Peepland: you want it for Xmas


Hard Case Crime and Titan Comics have teamed up to create a new noir comic called Peepland. I just got issue number one in the mail last week and I have to let everyone know how great it is and that it would make a terrific stocking-stuffer. Pictured is the cover for #2 which I just ordered. The lead writer of the series is one of my favorites from the Hard Case stable, Christa Faust. She is the author of the 2008 novel Money Shot, featuring Angel Dare, and its 2011 follow-up, Choke Hold. Both are great and Angel is a unique and original noir hero(ine). The covers of both books were done by the brilliant Glen Orbik who sadly passed away last year. Faust is joined on the by-line by Gary Phillips, an author with an enviable résumé and veteran of several mystery series both in print and graphic form. I first encountered him via his excellent 2009 novel for PM Press, The Jook. The Peepland story takes place in New York City in the late 80s in the red-light underbelly of Times Square with its peepshows, strip clubs, and porn shops. You get bad guys, killers, and cops straight away and a couple of likable if somewhat marginal protagonists. A perfect noir stew!

So much good stuff is happening in the comics field these days. Take a look at Image Comics in Berkeley, for example. Many people assume comics and graphic novels are kid stuff and can’t possibly be good literature. They are wrong. Don’t believe me? Read some and find out for yourself!

I was not familiar with the artist, Andrea Camerini, but his drawings are crisp and beautiful and complement the story perfectly. Credit also has to go to colorist Marco Lesko who captures the lurid side of things with bright, bold hues. Good comics are like good movies—the various parts have to mesh together to make them work. No problem here, these folks are pros and the first issue kicks ass. Can’t wait for the next installment!

Take another look at the cover above. You want it, don’t you? Well, what are you waiting for, go buy it!

Standing Rock

Imagine if law enforcement had entered the Malheur Wildlife Refuge with dogs and water cannons and attempted to drive off the so-called occupiers and for good measure shot at them with rubber bullets. I think we know what would have happened—the Bundy Gang would have shot back with real bullets and then the SWAT types would have taken over and we would have had a Ruby Ridge/Waco scenario played out again. The Feds wanted to avoid that and so they let Bundys alone, mostly, and tried to get them in court. That failed miserably. Armed white men in Carharts and cowboy hats who trespass and destroy property were told that their acts were not criminal.

Fast forward to the Standing Rock Sioux and their standoff with local and federal authorities. Unarmed, non-violent protesters are assaulted with dogs, water cannons, and rubber bullets. The use of dogs and water cannons—made infamous in the civil rights protests in the American South—was particularly shocking. People expressing their beliefs, assembling peaceably, and engaging in actual civil disobedience are attacked by not only sheriff’s deputies but by private security teams. Private security? Really? This is like the Pinkertons acting as strike-breakers! Do we unleash men with guns on dissenters? It’s bad enough when those sworn to protect-and-serve attack people under the auspices of legal authority, I can’t imagine how we can allow private outfits the license to abuse citizens. I suppose it is an outgrowth of out-sourcing. After all we out-sourced much of the Iraq occupation to private security contractors.

So, if you are a native person you are a criminal if you engage in the occupation of federal land. I don’t want this to be about race, but when armed white men can be exonerated for an illegal takeover and native people harassed, what am I to conclude? I’m saddened that the local authorities feel that their only recourse is violence. The videos from the Standing Rock protests have shown that law enforcement has indeed over-reacted and used excessive force. I’m not one to blame cops for everything—peace officers have one of the toughest jobs in the country. I’m amazed by the professionalism and cool-headedness exhibited by many in uniform. And I’ve no doubt there are protesters who lack the discipline and moral courage to remain non-violent in face of an armed response. No protest is perfect. In fact, there are episodes of vandalism, monkey-wrenching, and attacks on police. But they in no way deserve the appalling treatment they have so far received. The vast majority of those involved—regardless or how you feel about the merits of their case—have behaved properly. If people engage in civil disobedience, such as trespassing, they should expect to be prosecuted. That is, in fact, the point of such actions, to create an opportunity to be heard in a court of law. Much of the conflict is about people feeling like they have not been heard. I can only hope that the protesters maintain their commitment to non-violence and that law enforcement responds in kind.

I have no issue with the pipeline. You want to move crude oil you have four choices: rail, truck, barge, or pipeline. The oil is being pumped and it needs to get to the refineries and other sites where it can be processed or trans-shipped to other destinations. The Standing Rock Sioux feel the route choice of the pipeline is targeting them. Perhaps it is, I can’t say. It seems the people of Bismark didn’t want the pipeline either and their objections resulted in the re-routing. So it’s not like the builders haven’t been stymied before. I can understand the Sioux feel like their objections aren’t being heard while those of other folks were.

