I was able to get to ask a few questions of iconoclastic novelist Christa Faust about her upcoming noir comic Peepland, to come out from Titan Comics on October 12th. Faust burst onto the fiction scene in the late 90s with the horror/crime/erotic novel Control Freak and then with the collaboration with Poppy Brite on Triads. More recently Faust has explored the noir genre with the Angel Dare mysteries for Hard Case Crime and the Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick mysteries.
The Hard Case Crime mystery fiction imprint is expanding into comics with Titan Comics. One of the first releases will be the autobiographical noir series Peepland, co-authored by Faust.
Dorkland! Blog: What is it about noir that makes it interesting for you as a creator?
Christa Faust: I’ve never been a big fan of “whodunnits.” I’m much more interested in the type of stories I call “whydunnits.” There may be a murder or some other form of crime that drives the plot, but the real story is about the characters involved in or affected by that crime, their inner struggles and the ways in which they come unraveled under pressure. I’ve also never been interested in saintly, flawless heroes and dastardly, irredeemable villains. Noir lets you explore those ambiguous, overlapping gray areas that exist inside of everyone.
DLB: What is it about noir that gives it a lasting appeal to audiences?
CF: I love to read noir for a lot of the same reasons I love to write it. We see our own flaws and foibles reflected in those kinds of gray-shaded characters. We’re living in dark and uncertain times and, for a lot of readers, stories full of darkness and uncertainty feel more authentic and relatable.
DLB: Does noir work better in a "historical" or contemporary milieu?
CF: I don’t see it as an either/or thing, because I like it both ways. The theme of ordinary, flawed characters who get mixed up in criminal endeavors, make bad decisions and get in over their heads is one that has an appeal no matter what the setting. I do think there’s an unfortunate perception that noir all is about fedoras and shadows and seamed stockings and that really needs to be debunked. See, there’s nothing wrong with those things, in fact I’m a huge fan of classic mid-century noir, but those things are ultimately just set dressing. You can write noir in which everybody wears fedoras or tricorn hats or trucker hats, but what matters is what’s going on underneath those hats.
DLB: What were some of the autobiographical elements to Peepland?
CF: I grew up in Hell’s Kitchen on 45th street and 9th avenue, just west of Times Square. I worked in the peep booths back in the late 80s and I always wanted to write about those days because I’d never seen that environment portrayed in a way that accurately reflected my own experience. The character of Roxy is a lot like me at that age, but more than that, Peepland is a love letter to the gritty, sleazy and long gone city that raised me and made me who I am today.
DLB: What would have been the best and worse parts to working a "peep show" booth?
CF: The best part was all the quirky characters and fascinating stories. By the time I left to start working full time as a professional Dominatrix in 1990, I had collected enough inspiration to write a hundred books. The worst part was being subjected to insipid pop music for hours on end. Also, I’m a little claustrophobic so long sessions stuck inside that tiny booth were a bit of a drag.
DLB: What does the voice of a female protagonist bring to noir?
CF: The female characters in so much noir fiction, film or comics exist primarily to arouse lust, require rescue or fuel vengeance on the part of the male protagonists. Always the Femme Fatale or the Lost Angel, but either way we never got to hear her side of the story. I think giving noir a female voice helps to reinvigorate the genre and ultimately broadens the audience. I’m always looking to find ways to appeal both to women who think they don’t like noir and men who think they don’t like female protagonists. I like to lure readers out of their comfort zones, make them question everything, and see the world through a different set of eyes.
DLB: What about Peepland would appeal to comic readers? What would appeal to fans of noir?
CF: I’m a newbie in the comic world, and Peepland is my first comic project, so I don’t really have enough experience yet to say with any kind of authority what does or doesn’t appeal to comic readers. I will say that it’s a very visual story that relies heavily on the evocation of its vintage setting and I hope that Andrea Camerini’s gritty, realistic depiction of the New York City streets where I grew up will appeal to comic fans. And noir fans like me are all about the story, so I know this story is right up their dark alley.
DLB: What part of Peepland are you most interested in seeing the readers react to?
CF: The setting, no doubt. So many young people have only ever known the gentrified, outdoor mall version of Times Square, so I really want to share my own personal memories and experiences with them. I also hope to hear from New Yorkers my own age who will remember and appreciate all the little details, references and in-jokes from that era.
DLB: What challenges are there to telling a story through a comic book that you don't have in a novel?
CF: All the usual stuff, like learning how to think in panels instead of scenes and trying to find ways to translate my vision onto the page in collaboration with an artist, but hardest part for me personally was the dialog. I love listening to people talk and I pick up on regional accents and verbal quirks like a parrot. As a novelist, dialog is my superpower. But I learned pretty quick that you can’t have long, nuanced conversations in comics. One character can say one thing, and then the other can say one thing and the first can maybe say one more very short thing back, but that’s it. You can’t fit a zillion word balloons into one panel and you can’t have panel after panel of talking heads. You need to get the point across in as few words as possible and then move on.
DLB: How different was your process for working with a collaborator?
CF: Of course it was different but in this case, it was absolutely essential. I didn’t have the first clue how to write a comic script before this project and my co-author Gary Phillips (The Rinse, Cowboys) is an old pro. He’s the crafty veteran while I’m the mouthy, impulsive rookie. Plus, a lot of his work deals with the same themes that I wanted to explore in Peepland, such as corruption and gentrification. I just knew he’d be the perfect tag team partner and by working together, we wound up with a much better story than either one of us could have created alone.
DLB: What is next on the agenda?
CF: I’m currently working on the third Angel Dare novel. It’s called The Get Off and is set in the world of rodeo bullfighters. I spent two years traveling around with those guys and getting to know their daily grind. It was a lot like visiting another planet for this New York City girl. When (some days it feels more like if!) I get that one in the can, I’m wide open to take on something new and different. Guess we’ll see…
Times Square, 1986: the home of New York’s red light district where strip clubs, porno theatres and petty crime prevails.
When a chance encounter for Peepbooth worker Roxy Bell leads to the brutal murder of a public access pornographer, the erotic performer and her punk rock ex-partner Nick Zero soon find themselves under fire from criminals, cops, and the city elite, as they begin to untangle a complex web of corruption leading right to city hall.
Like The Naked City, there are eight million stories in The Deuce. This is one of them.
Be sure to pick up your copy of the first issue of Peepland by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips at your friendly local comic store brought to us by the Hard Case Crime comics from Titan Comics on October 12, 2016.
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