Adding the future to the past.
This is something that I am seeing a lot at the moment. We seem to be adding our values or perceived values to the stories of the past.
I’ve been reminded of this by reading the collection of Peepland. This is an actually really interesting read about a fictionalised story of the crime and murders that surrounds the sex and drugs industry that existed in and near to 42nd Street in 1986.
It’s written by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips and has art by Andrea Camerini with colours by Marco Leuko. There are also some superb covers by Fay Dalton. It’s published by Titan Comics as part of their Hard Case Crime series and I’d recommend you have a look.
It’s particularly interesting to me as it’s a time that I grew up in and I worked in the seedy areas of London. We had the back streets of Soho at the time. Full of ‘Brasses’, ‘Brown’, ‘Frankie Vaughn’ (Cockney rhyming slang for porn) and more. I know that they aren’t quite the same as our NYC counterparts but I saw some parallels. I also took my first trip to New York in 1988 and saw what a lot of it was like back then. I have returned yearly since. Christa herself was active in this scene and worked in the ‘Peep Booths’ that feature so heavily in the opening issue and later. Finding that out was a really interesting point and in the back matter she speaks about her experiences in the area and in Hells Kitchen. I can’t fault the brutality and setting of most of the story. It feels real for the most part. The raft of violence doesn’t seem gratuitous and it ends on quite a well considered note.
This was an age of pornography and a sex trade that pre dated the internet and mobile phones. The characters in this series carry pagers, use phone booths, hand over cash, rob pawn shops, fire actual real guns (not the ones in video games) and hire prostitutes from scum bag pimps on the street. It was great to see it all laid out on the page.
This is a comic series that I enjoyed. It got me thinking. It uses the classic noir points that are often used and for that I forgive a couple of the points I make below.
Are all cops corrupt? There rarely seems to be a story that doesn’t have at least one lying scheming cop in the story. (Luke Cage the tv series anyone?) I realise that this is commonplace in noir but I also find it an easy go to. I’ll be honest and say that rather than corrupt I find most cops good people or on occasion just plain lazy. I suppose a story about a lazy cop might not fly with a publisher? I also suppose everyone thinks that they are a rebel since they smoked a joint at College and cops are ‘The Man’. (Some growing up may be needed.)
In the 1980s in London, and I am sure in New York, racism was everywhere. It is and was horrible and repugnant (and still is obviously). But, and here’s the big but, it rarely went punished back then. It didn’t, it’s a fact. So don’t feel as a writer/plotter that you have to provide a counterbalance to racism in a period when it was rarely a balanced world. Portray the real, portray what it was like then. That has much more impact. A scene in Peepland has a builder shout a racial slur and then get confronted for it. My experience of the times are that would have rarely happened. It’s ‘unrevenged’ moments that hit harder often. I won’t spoil a moment at the end but that ‘depressed man at the bar’ scene might not be needed. Showing him living his happy life after committing a horrific race crime would have been a better plot point and thump on the table statement in my humble opinion. Don’t fabricate an implication that you think should happen. Don’t try and get 2018 credit from a reader who is looking for 1986 realism.
A couple more things.
The punks were a little off or visually to me seemed so. All the women seemed to have one side shaved in their hair (yes I know it happened but it’s used here over and over again!). Some of the male haircuts could have done with a time specific spin as well in my humble opinion. A whole tattoo sleeve also wasn’t as commonplace as it is now. And whilst you did see it in the 80s it wasn’t for everyone. And why is it that every single male punk has to play in a band at CBGBs? Why do they have to have a Misfits poster on their wall? Too much of a cliche I’m afraid.
I groaned loudly at the main villain. Don’t retroactively make your story more modern day relevant by making the villain look and sound like Trump. It took me straight out of the story. I’m far from a fan of the man but why does he have to appear everywhere? In fact I’d rather that I could go back to a comic in a few years when this man is hopefully in a prison cell and not be reminded of his chubbies smug face. Puts me right off my sugar puffs.
So, the question remains out there. When are we allowed to replace the facts of the past to send a message/use a plot twist/make it cooler/present a point of view or political agenda (and for many other myriad reasons) for the present? Fiction (and non fiction) are amorphous tectonic plates that we are allowed to move around like cards in a magicians trick in my opinion. We should be able to shift patterns and stories and realities. But the problem comes when the changes affect the verisimilitude of the piece. When you are suddenly jolted out of the story...
Otherwise this was a good read. I liked where it went and the rush that it did so. It had a real energy and the crime elements were in the most part well planned and carried out.
Have a look.