Ashley Neuhaus 26-OCT-2012 What do you get when you mix the noir and superhero genres together? Simple: NOIR CITY by Cody Walker and Rich Valerius. For nearly a decade, the pair have been creating this tale and they’ve found a fantastic artist to bring this project to life with Allen Byrns. Now they’re looking to the comics community for help fund the project.

The golden age of heroism in the world of NOIR CITY saw great fights between The Miracle, who is “the living embodiment of the first heroic act,” and Letipher, “the embodiment of murder.” At the hands of Letipher, The Miracle meets his demise but 20 years later, their war may be reignited even though it’s been long forgotten. The Miracle’s powers live on in his jacket which Glen Munny wears and is so aptly named, The Jacket. Throw in an old man who makes gadgets through a magic pocket watch (Gadgetman) and of course a femme fatale (Deidre Fate) and you’ve got yourself a superhero noir comic that’s just begging to be read.

Some of the rewards for backers include digital and print versions (for just $10!), original sketches, access to extras like short stories set in the NOIR CITY universe, a “Vote Noir” poster, and other great things.  The campaign for NOIR CITY ends on November 7 and they only have a small goal of $4,500.

The creators enthusiastically agreed to do an interview about the project.

AN: Why this story? What is it about NOIR CITY that makes this story so important?

CW: Heroes in comic books tend to gravitate towards overly heroic for no reason (or for very little reasons that come off as superficial and absurd) or the opposite being that they are so “grim-and-gritty” that one has to wonder if the character is a hero or a sociopath. To me, NOIR CITY is important because it takes a middle ground approach to the idea of heroism. Our main hero is the Jacket and he is a guy who has done some bad things in his life (as we all have) and he is trying to make up for those things in some way.

RV:  Cody and I had a very simple concept. Take the components of the different eras and mediums we personally enjoyed and respected, fashion an environment we were interested in populating, and inject them with real characters, or the closest we are capable of doing. So we’ve been working on it for eight years. This is a very long project for us and its a very personal story. There is a lot of Cody and I that pops up in this, but I suppose that’s reasonably common for most writers.

Cody statement is very accurate in regards to the middle ground. Our heroes generally do the right thing or at least try to. But there is a lot that goes into making that decision. We wanted are characters to have agendas, mistakes, flaws, and strengths that really put their actions into context. Heroic actions are not always accompanied with the most heroic motivations. We didn’t want anyone standing on the soap box nor did we really want characters so violent, jaded, and crass that they were deficient in their ability to connect with readers. I think our stories reflect that there is evil in the world and no one will deny it, and our heroes might not be the perfect solution but they are the best we’ve got. They do their best, but they aren’t without faults.

AN: Not many details about the plot are given on the Kickstarter page, can you tell us anything about it? Like, why after 20 years is this war in danger of being reignited?

CW: I’m not sure how much my co-writer would like me spoiling, but I think it’s a great hook, so I’ll do it anyway. The Golden Age of heroes in the NOIR CITY universe was like the golden age of most superhero universes; heroes and villains seemed to be acting out their parts. It was like professional wrestling or those Warner Bros cartoons of Sam the Sheepdog and Ralph the Wolf where they punch into a time clock and do their thing.

Then, Letipher changed it all. Letipher was content with the ongoing war he had with his nemesis, the Miracle, but then he took things too far and ended the Golden Age. Letipher crossed a line and then everything changed and the age of heroes ended. The spark of heroism disappeared. This isn’t to say that heroes just stopped existing, but the perennial hero of them all was gone and with no one to lead, it was all over.

The Jacket is going to change all of that, though.

RV: Cody’s already said too much. I hope everyone will tune in though. I think it’s a story worth telling.

Left: The Jacket. Right: Letipher

AN: Your goal is pretty low compared to some I’ve seen on Kickstarter. If fully funded, how is the money going to be used?