But the oil is there and it’s going to be moved in one way or another. I’d just as soon it be a pipeline, that’s probably safer and more reliable than truck or rail and can reach places where barges can’t get to. I grew up in the town of Benicia which has an oil refinery on the outskirts. There are storage tanks, rail lines, pipelines, and a port. Across the Carquinez Strait there are more of the same. Tanker traffic is a big part of the San Francisco-San Pablo Bay complex. My dad, a pipefitter, worked in every refinery in the Bay Area except Shell, which was non-union. The petroleum economy is of crucial importance to California. I understand that some see the Standing Rock protests as a refutation of our over-reliance on fossil fuels. That we should be more focused on renewable sources and be working harder to reduce our carbon footprint. I certainly agree that those should be national priorities. But our energy needs are massive and will require all of our resources. We can encourage and promote a movement toward sustainability, but we can’t just throw up our hands and say we won’t use the oil we dig out of the ground. We will use it. We’ll use it in our cars, our trucks that transport our goods, and in our power plants that make our electricity, the one thing none of us will live without.

There are bigger and deeper issues at Standing Rock than energy policy. Obviously Indian sovereignty is the over-arching theme, that once again the United States Government is siding with the developers and against the native peoples. I should note that plenty of tribes have taken advantage of their resource holdings, like the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, for example. The Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota sits on top of the Bakken Field and the tribes there have pursued oil leases for income. I’m not advocating for or against such schemes, resource extraction is risky business and subject to extremes of boom-and-bust, not a panacea by any means. I’m just pointing out that tribal issues can’t simply be lumped together as a monolithic viewpoint. Much like the so-called Hispanic voting bloc—there’s a lot of variety in such sub-groups, and it’s racist to assume all in the group think and vote the same way.

But that’s not what motivated me to write. The violence against the protesters is what set me off. Like I said I’m not really interested in the merits of their case. My research has revealed that there are a lot of variables and a lot of false news claims and a lot of disagreement over who said and did what. But this is the United States of America and we have Constitutionally guaranteed rights of speech and assembly. I don’t think any of us should tolerate the quashing of voices just because we might not like what they have to say. Dissent is part of democracy. We need to find a way to embrace disagreement, to use it to work together and go forward. We aren’t going to agree on a lot of things, that doesn’t mean we have to be divided, just that we have to work harder to make progress. I don’t claim to have the answer for the issues raised at Standing Rock. But I’d sure like to see us hammer out our problems over a table and not across a police line.



I was more dismayed than surprised by the verdict last week against the Bundy Gang and their “occupation” of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. I think the prosecutors were over-ambitious, trying to push conspiracy charges, and that blew up in their faces. I think that Bundy and his minions did indeed conspire, but that sort of thing is hard to prove. How do you make it clear to a jury what was in someone’s mind, especially if they get to tell the jury their own version? And even if the feds had stayed with lesser, easier-to-prove, more concrete charges, it seems to me they also misread their jury pool, in which case it might not have mattered.

What dismays me is this idea that these people engaged in “civil disobedience.” Sorry, when you carry guns it is not civil disobedience. Martin Luther King and the civil rights protesters were unarmed. So were the Indians under Gandhi fighting for independence from Britain. Bundy claimed they were armed because they might get arrested if they weren’t. In fact, one of them was shot and killed by officers because he was armed and resisted arrest! King and Gandhi expected to be arrested. They expected their fellows to be arrested as well, and they wanted to use the courts to make their cases to the people. Bundy & Co. seemed to think that waving guns around was the way to make their case. Interestingly, that tactic failed. Few people rallied to their side as their behavior, with its implicit threat of violence, was indefensible.

The irony of course is that they did make their case and they made it in court. They swayed the jury with their arguments. The gun-toting was a sideshow, albeit one that plays well in rural areas. Put on a plaid coat and a ten-gallon hat and you need a rifle or pistol to complete the ensemble. Here in the West we live under the very large shadow of The Cowboy. Not actual cowboys, but the mythical cowboy of Western Tall Tales. The John Wayne Cowboy, if you will. Those myths make wonderful theater, but they make lousy public policy.

Many millions of Americans enjoy National Parks, National Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, and Wilderness Areas. In these places things like mining, logging, and grazing are either forbidden or restricted. For many rural Westerners, the idea of “empty” land that isn’t “in production” is an anathema. Bundy and his people see miles of sagebrush and think “livestock.” To them, the land has no value if it isn’t creating some kind of crop. Fortunately many other citizens realize that not all values have dollar signs on them. Open space, protection of native species, recreation, and the more intangible values of wild lands are of enormous importance to the nation.

