You Have Killed Me.

You Have Killed Me Cover

Cold and windy under nonstop pouring rain, last Saturday would’ve been a good day to stay indoors. But I ventured out to pick up a current events book reserved at the library (there being a current event or two to keep tabs on these days). The local public library’s a bit lean on actual books, but is well appointed with comfy reading nooks, plush seating and even a fireplace. Almost ready to check out, Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones’ You Have Killed Me caught my eye on the graphic novel section’s endcap. I have it, of course, being an ardent Jones fan. Still, I paused to flip through the 2018 trade pb edition of this 2009 graphic novel anyway. Before I knew it, I’d dropped into one of those fireside chairs to reread this yummy bit of retro noir fun from cover to cover before dashing back out into the rain.

You Have Killed Me Art

Some will holler cliché. Me? I see nothing but classic noir and hard-boiled genre tropes lovingly celebrated in Rich’s story, a smooth flowing piece of work that reads like a period-perfect screenplay for a 1940’s-50’s noir. As for Joelle Jones art? Fans might be surprised to see some softer lines and curvier faces here and there, but it’s still Joelle Jones’ brilliant, stylized draftsmanship throughout, and an excellent chance to see where she was ten years ago. The pair make an excellent team (as seen since on Lady Killer, for example) in this tale of hard luck P.I. Antonio Mercer, hired by wealthy and beautiful Jessica Roman to locate her sister Julie, who’s gone missing on the eve of her society wedding…the missing Julie also Mercer’s one-time lover. But family dramas and messy love affairs are the least of Mercer’s problems once he begins to tangle with gamblers, gangsters and hard-assed cops in jazz clubs, racetracks and roadhouses. Any savvy noir fan will smell a rat – or at least an untrustworthy femme fatale – early on, but even the savviest may not be ready for what really happened to the missing sister. Trust me: This one’s a treat.

Sure, I got soaked on my way back to my car. But I did get the political rant hardcover I’d reserved a week earlier (just to drive myself nuts) and had a good time savoring Jamie Rich’s wordsmithing and ogling Joelle Jones art, both every bit as tasty today as ten years ago when the book came out.

 

Crime Does Not Pay: The First issues

Crime Does Not Pay Volume 1

A while back I mentioned Blackjacked And Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer,  a handsome 2011 Dark Horse Books trade pb with a sampling of stories from that notorious early 1950’s pre-comics code authority era title, which also included a detailed, multi-page history by Denis Kitchen.

Crime Does Not Pay: Volume One is a 2012 hardcover reproducing complete intact issues, ads and all. Much of Crime Does Not Pay’s legendary status – and why it attracted the attention of censors and the newly appointed Comics Code Authority — is due to its gruesome covers more than the actual stories and art, some of which can be surprisingly tame. But oh, those covers…yikes! The Charles Biro art shown here is pretty indicative of some. Crime Does Not Pay was packaged by Charles Brio and Bob Wood, the latter coming to a nasty end a few years after Crime Does Not Pay’s demise, doing time for manslaughter (which by all accounts should have been a second-degree murder charge), his girlfriend the victim. Out after only three years, Wood hit the skids, and died in 1961…run over by a truck when drunk, or as the rumor mill tells it, taken for a one-way ride by some former prison acquaintances. Either way, Wood’s story is a Crime Does Not Pay tale in itself, and worthy of its own post later.

This 279-page book is a visual treat, with crisp and vibrant colors throughout that really make the sometimes-stilted vintage artwork pop. Volumes Two and Three were right beside this book when I bought it a week ago. I have a feeling they’ll be going home with me on my next trip to that particular comix shop.

Pistols And Peter Pan Collars.

New Era Shirt Co

From My Vintage Vogue (via Dirty River):

I can’t resist retro girlz with gunz, even if they’re in a print ad for particularly un-intimidating Peter Pan blouses. But hey, they’re “Sanforized” (of course) which I’m guessing might be some phony wrinkle free nonsense. As for “carrot-crisp” combed cotton? I can’t even guess, and someone should’ve had a sit-down with that copywriter.

