Max Allan Collins is a name synonymous with hard-boiled detective tales, who has worked in just about every medium imaginable. From novels and television, to comics and video games, Collins’ works has inspired and delighted fans for decades.
This month Collins returns with a new illustrated novella from Neotext entitled Fancy Anders Goes to War, and we got a chance to speak to the writer about the new project, his work with illustrator Fay Dalton, and some of his most famous creations such as Ms. Tree and Road to Perdition.
What are the origins of Fancy Anders Goes to War?
Max Allan Collins: Watching the Australian TV series, Miss Fisher’s Mysteries, with its 1920s Melbourne setting, it occurred to me a female detective in 1940s wartime Los Angeles might work as well or better. Miss Fisher is a woman in her late thirties or early forties, but I instinctively thought a young woman, who was taking advantage of the wartime influx of women into male jobs, would make an interesting protagonist. And of course, L.A. and Hollywood would provide great settings and situations.
Do you prefer to write period pieces over modern settings?
Collins: When I started out, I did a lot of contemporary work – in the Dick Tracy strip and with the Ms. Tree comic book, topical crimes and ripped-from-the-headlines problems. An early novel of mine, Midnight Haul, was about toxic waste dumping. But I had a success with True Detective, the first of my Nathan Heller novels, where I took an historical approach, looking at famous unsolved or controversially solved crimes through the medium of a private eye story. That became something I was known for – the graphic novel Road to Perdition being my most famous work, for example. I’m fairly comfortable writing either period or contemporary, but I guess at heart I’m a Twentieth Century writer.
How would you compare Fancy to one of your most iconic characters, Ms. Tree?
Collins: Ms. Tree is older and comes from a working-class background. She is street savvy and very, very tough. Fancy is younger and comes from a High Society background. She is smart but not street smart, and can handle herself…but this detective stuff is new to her. Call her a budding Ms. Tree.
You work with illustrator Fay Dalton on Fancy Anders. What was it like working with her and what are your thoughts on illustrations within novels?
Collins: We’d been playing with the idea of illustrating the novellas in a kind of retro way, common to books of earlier eras. When Fay delivered her cover for Fancy Anders Goes to War, we knew she was perfect to do illustrations just right for the feel of this material. She does a full-page illustration at the start of each chapter, mostly in color. Since I have a reputation in both prose fiction and graphic novels, a heavy use of illustration seemed a fun way to bridge the gap.
You worked extensively on CSI novels, comics, and even video games. Memories of working on the CSI?
Collins: My friend Matt Clemens and I did those together. He worked closely with police doing the research, and we toured the real CSI facility in Las Vegas together. A major memory is, early on, having to go through the first five or six episodes looking for clues about the characters, since the focus initially was on the forensics. We were in constant production, so frankly it’s a blur of hard work.
Why is the hard-boiled detective a character that has had such a long shelf life in pop culture?
Collins: The tough PI is the outsider who on some level we all feel ourselves to be, and the hard, smart person who stays true to a personal code. From a narrative point of view, she (or he) is tasked with going around talking to suspects and witnesses, which is convenient for the storyteller.
Many fans remember your Road to Perdition graphic novel, and the subsequent film. Where you surprised when it was fast-tracked into a film?
Collins: Astonished and delighted. I’d had a lot of things optioned by Hollywood, but this was the first to actually come to fruition.
Future plans for Fancy? Other projects?
Collins: Two more Fancy Anders novellas are coming – Fancy Anders For the Boys, largely set at the Hollywood Canteen, and Fancy Anders Goes Hollywood, largely set at the Warner’s studio. The next NeoText project is coming up in just a few weeks – a science-fiction/crime-mystery novel, The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton, co-written with SCTV’s Dave Thomas.
Fancy Anders Goes to War will be published by NeoText on October 5, 2021.