Tag Archives: Glen Orbik

Noir Crime Fiction | Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Noir Crime Fiction Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Kefauver held up a copy of a Suspense Crime Stories comic book whose cover depicted a terrified woman in mid-air, having fallen from a window where the silhouetted hands of her assailant could still be seen in push mode. The woman was screaming, staring wide-eyed at us as she looked through us at the oncoming (off-camera) pavement. Terror-struck, screaming or not, she was very attractive, in a skimpy night-gown, that showed off her shapely legs and, of course, her…headlights.

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins is a sexy addition to the Hard Case Crime catalog. Glen Orbik greets us at the door, a pin-up darling tediously composed and falling out (in more ways than one) of a shadowy high-rise; the black palms of her killer splayed in the windows above. She’s only a moment from impact, and so are we. I love Max’s work, and devoured this pulpy meal in a handful of hours. His prose style is always inviting, but some of the tastiest bits within belong to the great Terry Beatty, who lends thematic comic-strip intros to each chapter. At its core, Seduction is a fabulous mixed-media approach to noir crime fiction.

The tale follows Jack Starr, a stake-holder in the comics syndicate in the mid ’50s, as a respected child-psychiatrist named Dr. Werner Frederick leads the witch hunt against the comics industry. Convinced that comic books are causing destructive behaviors in America’s youth, Dr. Frederick releases a book of research sure to destroy the literary medium. However, the good doctor has underestimated the stakes of such a vendetta, and the  desperation of the enemies he’s creating…

Seduction of the Innocent vs. the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

New York City in the mid ’50s. Pre-Mad Men but post-McCarthyism (nearing the tale-end of it anyway). It’s a setting ruled by gents and dames, and bucks under the pressures of mass media. The labor pains of widespread television and easier access to information causing the bad guys to hide in plain sight.

2) The Anti-Hero

Jack Starr is a wise-ass with a private investigators license. He got it primarily for background checking the writers, artists, and other key-players he and his step-mother contract with, but lately its had other uses. Jack is constantly on clean-up, dealing with messes and defusing scandal. Ladies love him, but his charm gets him into as much trouble as not– he’s our suspiciously confident anti-hero.

“She’s a woman. And you’re a charming devil.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Two dames make a play for femme fatale, Dr. Sylvia Winters and Lyla Lamont, but Lyla is much more convincing. The former is a young psychologist, quickly falling for Jack (who is initially pumping her for information). And the latter is a curvaceous comic book artist, noted for her naturalist tendency to pose nude for her own work. Neither of the women put Jack’s life in danger, but they definitely increase the pressure. Max’s flirtacious dialogue is a breezy counterpoint to the hardboiled scenario and had me cracking grins throughout.

4) Misogyny

Pacing the modern trend in noir crime fiction, Max keeps the text relatively free of lady-hating. The only argument you’ll get from me is a repeat (you’ve likely heard it before): all of the women are male defined. They’re curvy, pin-up worthy, vixens who play sexual mind games with our lead man Jack. The female characters, though at various extremes of this, are largely one-dimensional as a result. The one gal who appears to be self-actualized is Maggie Starr (Jack’s stepmother) who has become a manipulative and shrewd business woman. But, she didn’t get there without being a strip-tease artist first…

In that glance, however, I noticed that she was smiling– blood trickling from the corner of her mouth down her cheek, but smiling as two men fought over her in a stairwell. There was something evil about it.

5) Redemption

As you’d expect, the book reads like a redemption narrative for the comic book industry, yet it’s ripe with characters who seem to counter this end. We meet a dozen or so suspects with powerful motives for murder, and each are stained with enough strangeness to dispel all faith in their innocence. I was amused to see the thematic hypocrisy and satyric layers played with in Seduction. For how can we believe that the comic book industry is not harmful to juveniles when the people at the helm of the behemoth are untrustworthy psychos with violent proclivities?

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

6) Eroticism

Lyla Lamont, Chapter 8. Textbook eroticism from a master noir author. The dialogue is near perfect, timing flawless, and the imagery an enticing delight. SPOILER*Jack Starr wakes on her couch, Lyla playing nurse sans uniform.*SPOILER From beginning to end, its a incredibly provocative scene in the spirit of the greats; Hammett, Chandler, and Cain.

7) The Loss of Innocence

Seduction is a study of the loss of innocence as a whole. As children throughout the country become perpetrators of increasingly violent and horrendous crimes, society seeks a scapegoat. Comic books today, television tomorrow, and video games beyond. This thematic mourning of the loss of innocence is the cream filling of the novel.

“I had a twelve-year-old boy here tell me he admired ‘tough guys.’ I asked him, what’s a tough guy? And he replied, ‘A tough guy is a man who slaps a girl.”

8 ) Smoke

Smoke is tenderly observed throughout the book. It occupies the now-banned locales it formerly graced; offices, restaurants, and any other seedy haunt you can remember.

