Haven’t you always wondered why people make the worst decisions sometimes? I have. I also desperately want to avoid walking their paths. So, for me, writing is therapy and through it I figure out the world and my place in it. There is truth in fiction and storytelling doesn’t have to be pain free.
In the stories I tell, I want to dig deep into the darkness and spend time analysing the things my hands hold but my eyes can’t see and my brain can’t yet comprehend.
This is why my characters are often broken and even more regularly stupid. Baring their flaws to the world and justifying them helps me to understand them.
In FATHERHOOD [with gorgeous art by Daniel Schneider, colours by Paulina Ganucheau, and letters by Brandon DeStefano], I was writing through the demons of being a new father, so we got sad pages of a fatherhood noir. I was terribly afraid of making the wrong decisions so I followed one father down a series of bad decisions. A bad day that breaks the man until he’s completely screwed.
This one-shot was my way of working through things, pouring it onto the page, and then I’d be fine. Because that’s how it works for me.
When the father – he is scripted with no name – finally snaps, he enters a delusion but what he’s really doing is not filtering his choices. He’s acting irrationally, he’s lashing out in action, and it’s all in service of the one job he feels is left to him and that’s to provide for and please his estranged daughter. The problem is, he’s doing it all wrong.
Whenever I hand sell the book at cons, I always say “It’s about a guy who tries to get the doll for his daughter and doesn’t and so he snaps. And we show his mental breakdown through a crime lens. So it’s like JINGLE ALL THE WAY except instead of turning into a terrible flick it becomes SIN CITY.” And this always gets the point across but then if the customer is pausing still I knock them over with the real talk, which is: “It’s also about how far would you go to please your kids, and could you go too far?”
Because what crazier and sadder way is there to script your own noir ending than in service of the only people who need you to stick around. It’s heartbreaking purely because it happens, all the time, and I’m determined to not fall that way. So far, so good.
My next foray into the spiral was a suicide noir called NEGATIVE SPACE. Because it sounds like an oxymoron of sadness and who doesn’t want that, right?
But this series with insane art from Owen Gieni, letters by Ryan Ferrier, and published by Dark Horse Comics, is about depression and choice and megacorporations controlling our emotions and it is exactly the sort of downward spiral I want to inspect. At its heart, it ponders over the problem that if something/someone else is making us depressed, and so our depression is fabricated by an external force, then does that invalidate our feelings at all? Aren’t all feelings caused and informed by external forces? Don’t they merely unlock a hollow chest already inside us?
It’s a quagmire to peer into and once I drag in underwater creatures and countercultural happiness cults, you can feel the PKD vibe wash over it all. And at the centre, just like he did, I have one man searching for the truth. Even if it’s just to know specifically what to obscure.
Guy Harris is our lead and when he sits down to write his suicide note he gets writer’s block [yes, you are allowed to smirk at that, he’s not real and it is funny] so he goes for a walk to clear his head and from there things get funky. Like ‘what if AFTER HOURS was directed by David Cronenberg?’ funky.
It’s then my job to drop, between the funk and the nasty, I have to drop globs of melancholia which lead Guy all the way down. And he has to be his own downfall. This isn’t a story where he blames the corporation. This isn’t a story where he gets the guy and runs into the sunset holding hands and is cured of his depression. This is not a happy tale and I like to pride myself on the fact I’ve found a new way to make suicide sad. At present, half the series has come out and I look forward to breaking hearts over the next two issues as I deliver on the premise of suicide noir in a way that’s a true bastard act.
My final noir in the trilogy [surely I’ll move onto some romcoms now] is my BEACH NOIR PROJECT. It’s a pulp paperback crime tale with Sami Kivelä on art, Mark Dale on colorus, Nic J Shaw on letters [and will be announced soon] about a bunch of people on a beach island caught up in each other’s webs and you know it’s not going to end well for the femme, or the cop, or the hulk of a boy toy, or the drug kingpin. This is my chance to play with tropes from the oldest noirs and twist them through a relatively modern setting that’s also timeless and then work out how to best make everyone ruin their lives while helping cause the ruination of all around them.
It’s been fun to write a story that’s a true web of only black threads. A town of characters who are not nice people and all they do is drag down the good people or else grind them under their heel. There is little good happening in this book but there are levels of depravity and mischievousness at play.
Here’s hoping I stick the landing because noir is all about that end. You don’t drag out, you don’t miss a beat. The effectiveness of every line before it hinges on the end. You have to swing that haymaker around like you are knocking out Galactus. And you have to land that impossible punch.
So far, I’m usually happy with my endings. I try my best to completely earn them. I build to them like I’m erecting a temple and it all needs to align. Even in HEADSPACE, which would be a responsibility noir if I felt like stretching things, Eric Zawadzki and Sebastian Piriz and I worked our asses off to make an ending that wrapped everything and had heart. With these three noirs, they all hinge on that very last beat.
From here, I think I need to write some happy endings. I need to try and let my characters have a win. But there’s something so much more satisfying in planning to have it all fall to pieces on them in the final moment than having it all come together. It feels more intricate, like you can do anything.
Or maybe I’m just an asshole.