Certainly land use is a difficult issue. I have no problem with people who think the government is doing a lousy job with resource management. It’s tough work trying to marry science with politics and craft effective plans to meet the needs of the country. Plenty of folks have complaints—legitimate ones—about decisions made in Washington or Sacramento and their impacts on local economies. That dynamic is not going to change. There will always be conflicts over the best way to utilize our natural resources. But those conflicts aren’t going to be settled by gangs with guns. Those tactics will, in fact, make the conflicts worse. Our political system has its failings, but I’m having a hard time finding one out there that works better. It’s an issue of balance and tipping the scale by threatening to shoot somebody does not build the consensus needed to make progress. And there is no evidence that “local control” (turning federal lands back to the states, for example) will make things better. It’s a truism in the rural West that only the feds can fuck up, that we locals know what’s best. Unfortunately, the same tug-of-war between opposing interests will still exist. And I hate to say it but people are the same everywhere, subject to the same biases, and have an equal chance, regardless of where they are from, to be petty, short-sighted, or foolish.

So I’m dismayed by Bundyism. It’s a stupid way to make a point. And the armed seizure of a facility is not patriotic but childish. Strapping on weapons is very exciting and all, but the message sent is “do it my way or I shoot.” Really? That’s how we will grow and improve as a nation? For the record, I have no issue with the Second Amendment or citizens owning guns. I do have an issue with being threatened with violence if I disagree with you. This is a nation of laws. Breaking them to make a political statement is OK by me but if King and Gandhi were willing to go to jail for their beliefs than so should everyone else. They not only preached non-violence, they lived it. What’s amazing is that their non-violent methods worked even though both were killed by an assassin’s bullet.

You don’t like things the way they are? Fine. But build something better before you try to tear down what already exists. You disagree with public policy? Get in line. And then get to work. Real political change takes lots of difficult, boring, thankless work. And get people on your side—I don’t mean preach to the choir. We can all do that now on Facebook. I mean work to win over people that feel differently than you do. Start by finding common ground with them. Clearly lots of folks in the West want to see change. But if they get it with their guns they have to stay on watch 24/7 because some other bunch of assholes with more and better guns will be ready for that moment when they blink. That’s no way to build world for all of us to live in, is it?


Summer Rain

Seiad Valley is about 50 road miles from Yreka but only 35 or so as the crow flies. “Downriver” as the locals like to say, meaning  west of here along the course of the Klamath on its way to the ocean. It’s ground zero this week in a roughly 9000-acre forest fire that is showering us with a fine gray ashfall. To the residents of places like Horse Creek and Scott Bar it’s a disaster—the sky choked with thick smoke, swaths of forest exploding in flames, structures threatened, roads closed, homes evacuated. We’ve been lucky so far, the long wet winter and spring firming up the snow pack, engorging the streams, and soaking the ground before the summer onslaught of sunshine and arid heat that gives us our fire season. It’s nearly September and this is the first real incident. We had a fire close to town last week but the smoke dissipated rapidly, this one is ten times larger and will probably smother us for at least a few days.

They say it never rains in California and they are mostly right, the rain being confined almost entirely to the months from November to April. Mountainous regions get summer thundershowers some of the time, and the coastal regions get their regular marine fog, but mostly the state is tinder-dry from May through October. Thus the stage is set for conflagrations in the vast wild woodlands of the rural northstate. It is not as populated here as in SoCal and the Bay so the infernos don’t get the media coverage, but they are just as destructive, mostly to sparsely-inhabited places and so not as news-worthy. Still, the sky turns brown and everything smells like a morning-after campfire, and any outside activity is terribly unhealthy as you suck in lungfuls of the smoke and ash. My kitchen skylight looks like I dumped my dustbin on it, my vehicles are filmed in flour-like yuck, and my heart is sinking further as the sun climbs higher. Out my window I can barely make out the hills behind the cemetery that are no more than a half-mile walk from here. Days like this you stay indoors and get cabin fever.

I’m bitching and whining, I know. It’s part of the price for living so close to the wilderness, this fire-and-smoke thing, but I’m safe and cozy in my air-conditioned house. My eyes water when I step out into my hazy back yard and it makes me irritable, but I’m lucky to be here and not a few miles west where some unfortunate folks are fleeing the flames. The Forest Service is in charge of this incident and they tend to have a cautious approach to these things. They don’t like to put their people at risk, and in the narrow canyons and steep gulches that are thickly overgrown with trees and brush a fire crew can be quickly overwhelmed. Access to some spots is particularly tough, and decades of fire suppression and reduced logging has left much of the forest vulnerable to big burns. We are paying the price for failing to understand forest ecology and equally for a feckless approach to the management of forest resources.

