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Writing Hard-Boiled (Egg) Fiction:
An Interview with Frank Cammuso

Some concept art.
Two years ago, while walking through the independent comics alley at Comic-Con, my attention was caught by a guy selling Little Golden Books. On closer examination, it turned out to be an original comic book series disguised as the beloved, or at least ubiquitous, cheap format for little kids' stories. That guy was Frank Cammuso, and that book was Max Hamm, Fairy Tale Detective.

A funny animal book (in the best sense) that also neatly satirizes film noir conventions, Max Hamm stands out for reasons other than format. The art harkens to fine Looney Tunes, but the fairy tale princesses Cammuso draws also owe a debt to Tex Avery.

I picked up a copy, but by the time I read it, the convention was over so I couldn't tell Cammuso how much I liked it. Luckily, last year, he was back with another issue. And we took the time to talk.

So why are you seeing the interview now, on the eve of Comic-Con 2004? Because I got back to the Bay Area and lost the tape. I found it today, transcribed it, and discovered that Cammuso will be back at the Con, in booth #2304, with his imprint, Nite Owl Comix. He will likely also have all four issues (so far) of Max Hamm for sale, so stop by and check him out after reading this interview.

Fanboy Planet: You started out as a political cartoonist?

Frank Cammuso: I still am. In Syracuse, New York, for the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Fanboy Planet: What inspired you to turn to independent comics?

Frank Cammuso: I always loved comic books. It was just one of those things where I said, dammit, I'm going to do comics. I went to Angouleme (the French international comics fair, held in Angouleme, France -- Cammuso explained it to me) about three years ago, I was looking around and saw that there were funny animal comic books and they were doing well. So I said to myself, if they can do well in France, then I'll give it a shot. If I do it well, I think it will sell.

The first issue -- a stand-alone story.
Fanboy Planet: So then why Max Hamm, Fairy Tale Detective?

Frank Cammuso: I had the character of Max for a long time. And it came to me. I knew he was a detective, but I didn't know what kind. It just hit me one day. I was in a book store, and I thought, "fairy tale detective."

It all clicked at that point.

Fanboy Planet: What inspired you to do the Little Golden Book format?

Frank Cammuso: As an independent publisher, you need your book to stand out somehow, other than the regular pamphlet size. I needed to have some kind of different look.

I knew I wanted to make it a different size, and I had a couple of Golden Books laying around. "Wait a minute! What if I did this?" I had my format, and it all clicked as I was writing. As (Max) tells the story, it turns into a storybook. So why not just make it a storybook?

Fanboy Planet: This appeared at about the same time as Fables takes off for Vertigo. Do you feel competition?

Nothing they don't see on T.V...sort of...
Frank Cammuso: Not really. If they're going to do well, I'm going to do well. It's not really a copy. We use similar characters in that we both use the public domain fairy tale characters, but other than that, they're just completely different versions of them.

Fables takes place in modern day; mine takes place in the forties. Mine's all film noir, and his (Bill Willingham) is everything. It's somewhat similar but not really.

Fanboy Planet: What kind of feedback have you gotten?

Frank Cammuso: Very positive.

Fanboy Planet: A customer just walked by and asked if he could read Max Hamm to his kids. You said "sure." Do you really think that?

Frank Cammuso: Yeah, I think you can.

Fanboy Planet: It's a way to introduce small children to film noir?

Frank Cammuso: Yeah, I don't think that there's anything too violent. It's nothing that they don't see already on T.V. At least, daytime T.V.

The worst thing, I think about for kids, is that Max does smoke. There's a little bit of gunplay. Other than that…kids come up all the time and read it. Kids under 6, I think, probably don't understand it. That's the thing. I think there's a little bit more there in terms of references than they can get.

The latest issue.
Fanboy Planet: But the pictures will hold their attention. Now, because I'm a fan of the format, I have to get it on the record that you're thinking about doing a Big Little Book.

Frank Cammuso: Definitely. My plan is to definitely do a Big Little Book, or rather, a Big Little Book-esque Max Hamm.

Fanboy Planet: Yeah, I don't know if you can actually call it a Big Little Book.

Frank Cammuso: Exactly. I think it might be a trademark.

Fanboy Planet: For someone who has not seen it, why should they read your comic?

Frank Cammuso: I think it's a funny and original take on storybooks and fairy tales. It's Pulp Fiction meets fairy tales.

And with that, we wandered the earth, or at least the convention floor. Once again, be sure to check out Frank Cammuso's booth at Comic-Con 2004, #2304 in the Independent Press Pavilion.

 

Derek McCaw

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