Posts Tagged ‘Dick Tracy’

How I Invented Binge Watching

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

When I landed the Dick Tracy writing gig in 1977, I received a nice advance of $5000. As half of a young married couple, with limited financial means, I somehow convinced my wife Barb that the first thing we should do was buy a home video recorder. I bought a VCR console, which was outlandishly expensive (despite its modest 19-inch screen), an unjustifiable extravagance amplified by my brilliant choice of formats: Betamax.

But I mention this only to let you know that the Collins household (all two of us) were early adapters in the home video revolution. You need to know this to understand that you are indeed in the presence of the person who invented binge watching.

Around 1979, the Australian TV series Prisoner Cell Block H was syndicated nationally. It’s a wonderful women-in-prison series that has recently been updated into the equally wonderful Wentworth. For some reason, the local channel running the syndicated show dropped it after a few weeks – maybe it had something to do with the rampant violence and lesbianism or maybe the Aussie accents.

But I was not to be denied (I rarely am).

I approached a friend of mine in Chicago who ran a comic book shop to work out a trade deal for original comics art for his ongoing efforts to record the five-times-a-week series for me on VHS (I had one of those machines now, too). Every couple of months he would send me a box of tapes, each package containing around 20 hours of Prisoner Cell Block H. Barb and I, and my cartoonist pal and collaborator Terry Beatty, would hunker in to watch the episodes until our eyes burned. This would be on the weekend, consuming two days (allowing time out for meals and calls of nature).

We did not call it binge watching, but clearly that is what it was. The same comic book shop pal did the same for me with the 1960s-70s Dragnet, which had not yet hit Nick at Night because it didn’t exist yet. Again, these were sent to me four or five shows to a tape, as the series was being “stripped” nightly. Barb and Terry did not join me for this, not being insane, and the binging would usually only be one or two VHS tapes a night.

The first binge watching from pre-recorded tapes came with Poldark, both seasons of which Barb and I consumed in a weekend. Over the years this approach to TV watching continued with the pre-recorded Poirot tapes and beyond. During my son Nate’s college years, he would come home for the weekend when informed that a new DVD season of LEXX had arrived (my favorite science-fiction series). These would be watched, binge-style.

To this day, Barb and I binge in this fashion, although sometimes not quite as aggressively. A House of Cards season usually lasts only two days, but with mystery shows like Murdoch or Midsomer Murders, we hold ourselves to two or three a night, because things in that happily homicidal world start to blur otherwise.

One bad side-effect of binge-watching seasons of favorite shows – particularly when you haven’t followed them in their bite-size weekly episodes – is that a new season can at first seem to have nothing to do with anything you’ve ever seen before. We had that experience with two excellent series that we’ve followed from the beginning – Ripper Street and Orphan Black – both of which we chugged in a couple of gulps.

What happens is that the first episode of the season makes you wonder if you skipped a season, but by the second episode, it begins to come back – especially when two of you are watching, as Barb and I will prompt each other as memories come floating or sometimes bursting back.

So I’ll comment briefly on a couple of series we’ve binged of late.

Poldark Season Three. While Barb and I are devoted fans of the original series, this remake is equally faithful to the books and has the production values of a fairly big-budget feature film, with breathtaking Cornwall location work. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson do very well as Ross and Demelza, and again the original Poldark, Robin Ellis, is back for a nice scene…a fine show of respect for the original classic series.

Murdoch Mysteries Season 10 – For some while now, Murdoch has been running 18 episodes. This charming, often amusing mystery series – which still plays as a turn of the century CSI – likes to bring characters back, and because those characters have appeared in single episodes (not story arcs), it can be tough to recall them. Also, we always have a little trouble getting used to the non-regulars in the casts because the Canadian acting style can have a dinner theater vibe…but you do get used to it. And the regulars are strong and very comfy in their roles – Yannick Bisson as Murdoch, Helene Joy as Dr. Julia Ogden, Jonny Harris as Constable George Crabtree, and in particular Thomas Craig as Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, who recalls Gene Hunt in Life on Mars. The tenth season begins jokey and at first seems weak, but by mid-point it’s playing well, even revealing itself as a particularly strong season, getting more serious and darker as it goes.

