"Black Cherry" – Doug TenNapel Tantalizes with the Forbidden Fruit

Wed, May 16th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

"Black Cherry," coming this July

Some writers work mainly in one easily definable genre; superheroes, horror, detective noir, and science fiction. Doug TenNapel is a genre unto himself. TenNapel can tell deftly a story including an alien symbiote, a zombified professor and rednecks, and have the whole tale make complete sense and entertain the pants off readers (this description belongs to TenNapel's "Creature Tech" - read it now!). And this isn't even the craziest genre combination attempted by this writer-artist.

This July, fans will receive a new treat from TenNapel in the form of the graphic novel "Black Cherry," published by Image Comics. However, this book is quite a bit different from TenNapel's previous works. While most of his other books are something you could hand a kid to read, you may want to keep "Black Cherry" on the highest shelf of your bookcase. This graphic novel promises mobsters, strippers, and assorted thugs tinged with the supernatural, and I can't wait to see TenNapel give these genres a go!

CBR News contacted Doug TenNapel to find out more about this project and what readers can expect from it. We started by talking about his departure from "child-friendly" comics, and tried to figure out why this was an itch the creator needed to scratch. From his response, it sounds as though this story was crawling under TenNapel's skin for quite some time.

"Black Cherry" page 1
"This is my first book aimed solely at adults," TenNapel explained. "I've been plunking around with 'Black Cherry' for about five years now. I'm a big fan of pulp fiction and I've always wanted to make something in that crime-pop genre, only I had some sci-fi ideas to scramble into the mix to properly 'jack it up.'

"I tried a few versions of the story where I white-washed some of the language and situations out of it, and I didn't feel like I was doing the genre justice. These are stories about the filthy underbelly of humanity, so why should characters talk like they were at a PTA meeting?"

As "Black Cherry" is geared toward adults, it features a retailer warning on the cover. But the warning - in and of itself - could mean several things: violence, nudity, language, or subject matter. So, which of these will we find in "Black Cherry?"

"It's across the board," TenNapel confessed. "There's nudity (a little) and a lot of language. There's also racism, gore and drug references, some crude gay jokes and probably a lack of honoring one's father and mother.

"Black Cherry" page 2
"Some people have read it and didn't find it that bad. Frankly, today people get more offended if I don't separate my trash into paper and plastic more than if I write a story full of F-bombs."

Good point - always remember to rinse, reuse, and recycle. And speaking of recycling, some of the inspiration for "Black Cherry" came from recycled bits and pieces of past Hollywood films that TeNapel recalls with great fondness.

"I remember great entertainment from the '70s: 'The Godfather,' 'Starsky and Hutch,' 'Kung Fu' and 'The Mod Squad.' I didn't understand half of what was going on, but these grim people looked so good on that grainy over-saturated '70s film stock that it made a home in my head in this romantic place. 'Reservoir Dogs,' 'El Mariachi' and 'Pulp Fiction' tapped into that place, but they forgot to throw in some 'Project UFO,' 'The Exorcist' and 'The Incredible Melting Man.' I didn't forget.

"The first third of the story is just straight-up crime junk. The main guy, Eddie Paretti, has to screw over one crime boss to deliver a dead body to a rival crime boss. After that, I just let my heart take over and break form to turn it into something else. By the end, I don't know what the hell you'd call this kind of story."

"Black Cherry" page 3
For the locale of this genre-defying tale, the writer-artist chose a place he knows intimately - his home.

"The setting is present day Los Angeles," TenNapel said. "The characters drive from Pasadena to Compton to Burbank going from criminal underground to monastery to old folks' homes.

"The main characters include: Eddie Paretti, the two bit thief; Mary, a conservative Catholic who looks like a stripper named Black Cherry; Father McHugh, who is convinced some huge supernatural evil is afoot; Brick, a black thug pal of Eddie's; and Don Mauro, the head of the L.A. Mafia."

The L.A. Mafia? This is not a group often referenced in movies or television. "Eddie Paretti has a regular gig working for the L.A. Mafia, which isn't a very good Mafia. You know, if you're any good at crime you'd be working for the Mafia in Vegas, Chicago or New York - idiots work for the L.A. Mafia. Anyways, Paretti steals this body when a Catholic priest named Father McHugh shows up at the door. This isn't just any priest, it's the one who took Eddie out of an abusive home and raised him as his own flesh and blood. This priest claims that the body Eddie stole from the Mafia actually belongs to a monastery.

