme fatale either beckons to some soon-to-be victim, or is already gloating over his downfall, as we see in Robert Trebor’s Mauvais Pretexte. There’s quite a bit about the Girodan brothers to be found online, but mostly in French, and four years of high school French doesn’t equip me to decipher more than a random word or two. Perhaps the less linguistically-challenged among you will fare better.
Jane may be a man-hater, but only because she’d been jilted by her high society beau. So, she set out to punish all men, or so her story goes in “Man-Hater” from a 1953 issue of All True Romance.
The art’s by the Iger Shop, headed by Sam Iger (1903 – 1990), originally the Eisner & Iger Studio (that’d be comics icon Will Eisner). She got another whack at the chumps when Jane’s story was reprinted forty years later in a 1994 issue of Terrible Romances from New England Comics.
More from Stephen Mooney, from his IDW/creator-owned delightfully dark yet daffy “dames, danger and dinosaurs” (with Nazis, for good measure) series Half Past Danger from 2013/2014.
If Jennifer Mays of Mike W. Barr’s The Maze Agency could have lingered at one publisher, she might’ve become a more iconic “stiletto gumshoe”. But the fact is, this fun whodunit series bounced around from one company to another in its primary late 1980’s – early 1990’s years, the handoffs continuing all the way through 2009. The Maze Agency’s ‘maze’ logo, designed by Todd Klein, first appeared in 1989 at Comico Comics, where we met Jennifer Mays – she of the trademark blonde forelock – a former CIA agent who bid goodbye to boss Ashley Swift at the Swift Detective Agency to strike out on her own. Mays partners up with armchair detective and true-crime writer Gabriel Webb, and together they solve (increasingly dangerous) puzzling whodunits in mostly self-contained stories with both obvious and obscure clues sprinkled throughout to challenge readers.
The Maze Agency was a Will Eisner Award nominee for best new series in 1989, but soon enough Comico went under with only seven issues released. The title migrated to Innovation Comics for a longer 16 issue run (plus two specials) through 1991, then was published by various outfits including Alpha Productions, Caliber Comics, IDW and finally Moonstone in 2009. Originally drawn by UK artist Alan Davis (with inks by Paul Neary) for a six-page spec story, the series’ art was mostly done by a young Adam Hughes, one of his first full-time series (I think).
Individual issues seem pretty scarce in shops ‘round these parts, but are easy enough to source online. The 1990 Innovation Annual is a good place to start if you want to find out more about Jennifer Mays, her sidekick Gabriel and their law enforcement link, NYPD detective Roberta Bliss. The series captures some of the then-innovative hard-boiled female private eye vibe that had been unleashed only a few years earlier by Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and, in the comics scene, Max Allan Collins’ (along with Terry Beatty) Ms. Tree. But the real treat is the way Mike W. Barr’s storytelling honors mid-twentieth century pulpy whodunits with real mysteries and perplexing clues, the result being edgy and even a bit hard-boiled without sidestepping the fun factor.
Let’s guess she’s not being handed a birthday card. That envelope can’t possibly contain anything good.
By artist and illustrator Jon Proctor, whose work you’ve likely seen in Caliber, Image, DC and Marvel comics since the late 1990’s, though he’s since retired from comics work.
“…The whole thing felt like one of those trashy romance tales where a plain, ordinary girl meets Mr. Tall, Sexy and Dangerous. In those stories, the girl helps the beast regain his humanity. In those stories, the beast loves the girl. I assure you, mine is not one such story. No, my story ended up being something completely different. My story’s the one where the girl dances with the devil, and he takes her with him on a long road to hell…”
My local library finally reopened (with all the usual reopening stipulations, of course) though my car was the only one in the lot, with two librarians and myself the only people inside. The new releases shelves appeared to still have the very same books I’d seen on my last visit back in mid-March. But I was determined not to leave empty-handed, and walked out with the 2020 hardcover of Croatian artist Stjepan Sejic’s magnificent Harleen, collecting the three issues from last year which reimaged the origin of Paul Dini’s and Bruce Timm’s memorable creation, Dr. Harleen Quinzel, AKA Harley Quinn. Here the brilliant young Dr. Quinzel embarks on a study of empathy (or the lack thereof) among the criminals incarcerated in Gotham’s Arkham asylum. She also has a terrifying run-in with the puddin’-to-be. And, frankly, she has some personal issues. All of these things converge, leading Dr. Harleen Quinzel to (or driving her towards) an inevitable conclusion.
Sejic isn’t just the artist on this project, but the writer as well, which is masterfully done – a terrific tale, beautifully scripted. Still, good as that is, Sejic’s art is what lingers with me, he being one of the very few artists (IMHO) who strive to capture subtleties of gesture and facial expressions, his deft touch with body language matched by few comic artists working today. There are no tedious panel sequences of talking heads here, even though most of the tale sidesteps big action scenes.
If you’re a Bat-verse person and/or in the mood for an extended story about the mallet-wielding crime queen that’s considerably less comical than you’d expect, Harleen is a dark but incredibly poignant tale I’d heartily recommend.
Originals? Yeah, sure. Like I have that kind of dough. No, they’re all Adventure House Spicy Detective trade paperback reprints, handsome books with crisp reproduction, using the original page layouts with the ads included and all. That these particular 1930’s and 1940’s era issues all happened to include Robert Leslie Bellem “Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective” stories should come as no surprise to observant followers here. About time to get my mitts on a few more, I think.
Quite by accident, I stumbled across cover scans for the original vintage Ellery Queen comics sampled in Source Point Press’ 2020 J. Werner Presents Classic Pulp – Ellery Queen comic that I picked up this past weekend and showed here a couple days ago.
The Spring 1952 issue included “The Corpse That Killed” which was included in my reprint, and the second Summer 1952 issue featured the full Norman Saunders cover Source Point Press utilized. Of course, I much prefer the ten-cent cover price to the 2020 comic’s four dollar cost. Inflation and all that, I guess.