Orphan Black Season Five. Orphan Black shares a charming recurring actor – Kristian Brunn – with Murdoch. Otherwise the shows have little in common, and the guest casts never have that dinner theater vibe. Two things are particularly outstanding about this series. First, it’s one of those convoluted, complex science-fiction/fantasy series in the X-Files mode that seems to be getting so ever more complicated, you suspect it doesn’t know where it’s going (Lost, anyone?). Well, Season Five is the final season of Orphan Black and everything from the previous four is paid off with thought and emotion, and no small amount of clever plotting. Virtually everybody of any importance is back from the run of the show and loose ends are not in abundance.

Second, lead Tatiana Maslany may be the best actress of her generation, or maybe several generations, as she portrays the various “clone” sisters who are the orphans of the title, each one distinct in look, mannerism and overall characterization. She is a wonder (and the technical expertise of the “sisters” interacting is mindboggling). Particularly interesting, and rewarding, is the decision of co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson to wrap up the exciting, often frightening storyline midway through the final episode, and follow it with a “three months later” half-an-episode that suggests where the characters are heading and how they are, or are not, dealing with what they’ve been through.

Ripper Street Season Five. Ripper Street, set in Whitechappel just after Jack the Ripper’s reign, is like a much, much darker Murdoch Mysteries. Lead Matthew Macfadyen as Detective Inspector Reid brings modern police methods to London’s most barbaric area with the help of his American forensics expert, Adam Rothenberg as Captain Homer Jackson. Like Murdoch, Ripper Street appears initially to have been born out of the popularity of CSI, but has outlived its inspiration, and surpassed its accomplishments. Creator Richard Warlow wrote around two-thirds of the episodes (early seasons ran 8 episodes, later one 6) and he does not stint on wild plot twists and grittily horrific crimes, but the characters are so real and compelling – and not always admirable – that you will likely stick with them.

Orphan Black runs 50 episodes, and Ripper Street 37, so binging on their complete runs is doable, and will not provide the confusion that those of us doing so a season at time can experience. Murdoch is well over 100 episodes now, so binge-watching can take planning and patience.

So, yes, now that you ask – I did indeed invent binge-watching, with Barb’s help, and Terry’s.

You’re welcome.

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Hey, I bet you didn’t know Road to Perdition came from a comic book. You do? Check this out anyway.

M.A.C.

Goings and Comings

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Dick Locher passed away last week.

As many of you know, I worked with Dick from 1983 until 1992, having taken over the writing of the Dick Tracy strip from Chester Gould in 1977, working first with Chet’s last assistant, Rick Fletcher. My relationship with Fletcher was occasionally rocky, due to my continuing friendship with Chet after Rick fell out with his former boss and father figure. But we did some very good work together.

I felt privileged to work with Locher, another former Gould assistant – one who went on to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Our relationship was generally a positive one, and we were friendly, though never really close. We lost contact when I was fired from the strip and I was somewhat resentful that he had not gone to bat for me. In my incredibly biased opinion, the strip under Dick never recovered from my exit.

A few years ago I joined Dick at Woodstock, Illinois (Gould’s home city), for the screening of a Tracy documentary we were both a part of. We re-bonded very nicely and any bumps in our past road was smoothed. It became clear he was equally unhappy with the editor who’d fired me, but as a company man he’d kept that to himself. We stayed in touch and exchanged e-mails, artwork and books. It was a nice way for our collaboration to evolve into a professional friendship.

The Tribune did a nice write-up about him, but I’m too petty to give you a link, because the Trib has conveniently written me out of Dick Tracy’s history. So I’ll give you this nice link instead.

Here’s one last fond fedora tip to my partner Dick Locher.

* * *

I think I’ve quoted this before, but where Tracy is concerned I often recall what Dean Martin reportedly said about Jerry Lewis: “The two best things that ever happened to me were meeting Jerry Lewis, and splitting with Jerry Lewis.”

I hated getting fired off Dick Tracy. I felt I had revitalized the strip. Friends, like Mike Gold, told me I should only do ten years, since it wasn’t my creation, and Chet Gould himself advised me not to let Tracy dominate my career, since he would always be the creator.

But Tracy was my childhood obsession and I would be still be writing it, had I not been fired by an editor who despised me almost as much as I despised him.