Well, nonetheless: Stick ’em up, ladies…

Spade & Archer

Chris Knight Photography

Look hard, I do believe it reads “Spade & Archer” on that frosted glass door. The photo’s by Chris Knight, born in Germany and (I think) currently living and working Florida, best known for his opulently staged portraits, cinematic styled editorial work and as the author of The Dramatic Portrait. Look for more of his work at chrisknightphoto.com.

“Caught”

Caught Suzy Parker 1962 by Melvin Sokolsky

Spotted at the tres cool “Real Bronx Betty” Tumblr blog, originally posted at Olga-4711’s Tumblr: “Caught”, with the original 1950’s-60’s ‘supermodel’, Suzy Parker, photographed by Melvin Sokolsky in 1962. And it looks like this snoopy ‘stiletto gumshoe’ definitely has been. Caught, that is.

What’s Beyond The Edges.

Brian Tull 2

Born in 1975, Brian Tull’s only way to remember the 1930’s through 1950’s is through his imagination. Which must be vivid, and which he draws upon to create his enormous photo-realistic paintings and public art murals, each “strategically cropped…sometimes confrontational and often featuring the female figure as protagonist, giving you a subtle glimpse into the characters’ lives. Usually leaving you wondering what or who is beyond the edges.” Retro? Yes, and wonderfully so, but there’s more at work here than mere nostalgia. Check out more of the artist’s work at his site (if only to get a better feel for the size of the paintings): briantull.com.

Brian Tull 1Brian Tull 3Brian Tull 4Brian Tull 5Brian Tull 6Brian Tull 7

Private Eye Dreams.

1954 Maidenform Private Eye

The models dreamed that they were prizefighters, ballerinas, bullfighters, movie stars, gunslingers and in 1955, no less than President. So why not a private eye?

Maidenform’s iconic “I Dreamed” ad campaign was brainstormed by agency creatives Mary Fillius, Kitty D’Alessio and Kay Daly, who pitched multiple ‘dream’ concepts to Maidenform’s founder Ira Rosenthal and his daughter Beatrice Coleman who made the final selections. The successful campaign ran non-stop from 1949 through 1969. This ‘private eye’ print ad is from 1954: “…searching for clues about this most-wanted figure. ‘Arresting to look at, last seen in America’s most famous bra, and no supporting evidence!’ Why, it’s me in my new Maidenform strapless – the thriller with a secret no one would suspect!”

My own in-progress 1950’s P.I. gets underway some five years later, and with one manuscript complete and making the rounds, and its sequel halfway done, I haven’t had to specify what brands of undies or ‘foundations’ Sharon Gardner, AKA the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ prefers. But she does grump a bit about the way the models seem to float like angels on chiffon clouds in all the girdle ads.

Noisette’s Diner Meeting

Diner Meeting Edouard Noisette

“Diner Meeting” by French artist Edouard Noisette. My question: Is he about to whip a gun out from under his suitjacket? Or more likely, does she have a nice compact .22 tucked inside her purse? Who nows, but lets assume sparks are gonna fly one way or another in this greasy spoon before anyone gets a chance to order.

Problematic Pulp Poetry? 

Black Mask - May

Pulp poetry. Hmmm…

Sometimes, they creep out of nowhere and catch you unawares, even though you really shouldn’t be surprised. You’re enjoying a classic film noir or crime caper flick when suddenly (incredibly, for what was then considered comic relief) a grotesque bit of racial/ethnic stereotyping intrudes. It was just a few weeks ago that I watched Raoul Walsh’s 1941 High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino on TCM’s Saturday Night Noir Alley feature, having forgotten all about the scenes with Willie Best playing ‘Algernon’, the mountain resort’s resident ‘step-n-fetchit’ style porter/handyman. The bits are hardly unique, but still made me squirm and were almost enough to ruin the viewing experience. I still adore the film. I mean: Bogart and Lupino, come on.

But…

Detective-Story-April-9-1932

Whether it’s a vintage movie, novel, comic, pulp story or even some 1950’s/60’s television shows, repellant racial/ethnic stereotypes rear up out of nowhere. Often, they’re not even intended to be demeaning, and that casual indifference almost makes them worse. At the same time, the prevailing dismissiveness about virtually all female characters in most 20th century mystery/crime fiction and film is so overwhelming that we can almost fail to recognize it. It just…is. Women (sometimes, even if billed as the lead) are relegated to secondary characters at best, mere eye candy, damsels in distress or potential victims, more commonly. Gay/lesbian characters? Well, barely acknowledged in retro film or TV, of course, and deployed mostly in vintage sleaze novels for titillation, popping up in vintage crime fiction as caricatures or presumed villains.

