//--> RED TIDE: Who Is Chandler

WHO IS CHANDLER?

It depends on who's doing the answering!

Ask Byron Preiss and Pyramid Books and they'll tell you Chandler is an innovative new kind of publication, produced in a unique, experimental format.

To Steranko, who created the character, Chandler represents a dramatic re-emergence into the field of graphic storytelling - his first work of this type for almost five years.

To those who will read his adventures, Chandler, hopefully, will be an experience well worth waiting for. Chandler is a private investigator molded from the same clay that produced Philip Marlowe or the Continental Op - a rough, rugged, feet-on-the-desk private eye always up to his shoulder holster in hoods, homicide and honey blondes.

The genesis of Chandler began, typically, on a razor-cold day in early January in Manhattan. Steranko and Preiss were having a breakfast discussion about the latter's new publication in a 30's type restaurant around 76th and Madison. Two volumes of Weird Heroes and the upcoming Fiction Illustrated dominated the conversation.

Somewhere between forkfuls of bacon and eggs, Preiss asked the usual question: "How about doing a novel for Fiction Illustrated; I've got the third issue open if you can handle it."

"What did you have in mind?"

"How about Talon! Don't you think we've waited long enough?"

"I need a big book and a lot of area for Talon."

"Well, how about a western, you've always talked about doing one?"

"Time's not right. Maybe a detective story - they're back in style again in full force." The waitress refilled their coffee cups while early lunchers straggled into the warmth. The current explosion of private eye and mystery films such as Farewell My Lovely, Chinatown, Murder on the Orient Express and The Drowning Pool seemed to prove out the thought.

Riding on the idea, Steranko mentioned a detective character and a visual style for the story he'd been thinking about for the past several years. He said the concept wouldn't mesh well with the Fiction Illustrated line, too experimental, too offbeat for a nationally distributed book.

"Wait a minute! Why don't you get me the rights to use Philip Marlowe, or maybe Sam Spade for a book?" Suddenly the idea was very hot.

"I've looked into it, but there's a lot of red tape involved - could take months, maybe years. Why not create a character of your own?"

Why not? The January wind sang against the frosty windows, and the diner's run-down art deco atmosphere seemed to help focus concentration on the idea.

Thirty seconds ebbed away.

"Got it! A traditional private eye character, not a jockey or a librarian or a dog trainer who moonlights by solving crimes on the side - a story within the classic framework of the detective genre. Sure, I know its been done, probably too many times, but it ís a solid, entertaining form - and I know I've got a couple of them in me."

"Sounds like it could work. Got a name?"

"That's the best part. I've got a name that's synonymous with detective fiction - Chandler!"

The name, of course, refers to Raymond Chandler, one of the foremost writers of what has come to be known as the "hardboiled" or Black Mask school of detective fiction. To those that miss the connection, Raymond Chandler created the Philip Marlowe of Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, Lady in the Lake and a few others. To those who know, the name Chandler is an icon, instantly suggesting a world of betrayal and violence.

"That's it! I think you've got it!"

By the middle of February, a contract was signed, but not before Steranko had created a format for the book. Fiction Illustrated is a digest-sized publication printed throughout in full-color. The first of the series, Schlomo Raven, utilizes, more or less, a straight comic style of storytelling; the second, Starfawn, is comparable. Nevertheless, Steranko felt that a new approach to the storytelling technique was called for, one which would bridge the gap between straight comics and an adult visual novel form. He agreed to produce the illustrated novel (as both writer and artist) only after the problem had been solved. That solution could be a new milestone in the chronology of graphic storytelling.

Steranko is no stranger to the art of visual narrative. His credits include a notable contribution to Marvel's award-winning Nick Fury - Agent of Shield and Captain America series, a stretch at Paramount's animation studios, the development of a film project with French director Alain Resnais, and a number of books on the subject, including The History of Comics.

Unlike Philip Marlowe, who makes sunny California his home, Chandler is a New York operator, an area which Steranko knows well. The story (well over 100 pages long) is set in the 30's/40's era of The Maltese Falcon, Laura, Chinatown, Out of the Past, The Dark Corner and The Big Sleep. The plot itself concerns the hunt for a gangland assassin - and has more unexpected twists than a barrel of pretzels, none of which we'll even hint at here.

The first Chandler case, Red Tide, will plunge the reader into a high-voltage manhunt against a sadistic killer who turned the city into a concrete nightmare. Be warned ahead of time, the book is packed with violent action - and a double-barreled mystery that will keep you guessing right until the last page.

One thing we can tell you - the butler didn't do it!

Article originally appeared in Mediascene 17

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