And yet, just as getting Tracy was the best thing that happened in my early career, losing it was the other “best thing.” Road to Perdition came about because I was scrambling to find a new comics project. The dust had barely settled on my Tracy firing when Andrew Helfer approached me to create a noir graphic novel for DC. Off the top of my head I pitched Gun and Son (which became Perdition), combining my love for Lone Wolf and Cub with the real-life story of John and Connor Looney and a betrayed lieutenant in Rock Island’s mob scene of the early 20th Century. The latter had been something I ran across researching my novel True Detective but couldn’t find a way to use, except in passing.

The rest, as they say, is history. No Tracy firing, almost certainly no Road to Perdition. For a lot of years, the famous thing I was known for was Tracy. Now the strip has receded into something of an interesting footnote and “author of Road to Perdition” is the famous thing.

I am leading up here to a wonderful review by that talented writer Ron Fortier about my prose novel version of Road to Perdition. You need to read this review, and if you have not yet purchased for your reading pleasure and edification the Brash Books edition of the complete version of the novel, what are you waiting for?

* * *

Yesterday Crusin’ performed for a late afternoon concert on the patio at Pearl City Plaza in Muscatine.

It could have been a nightmare. A couple of weeks ago our guitarist walked out on the band at rehearsal and I had a very limited time to decide whether to cancel our remaining two gigs of the year, or find a replacement.

My way is not to roll over and die, however, and with the recommendation of our drummer, Steve Kundel, I approached a well-known area musician, Bill Anson, to fill in. We rehearsed four times, one of them a marathon session, and Bill proved to be a great guy as well as a skilled, gifted guitarist/singer. What we do is not really his genre of choice, but I am hopeful he will stick around for a while. (I have offered him the position of Permanent Temporary Guitarist, perhaps channeling “Permanent Latrine Orderly” from No Time for Sergeants.)

How did the gig go? The audience was large and appreciative, and while there were occasional train wrecks, there were also no fatalities, and I can say in all honesty I haven’t had a better, looser time on a band job in years.

Thanks, Bill. And thanks to Brian Van Winkle, our bassist extraordinaire, for sticking with us in a sticky personal situation.

We play at least one more time this year, at Ardon Creek Winery on September 1, 6 to 9 pm. It’s a wonderful outdoor venue. Check it out, if you’re in the area.

* * *

Here’s a lovely piece on the Quarry TV series.

Here’s a nice write-up on the new Bibliomysteries collection that includes “It’s in the Book” by Mickey and me – my favorite of the Hammer short stories.

Scroll down and read nice things about the forthcoming Quarry’s Climax.

M.A.C.

A Cancellation, a Nomination & an Anniversary

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

HBO/Cinemax has finally officially cancelled the Quarry series, but this comes as no surprise. A shake-up at the network, as well as a conflict between the star (who is committed to another series pilot) and the director of all eight episodes, spelled it out long ago.

What’s most disappointing to me is that my script for season two will not be produced, and I was really happy with it. We had thought some other network might pick the show up, but that now seems unlikely.

I am happy to have had a quality show that gave my Quarry books a higher profile. My hitman has now generated an award-winning short film, a festival-winning feature, and now a first-rate series, and my writing was a part of all three. Maybe we’ll see more of him on screen yet.

More pleasant news came by way of a Shamus nomination for the Spillane/Collins short story, “A Dangerous Cat,” which appeared in The Strand magazine and is also in the collection A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook from Mysterious Press.

Barb and Al, early 1970s
Barb and Al, early 1970s

But the biggest event of the past week was our 49th wedding anniversary, on June 1, which we celebrated with an overnight stay at Galena, Illinois, where always have a wonderful time. For me, it was especially gratifying because – after the various operations and the stroke and all – I was able to spend a long day walking and enjoying myself, feeling very much back to normal (or as close to normal as I ever get). Galena is a quaint, pretty little town of 3500, with lots of boutique shopping and some 65 restaurants. I will be doing a thriller next year set in this scenic community.

On the trip to and from Galena, we finished listening to the audio book of Antiques Frame, so beautifully read by Amy McFadden. It was a reminder to me about how much Barb has grown and flourished as a writer, a profession she never dreamed of entering. Having such a beautiful, talented, smart, funny, patient wife for all these years is the best award/reward I could ever hope for.

