This September, BOOM! Studios races into Los Angeles' seedy past, circa 1955, in a new series in which the police mete out bloody justice. The ongoing "Hit" by writer Bryce Carlson and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey follows the secret police-sanctioned "hit squad" tasked with tracking down the city's worst murderers, drug lords and thugs.
Carlson, who is also Managing Editor at BOOM!, talked to CBR News about his love of noir and crime fiction, his personal ties to the historical crime comic, the challenge of penning his first ongoing series and why he had to write "Hit."
CBR News: Bryce, you've been working in comics for a while on the other side of the desk, as Managing Editor at BOOM! Studios. Before we get into "Hit," what made you first want to work in the industry, and how did you end up with a comics gig?
Bryce Carlson: Well, Ryan, I'm what you would call a happily married Southern California gentleman who was born in the wrong era. I listen to Duke Ellington, I surf and I appreciate a fine whiskey. Pretty simple dude. As for how I ended up at BOOM! -- not so simple.
After graduating from Chapman University, I moved to L.A. and struggled pretty hard to find any creative career opportunities. Whether it was waiting tables, doing courier runs, cleaning carpets, or being a paid audience member on "Deal or No Deal," I did it all with a smile, hoping that something would pop up. Then I got the e-mail. Becky Kirsch, a friend of mine from Chapman, tipped me off to a temporary shipping and receiving position at BOOM! and I literally called them that afternoon. Turns out, I'm pretty freaking great at packing and shipping comic books. Really though, I was just excited. I had been out of comics for a while at that point so I was running on pure living-out-my-childhood-dream adrenaline. The BOOM! team and I hit it off and next thing I knew, [BOOM! Founder] Ross Richie hired me as a new Executive Assistant. When the company expanded in 2009, not only did they offer to bring me into Editorial, they actually convinced Ross to let go of our budding bromance. I'll never know how [BOOM! Editor-in-Chief] Matt Gagnon pulled that one off, but that's what eventually led to me becoming the Managing Editor in 2010.
The premise behind "Hit" sounds like pure pulp noir; Los Angeles in the '50s, with cops secretly sanctioned as hitmen to take out the worst criminals. What else can you tell us about the world of "Hit" and the characters we'll meet?
"Pure pulp noir" pretty much nails it. I'm stealing that. Thanks.
It's 1955. It's dark and it's sexy -- a time when men were men and women were nothing but the right kind of trouble. We follow Harvey Slater, who's a Hollywood homicide detective by day and an LAPD hitman by night. His life is... complicated. Slater's a smart detective who isn't afraid to pull the trigger, so you never quite know exactly how he's going to handle a given situation. His journey is a personification of how Los Angeles was changing at the time, and how challenging the ever-growing duality really was. Usually there's booze and cigarettes involved and Slater getting into bed with a woman he shouldn't.
We get to meet an array of characters who all significantly impact Slater's life. "Sticky" is his straight-as-an-arrow homicide partner who can't hold his liquor and always does the right thing. The hit squad he works with is made up of men who are the exact opposite. Bonnie Brae is a beauty from Slater's past that comes back to town and adds an extra layer of complication to the mix. It's a crime story so there's no shortage of characters.
Los Angeles in the '50s is a very potent time for crime stories. What influences are you drawing from? Something like author James Ellroy, or perhaps more recent stories like"Gangster Squad?"
Funny that you mention Ellroy right off the bat. When I was 12, I bought my first real novel to read for fun -- one of James Ellroy's earlier works, "Clandestine." I had no idea who Ellroy was, but when I found the book on the shelf, it spoke to me. I was probably too young to be reading it but hey, it got me reading. It's what got me into crime and led me to discovering other timeless authors like Ross MacDonald, Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, John MacDonald, and Donald Westlake.
When it comes to crime cinema: Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing," "L.A. Confidential," "Chinatown," "The Maltese Falcon," "Laura," "The Big Sleep," "Miller's Crossing," "The Untouchables," the list goes on...
Where did the story of "Hit" come from, and why was this a project you wanted to write?
I have someone very close to me who spent decades in the LAPD. As a crime guy, I drool every time he shares stories, but when he told me about the "hit squad," it blew my hair back. LAPD officers tracking criminals and just taking them out -- yeah, there was a story there I knew I had to tell.
You're credited with creating some of the concepts for BOOM!'s "Deathmatch" ongoing series by Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno. Did you ever consider a similar arrangement here in which you would guide another writer on the ongoing "Hit?"
One primary focus as an editor is helping writers craft the best possible story, and that's one of the aspects I love most about my job. Working with writers is something I always enjoy but when it came to "Hit," I wanted to tackle the writing since the project is so close to me. It's a crime story that in its own twisted way explores what it's like to come from a broken home, and since I'm a child of divorce, I'd say I'm well qualified for the gig.
How much of "Hit" are you connecting to real events and L.A. history, and how much creative freedom are you giving yourself to explore this era?
Much like a lot of Ellroy's work, "Hit" is based on true events. It takes place in the real 1955 and is straight up historical fiction, leaving it up to the reader to decide what is and isn't "true." I had fun incorporating actual events like Mickey Cohen's incarceration and James Dean's untimely death -- it's those kinds of details that help bring the level of authenticity that I always enjoy in historical crime stories. I'm exploring the era as much as possible with my ultimate goal being to strike the perfect balance between fact and fiction so that the reader can become fully immersed in the time and enjoy the story.
Have you come across anything particularly interesting in your research?
Oh man, this is one of those stories where I would have been perfectly happy researching it forever and never writing a thing. Whether I was reading books about the history of Los Angeles, watching old noir flicks, sifting through vintage photography or combing true crime clippings, I was in research heaven. But the coolest part had to be my exploratory excursions across the city. "Hit" gave me an excuse to spend hours at the Los Angeles Police Museum, dine in Mickey Cohen's booth at Cole's, sit and sip whiskey at the King Eddy, discover hidden relics of old L.A. in Downtown, ride the last Red Car in San Pedro -- it gave me a reason to deepen my relationship with the city. Los Angeles is a prominent character in "Hit" and I've made sure that she gets her time to shine.
What can you tell me about your artist Vanesa R. Del Rey? Where did you find her, and what makes her a good match for "Hit?"
Vanesa is what I would call an unbelievably talented artist who is destined for great things. She brings so much to the table and has built a world for "Hit" that's better than I could have ever imagined. We found Vanesa online and had her test for another BOOM! series, and I remember the whole time I was secretly hoping that it wouldn't work out so I could get her for "Hit." Turns out, I'm pretty freaking great at hoping for things.
When it comes to Vanesa's artwork on "Hit," she brings a stylish, and often times cinematic, flavor, knowing how to perfectly capture the moment. Her ink work exudes the feel of the era and she's just a straight up amazing storyteller. If you can't tell, I have nothing but good things to say about her.
Has your time as an editor informed the way you've approached writing? And I know you're just getting started with this story, but has writing -- being on the other side of things -- impacted or changed your editorial style?
My time as an editor has absolutely influenced my approach to writing. I've had the chance to work with a wide array of talented writers and artists throughout the years and it's heavily informed how I understand comics, and how I write them. Spending so much time entrenched in the editorial process affects how I write a page, a scene and an issue because I'm already thinking about everything that takes place on the editorial side. For better or for worse, that's the world I'm living in.
Writing hasn't had as big an impact on my editorial style but it has helped me develop new, helpful techniques to pass on to writers. I'm super stoked that my own writing is able to benefit other writers I work with.
"Hit" debuts in September.