Even before Ed and Dino gave me the thumbs up I was researching crime comics. I was familiar with the genre in various forms of pop culture, but wanted to learn about the heyday of crime comics. It turns out that golden period was the 1940s and 50s, a time when comics were sold in the millions.
It is generally held that crime comics began in 1942 with the first issue of Crime Does Not Pay, published by Lev Gleason Publications. Bad guys of all sorts have been featured in comics since their inception but crime comics were devoted to criminals and their activities, with graphic depictions of violence.
Sales of superhero comics declined after WWII, which meant publishers had to produce many different types of comics. Early releases like Crime Does Not Pay were at the forefront of a deluge of crime comics. Another genre that enjoyed high sales and notoriety in the same era was horror comics. Both genres would come under scrutiny in the late 40s and early 50s, which eventually led to the imposition of the Comics Code Authority in 1954 and the death of crime comics.
I found covers and descriptions of many old crime comics and desperately wanted to read some of them. I learned that The Mammoth Book of the Best Crime Comics contained selections of the genre throughout the ages, including the 40s and 50s. This book even included Jack Cole’s infamous “Murder, Morphine, and Me”. Published in True Crime Comics in 1947, Cole’s story would become one of the most controversial crime comics of its time, with one panel in particular used in numerous articles and books as an example of the questionable morals of crime comics. Always the reliable dealer, Dana of ComicReaders had a copy of this collection in stock. I picked it up the same day Ed told me I was in.
I didn’t want to be firmly rooted in the past, so I made sure to read Criminal, the best of modern crime comics. This comic, and the essays that fill its back pages, put the word “noir” into my head, and I realized I had to be careful to not craft crime noir. I wanted pure crime comics. I was not out to write crime noir. So, I read up on the characteristics of noir so I could do my best to avoid them. As a side note, my research into noir revealed I had not yet seen some remarkable movies of the genre, so I found myself adding to my ziplist.
All this research into the history of crime comics made me want to set my story in the past. I knew Ed had an affinity for 1970s crime movies, and was classifying his comic story as such, though on a smaller scale. I, therefore, wanted to go further back. My initial thought was the 40s or 50s in homage to the heyday of the genre. With that in mind, I started brainstorming story ideas.