The week leading up to the two-way getaway was a busy one, as was the weekend following. I did final edits on the Spillane volume, The Last Stand, which includes the previously unpublished novel of that name, as well as an early ‘50s novella, also previously unpublished, A Bullet for Satisfaction. The latter is a Spillane/Collins collaboration, the former the last solo effort by Mickey. There’s also an introduction explaining the history of both novels. Hard Case Crime will be publishing in both hardcover and soft.

In addition, I wrote the introduction for the collected Dick Tracy Volume 23, for IDW, and dealt with the copy-edited versions of two short stories written by Matt Clemens and me for a pair of horror anthologies. Finally, I wrote the introduction to Scarface & the Untouchable, the joint Capone/Ness bio.

That book now focuses on the Chicago years, with a second volume projected to deal with the rest of Ness’s life. This week I’ll start work on my polish/tweak of the nearly 900-page manuscript. Co-author A. Brad Schwartz and our writing/research associate, George Hagenauer, are working on the bibliography and end notes.

* * *

The complete list of Shamus nominations can be seen at the great site, The Rap Sheet.

Here’s a good current interview with me.

A ton of articles on the cancellation of the QUARRY series are out there, many quoting Michael D. Fuller’s blog post about it. Here’s a good example.

M.A.C.

James Bond And Me

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
Fate of the Union

Paperback:
E-Book:
Audio MP3 CD:

Before we get to James Bond, I need to mention that FATE OF THE UNION’s pub date is today. Over the weekend, Barb and I took a day trip to Des Moines and listened in the car to the audio version, read by the always terrific Dan John Miller.

This really seems like a good one to me, whether you read it or Dan reads it to you, and I hope you’ll give it a try.

* * *

We tend to think of the pop-culture British Invasion as beginning with the Beatles. But I doubt the Beatles would have hit quite so hard if secret agent James Bond hadn’t softened up American teenagers first.

I was thirteen or fourteen when I first read Ian Fleming. I was in the eighth grade, and in complete Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer thrall. But Mickey wasn’t writing much – his first novel in almost a decade, THE DEEP (1961), was not a Hammer – and I was in the market for something to tide me over until Spillane got around to writing something again. But I’d already plowed through all the Richard S. Prather/Shell Scott novels and a lot more (and Chandler and Hammett, of course).

Then came James Bond.

Ian Fleming, on the first round of Signet paperback Bond reprints (significantly, Mickey’s paperback publisher), was blurbed as the British Spillane, and Bond the Brit Hammer. This wasn’t hard to do, since many reviews pointed out Spillane as a Fleming source, and Signet even used Hammer cover artist Barye Phillips. Despite Fleming’s third-person approach, and the civil servant aspect of the character, Bond was nonetheless very similar to Hammer – a killer who got a lot of sex, to put it bluntly. Calling Bond a Hammer imitation would not be going too far.

The first Fleming novel, CASINO ROYALE – published at the height of worldwide Spillane mania (1953) – was in particular a Hammer-like novel, right down to its violent, sado-masochistic torture-scene climax and its abrupt ending, with the chilling last line of the book not unlike I, THE JURY’S “It was easy.”

While Fleming never replaced Spillane in my pulpy little heart, Bond zoomed into a secure second place behind the world’s toughest private eye. Reading these books in the early ‘60s – though most were published in the ‘50s – Bond seemed a logical next-decade extension of Hammer, particularly through the intermediate step of cool Peter Gunn, the Hammer imitation that sparked the TV private eye fad. The GUNN pre-credits sequences, followed by Mancini’s powerful theme set to abstract animation, is an obvious precursor to the way Bond films begin to this day.

I was alone among my junior-high peers in my enthusiasm for Fleming (a few were into Spillane, though). So when suddenly, in 1963, a film of DR. NO appeared on the pop-culture horizon, I could hardly believe it – had people in England actually made a movie just for me?

As an only child, I occasionally was able to pressure my parents in doing what I wanted. And what I wanted was to see DR. NO the evening it opened in Davenport, Iowa. Trips to the Quad Cities, before improved highways came along, were rare for my family. It took a lot of work to get my parents to take me to the first Bond film, in the middle of the week on a school night.

As someone who had been reading Fleming, I can assure you that Sean Connery’s “Bond, James Bond” all but sent me into a paroxysm of glee. He was perfect, and so was the movie. Soon the disease spread, and within a year all of my friends, particularly, the males, were Bond fanatics. We routinely went to openings at matinees and sat through the films at least twice. In those pre-VCR days, we gobbled up the double feature retreads that appeared a year or so later, as well. Binge watching is nothing new.