9) Emasculation

I have to return to Chapter 8 (see Eroticism, above): Jack Starr honors the legacy of the white-male loners before him (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer) and retains his masculinity from a female aggressor. Conversely, although pinned beneath the painted thumbnail of his luscious stepmother, for the most part he is a free-thinking independent; content with Maggie’s rule because in business she’s essentially a gent, and there’s no shame in working for a good boss.

The odor that always greeted you upon entering Bardwell’s domain, however, was something unique, if peculiarly so, even in this city of smells good, bad, indifferent. This was the middle one. Part of it was cigars. Another part was perspiration. But the secret ingredient, as the ad boys put it, was monkey shit.

The novel is a fast read, hedged by a bevy of hilarious characters and culminating in a delicious ‘whodunit.’ I loved the pacing, and am grateful that Max has given us another classy peak into our own bizarre history. Get a copy for your shelf. 

Terry Beatty Seduction of the Innocent

A page from Terry Beatty (via herocomplex.latimes.com)

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Noir Crime Fiction | “False Negative” by Joseph Koenig

Noir Crime Fiction False Negative Joseph Koenig

False Negative by Joseph Koenig (Cover Art by Glen Orbik)

“I’ll call you,” she said.
“You don’t have my number.”
“I had it from the start.”

False Negative is true-all-the-way-through noir crime fiction. Joseph Koenig’s punchy pulp prose, married to a remarkable attention to detail creates a setting that begs for a sinister plot and gets more than it bargained for…

Adam Jordan is a dedicated newsman who asks all the right questions. When he finds himself out of the job, he’s shocked by a call from the editor-in-chief of “Real Detective” (a pulp monthly) who says he’ll pay Jordan a nickle per word for true crime stories. Before long he’s embroiled in a caper where beauty queens, party girls, and aspiring actresses are being murdered in droves–and if he’s not careful, he’s sure to join them.

“We pay better than the papers, because good crime writers are harder to find than inventive killers.”

Koenig surprised me with this one. I was very impressed with the thoughtful and calculating nature of his style, but I admit that it takes a few pages to get clued in to his rhythm. Sometimes the story would shift so rapidly from one character to the next that I felt it was frequently disjointed. Additionally, he seemed very at ease in the time-period. All of the lingo/jargon/slang of the era seemed like it fit- but it was also confusing at times- the story is so true to it’s own vernacular that it never calls “time out” to fill in the rest of us.

I love the fact that Koenig was a former crime reporter, because it comes through powerfully in his rhetoric. He frequently speaks as if journalists and the media are the “fourth branch of government.” One example:

A good reporter followed up on everything the cops did. Without newsmen looking over their shoulder, Jordan believed most police departments were worthless bureaucracies…But Halloran wasn’t happy to see Jordan coming to his door. Jordan supposed that no cop ever was. He took it as evidence that he did his job well.

Also, Adam Jordan’s character is so richly woven because Joseph has written himself in. The broadest stroke of genius was to immerse the main character in so many different crimes (potential stories he could write, or did write throughout False Negative), because it makes the reader grasp for connections that aren’t really there. I was constantly wondering if the current murder I was reading about had anything to do with the central plot, and this created powerful bonds between myself and Adam Jordan; We were left asking the same questions. In that way, this mystery/thriller is possibly the most immersive I’ve ever read.

“Everyone was an authority on murder. Everyone, from Jordan’s experience, but the practitioners.”

Koenig never shies away from historical events and figures– a frequent weakness in noir crime fiction. It seems that most authors are afraid to introduce any character that might be recognized in history, because someone will point out where they went wrong. Not so with False Negative, which makes several references to famous folk of the era, and even features a complete ‘cameo’ of Louis Armstrong. I felt that this lent credibility to the novel, because the book often read like historical fiction.

Noir Definition Round-up:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The majority of the novel takes place in Atlantic City; but it’s the off-season, and the cold has driven tourists and locals alike away from the beaches of the Jersey Shore. Koenig’s hand with detail creates just the level of stink we’d expect in the filthy high-rises and private, yet sinister, parties.

“Was there an emptier feeling than to return alone to a city you’d stopped calling home?”

2) The Anti-Hero

Adam Jordan is a particular, egotistical, and self-absorbed writer, whose sense of self-importance is constantly at odds with the opinions of those who hate him. He’s a music snob, a chain-smoker, and he offends the women in his life because he can’t commit. But! he’s damn good at investigation, even if he’s a poor judge of character.

“He doesn’t care if you like him,” Greenstein said. “All he likes are faces. He’s married to them, he worships them. Adam Jordan never takes a fact in vain, so help him God. Give him the facts, just the facts, ma’am, like that cop on TV says.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Several women could foot-the-bill of femme fatale in False Negative, but they’re stripped of their potency. Koenig has written these women who aspire to be femme fatales, but only end up killing themselves.

“Don’t look scandalized, you didn’t know women use their loveliness in ways got nothing to do with love. Figure it give ‘em power over men, when it’s the other way ’round.”

