Interview: Author Max Allan Collins Talks New Novel Seduction of the Innocent
AMANDA DYAR: Seduction of the Innocent is an upcoming novel from yourself that focuses on the real life story of 1950s proposed ban of violent and horror filled comic books. How did you become involved in this project and how did you prepare for the beginning of your work?
MAX ALLAN COLLINS: SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT takes a fairly light-hearted approach to a serious subject, and I hope it doesn't stint on either one. The format is a Golden Age mystery -- that's the era of Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner -- since the '50s setting of the novel is appropriate to that kind of story. I do a series about a private eye in Chicago, Nate Heller, who takes on real crimes in a fairly gritty manner. Here I'm taking on a real subject, as I have in two previous Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries, but fictionalizing the characters...niot using their real names as in the Heller novels...and adding a murder where there wasn't one. I think the humorous aspect here, the cartoon or caricature nature of the approach, works well with the basic absurdity of the ill-informed attack on comics by the likes of Dr. Fredric Wertham and Parent's Magazine.
AMANDA: The novel is based in part on a novel of the same name published in 1954. Were you familiar with Dr. Fredric Wertham's work before writing this novel and how did it inspire you in the creation of your new work?
MAX: Wertham's book was not a novel -- he presented it as non-fiction, but that's debatable, since so much of it is nonsense. It's an attack on comics from the viewpoint that comics are strictly for little kids, and that readers of comic books are likely to imitate crimes they see depicted. It's idiotic, but is it so different than the blame heaped on "violent media" today? It's always been an easy scapegoat. Wertham hid the fact that all of his research was based on minority kids in ghettos -- with no mention or discussion about the effect of poverty on those kids. Really was a shameful sham of a piece of psuedo-science. I was a little kid when censorship all but killed the comics. I've never forgiven Dr. Wertham. And now he's the murder victim in a novel of mine. Or anyway a caricature of him is.
AMANDA: Some more modern works such as The Walking Dead and other horror themed novels and comics could be considered far more gruesome than some of the earliest works in the genre. How do you think some of these works would have fared back in the 1950s and do you believe the old trials and criticisms would have turned out any different if it were these works being judged instead?
MAX: Those horror comics were pretty gruesome. There's an overtly sexual content today, in some horror comics and novels, that wasn't present in EC Comics and its imitators. But the gore was right up there with anything today. But keep in mind Wertham's two false premises -- that comics are aimed at little kids, and that readers of comics are unsophisticated louts who will imitate what they see in a comic book. Many, many readers of comics in the early fifties were young adults and adults. GIs out of World War Two had learned to read comic books that they got at the PX, portable reading material that didn't require a high degree of literacy. They kept reading comics when they got home to the post-war world. College students dug the hip stuff EC was doing, like Ray Bradbury adaptations. Now, at least, horror comics and graphic novels can be clearly marketed to an age-appropriate audience.
AMANDA: Seduction of the Innocent is first and foremost a detective novel, but how does horror fit in to the storytelling in the novel? Also, this certainly won't be the first go around for the characters Jack and Maggie Starr. Where do these two characters rank among your favorite characters you've created stories for and what type of audience are these two characters geared towards?
MAX: There have been two previous Jack and Maggie Starr novels -- they were published a few years ago by Berkley Books, complete with Terry Beatty illos. I had conceived the Starr series as at least a trilogy. I've been doing novels for editor Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime, where I've revived my Quarry character and even done a Ms. Tree prose novel. I pitched the idea of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT to him, and he loved it. Now people are responding well to the book, and I'm thinking about doing another. I see the audience as general, really a series that young readers -- middle school up -- can enjoy, and Baby Boomers can appreciate the nostalgia value. SEDUCTION is more violent and sexy than the previous two entries in the series -- my former publisher did mostly cozy mysteries, but Hard Case Crime likes 'em...hard. As to how I rank them, I don't really think about that kind of thing...though I will admit Nate Heller and Quarry are probably in number one and two position respectively. But Jack and Maggie are coming up fast -- with a bullet.
To learn more check out the book on the official Titan Books and Max Allan Collins websites.
It’s 1954, and a rabble-rousing social critic has declared war on comic books – especially the scary, gory, bloody sort published by the bad boys of the industry, EF Comics. But on the way to a Senate hearing on whether these depraved publications should be banned, the would-be censor meets a violent end of his own – leaving his opponents in hot water. Can Jack Starr, private eye to the funny-book industry, and his beautiful boss Maggie unravel the secret of Dr. Frederick’s gruesome demise? Or will the crackdown come, falling like an executioner’s axe…? An illustrated whodunit inspired by America’s real-life “war on comic books” in the 1950s, from the award-winning master of the historical detective novel, MAX ALLAN COLLINS.