Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane
Seduction of the Innocent
by Max Allan Collins
Cover art by Glen Orbik
Hard Case Crime, February 2013
This is the third of Max Allan Collins’ novels set in ’50s New York and featuring Jack Starr, troubleshooter for a comic strip syndicate and a PI by any other name. Here Starr is called upon to solve the murder of a do-gooder, a psychiatrist concerned with the pernicious effect of comics on impressionable young minds. It’s a superior mystery characterized by Collins’ vivid storytelling and trademark punchy prose; and if you know something (or a lot) about comics, you’ll enjoy it all the more.
When given an opportunity to interview Max Allan Collins, I naturally asked him about the background to the novel and his own relationship with comics:
I enjoyed spotting the comics references in your latest Jack Starr novel, Seduction of the Innocent, the references to various artists & creators, and the description of a notorious panel by Jack Cole on page 88. What attracted you about setting a novel in this milieu, the golden age of comics?
Max Allan Collins: I’ve been a comics fan since childhood, and around age six, I became aware of Dr. Frederic Wertham and his attacks on comics. I saw EC disappear and that dreaded “Comics Code Authority” stamp start appearing on the covers of comic books, which meant to me that they would be watered-down. I read SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT – Wertham’s “non-fiction” book, not my novel – over and over again, using it as a guide for comic books to look for.
Really, when comics fandom started turning into something, in the ‘70s, everybody knew of Wertham, and hated him, or what he stood for. When Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer and Steve Leialoha first put our band together in the ‘80s, to play at comic cons, we immediately took the name Seduction of the Innocent. We knew it would resonate with everybody who was into comics. Miguel’s idea, by the way.
Having written comics as well as novels, could I ask for your thoughts on comics as a medium. What possibilities does the medium offer the writer?
MAC: I’m not writing comics as often as I used to – for a long time, it was part of my daily writing life. Now, when I return to it, I realize how difficult it is. The medium is really very complex, for a writer – lots of decisions. There’s an obvious need to think visually, there’s a need to write concisely yet vividly, there’s a need to think the story through in little slices, little pieces of time.
Though comics writing is very different from screenwriting and novel-writing, it does help a writer on both those fronts – particularly visual thinking.
Are you still a comics fan? Have you followed Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets series and what did you make of it as a work of hard-boiled fiction?
MAC: I sampled it, thought it was first-rate, but I don’t really follow comics much anymore. I don’t read many mystery novels, either. I really don’t want to be influenced. I’m too natural a mimic, frankly. The only storytelling area I still follow, as a fan, is film. Though I’m a filmmaker of sorts, I realize there is still a lot for me to learn. That’s not to indicate that I can’t learn anything about writing comics or novels at this point, but I do have both of those pretty well down, and any learning I do will be self-taught, as a I refine, and explore within, what I already know.
Were these (EC, etc.) your comics as a kid? Or if you came to comics later (the most important question of them all): did you read Marvel or DC?
MAC: Comic books were my life from around age four through college. For many years, I wanted to be a cartoonist, and was the kid who passed around his homemade comics at school for everybody to read. But I got interested in private eyes during the craze on TV in the late fifties and early sixties, PETER GUNN, 77 SUNSET STRIP, PERRY MASON. I got hooked on the novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, and I retained my comics interest, but my ambition to be a cartoonist was replaced with wanting to be a mystery writer. It’s somewhat ironic that the first major gig of my career was a comic strip, DICK TRACY – which I’d been obsessed with as a kid.
I read all the so-called Silver Age comics – SHOWCASE with the Flash. I subscribed to CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN – I must have been in first or second grade. I bought every issue of SPIDERMAN and FANTASTIC FOUR and all the other Marvels off the stands, from day one – including AMAZING FANTASY 15. I lost interest, somewhat, when Ditko left SPIDERMAN. EC I knew from childhood – it was taken away from me shortly after I discovered it…by the Wertham witch hunt. In college and the decade thereafter, I collected EC Comics as best I could – they were outrageously expensive, even then. In answer to your implied question, I was neither a DC nor a Marvel guy. I was a comic book guy. When Kirby was drawing CHALLENGERS, I was DC. When Kirby was drawing all that stuff at Marvel, I was Marvel. Hell, I even bought those monster comics he did – VIM VAM VOOM, that kind of nonsense. I loved it. And I bought SUPERMAN and BATMAN all through those years – Wayne Boring, Dick Sprang. Great stuff.
Would you say there’s evidence of homophobia in Wertham’s original Seduction of the Innocent?
MAC: There’s a smoking phallic gun. He not only sees homosexuality in Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson – and lesbianism in Wonder Woman – he considers homosexuality a sickness and perversion. That’s not unusual for the time frame, but what he reads into those innocent comic books (well, maybe not Wonder Woman – there’s bondage in there, obviously, and Marston was a freak) reveals a deeply homophobic individual.
About the interviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org