4) Misogyny

The book is overflowing with ambitious women, women who want to be famous but don’t realize the cost. Private parties are thrown for old men who wield power and influence, where young women have their innocence devoured wholesale. Only one woman in the book isn’t a completely helpless waif, but even she isn’t role-model.

“What do you know about beautiful women?” He knew that the prettiest girls he’d dated were the most insecure. None were as gorgeous as Mollie Gordon, or filled with as much self-doubt.

5) Redemption

Adam Jordan is constantly seeking the personal validation that would come from becoming a successful writer. He also seeks the intellectual redemption that accompanies the solving of a mystery, and the satisfaction of cornering a killer. Even though he cannot undo what has happened, he feels he can redeem those murdered by understanding how they came to be killed, and preventing further victims in the future.

“He scraped the sand from her cheek, and tilted it toward himself. She was a beautiful woman dead for several hours whose looks hadn’t begun to fade. He reproached himself for being sentimental. Beauty was the cheap accolade that newsmen rewarded automatically to female victims of murder.”

Joseph Koenig

Joseph Koenig

6) Eroticism

A silky thread of sexuality runs through the novel- some beautiful and freeing, some depraved and horrifying. I would say that this book approaches eroticism, but never really arrives.

“Suzie Chase was the wrong kind of beautiful.”

7) Loss of Innocence

Some of the most difficult scenes to read are seen through the eyes of the killer. He’s not satisfied with merely snuffing the life out of a woman, he must control her first- bend her to his will, even destroy her if he must, before he steals her life. Rape is never comfortable to read, I’m sure it’s equally uncomfortable to write.

She felt tears welling, but wouldn’t let them come. They were a part of herself she was able to keep him from having. “I hope you die,” she said.

8 ) Smoke

Adam Jordan never goes anywhere without his “Lucky’s.” A thought occurred to me while I was reading this book: I wonder if the reason that smoke is such a prevalent theme in noir crime fiction is because it’s a unifier. It brings people together, they bum a smoke or share a light, just like they share their bed or various crimes. It’s a fire that burns between them, and they breath the smoke together- it scorching the same trails in their lungs and bloodstreams. I don’t know, perhaps there’s more to explore there…

She put a cigarette between her lips, leaned close, and touched the tip to Jordan’s, blew smoke past his cheek.

9) Emasculation

Although he never says it, Jordan is afraid of being a failure. This fear applies to both his professional life and his personal life (especially where women are concerned).  The women in his life, particularly Mollie and Cherise, always get the best of him. No matter how diligent or attentive he is to either, they never react the way he anticipates.

“Facing down an empty first page held no terror for him. He’d been doing it for years.”

False Negative is methodical noir that isn’t encumbered by all of the cliches and tropes you’ve come to expect. If you haven’t read him before, Joseph Koenig has some surprises for you.

“On his nightstand was a stack of books he’d been meaning to read, but writers who finished what they started gave him a sour feeling.”

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Noir Art | Glen Orbik

The Colorado Kid Stephen King Glen Orbik

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, Cover by Glen Orbik

Glen Orbik is a noir artist whose original intention was to draw superheros. He’s an American Illustrator who studied at the California Art Institute under the great Fred Fixler, eventually taking over several of the retiring master’s classes.

“Fred was a highly skilled illustrator best known for painting movie posters ( Comedy of Terrors, Pit and the Pendulum, Man with the X-ray Eyes, Burn Witch Burn, House of Usher, Hercules- Unchained, Where the Boys Are, etc…). and elegant pretty girls.”

Glen has had a major presence in the pulp art world for nearly twenty years, doing several covers for Hard Case Crime (currently) and famous authors like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. Glen says,

“I’ve been lucky enough to work on everything from book covers to movie posters, collectable lithographs and plates, to video games and comic books.”

Mr. Orbik’s work has been compared to Alex Ross and Robert McGinnis. He currently resides in Van Nuys, California and teaches figure drawing. He’s a very popular teacher among fine art, comic book, and video game artists.

I first took note of Glen’s work while perusing books on Amazon. I noticed that his soft-edged style was perfectly suited to the foggy morality of noir and pulp capers. Since then, I’ve taken great interest in his work and consider myself a dedicated fan. His femme fatales hover on the dangerous brink of passion, the beautiful bait concealing the deadly hook. The difference between a good noir artist and a great noir artist is narrative. Those artists that can weave a story with acrylic are the masters; Glen Orbik is a master.

Batman Poison Ivy Commissioner Gordon Glen Orbik

Commissioner Gordon, Poison Ivy, and Batman

Noir Art Glen Orbik Branded Woman

Branded Woman

Noir Art Glen Orbik Fifty-to-One

Fifty-to-One

Noir Art Glen Orbik American Century 11

American Century #11

Noir Art Glen Orbik Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Noir Art Glen Orbik Blackmailer

Blackmailer

Noir Art Glen Orbik Choke Hold

Choke Hold

Noir Art Glen Orbik American Century 15

American Century #15

*All biographical details were obtained from:

http://www.orbikart.com/gallery/biography_g.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glen_Orbik

*All images were obtained from:

http://www.orbikart.com/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=3

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