Christa Faust And Gary Phillips On The True Stories Behind ‘Peepland’ [Creator Commentary]
Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime's collaboration has already produced a number of interesting and exciting crime comics, and their flagship title Peepland is the cream of the crop. Written by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, with art by Andrea Camerini, it's based on Faust's own personal experience of the seediest parts of Manhattan in the '80s, focusing on the peep shows of Times Squad.
With one issue available now and another out this week, Titan has provided us with a creator commentary by Faust and Phillips, describing their thought processes behind each page, including stories from Faust's life, and notes about the real life inspirations for certain characters and locations.
NOTE: We've censored the swearing, but the content of Peepland is a bit more adult than most comics, so proceed with caution, just in case.
Christa Faust: I had a lot of back and forth with the artist in order to make the booths look the way I remembered, to capture that grungy, claustrophobic feel. It was like being inside a phone booth, but naked.
Gary Phillips: What she said…damn.
CF: Man, we all worked so hard in picking this splash page apart and making sure every detail was historically correct and yet somehow we all missed the fact that the “walk/don’t walk” sign right in the middle of the page should have been words, not the image of a walking man like it is now. There’s always something that slips through.
GP: For me this splash page epitomized those New York City crime dramas I saw back in the day on the big screen like Fort Apache the Bronx and Ms. 45. Times Square was a locale where you were thrilled and scared to be in at the same time.
CF: I loved being able to show this method we all used for sneaking extra tips by using a folded piece of paper that we slid between the glass and the frame. It’s little details like this, things that I’ve never seen in any other films or comics, that I hope can provide a deeper level of realism. Also, do kids still drum on plastic buckets for spare change in Times Square? They were ubiquitous back in the day.
CF: Ah, the classic tie-up-over-the-shoulder action. This was how the lunch hour yuppies avoided staining their designer ties while rubbing out a quick one with us in the booths. To this day if I see a man with his tie like that, I always wonder what he’s been up to.
GP: I love it that we cut from the yuppie getting his jollies to Dirty Dick on the run for his life. Again, driving home that dichotomy of Times Square
CF: Drunk Santa came out so amazingly sleazy!
GP: Calling your attention to the man in the photograph the bad guys are standing on, and as this will be running post our elections here in the States, here’s hoping that the narcissistic, blowhard real estate mogul we based the Simon Went character on doesn’t break new ground in terms of the political landscape.
CF: This was a little tricky, trying to explain the exact layout and the cheapo curtains we had instead of solid doors in our establishment. I had to draw (ha!) several diagrams for Andrea before I was able to get across exactly what it had been like. And trust me, I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag.
GP: The tight, claustrophobic quarters of Peepland comes across. That there’s a reason what Dirty Dick hides in Roxy’s booth is seen by others. I suppose the metaphor being secrets can’t be held in Times Square
CF: I asked Andrea to base Vince the token guy on my pal and fellow crime writer Vince Keenan, only a lot harder and seedier.
GP: We also see Fabrice on this page and you just know with a scar like that on his face, he wasn’t always some guy doing janitor work in a peep show palace. His secret with invariably twist its way into the main story.
CF: Falling or being pushed in front of a subway train loomed large for me as a thrilling childhood scare-story. I really wanted to find a way to include this most quintessential New York death. Also, I asked Andrea to base Benny on a young Michael Ironside.
GP: Ironside is the perfect model for Benny, a cat who has been a criminal or cop in a bunch of stuff from the original V, a sci-fi series where invading lizard people adopted a Neo-Nazi guise, head of some rogue soldiers in Extreme Prejudice to the voice of Darkseid in the Superman cartoons.
CF: I think we probably had about five different possible characters saying the “go for it, Charlie F---in’ Bronson” line, including a fat black drag queen at one point. I’m not even entirely sure how we wound up with this cranky guy instead, but I do love his expression.
GP: There you go.
CF: There was some back and forth about that record album. We had to make sure it was historically correct and had several different options before we settled on Master of Puppets by Metallica.
GP: From that detail to the reason for this scene, that we wanted to show not so much the danger of the area then, but foreshadowing events why AJ allows herself to get pulled into the nefarious deeds of her brothers.
CF: ALF! That is all.
GP: A guy I know, Jerry Stahl, infamously wrote about working on the TV show and writing lines for ALF (Alien Life Form) --- and you understand this was a puppet interacting with real people, a big friggin’ hit --- which was high on heroin in Permanent Midnight.
CF: Love this big ass, clunky phone. Also, how gross is that bathroom?
GP: The playing of this tape will change all their lives.
CF: I really like the way Alvarez turned out. I think it was Gary suggestion to give him the porno mustache.
GP: Shades of John Holmes.
CF: “Screwed!” Obviously this is our version of the legendary NYC smut rag SCREW magazine.
GP: Yes, kids, back before them internets, a series of tubes, came along, you had to get your porn fix by going to a dingy movie house with nasty old men in their rain coats or on the, ah, sticky page. Eww…
CF: Going back through the book for this commentary, I just noticed for the first time that, unlike the splash page, the “Walk/Don’t Walk” sign is historically correct on this page.