But this isn’t about finger-pointing. We have to “let it burn” because we don’t have much choice. Even nature can’t burn enough of the woods to make up for past inaction on the problem. The work that needs to be done will take generations. In the meantime we will have these pockets of forest that will burn like hell and all we’ll be able to do is corral it a bit, get people out, and knock it back enough to keep the highways open. The resources for really putting it out will be used in other places closer to the urban centers. It’s a triage of a sort—assigning degrees of urgency to each incident. Here in the forgotten part of the state they’ll do their best but mostly we’ll be stuck with dry throats, asthma attacks, and a general malaise. And some small but not insignificant number of hardy souls will lose everything and come back to a blackened wasteland to start all over.


I’m retired but I’m up early every work day. Why? Because there are guys swarming all over my property! Since buying the house next door to our current residence a little over a year ago we have undertaken what we like to call THE PROJECT. This started out as a re-model but it soon morphed into a re-build. The house was old and needed work. A lot of work. For example, all the window frames were rotted. The windows were going to be pulled and replaced anyway, but once the guys got into them it became obvious the frames would have to be re-done. Completely. And several of the larger windows had no headers. So new beams had to be installed. That meant tearing out walls. A ceiling or two then decided to fall in. Out with the plaster-and-lath, in with new wallboard. The good part about that—exposed framing—is it made the electrician’s job easier. Did I mention ALL the wiring was substandard and had to be replaced? The plumber liked it, too. The drain system was mostly shot and had to be torn out and replaced. While he was doing that we figured ‘in-for-a-penny’ and all that and had him put in new copper, replacing all the old steel piping.

Mostly the rafters, studs, and floor joists were solid. But they had to be beefed up in spots. That took some doing. I have to give the crew a lot of credit—they saw what needed to be done and attacked the problems with zeal and skill. (We have a marvelous general contractor.) New doors came along with the new windows. New door frames. Thresholds, too. Floors. Did I mention floors? New flooring is coming, of course, thankfully the sub-flooring was pretty solid. New roof and new gutters are also coming. The stucco siding was ignored for decades and leaks on the building corners and around the openings caused cracking and bulging. That had to get torn out—imagine three guys with machine guns disturbing your neighborhood at 0800. That’s what those chisel-drills sound like. Thank the gods that’s over with. Now the stucco crew is here, building scaffolds and prepping for the scratch coat. About one-third of the exterior is getting a new base layer. All of if will get power-washed and have an adhesive layer applied and then color-coated. The color is part of the final plaster layer and will last, they tell me, fifty years.

Part of THE PROJECT involves our current residence, too. New paint job, for one. Six guys crawling all over the house at the crack of dawn scraping and caulking for three days. Then they painted! It turned out well, at least. Good guys who worked hard. Coming up will be some serious concrete work like a new and much larger patio. Not to mention the concrete work in the driveway and in front of the garage. Garage? Yes, we have one now. That’s about the only part that’s actually done. The house next door had this pathetic chicken-shack hillbilly garage that was ready to fall down in a stiff wind. Now it’s been completely enlarged and rebuilt! Instead of parking the camper in there, though, it’s loaded up with stuff from the cottage. Yep, our existing house included a detached cottage. It’s getting a face lift with new flooring, bathroom upgrade, etc. So all the crap in there is now in the garage, waiting to be moved back once that job is done.

This has been going on since April. Lots of destruction. So much I started to give the guys shit about it. “No more de-struction,” I said, “I want some goddamn con-struction!” Sure enough we are in the construction phase. Trucks come with cranes and forklifts and drop off piles of building materials. Those piles quickly disappear. I walk around looking at the new stuff after it’s installed going “that’s mine, man.” Feels good. All this noise and confusion and decision-making is paying off. Speaking of paying, I’m getting arthritis in my check-writing hand! Fortunately we have a few shekels in the bank and can afford to pursue this nutty dream.

People keep asking me “what are you going to do with this new house?” Do I have to do anything? Live in it, of course. Expand. Spread out. Right now we call it The Annex. It’s a land grab, plain and simple. We wanted more space and now we got it. We think THE PROJECT will mostly be done by the end of October. Then we’ll figure out what’s next. The yard, for example, was completely overgrown. The trees were so big we had to get a pro with a bucket truck to take them out. They were old, neglected, and too close to things like sidewalks, foundations, and power lines. When the crews finally leave we’ll have a barren wasteland for landscaping. That’s good, it will be fun to create a new space. But that’s too far in the future. We still have shower enclosures and kitchen cabinets to deal with.

