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Introducing … THE COWL

05/02/2009

This is the lead article of my May newsletter, which went out to subscribers yesterday. If you’d like to subscribe, sign up here!

Before I wanted to be an author, before I wanted to be a secret agent, before I wanted to be almost anything, I wanted to draw cartoons. I love cartoons, and always have. Visit my office and you’ll see several classics framed on my wall, including a Charles Addams original.

Reality got in the way, as it often does. The only D you’ll see on my college transcript was – yes – an art class. I realized I was better at words than at pictures, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But the dream never completely died, and at last year’s Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention), I met a couple of guys from DC Comics. By coincidence, I was working on a subplot in VANISHED involving the main character’s teenaged nephew, Gabe, who was writing and illustrating what he called a “graphic novel” about a superhero based on his uncle, Nick Heller.

So I took the opportunity to talk comics and graphic novels with them, and discovered a world I’d barely imagined. I knew that several major mystery and literary authors were working in the graphic novel arena – Michael Chabon, Brad Meltzer, Gregg Hurwitz, Duane Swierczynski, to name a few – and at Bouchercon I met Brian Azzarello, author of 100 BULLETS and (with Lee Bermejo) THE JOKER.

This fired my imagination; I’m always looking for ways to introduce my works to new audiences, and what better way than a comic book, especially if a comic book were part of my plot? And what if the comic book included a clue to the central mystery of VANISHED, itself?

I took this idea to DC Comics Senior Editor Will Dennis, who was kind enough to encourage me. He helped me find a Spanish artist, Benito Gallego, who could create the images I imagined for Gabe’s fictional superhero, The Cowl – classically heroic images in the tradition of the comics I read as a kid, by artists such as John Buscema and Joe Kubert.

Writing a comic book, however, isn’t like writing a novel. It’s somewhere between writing a screenplay and writing a series of epigrams, and it’s not what I do. I had a story for The Cowl, but didn’t know how to bring it to life.

Brian Azzarello to the rescue. I asked if he’d be willing to take over The Cowl’s story, and he agreed – and came up with a script even better than I’d imagined, about the origins of The Cowl in a post-Apocalyptic Washington, DC.

The Cowl – the secret identity of international security consultant Nick Heller – takes to the streets of Washington, DC to fight the nefarious Dr. Cash, a scientist who rules with an iron hand and an endless supply of a mind-altering chemical that enslaves the city’s young men.

The idea of a comic book based on the creation of a fictional character is a little complicated, and putting it all together was complicated as well – me in Boston, Benito in Spain, Azz in Chicago. But the first copies came off the press a couple of weeks ago, and I’m delighted with the result. Over the next several months I’ll be giving copies away, and my publisher, St. Martin’s, will make copies available to booksellers along with advance reading copies of VANISHED.

It’s been a great adventure, and I’m grateful to Brian and Benito for letting me achieve my childhood dream, with a little help from my friends.