Whether you know him from his Nate Heller and Quarry novels, his novelizations from Saving Private Ryan to CSI, or his graphic novel works from his run on the Dick Tracy comic strip to Road to Perdition, Max Allan Collins is one of the most prolific crime writers around. After longtime friend, influence, and mentor Mickey Spillane passed away, Collins has since been entrusted to collaborate and finish manuscripts. New Mike Hammer novels such as The Goliath Bone, The Big Bang, and Kiss Her Goodbye have surfaced. Recently, Mike Hammer’s newest adventure (or oldest, since it took place after I, The Jury) Lady, Go Die! has been released, and it’s a great pleasure to interview Max Allan Collins about Lady, Go Die!, Mike Hammer, and much more.
ComicAttack: After the last of Mickey Spillane’s manuscripts have been exhausted, would you consider continuing Mike Hammer’s adventures (or other characters such as Dogeron Kelly)?
Max Allan Collins: If I did, I would use material from Mickey’s files to do so. He started a number of non-Hammer novels — a chapter or two — and some of these could conceivably be turned into Hammer novels or possible Tiger Mann or Dog Kelly. There’s just too much here — a file drawer full — to require creating something out of whole cloth.
CA: You stated recently that there’s been some “very serious talk going on” about a new Mike Hammer film. Who would you want to play Mike Hammer and Velda in the film?
MAC: There are some wonderful potential Veldas out there. I think Gina Carano, from “Haywire,” is my first choice right now. She’d be perfect for my comic-book character, Ms. Tree, as well. I like Josh Brolin for Hammer. Or Jeremy Renner.
CA: What books of yours would you recommend to comic book fans who might have read your comic book works such as Road to Perdition and your run on Dick Tracy, but aren’t familiar at all with your novels?
MAC: All of my Nate Heller novels are back in print, and some have been bestsellers on the Kindle list — TRUE DETECTIVE, the first one, got to #1. The new Heller, BYE BYE, BABY, would be a good choice — it’ll be out in paperback any day now. I’d also recommend trying one of the Quarry novels from Hard Case Crime — maybe THE FIRST QUARRY — and I’ve just done (with Ms. Tree artist Terry Beatty pitching in) a novel for Hard Case called SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT that’s a private eye novel set in the world of comic books during the 1950s witchhunt — there are graphic novel elements. And any of these new Mike Hammers — Hammer was originally conceived by Spillane as a comic book character, you know.
CA: If you could adapt any franchise into a novel (directly from a story or an original of your own), what would you choose?
MAC: I’m already doing it — Mike Hammer. I would love to do a Fleming-style James Bond.
CA: With your own blog and constant interaction with reviews (e.g. a certain Dick Tracy film adaptation review) and forums, you certainly seem to be up to date on the digital age. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the web 2.0 era for the writer?
MAC: It wastes time. It really eats time. Right now, I’m on a sort of cyber tour for Lady, Go Die!, but it’s a distraction to be working on a machine that is at once a shopping mall and the respository of everybody’s opinions on anything. Plus I understand there’s porn available, too….
CA: If you could collaborate with any artist (alive or dead) on a comic book, who would it be?
MAC: That’s tough. Most of the people I really admire don’t need me. What could I bring to the table where Eisner or Johnny Craig are concerned? Maybe Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko or Alex Raymond.
CA: What’s the best advice Mickey Spillane has ever given you?
MAC: Critics don’t know anything. Only the public knows.
CA: You recently said that you “held back Complex 90 because it’s an “anti-Commie” book, and I thought we should get Mike Hammer back out into the popular culture better before we went that far.” Is part of the reason of publishing the lost Spillane works to rekindle the public’s interest in Mike Hammer; and have you seen any new Mike Hammer fans with the release of the lost novels?
MAC: I’ve had overwhelmingly good feedback from fans, new and old on this. Sometimes the older fans are more critical, and frankly unfairly so. They have literally quoted lines and discussed aspects of these books as being unfaithful to Spillane not realizing that they are discussing material Mickey himself wrote. The main thing here is get Hammer back out there, get him on the pop culture radar. This includes new readers, older readers including Baby Boomers, plus the generation or two that know Hammer from Stacy Keach, and may know Mickey from Miller Lite commercials. Just sort of round ’em all up.
CA: Has your writing process for Lady, Go Die! been similar to the process of your other collaborations with Mickey Spillane?
MAC: Yes, the major differences being that I had to come up with a first chapter myself — his was missing — and there were no plot or character notes. Also, I incorporated a first chapter — though I didn’t use it that way — from the 1960s that seemed to be Mickey taking another swing at this same serial killer material. I haven’t combined stories before. Sometimes, as in The Goliath Bone, there are alternate chapters — he wrote maybe five different versions of the first chapter of that one, and I studied them and chose what I thought was the best from each and wove them together. Kiss Her Goodbye I had two very different drafts of the opening chapters, and wove those together, too, including plot elements. Readers may note that that book has two climaxes.
CA: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. Are there any last words you want to say or projects you want to plug in?
MAC: I’d like to mention the very funny “Antiques” series I do with my wife Barb — Antiques Disposal is out right now, under our joint byline Barbara Allan. Plus, my nonfiction book with James Traylor, Mickey Spillane on Screen, has just come out from McFarland. It’s very expensive — $45! — but Barnes & Noble has it for $30 right now. In November, the new Nate Heller historical thriller, about the JFK assassination, will be out from Forge — Target Lancer. Really proud of that one. New take on that famous crime.