Max Allan Collins is a mystery novelist and comic writer. His work includes the Quarry series, Dick Tracy, and Road To Perdition. He also completely numerous works left unfinished by Mickey Spillane. His most recent comic work is Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer published by Titan Comics which launched in June 2018.
Tim: Your latest comic is Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. How was it adapting Spillane's original unproduced screenplay?
Max: I was co-author on that screenplay, so that helped. He originated it in a radio script that wasn't produced. Then it became a 60-minute script for a TV show in the '50s. When I ran across the documents I thought it was a great story. Then we worked together on a screenplay. Now it was not produced, but Jay Bernstein, who did the TV show, almost did it with Stacy Keach. When the opportunity to do a graphic novel came along, I thought here's the story that has real Spillane input and is set up to be visual. Comics aren't as similar as some people think. There are some differences, but the visual thinking behind it made a smooth transition.
Tim: Since you're coauthor my next question doesn't apply.
Max: Go ahead.
Tim: I was going to ask if you feel like there's any leeway when you adapt a story like this.
Max: Well, I have been mostly completing things Spillane left behind. I've done around 10 novels that Titan has published that Mickey asked me before his passing to finish. Sometimes it would be 100 pages that I have to turn into 300. So, since I had his blessing, I viewed them as collaborations. I don't really have that onus on me, that, "Oh, gee. This is the Ten Commandments and I only have eight. So I have to write the other two in God's voice." That helped me not be intimidated. If you go into a project like this, and this must happen to a lot of comic writers who finally get to write Batman or Spider-Man, if you're too intimidated and you're thinking about Steve Ditko, you're going to go crazy. You just have to be professional, dig in, and do the job.
Tim: What went into the decision to adapt this screenplay as a comic instead of a novel?
Max: That's a good question since it could've been a novel. It really could've been a novel. I suppose it still could, but we were coming up to the centenary of Spillane's birth, which is this year and into early next year. We wanted to do some special things. I hadn't done a graphic novel for awhile and of course, having done Road To Perdition, I have some street cred in that area. We decided to do a Mike Hammer graphic novel and in a way come full circle because Hammer was originally conceived by Mickey in the late '40s as a comics character. He was not able to sell it. It became a novel called I, The Jury, which is still around. It seemed like a good way to celebrate his centenary. We've done a number of other things too. Titan's been great about it. We found the very first Mike Hammer story that Mickey had not completed and I completed that as a novel called Killing Town. There's a centenary logo on the covers that says we've had 100 years of Mickey Spillane. He was such an influential author.
Tim: You've written original and licensed characters over your career. What's your approach for licensed characters?
Max: You hope you get some direction from the editors. I kind of floundered on Batman since there was no bible for the character. I'm saying things like, "Where exactly is stately Wayne Manor? How far outside of Gotham City is it? How big is the Batcave?" I think that way. I want to make it real in my mind. I think you do have to respect the material. You have to respect when it's somebody else's vision. You've got to find that balance between bringing something new to it and respecting the vision. I've been so blessed doing Dick Tracy, which was my favorite thing as a kid. My next favorite thing was Mike Hammer. I do have an innate respect for these creators. And I knew them both. I knew Chester Gould very well and I knew Mickey very well. You don't double cross your friends.
Max: Friends don't lie, somebody said.
Tim: You've described Mike Hammer as a superhero, just in a trenchcoat and fedora instead of tights and a cape.
Max: Good catch. That's a good one.
Tim: Can you expand on that comparison?
Max: I think he was more Batman-like than Superman-like. We're in the Batman-era instead of the Superman-era. He was an avenging hero. He was arguably the first to use the methods of bad people to take bad people down. It's not a surprise to me that Frank Miller was an absolute Mickey Spillane freak. Sin City is basically his tribute to Mickey Spillane for example. That's a major element of that connection between Hammer being conceived as a comic book character by a guy who had written Submariner and Captain America. That was just in the blood of that character since the beginning.
Tim: Is this your first time working with the art team of Marcelo Salaza and Marcio Friere?
Max: I've not worked with any of these folks before. It's a whole new approach in terms of this painted look. I've not ever done that painted look. I'm an old school guy. Road To Perdition was done in black and white. It's kind of fun to see this. To me, it's a kind of video game look. It's very lively and to see noir in color is very interesting.
Tim: Mike Hammer is a four issue mini-series. Do you see more comics in your future?
Max: I don't close any doors on that kind of stuff. I hadn't done comics for awhile and this year and last year I did two graphic novels. I wasn't going to do another one, but when Titan said it's the centenary of Mickey Spillane and we wanna do a graphic novel, I'm not going to let anybody else do it. If people like it, there will be more. They gotta like it a lot.