Thursday, April 7, 2011

Episode #171 Part II: MegaCon 2011 Crime Noir Panel!

Clockwise from top left: Dave Johnson, Jimmy Palmiotti,
Darwyn Cooke and Frank Tieri.

While this is a Superman podcast, mot much in these episodes will be related to the Man of Steel. I wanted to share my experience at MegaCon this year, and what panels interested me. I hope you enjoy.

The first panel I attended on Friday, Marc 25 was the Crime Noir Panel, sponsored by the Rack Pack Comics Podcast. I want to thank them for allowing me to also record the panel and post it on my podcast.

Darwyn Cooke answered the first question, about why crime comics are back. He pointed out that crime comics have never really gone away. Most superhero comics involve crime, bad guys trying to commit them and heroes trying to stop them. With comic book readers getting older, more readers are becoming interested in reading crime comics than superheroes with their underwear outside their pants.

Jimmy Palmiotti said that you should write what you know. Comic book fans have read so many superheroes that they want something different. Crime comic books can be a different form of fantasy.

Another question from the audience was if there was a difference between writing superhero comics and crime comics. Jimmy shared how he grew up in Brooklyn and always took the train wherever he went, high school, college or work. He was mugged, terrorized and been terrorized. He had also made money in bizarre ways, selling things like bootleg videos and fireworks. Jimmy said that at its most basic level, crime comics are about two things, money or dames, and the shortcuts people take to get them. The best crime stories are when people don't know what's going on in that crazy guy's head. They're about actions and consequences.

Frank Tieri mentioned that he grew up around scumbags, so he knew them inside and out. He said that in crime stories, no matter how bad they can be, they are also guys you want to hang out with. They're family men, fully realized people, who will have Sunday dinner with the family and then go chop a guy's head off. In crime comics a question we can ask is are we capable of being them.

Jimmy picked up on that thought and asked the question, If someone holds a gun to your family's heads, do you do what they tell you?

Darwyn said that another fascinating aspect in crime stories is the notion of a guy who has the force of will to make his own rules outside of society. He decides what is right and wrong and applies mercy when he feels it is right. Thant is a compelling character that we respond to in some way. In one of his adaptions of the Parker novels, you think Parker is a cool guy, but then he burns someone with a cigarette. Through characters like Parker we recognize the duality in ourselves. Darwyn mentioned how Machine Gun Kelly and Dillinger were heroes during the Great Depression. These were men who took their lives in their own hands during a time when people had nothing. The public has always had a fascination with people like this.

Frank said that most of us are attracted to people who say **** you to the government.

Jimmy talked about how Jonah Hex was a type of crime story in a way. He is a bounty hunter who does a service. It's interesting to watch what Hex will do when a guy says the wrong thing to him. Hex is another of those characters who makes his own rules, like how we justify ourselves. It's the same with crime stories about almost anything, including politics and government.

Darwyn mentioned how people love to watch the horror stories of others, as their lives unravel when they turn down the wrong street in life, as long as it's not happening to us.

Another person in the audience asked if crime books had a different approach from superhero titles.

Dave Johnson mentioned that crime books can be more graphic. The less they say on the cover can make them more interesting to read.

Darwyn said that when he drew the Parker books, he drew it more natural. With the Justice League, it required more draftsmanship to draw musclebound heroes. In the Parker stories the guys wore suits in dark rooms. He couldn't do a Green Lantern or Superman story in the same style as Parker.

Someone mentioned that in crime stories there is usually a lot of booze. He asked what the drink of choice was. Most of the panel agreed that it was scotch. Darwyn disagreed. He thought it was rye whiskey, because scotch was too good for these guys. They would think that another hoodlum who drank scotch was a "Nancy" who was getting too fancy for his own good. Dave thought Vodka was nice.

Frank said that his Marvel title Underworld merged superhero comics and a crime story. It was about a guy who went to prison at the beginning of the Marvel Universe, and got out of prison to find a different world. It was about how he dealt with this new world, and why he hated super villains.

The panel was asked what their crime noir influences from books and movies were. Darwyn mentioned the classic Chandler crime novels, for Frank it was Cagney and Bogart. Darwyn talked about how every decade had great crime movies, and the 1970's had some of the darkest crime movies ever made.

The conventions of crime stories were also discussed, like the dame and the low life cop.Jimmy mentioned how we understand the dame and the cop. A good writer can mix it up so that we are interested in these clichés. Frank said that how we play with the pieces makes it fresh and interesting. As an example Jimmy brought up his title, Back To Brooklyn. The title's main character was a pedophile rapist. Frank brought up that he was the model for the character. He mentioned that Jimmy asked if he could use him as the model for a character, and that was what the character wound up as.

In creating a good cast for a crime story, Jimmy mentioned that it's important to have levels of bad guys. The main character may be a bad guy, but what makes him more sympathetic is that the other guys are far worse.

Darwyn said that the science fiction movie Outland was really a remake of the classic western High Noon. Another thing that draws us into a character is when we learn a secret about him, like when he reveals he can't swim just before he has to jump into the water to escape a threat.

When asked how to approach bad guys, Dave said to make them worse than the main character. Darwyn expanded on that thought. He mentioned that Parke is a douche bag, but the other people are far worse. Jimmy discussed how the choice of crimes can bring layers to a crime story, going from bad, to worse to horrific. Darwyn added that weight and pathos give a crime story a reason for being.

Next Episode: MegaCon 2011 Part III: Spotlight On George Pérez Panel!

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