CW: The logistics are pretty simple: 9% goes to Kickstarter and Amazon (that’s the way all Kickstarters go). $2,500 will go to our artist, Allen Byrns for drawing, coloring, and lettering the whole thing (and he is absolutely amazing as you have no doubt seen from the preview art). The rest will go to the printing costs for the issues and shipping to get them out to backers. We’re shooting for trying to print around 300 issues. We will also be printing some “Vote Noir” posters as well.

RV: Sounds about right. I’ll just take the opportunity to agree with Cody on Allen’s work. It’s breathtaking.

AN: Your stretch goals include expanding the issue by a few pages. Do you have plans to go beyond just one issue if the response to this one is strong?

CW: My plan has always been to shop it around to different publishers once the issue is done. Allen can’t work for free because he’s trying to support himself through his art, so we’re hoping it will be a strong enough showing for a publisher to want to pay for the rest (yeah, us and every other person ever, right?)

We really need a big push though in order to reach our goal, so please spread the word!

RV: I would just like to say that we are so thankful for all the support we’ve already gotten. I really am hoping from the bottom of my heart that this Kickstarter makes and we are able to show everyone who have supported us already what they’ve been supporting. Thanks again so much and we appreciate your help moving forward.

AN: Did you draw inspiration for this story from any specific characters or novels, movies, etc?

CW: I feel like we were subconsciously influenced by the Golden Age of the DCU in some ways. I really love all of those old characters back before they had their hangups and became to complicated. Hourman, the Atom, the Flash, Alan Scott Green Lantern – all of those guys are just really cool to me.Our Golden Age heroes in NOIR CITY are mostly redesigns of heroes I created when I was 10 years old. I have a Rubbermaid container of these old, crappy drawings of absurd superheroes like Gadgetman. I came up with a hero named “Weaponfire” who could . . . um . . . make weapons out of fire and he was part of a very original team of heroes called “the X-men.”When I went to college and met my friend Rich, we started talking about what kind of comics we would like to make and we went back through my old drawings to farm for golden age ideas. Suddenly, Weaponfire went from being a lame X-men rip-off and Rich and I turned him into something far more cool. The name remains the same, but now he is a robot created in medieval times who has adapted himself to new technology as time has gone on.

RV: Cody and I both love the Golden Age of comics. Sometimes in life you just kind of wring your hands and ask why can’t things be that simple and that pure. It seems sometimes that the world just keeps growing darker, although that might be the folly of youth as I must admit my perspective is limited. So as alluded to before, this a story where the Golden Age isn’t quite dead, it’s just not quite how we remember it. And if the classic Barry Allen was dropped into a different age would he still be Golden?

As far as inspiration for actual characters, I can’t say that Cody and I ever sat down and stated “We need to make our Spider-Man!”. If you look there are components of stories that may look familiar from are idols, some of them reflections of typical archetypes. Some of that may be clever (we like to think anyway) Easter Eggs for people with like minded tastes. Some of them are going to be purely accidental. A great deal of what you’ll see are people, or reflect people, Cody and I have known in life and printed to page in some hopeless, cathartic attempt to give life a cohesive narrative. I hope you’ll agree we succeeded when you get your copy.

AN: Why do you feel it’s important to tell stories?

CW: As an English teacher by day, I get asked this question a lot except it is worded far more negatively and is something along the lines of, “Why do we have to read?” Stories are important because they help us understand one another. It’s amazing to me how quickly racism, homophobia, sexism, and other hateful feelings can be eradicated through the experience of a story. Ignorance can be replaced with understanding through story.

Something else that amazes me are the incredible emotional connections we can have with just ink. Two examples come to mind: When I was in high school, I read THE YELLOW WALLPAPER by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and I was so struck by the narrator’s hallucinations that I had to turn on all the lights in the house and I still thought I saw shadowy figures running just out of my sight. I was deathly afraid from ink on paper and that has always stayed with me.

In terms of comics, one of my all-time favorite comics is GREEN LANTERN #55 (vol. 3) where we learn the origin of Dex-Starr the cat Red Lantern. I have read that story eight times now and I cry every. Single. Time. In fact, as I was looking up the pictures again just now, I started crying again.

http://media.comicvine.com/uploads/6/66206/1289142-dex_starr_10_super.jpg I mean, how can you NOT cry?! And ultimately, it’s a homicidal cat who is drawn in a comic book. It’s absurd and bizarre that I would feel as sad as I do about this, but there is something profound and powerful that the character feels that I can relate to. 

