A Conversation With Max Allan Collins On Graphic Novel “The Night I Died”

The tough-talking, brawling, skirt-chasing private detective Mike Hammer returns to comics in The Night I Died, thanks to an original plot by Mickey Spillane, written by Max Allan Collins.

In The Night I Died, a chance encounter with a captivating femme fatale leads to a violent mob retaliation, and the hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer finds himself dodging both bullets and hard broads as he undertakes the most dangerous case of his career.

Collins is a fan of the mystery writer Mickey Spillane from childhood and later became friends with him. The two collaborated on a comic book series in the 1990s called Mike Danger. Upon Spillane’s death in 2006, Collins was entrusted to finish several uncompleted works by Spillane including Dead StreetThe Goliath Bone, and The Big Bang.

This upcoming graphic novel is yet another project in which Max Allan Collins brings Spillane’s unfinished work back to life. What follows is a conversation with the author where he shares his experience of working on The Night I Died:

The Night I Died has a very cinematic plot. Is that why you picked this particular story for a graphic novel? You have been previously involved in completing Mickey’s novels and short stories but how did you initially decide to purse this graphic novel project?

This one has as its source an unproduced radio play and also a much longer unproduced TV script, designed for an hour time-slot, both written by Mickey in the early ’50s.  Probably fifteen years or so ago I developed a movie script out of this, with Mickey’s blessing and input, for Jay Bernstein, who produced the various Hammer TV series and telefilms.  But Bernstein passed away and the project went into limbo.  When an opportunity to do a graphic novel came up, with its need to be visually oriented, I immediately thought of my unproduced movie script…and that is why it has, as you say, such a “very cinematic plot.”

Can we expect to see more Mike Hammer stories as a series? If yes, tell us a little about that. 

No additional graphic novels are planned at the moment, but I’ve just delivered another Hammer prose novel to Titan,  Murder, My Love, from a Spillane plot in his files, and will be doing another next year.  I hope to do another three after that, at which point I will have to decide whether to continue Hammer without Spillane material.  I’m on the fence about that.

Some gender considerations and movements (such as Me-Too) were not top of mind issues when Mickey originally wrote Mike Hammer. Did you think about gender attributes at all for character development? Have you stayed loyal to the original themes?

I stay loyal to both Spillane’s themes and the period setting.  No Hammer stories that I’ve completed are set post-2006, the year Mickey passed, when he was working on the Hammer novel, The Goliath Bone, his response to 9/11.  Charges that Hammer is misogynist mostly come from people who haven’t read him — the secondary protagonist in Hammer is the private eye’s secretary Velda, who provided the template for my (and Terry Beatty’s) Ms. Tree.  Velda is Hammer’s partner in the P.I. business, a licensed investigator with a background that includes being a government spy and a vice cop.  The occasional female villain in Hammer is always strong and powerful.

How was the process of working with Marcelo Salaza (illustrator) to bring the story to visual life, so to speak? 

I didn’t really have any direct contact with Marcelo.  I worked strictly through the Titan editor.  I did request quite a bit of re-drawing, probably due to the language difference, and Marcelo was always cooperative.  He did a good job.

What projects are you working on right now which you can tell us about? 

As I say, I just completed the novel Murder, My Love for Titan.  Right now I’m starting another Spillane project, The Big Die-up, a Caleb York western for Kensington.  After that comes the prequel to my forthcoming thriller for Thomas & Mercer, Girl Most Likely.

Then a new Quarry novel for Hard Case Crime, Killing Quarry, and another in the cozy mystery series I write with my wife, Barbara Collins, under the name “Barbara Allan” — it’s called Antiques Fire Sale.  Then comes the sequel to the non-fiction opus, Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago.  I’ll be working again with gifted  historian A. Brad Schwartz, and this one will be called The Untouchable and the Butcher and will focus on Ness in his Cleveland years, including tracking the serial killer, the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.

My novel Butcher’s Dozen was the first book-length treatment of that case, preceding the various novels and even a well-known graphic novel that followed in my path.  Also, Terry and I are putting a collection of Johnny Dynamite together for Craig Yoe, and Titan is bringing out the complete Ms. Tree in five or six volumes, which is long overdue.

 Do you read comics? What comics are you reading and enjoying right now? 

You may know that I write the introductions to IDW’s ongoing reprint volumes of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy.  My interest in comics is chiefly vintage material, particularly comic strips.  On my current To Be Read shelf are a collection of Sky Masters by Kirby and Wood, hardcover collections of Steve Ditko, Eric Stanton and the Casey Ruggles strip.  More contemporary are volumes from Charles Burns and Ryan Heshka.  My favorite comics creators would include Gould, Al Capp, Johnny Craig and Will Eisner.

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