RARA-AVIS: Corner Brook Confidential and Assorted Collinses

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 11 Jun 2004

>A brief introduction - My name is Neddal, I'm from St. John's, NL, and I
>write and make noise.

So these two Newfies walk into a bar...

Welcome, Neddal... any suggestions for good crime novels set in Newfoundland? It has such potential...

And Duane "The Dead Men Ain't No Secret No More" Swierczynski wrote:

>NIGHT OF THE TOADS, by Michael Collins: I've never read any Dan Fortune,
>and this was a superb introduction. I felt like I was dropped right in
>the middle of New York City in the early '70s. I'm surprised this series
>isn't praised more.

Well, gimme a few hours...

Yes, he seems almost forgotten now, possibly because in these times of dumbed down political commentary, where morons are praised for being "down to earth," he's defiantly intelligent and political, and a liberal -- in the truest sense of the word -- to boot. Like John Shannon, a more contemporary leftie charting the same murky waters of social commentary, Collins fleshes out ideas with real people, whose ideas are as real and contradictory and human and often as gloriously fucked up as they are.

I don't always agree with his characters, but I sure understand 'em.

And Stewart:

> I can't really say, since I won't read anything by
> him (Max Collins) on the basis of some
> terrible comic books he has written. In particular
> the Ms. Tree series, of
> which I've read about half, having bought them based
> on comments here.
> What was terrible about the comics was Collin's
> totally unimaginative use
> of the panels themselves to elevate the stories.

Unimaginative? Or gimmick free? I prefer artist Terry Beatty's clean, meat-and-potatoes art, very intentionally reminiscent of classic fifties comic work, to the overblown "Look, Look, LOOK at ME!" fanboy pretensions of prima donnas like Frank Miller in SIN CITY any day. Gallons of black ink are no substitute for actual story.

> His comics were
> essentially
> short stories turned into comics in the most
> workaday manner possible.

I prefer to think he and Beatty were interested in telling a story in a just-the-facts Dragnet style rather than showing off. And I found many of the stories, particularly the longer story arcs, to be pretty classic P.I. fare, full of runaway teenagers, mobsters, slimy pornographers, revenge and the like. But Collins didn't stop there. He took those standard ingredients and cooked up a whole new thing, putting Ms. Tree through the wringer emotionally and physically
(incarceration in jail AND a booby bin, pregnancy, breast-feeding, widowhood on her honeymoon, personal vendettas, etc., ) and dealing with many "women's" issues (abortion, pornography, child raising) that female P.I. writers would receive ridiculously high praise for just a few years later.

> stories weren't that good to begin with, either. To
> me that shows a
> profound
> disrespect for the genre, and more importantly, for
> the reader.

Disrespect? You're rubberhosing the wrong suspect.

I think Collins (Max Allan, this time) actually pushed the envelope in a medium that generally plays it safe with the P.I. genre. Or worse -- comics often reveal a slavish devotion to the P.I. genre's lamest cliches (A fedora! A trenchcoat! A bottle of rot gut! ). But MS. TREE offered far more than recycled props and revealed Collins' profound and obvious respect for the genre. Just the sheer number of in-jokes and winks at the audience suggest that not only is Collins very familiar with the genre, but that he was hoping and expecting his readers were too. Certainly Jim (who was definitely Jim even way back then, in MS. Tree's letters pages) and I got it.

And that's another thing I loved about MS TREE. The letters page. In the pre-internet days, they were a godsend for HB fans, a a direct percursor of Rara Avis. Maybe we should nag Max to join us as a guest one month. The man knows his stuff.

Mind you, he's so damn productive, he'd probably urn his guest spot into a comic book, a screenplay and a novelization of the movie based on the comic book within six months. And then do a sequel...

Kevin Burton Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site
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