Also, I just really love my cat.

RV: Story telling is essential and always has been. Oral stories are how history has been collected. Stories act as reflection to values, hopes, and fears of cultures and generations. Also, they are a tool in which values are learned and morality is defined. I’m not saying our book is all these things obviously, but I am saying I don’t think we’ll ever be in the situation where we can conclusively look each other in the eyes and say there is no more room for stories in the world. And yeah… The Yellow Wallpaper is one of the most beautifully horrific works ever put to paper.

AN: What about the noir genre is attractive to you?

CW: Noir is just so honest with who we are as human beings. Every noir hero is flawed in some way and typically is just looking out for himself and is somehow thrown into an impossible situation. The Maltese Falcon is a perfect example. Sam Spade is an okay guy because he wants to figure out who killed his partner, but he was also sleeping with his partner’s wife and you get the sense that maybe Sam is sort of corrupt himself. Sure, he does the right thing in the end, but he does it out of some sense of moral code rather than because it’s the “right thing to do.”

Chinatown is another perfect example. Gittes is a right bastard who is trying to make sense of a really complicated case and while he’s the hero because the movie follows him around, there is something about him that just comes off as wormy and not quite right. Maybe that’s because Gittes is played by Jack Nicholson and he just naturally comes off as a bastard. Also, the movie Laura. There isn’t really anything in our comic that is directly taken from Laura, but it’s a damn good movie that everyone should see and so few have. It is perfect noir in every way and it features a young Vincent Price as a gigolo, so how can you go wrong?

RV:  One of the understated social spectacles that has always intrigued me since I was a small child was the concept of generational conflict. Not so much amongst individuals, although that is certainly the most visible sign we see on a daily bases, but also in the echos of the tools of public sentiment be that film, music, or literature. I think I’ve always been drawn to to Noir films in general because they reflect this conflict as well as any period in recent American history. A cynical man might look at the Noir movement and see just an extension of the Murders Row crime serials of the early studio years. But I’ve always seen more than that. Look at the period where Noir really hit it’s peak, we’ll say the early 40’s to the mid 50’s with some late blossoming classics coming through even into the 60’s. They were the product of conflict, early Noir’s often tying in directly to War Propaganda. Heck, how often was a Noir Protagonist a WW2 veteran? Prior to the Noir movement, you had very rigid narrative structure largely due to coded cinema. This is your hero, this is your villain, conflict will arise, and the villain will come to an undesirable end for the sake of morality. Then came Noir. The hero? He didn’t stand so straight anymore. The damsel in distress/concerned girlfriend? She made way for the infinitely more complex Femme Fatale. The villain didn’t always lose and the hero didn’t always win and it was something of a circus act trying to fit the protagonists in these labels to begin with. You could almost see a generation turn a weary eye to its predecessor.

I’ve gone on too long but to get to my point it always brings me back to the Superman dilemma. For generations Superman’s relevance has been questioned, a question on whether his antiquated morality and approach is still applicable in whatever modern world you drop him in. Noir was very much in the same vein. Is the John Smith of 20’s serials, who is morally and physically beyond reproach, a relevant hero for the world as seen through WW2 and post-war eyes? Noir is a transition, a questioning of preconceived notions of a fading era. This is cyclical in nature. You can see it reflected to lesser degrees in every generation. But it made the perfect back drop for Cody and I’s stories. We took that question on what is the right “hero” for the world we live in, brought to the front the issue of generational context, and wrapped a very personnel story in it.

AN: Where can people find you on the Internet?

CW:People can find our short stories, sketches, and things of that nature on http://www.noircitycomicbook.com
Our Kickstarter is at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2048096852/noir-city-comic-book
My personal website is http://www.popgunchaos.com
My twitter page is @popgunchaos
And everyone should check out http://www.sequart.org every single day for intelligent, academic discussion over comic books.