We were fortunate to find a superb, serious craftsman to handle our job. And his crew follows his lead and does top-notch work. And the sub-contractors hear about it if they don’t toe the line and deliver quality. So that takes a lot of worry off of our shoulders. But it’s been four long months of activity and we’ve two more to go. And now things are really happening fast, the intensity will be ratcheting up here real soon. So that means no slacking off during the week. It’s amazing how many things come up during the day that require our attention!

But it’s all good. This is what we decided 2016 would be all about: The Year of The Annex. I’m getting a brewery out of it—we are converting what was a piece-of-shit laundry room into a proper place for my hobby. And lots of other things, too, like a primo guest house. Y’all will have to come visit! But you will have to make your own damn breakfast, though, because I’ll be sleeping in.

More Comics Noir

Oh boy, oh boy, am I ready for this:


Image Comics says they are releasing the first issue of KILL OR BE KILLED tomorrow! I’m excited. I’m a massive fan of the Ed Brubaker-and-Sean Phillips writer-artist team and have yet to be disappointed by any of their stuff. I love CRIMINAL, FATALE, INCOGNITO, and am in the middle of their terrific THE FADE OUT. I am sure that the new venture will be at least equal to those superb comics. I note that Elizabeth Breitweister is given artist credit on this series as well, she was listed as the colorist for THE FADE OUT  and as you can see her work is gorgeous! One of my favorite things about these pages are their moody, atmospheric colors. Lots of grey, olive, ocher, and sienna in the palate, perfect for dark and dangerous tales.

Any day now Kill or Be Killed #1 will arrive in my mailbox. If you like crime/suspense/noir fiction you can’t do any better than this stuff. It’s as good as it gets in the genre and is certainly sophisticated enough for discriminating literary types, too. So what are you waiting for? Subscribe now!


Comics Noir


Did I say comics? I’m sorry, I meant graphic novels. That’s the adult term for picture-stories. But make no mistake, they are still comic books. Some of the best crime writing out there is produced by Berkeley’s Image Comics, in particular the extraordinary duo of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips who have given us Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out, masterpieces all. And they have a new series, Kill or Be Killed, coming out next month (you can bet I signed up for that!). But the folks at Image have an enormous variety of stuff, all the classic things we associate with comic books like superheroes and teenagers and whatnot, along with fantasy, horror, suspense, sci-fi, etc. You want something from their catalog you’ll find it. I like crime fiction and what I like to call “noir” and there’s plenty of that, too.

I recently signed up for a monthly delivery of Midnight of the Soul from heavyweight writer and artist Howard Chaykin. As you can see from the issue #1 cover above it’s beautifully illustrated, and that’s good, because it’s an ugly tale. At least so far. Our hero, Joel (pictured), is a veteran of Normandy and the Bulge as well as the liberation of the death camps. He’s deeply scarred by his experiences and to top it off has a serious problem with alcohol. His therapy has been writing alternate-history stories in which the Nazis win WWII. He can’t sell a thing—big surprise—and after five years of trying his wife finally runs out of patience and tells him to get a paying job. He then discovers that she’s not only two-timing him, she’s been working as a stripper and a prostitute while claiming to be a court reporter. Joel, enraged, tracks down and kills her boyfriend/pimp, and narrowly misses shooting her. Back home, he goes a little crazy and realizes how fucked up his life really is and decides it’s time to make some changes. He hasn’t left his neighborhood on Long Island for three years and hasn’t left New York since he was discharged from the Army. So, he hops on his motorcycle and heads west. Thus, the story begins.

Issue #2 will be here in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to it. The whole thing is very much an homage to the classic films noir of the post-war period. I usually buy my comics in graphic novel format (re-packaged issue collections in book form) but this time I decided to actually subscribe to the individual issues as they come out. Image Direct makes that really easy and I have to hold myself back from having a dozen or more on my list! I just discovered that Mr. Chaykin has a new series coming—also for Image—and I will likely go all-in on that one, too. This is my first exposure to his work and it’s obvious he’s a brilliant and original talent. I don’t know if comic book writers and illustrators (Chaykin does both) are still seen as lower on the food chain than novelists and other artists, I hope not, it seems clear that fine work comes in many forms. Do yourself a favor and check out what they have to offer at Image, or visit your local comic book shop and see what’s on the shelves. You’ll find something to like, I’m sure.