Different times, different culture. It was what it was.

Saucy Movie Tales - June

Nowhere is this more apparent than in mid-20thcentury pulp fiction – specifically, the 1930’s through 1950’s mystery/crime pulp fiction magazines. Inevitably, a crime/pulp/noir fan has to wonder: How can I possibly enjoy these films, novels, magazines and comics when so many are riddled with disappointing ethnic/racial/gender dismissiveness, or worse, utterly offensive stereotypes? If I’m enjoying these works, even in part, isn’t that some kind of implicit endorsement?

hardboiled noir - problematic art

W.M. Akers questions this in his terrific piece from the 5.10.19 Crime Reads  (crimereads.com, link below), Hardboiled Noir, Pulp Favorites, And Problematic Art,  subtitled: “Reckoning With Hateful Attitudes In Classic Crime Fiction”. Akers’ own first novel, the historical-fantasy Westside just released in May 2019, deals with amateur sleuth Gilda Carr in a re-imagined 1920’s New York City, and he explains how he turned to vintage pulps to capture the feel of the era, “the same way I used old newspapers and pre-code movies and Joseph Mitchell essays and any other scraps from the period that I could find as a portal to a city that, if it ever really existed, doesn’t anymore”. He points specifically to a Theodore Tinsley (creator of the groundbreaking 1930’s era Carrie Cashin female detective character) story from a 1934 Black Mask pulp magazine issue, “Smoke”, featuring the sleuthing NYC columnist Jerry Tracy. The tale, one of 25 Jerry Tracy stories the prolific Tinsley wrote, is tainted by casual racism and sprinkled with overtly offensive stereotypes. So Akers asks, “In a moment when lovers of problematic art are asked to be more critical of their taste than ever before, it is worth asking what it takes to enjoy sloppy pulp fiction in 2019 – and why it’s worth the effort.”

True Jan 1939

Akers realizes that each film viewer or story reader will need to arrive at their own conclusions and react accordingly, whether by foregoing the material entirely, merely ignoring the objectionable content, or finding some way to process it. He still finds much to inspire him in these 60 – 90 year old pieces. I get that, because I do, too. I won’t ignore their intrinsic flaws, which aren’t limited to ethnic/racial/gender issues, but also include outlandish plots, padded word counts, copycat characters and more.

But the language always lures me in. Give me any old mystery/crime fiction pulp reprint or omnibus collection and I guarantee that the period slang and vintage word-smithing will hook me, from their nearly comical descriptions of hard-to-choreograph action scenes, to snappy banter and dialog sprinkled with authentic vintage street talk, to frequent but cautiously handled love scenes and female character depictions, which can border on the surreal or just plain pervy and fetishistic. I’m hooked, I’m an addict, I admit it.

Pulp poetry? In a way, I guess that’s what it is. At least for me. So then call me a pulp poetry sucker if you insist, and I won’t argue, despite all the objectionable content that may be surrounding it.

Some months ago I speculated about nagging issues of complicity, sparked in part by a Megan Abbott essay about the then recent release of Raymond Chandler’s The Annotated Big Sleep (link below). The issues here are much the same. And as someone currently working with writing projects in a mid-twentieth century setting, it’s more than a matter of reacting to random squirm-worthy content in my recreational reading or film viewing, but becomes a challenge to achieve some sense of period authenticity without reinforcing outmoded attitudes or reviving offensive content in my own writing. I’m certain that I’m not alone in this.

Westside

Well, one thing I definitely took away from W.M. Akers’ Crime Reads essay: I need to get his novel Westside,  because it sounds pretty cool! I’ll be checking the indie bookstore on my route home after work today, and if unavailable, will be online for a moment or two this evening to order it. I definitely want to read about Gilda Carr in Aker’s reimagining of 1920’s New York.

https://crimereads.com/hardboiled-noir-pulp-favorites-and-problematic-art/

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/01/03/the-annotated-big-sleep-and-uneasy-feelings-of-complicity/

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