Friday, 1 March 2013

Seduction of the Innocent with Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins has been a president of The Private Eye Writers of America, and won or been nominated for numerous Edgars and Shamuses for his large (and constantly expanding) body of work, both for fiction and non-fiction.  He is the author of the graphic novel Road to Perdition that was made into an Oscar winning film.  In September 2006, he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Private Eye Writers of America.  Although known primarily as a novelist and critic Max is also a filmmaker.  Titan Publishers have recently published Seduction of the Innocent.

What made you decide to write about this part of comic book history?

It is an extremely significant period -- even a particularly significant year: 1954.  That's the year Dr. Fredric Wertham publishes his anti-comic-book tome, Seduction of the Innocent.  It's the year that the Senate holds a hearing looking into comic books as a chief cause of juvenile delinquency, with Wertham as their star witness.  In addition, it's the year the Comics Code Authority forms and begins censoring comic books, emasculating the comic-book industry.

Dr Werthham’s book sparked a United States Senate investigation and the formation of the Comics Code Authority; do you think that the backlash against the comic industry was justified?

Wholly unjustified.  There's no question that there was bad taste out there, and even EC had its moments where they clearly crossed the line.  But that's freedom of speech, freedom of expression.  Wertham's whole approach was based on two false premises -- that comic books are inherently for children, and that children will be easily influenced by their content.  Most of the comic books that Wertham attacked were clearly intended for audiences no younger than, say, junior high, and mostly older.  Lots of ex-GIs came home from the Second World War having bought comics at their PX.  Lots of high school and college kids were reading them, and housewives and...  well, they mainstream.  Look at the genres: romance, western, crime, humour, and on and on.

How difficult was it to find the balance between fact and fantasy whilst writing Seduction of the Innocent?

Not difficult at all.  The Jack and Maggie Starr aspect is pure Golden Age mystery.  Though I take the underlying historical aspect very seriously, the book is primarily light-hearted fun, if a little dark at times.

What made you decide to have the comic strip like illustrations at the start of each chapter?

This is the third Jack and Maggie Starr novel, and that was always the format -- sometimes kind of in-between a graphic novel and a prose novel.  So we have a comics panel to announce each chapter, and a comic-book sequence that is a "challenge to the reader" from Jack and Maggie, who go over the suspects and clues, to give the reader a chance to figure out the solution.  That's a Golden Age technique started by Ellery Queen, although not with the comic-book presentation.  Artist Terry Beatty, who draws the Phantom Sunday strip, is a great mimic and he can echo the subject of these novels in his art.  This time, he is very EC in his approach; kind of Jack Davis meets Johnny Craig.

How much have comic books influenced your writing?

Very much.  The Dick Tracy comic books of my childhood led me into mystery fiction in the first place.  I think writing comics helped me to learn to think visually, which is also helpful in screenwriting.

As much as Seduction of the Innocent is a pulp novel, there is also an element of golden age mystery to it specifically at the end.  Was this your intention?

Yes.  This is absolutely a Poirot/Charlie Chan kind of wrap-up -- gather the suspects and reveal the culprit.  I did that in the first Jack Starr novel, A Killing in Comics, too.  Not in the second one, Strip for Murder, though.  Here's where the Nero Wolfe homage really kicks in -- after Jack has done all the work, it's Maggie who puts the pieces together and identifies, and confronts, the killer.

Have you a favourite comic book or series and if so which one?

In comic strips, it would be Li'l Abner.  Picking a comic book is tough -- of all time, maybe Crime Suspenstories from EC.  As a kid, I loved Batman...this is before the TV show, when I was very little.  In the early sixties, it was Spiderman and The Fantastic Four, the Ditko and Kirby years.  In the later sixties, it was Zap, with Crumb and that crowd.  In the eighties and nineties, my favourite was Ms. Tree...because it helped pay the rent.  That's the book I did with Terry Beatty, and we may be reviving it.  And that's when Lone Wolf and Cub came to my attention -- brilliant.  One of the best books around today is Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo.

This article was posted as part of the Seduction of the Innocent Blog Tour, celebrating the release of Max Allan Collins' new Hard Case Crime novel. For the opportunity to win a copy of the book, simply tweet “I would like a copy of Seduction of the Innocent @TitanBooks #MaxAllanCollins”.

Find out more about the book and the tour at

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