The dark, smoky night club or bar is an essential setting for any classic film noir story. The night club has changed since the origins of the genre in the 1940s, but the combination of alcohol, romance, violence have served story tellers since the days of The Maltese Falcon, and continue to be the perfect setting for intrigue and mystery.
Jack Mulqueen’s new comic anthology Nightlife Noir takes places in a modern version of the night club, but all of the elements are still present to create engaging noir fiction. We spoke to Mulqueen about his new Kickstarter project and what inspired him to assemble the anthology and he also shared his plans for a state-of-the-art nightclub of his own in New York City (Outer Heaven, opening in late 2021) that is sure to appeal to fans of comics, sci-fi, and manga.
How did the pandemic push you to start writing and working on Nightlife Noir?
Jack Mulqueen: I had always been something of a comics casual, but when the pandemic hit, that was a radical change to the cadence of my life. I had to shutter all of my businesses completely, with no inclination of when I may be permitted to open them (although I had a hunch that we would be one of the last sectors to reopen given the proximity our patrons share). My fiancée and I packed up our two cats and bounced to our house in Vermont. Once we arrived I made the horrifying discovery that the WiFi wasn’t strong enough to plunk hundreds of aimless hours into Call of Duty, and right around then Bendis had published an article on IGN linking to a few books he considered integral to the craft of writing comics. I ordered every book. Two arrived right away- Story by Robert Mckee and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. A third, On Writing by Stephen King, I digested as a self-narrated audiobook during my daily bike ride around the eerily quiet Vermont countryside, which felt thematically appropriate.
When I sat down to write my first project, it was an incoherent mess. I got about eighty pages through before I tore it all down and started over, but that was important. For my second project, which would become Nightlife Noir, I wanted to work within very strict parameters for genre, setting, and length. That type of focus proved imperative for a fledgling writer like myself.
What is your personal history with comics?
Mulqueen: It started like many, with exposure to The Big Two. My father was a garmento on Seventh Ave and his office was inside the building that Midtown Comics flagship location resides in, so every time I would visit him at work, on the way to the garage we would stop by and pick up some comics- although at that time I was more interested in the action figures. Mom exposed me to Tin Tin at a young age, although it wasn’t until recently that I appreciated how masterful Hergé was. In my youth I was very big into The Far Side as well. During the pandemic and my self-imposed curriculum, I discovered the breadth of stories that are being told in this medium. Now my appetite is voracious.
You’ve had a lot of experience working in and developing nightclubs. How much of the these experiences bled into the short stories in Noir?
Mulqueen: Quite a bit. “Write your Truth”, as the saying goes. To me it was important that the subject matter of my first project felt endemic to what people know me for. If I came out of the gate with a sprawling 500-page underwater Sci-Fi epic, it would have left my acquaintances perplexed, perhaps even a touch concerned. As the “Nightclub Guy” I figured I might have a unique insight to this exotic world that exists right underneath our noses.
In many respects Noir is a homage to The Black Lodge, my first proper nightclub venture- and a notorious one at that. We ran it hot, fast, and burned out in a blaze of infernal glory. The whole experiment lasted a grand total of eight months, but I was gifted a lifetime of memories. Acclaimed chef, humanist, and graphic novelist Anthony Bourdain once said that a kitchen staff is like the crew of a pirate ship- a nightclub is very much the same. The Black Lodge crew was such a rag-tag cast of characters that the stories were already there- I just had to dial up the third acts to eleven for dramatic effect.
You work with a number of talented artists on Noir. How did you assemble the roster and how did you decide who would illustrate which stories?
Mulqueen: Twitter! For months I assembled dossiers on my preferred targets like Nick Fury, and when the scripts were complete I sought out my dream team. As a completely unproven writer, it helped that I was able to guarantee the page-rate of my collaborators. I knew that I wanted to draw from a very broad swath of artistic styles, and I think in that respect the project is a resounding success. It sings as a sum of its parts. In terms of deciding who would illustrate which story- that was a little bit of intuition and a little bit of luck. Fortunately for me each of the six scripts found its way into the right hands. The covers from Adam Gorham were the cherry on top.
Why is the night club setting perfect for a film-noir style story?
Mulqueen: I recall Ram V saying in an interview that what makes a story “Noir” is that the characters are dragged into circumstances beyond their volition. Nightlife provides the perfect playground for that. When we go out at night we assume a character- one of our own creation. It is a hyperbolic version of ourselves that exists solely within the parameters of the night- and that version is in a perennial state of friction- friction with ourselves. So you have a packed room full of big characters, all senses are engaged… Throw in a healthy dose of alcohol, drugs, and violence and you have the makings of a great Noir.
You will be opening your new night club Outer Heaven soon. How did you arrive at the idea for a sci-fi, comic aesthetic for Outer Heaven?
Mulqueen: One thing that writing taught me was playing to the audience of one, the age-old adage, “Write the thing that YOU would most like to read today.” can be applied to any creative medium. So I adapted that to clubs: “Create the club that YOU would most like to hang out in.” A big inspiration was the Aaron/Bachalo run of Doctor Strange. As a New Yorker I was so disappointed that in the comics, The Sanctum Sanctorum can be found in 177A Bleecker street, but if you visit that address in real life, it’s a sketchy massage parlor. Also featured in that story was The Bar With No Doors, a fictional hangout where Strange and other mystics would gather. I thought to myself, how cool would it be to build a club and write a comic around it, a place where fans of the comic could actually come and visit, and sit at a booth and have a drink where your favorite character has sat before you. I’m happy to share with you that Chris Bachalo has generously given me a commission of Doctor Strange sitting at a booth drinking a Mai Tai, a piece that will adorn our walls at Outer Heaven.
You will have a comic store/stand as part of Outer Heaven. What will this space look like and how do you envision it functioning in the club?
Mulqueen: Inner Sanctum is our comic book/ merch kiosk that will live in the front of Outer Heaven. I envision it as a sleek, modern version of a newsstand. On top of a seasonally rotating selection of apparel we’ll feature a weekly rotating selection of comic books, and graphic novels available in paperback form. The key for me is curation- so I’m challenging myself to pull 4 or 5 compelling books per week to feature- so as not to inundate people with choice. Going to a comic book store can be a very intimidating experience if you don’t know what you’re looking for. By narrowing the scope of choice you can remove some of that paralysis. Likewise reading a comic I find a very social experience. My romantic self envisions a couple meeting up for a date, the guy arrives before the girl- she’s going to be 10 minutes late, so he picks up a comic, sits at a booth, and starts thumbing through the pages while he awaits her. I want to use Inner Sanctum as a way to indoctrinate people into this medium that has enriched my life in such meaningful ways.
The Nightlife Noir Kickstarter is off to a great start with some creative backer perks. How did you come up with them and what do you attribute the success of the project to?
Mulqueen: The success of the project can be entirely attributed to my friends who have been so supportive of my creative endeavors, and generous with their contributions. Without them this project would be in a dire state. In terms of the backer perks- who wouldn’t want to be immortalized in the pages of text? It’s such a fascinating concept: these books will be collecting dust for hundreds of years if they are stored in a cool, dry place… The concept of creating something that lives beyond us is very fascinating to me. The “get murdered in a future issue” idea I borrowed directly from Scott Snyder’s Nocterra campaign. My gregarious benefactor forewent his own assassination in favor of knocking off a notorious local nightlife personality who has drawn the chagrin of thousands. That is all I will say.
Nightlife Noir issues #1-2 are both available through the official Kickstarter campaign (along with a number of perks) until August 7. Look for more information about Outer Heaven’s opening date soon.