"Black Cherry" page 4
"But this isn't even dealing with the title of the story. Paretti sees this amazingly beautiful chick who is Father McHugh's assistant, and this lady looks exactly like a stripper Paretti used to love named Black Cherry. Double identities of women are common themes in crime noir, and the one in Black Cherry is a doozey."

Tales about the mafia typically fall into two camps: the classic "Godfather" style or the more modern "Sopranos"-flavored stories. As to which group the L.A. mafia in "Black Cherry" most closely resembles, TeNapel went with the one that spoke to him best.

"I went more for 'The Godfather,' because I was cued by a lot of the Catholic imagery in that movie series. I love 'Goodfellas' and have seen a few 'Sopranos,' but it seems stupid that a wiseguy would have a problem and go to a shrink instead of a priest. The way this family runs is a lot more like 'Godfather' in that they are closely tied to Italian culture and have names that come out of the families of Sicilian lore."

Looking at the cover of the graphic novel and its layout, it appears to be an homage to the classic EC Comics style. "I just liked the cheesy look of those comic covers," TenNapel confirmed. "I wanted something pulpy and nothing is pulpier in comics than that those exploitive covers of the '60s and '70s. I read a little 'Creepy' and 'Eerie' growing up, and I don't think the graphic novel long-form of comics owes a lot to those one-shots and standalone issues. That was some great sci-fi writing, but both the short form and the niche genre of horror comics didn't lend itself to these more feature-esque epic arcs."

"Black Cherry" #5
Thus far, all of TenNapel's books have been published in black and white with the exception of "Gear" (although the original publication was without color). "Black Cherry" carries on this tradition, but because the story takes place at night and in shadows, there were certain challenges.

"I used a lot of freaking ink," TenNapel explained succinctly. "I knew I didn't really want to go through all kinds of little Higgins Black Magic ink bottles on this book, so I went with Japanese sumi ink. I also ditched my usual Windsor Newton Series Seven for a cheap bamboo brush. It lays down a lot of black and I pulled some great lines in this book.

"As for lighting characters on a panel, that's a case-by-case basis. Sometimes I'll cast everything in accurate shadows, which would be what true noir visuals would demand, but I think everything would get too dark. I like having specific panels with this lighting effect, but I don't want the reader to have to go through a whole book trying to decipher what they're looking at in a black room with only rim-lit characters."

Looking at TenNapel's catalogue of works, you may realize there's one genre he hasn't touched: spandex-clad superheroes. As this is a genre that consumes most of the comic book industry, it may be a surprise to some to find that he has avoided it thus far. TenNapel has his reasons.

"I guess I feel like the comics medium already has that covered," TenNapel said. "There are hundreds of people doing capes and tights stories better than me, so I don't think I have a lot to contribute as far as creating an original character. I have a few ideas for an Aquaman story, but I don't even know any people at the majors to talk to about it. They are in some comic book ivory tower and I'm always hanging with the indies.

"I got into comics out of a love of storytelling, not a love of comic book superheroes. My fans are usually fans of lots of mainstream comic book heroes, so I'm flattered that they can enjoy my stuff as well as a caped hero."

And in case any of you are curious as to the comics TenNapel enjoys reading, he gave us a quick laundry list: "'Hellboy.' 'Bone.' Frank Miller. Tony Millionaire. Not much else."

Authors' creations always hold some special memories for them. When it comes to "Black Cherry," TenNapel said, "I liked the freedom of having characters be true to themselves. They are dirtbags, but like all dirtbags, they have opinions about God, demons and even honor among thieves. There is nothing like loading up a bamboo brush with a ton of ink and slamming it down on art board. The artwork goes really fast and the brush always delivers a surprise or two I didn't expect."

For those who are unaware, not only is TenNapel a comic book writer-artist, but he has also written and produced artwork for video games as well as several television series, including his own "Earthworm Jim" and Nickelodeon's "Catscratch." Essentially, the man keeps busy with several pots on his stove . In concluding this interview, TeNapel gave fans a few more teases of projects to come.

"I'm working on my next graphic novel called 'Flink' that comes out late fall of this year. It's a family title. I'm also working on a pilot at Cartoon Network, and I have another pilot at Nickelodeon. I'm working on two other graphic novel scripts for next year's projects, too."

Now discuss this story at CBR's Image Comics forum.

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