GP: Christa had to point out to us that there were no alleys per se in Times Square then, so the beatdown in happening in a space between two buildings where the trash Dumpsters reside.
CF: Damn, that police station exterior looks great. Really all of Andrea’s street scenes are amazing.
CF: F--- yeah, Gray’s Papaya! But you know, I just wasn’t a hundred percent happy with the interior of the apartment that Roxy shares with her Uncle Leo. I really wanted it to look more like the real apartment of my own real gay “uncle,” a family friend who lived next door to us for 40+ years and whose partner’s death from AIDS in the '80s influenced the Leo character. It came out looking much dirtier and shabbier, which honestly isn’t the worst thing in the world for the feel of the overall story. It’s just hard when you have something else, something real, inside your head that doesn’t quite come across.
CF: Nanki-Poo is a character from The Mikado. All my real gay uncle’s cats had theater-related names.
CF: Here’s another odd little glitch. I don’t know if any of you guys are old enough to remember incinerators in apartment buildings, but that was another source of powerful NYC kid mythology. We always threatened to throw things, or each other down the incinerator, and everyone had a horror story about somebody who knew somebody who got stuck in there and died a horrible death.
Anyway, the incinerator chute is supposed to be out in the hallway outside their apartment, like they always were, but at some point Leo’s wallpaper got added in around the chute. Now it looks like the incinerator chute is in their living room, which makes no sense.
GP: Again this was only something I’d seen in movies, the incinerator chute. When I was a kid growing up in South Central in Los Angeles, we had a red brick stand alone incinerator in our back yard --- it looked a little like an old-fashioned bar-b-que thing like you’d see in a park. My dad would burn trash and leaves in it. Then as the city made better efforts to improve the air quality, those kind of personal incinerators were outlawed. I recall too my pops swinging his sledge hammer to take it apart.
CF: Once again, I can’t say enough good things about Andrea’s street scenes, and this middle panel of the Times Square Theater is one of my favorites in the whole book. However, I do giggle a little at the drug dealer in the first panel, who looks like a kid from Italy and not like any guy who ever approached me trying to sell me dope on my way to or from work in the Deuce in the 80s.
GP: Nothing wrong with a bit of cross-Atlantic transplanting regarding the drug dealer.. And I love those titles on the marquees, riffing on the actual lurid fare like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.
CF: We used to joke that you could lose a shoe trying to escape from the thick, sticky sludge of spilled soda and jiz and rat p--- on the floors of the old grindhouse theaters. And when you saw a popcorn bag moving around by itself, you could bet there was a rat in it.
GP: Fearsome looking roach, yeah?
CF: Ah, the dreaded grindhouse Mummy Wieners, pictured on the far right of the middle panel. I always had a special horror for the wrinkled, sour-smelling hot dogs that spin on those hot metal rollers all day and night. An old friend who used to work in a theater practically lived on those dogs, since they were free at the end of the night shift. Me, I could never stand to eat one.
GP: Astonishing that friend was never transformed by the baked chemicals in those dogs... to become the Avenger of Times Square with the ability to command rats and climb walls like a roach.
CF: A small thing, really, but I love the way Andrea was able to capture the awkwardness between Roxy and Nick on this page. The reader doesn’t know their full history yet, but the bad blood and complex emotions come across so clearly in their faces and body language. Also, man did he nail the Lower East side in that first panel. Bonus points for anyone old enough to remember the Kiev Coffee Shop.
GP: What Andrea transported to the pages of our comic is the New York I’d see on the big screen and a visit I recall there as a teenager.
CF: I probably could have mentioned this earlier, but the character of Dirty Dick is based on a real life street pornographer named Ugly George. I would always see him in his outrageous silver costume and massive homemade camera rig as he prowled the neighborhood looking for girls willing to flash their t--- on camera. He was a real pioneer of the amateur Girls Gone Wild concept that would become so popular later on. You can find some of the videos from his original cable access show on YouTube.
GP: Jeez, can you imagine a guy like that? Certainly couldn’t take him home to meet your mum.
CF: I still wish we had her fully flashing her boobs here instead of just hinting at showing them. Because, you know, boobs.
GP: What she said.
CF: The crime that is revealed here, the central event that drives our whole story for the next four issues, is a kind of mash up between two high profile cases that occurred around that time in New York City, the “wilding” case against the Central Park Five and the “Preppy Murder.” Both made a quite powerful impression on me growing up.
GP: The Central park Five case reverberated across the country. It fed into the racialized notion of black and brown youth running wild in the cities and they had to be stopped by any means necessary. That these five young men, as recounted in the recent documentary about them, shows how they were railroaded by the cops and prosecutors, still gives me chills.
And not for nothing, that real life blowhard real estate developer still maintains to this day that those young men were guilty, despite the facts brought to light, like the DNA matched another man. What a douche.
Peepland #2 is on sale now, digitally and in stores, from Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.