We all know the Private Eye, the tough, wise-cracking Knight Errant of the cut streets, beating his own lonely path to justice, even if he has to sidestep or bend the law. He's a genre archetype that's been around since the 1930's, an enduring narrative device that's been recycled and revamped countless times. But how many of us have actually read the stories by Raymond Chandler, the stories that perfected the character in the form of Philip Marlowe? Chandler's stories and novels defined the Private Eye genre: the tarnished but morally pure detective with the heart of gold and the smart mouth, the femme fatale with gun in hand, the patsy thugs, the rich and powerful clients, the labyrinthine plots.
This anthology adapts three lesser-known Marlowe stories into comics form, with interesting results. You could argue that part of the joy of reading Chandler is his writing style, his turns of phrase, his dry, sardonic point-of-view distilled into a fine whisky of sardonic prose poetry. You would be right, and the graphic medium translates them into paper movies, replacing prose with visual iconography: the hats, the high dresses, the guns, the cars, the Forties milieu, endlessly trotted out in noir ritual.
Three teams of writers and artists each bring a different style to these stories. "Goldfish" by Tom de Haven and Rian Hughes is the most stylised of all, a kind of pulp cartoon with sharp line drawings to create a steeliness in Marlowe's search for stolen diamonds. "Trouble is my Business" by James Rose, Lee Moyer and Alfredo Alcala is a more traditional tale with the conventions we've come to expect: rich, corrupt men, chauffeurs who pack heat, hoods lurking in the shadows, a cool femme fatale out of a Howard Hawks movie, and a mounting bodycount. "The Pencil" by Jerome Charyn and David Lloyd, is the most successful story in the book, with its minimalist chiarascuro art telling the story of Marlowe trying to escape a trap set on him by the mob, enlisting the help of a tough, virginal woman who's in love with him; where the crime story and the love story engage in a two-step dance suffused with the type of emotional masochism that Chandler wrote so well.
Reading these adaptations may not be the same as reading the prose originals, but they do show you in visual terms the appeal of Chandler's stories, and of the genre itself.
Adi Tantimedh is a screenwriter and filmmaker who writes comics when he has the time. He has recently completed JLA: The Age of Wonder for DC Comics, and written and directed Open House, a short film for Studio FP in Italy. His current projects include the forthcoming Blackshirt for Moonstone Books, Anna Passenger, a novel being serialised on Opi8.com, and various film and television projects.