My lovely wife Barb also loved the Bond films, and in the early days of going together and well into the early years of our marriage, we would follow that same matinee-then-sit-through-it-again routine. The delight of seeing YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE twice remains a fond, shared memory.

Since then, I have never missed a Bond film on opening weekend – usually opening night. This continued through the hit-and-miss Roger Moore years – as a MAVERICK fan, I was more forgiving than some, since Moore had been Cousin Beau Maverick (and of course the Saint) – and I have a vivid memory of Barb and me seeing LIVE AND LET DIE in a theater in Wichita, Kansas (on our way back from a comic con in Texas). The title song and credit sequence was so great, what followed seemed pretty good, too.

I’ve gone on record here and elsewhere that I consider Timothy Dalton the second-best Bond next to Connery, who in my heart of hearts is the only true Bond. There are Bond movies without Connery, but the only real Bond movies have Connery in them (and I include NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). On the other hand, Pierce Brosnan makes a fine melding of Connery and Moore, and unfairly got the bum’s rush out of a series he helped revitalize.

Now we come to Daniel Craig, who is a fine, tough Bond, if a little rough-hewn for anyone who has read the books – he’s one of those actors who the leading ladies love because the script tells them to. That aside, he may be the finest actor ever to play the role, and CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE and SKYFALL are terrific movies, including the second one on that list, even if it does lag behind the other two.

Which brings us to SPECTRE.

Spectre

First, here’s what I don’t like about the film – Sam Smith’s song. The title sequence is great, but Smith is a second-rate talent with a third-rate song, and Bond films deserve better. They deserve the best.

Second, here’s what I like about the film – everything else. I know reviews have been mixed, but those reviews tend to look at the film in an inappropriate, realistic way, not in the context of the series. They wanted something grittier, and instead got what they dismiss as a formulaic Bond film. Were these naysayers present during the last few scenes of SKYFALL, when the series did a backward reboot with Bond entering the classic Connery-era office?

SPECTRE is what the first three Craig movies were leading up to – a big, sometimes a little dumb, but always exciting James Bond movie much in the manner of DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Virtually all of those films are referenced in SPECTRE, but not in cutesy ways. The villain’s liar is DR. NO and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE; Bond in captivity facing slow death is the laser-beam scene from GOLDFINGER; FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE’S hand-to-hand combat in a train compartment is expanded to every car; and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is referenced by a snowy mountain retreat and some Alpine violence.

At the same time, modern elements come into play – there’s nothing retro about the way Moneypenny, Q and M are portrayed, and the size of the action scenes rival or probably out-do anything in the BOURNE films. The villain (who also appears in a number of the films mentioned above, but I won’t spoil things by telling you that he’s Blofeld) (whoops) is the Moriarty of the Bond movies. Speaking of Moriarty, the actor who portrays him in the BBC SHERLOCK (Andrew Scott) appears as an adversary of M’s in the muddy bureaucracy of British spydom. Seems the bad guys want to control all the surveillance in the world, including anything pertaining to innocent citizens like you and me – which is about as topical a theme as you could come with.

If you don’t like this movie, I’m sorry, but you’re not a James Bond fan. You may be a fan of SKYFALL, you may be a fan of Daniel Craig, but not a Bond fan. And what gives me the right to make such a pronouncement? Well, without me, there would have been no SKYFALL or SPECTRE.

You see, I wrote a little graphic novel called ROAD TO PERDITION, the Sam Mendes-directed movie of which featured Daniel Craig. If I had not written PERDITION, Craig and Mendes would not have (wait for it) bonded.

You’re welcome.

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Please check out one of the coolest reviews I’ve ever received for a Mike Hammer.

This just in: a review of the 1990 paperback, DICK TRACY: THE SECRET FILES.

And here’s a review of the Ms. Tree novel, DEADLY BELOVED.

Check out this splashy display of FATE OF THE UNION with a brief, nice review. (Did I mention this was pub day?)

Library Journal takes a nice look at Titan Books, with a mention or two of yours truly (oddly, though, no Mike Hammer reference).

Finally, here’s a terrific review of THE FIRST QUARRY.

M.A.C.