The P.I. Poll

Welcome to The Thrilling Detective Web Site Poll.
Generally, we try to poll you on a different topic every month.
The final results are posted, and utilized in our Trivia Section as well.
As we go along, we usually post some of your more pithy comments,
but this for July and August, we're trying something new...

 The P.I. Poll  Fall 1998

This Month's Poll:

Maybe I should have called this one Graphic Violence.
Whatever, the point is, whatever you wanna call it, there are some pretty damn interesting private eyes who have appeared in comic books, comic strips, graphic novels, bandes desinees (BDs) and the like. There's also been a lot of crap. But anyone (particularly North Americans) who think comics are just a bunch of muscle-bound doofuses bouncing around in their long-underwear will be amazed at what's out there.

Okay, no comic private eye has ever set the world on fire in the way Superman, Batman, Tintin or Asterix has, but any fan of private eyes who dismisses comics outright is missing out on some mighty fine reading.

I'm tried something a bit new here, for this poll. I wasn't tabulating the votes and I wasn't be asking for them either, per se; just printing your comments. I would have automated the whole thing, but after this summer's disaster with 1-2-3 WebTools I thought I'd just handle it myself. It seems to have worked, especially since our readers are for the most part well-informed and interesting.

I hoped to expand everyone's mind a bit (my own included) with this. I don't think there was as much coverage of European or pre-1960 comic book eyes as I had hoped, but I was very pleased with what did come in.

Some of the suggested topics were: Best Comic Eye (North American), Best Comic Eye (European), Worst Comic Eye, Best Graphic Novel, Most Overlooked, Everyone Should Read, Most Disappointing, Coolest Art, and just about anything else readers could think of. The opinions were varied, enlightening and entertaining...

And if you're looking for more info on the topic, try Eyes Featured in Comic Books, Strips and Graphic Novels and Comic Books, Strips and Graphic Novel featuring Private Eyes for a crash course...

In chronological order, from top to bottom.

Kevin Burton Smith in Montreal
Well, as usual, I'll kick things off. I'll be popping in here every now and then to answer a few questions, I guess, and poke a sharp stick at a few over-inflated balloons, I guess. So, anyhoo, I think Max Allan Collins' Ms. Tree (although she's missing in action) and Brian Bendis' Jinx are the two of the best PI books I've seen, and the current Jonny Double by DC Vertigo looks to be shaping up pretty darn well. But some of the European stuff is truly amazing, particularly Jacques Tardi's various P.I. stuff (Griffu, Nestor Burma, René Griffon) and Munoz & Sampayos's Alack Sinner books simply rule! I just wish they were all available in translated versions! I always feel like I'm missing half the story.

From Jim Doherty in Chicago, IL
Best Comic Eye: Ms. Tree
Worst Comic Eye: Dakota North
Best Graphic Novel: Probably the recent The Little Sister adaptation
Most Overlooked: The Spirit because everybody forgets that Denny Colt was a PI, (or as he put it "Criminologist and Private Detective" ) between being a cop and being a masked avenger.
Everyone Should Read: Again, The Spirit, among the best noir comics ever done, and, aside from the mask, the trench-coated, business-suited anp-brimmed Spirit fits the visual image we all have of the PI.
Most Disappointing: Sarge Steel. Though nominally a PI in NY, this ex-Army Intelligence op was more of a secret agent than a private detective. Indeed the last few issues of the Sarge Steel comic were retitled *Secret Agent*. Still very enjoyable, however.
Coolest Art: Once more, The Spirit. Will Eisner was and is among the finest comic artists ever.
I'll probably have more to say as the discussion develops.

From Colin Clynes in Birmingham, England
The best 2 Comic Eye's that I have read would have to be Joe Staton's Mike Mauser & Max Allan Collins Ms Tree. Mauser had a fair amount of humour but there was a touch of grit about it all the same. Ms Tree was very much a female Mike Hammer & the stories were always well put together.

From Christopher Mills in South Florida
The best comic book private eyes are undoubtedly Max Allan Collins & Terry Beatty's Ms. Tree and Will Eisner's The Spirit, although I have a definite fondness for Mike Barr's Maze Agency, probably the closest we'll ever get to a Thin Man comic. Joe Staton & Nick Cuti's Michael Mauser, Don McGregor & Gene Colan's Nathaniel Dusk, and Pete Morisi's Johnny Dynamite, however, are all contenders as well. Two exceptional fantasy-oriented comic book eyes that should not be overlooked by PI fans are John Ostrander's John Gaunt (a/k/a Grimjack) and James Robinson's Alec Swan (a/k/a Firearm); both series were graced with exceptionally fine writing and fully-realized, three-dimensional protagonists that should be welcome at any PI gathering. Don't let the fantasy and super hero trappings scare you away... there's some really good stuff in these books.Oh, and there's this PI character wandering around in horror comic that I kinda like... what's his name again?

(Wouldn't be Nightmark now, would it, Chris?...if you wanna plug, just say so...)

From Paul Bergin in Sarasota, Florida
It seems to me that you dismissed Batman too quickly in your introductory 'graphs. He is not a superhero (in that he possesses no unusual powers). He dresses funny, but so did Dick Tracey, both in the strip and the flick. By your definition of a private eye, Batman qualifies. (I'm talking about the early Batman, here, not the action figure cutout he has since become.) I'll vote for Batman, though with that outfit about the only territory he could work these days (without being mugged) is the Castro or West Ave. in NYC.

(Ah, but Batman doesn't get paid for investigating crime. It's a major stumbling block in being labelled as a private eye. I like the Bats, in fact, and I think some of the current storylines are really good, and some of the writers show a real hardboiled sensibility (particularly Dixon). But Batman as a P.I.? Nope. I'd put him more in the do-gooder/adventurer category, like Robin Hood or Zorro or Tarzan. Not bad company to keep, though.

From Terry Beatty in Port City
Well, if I needed an ego boost, I guess this was the place to get it. I'm pleased to see Ms. Tree coming out so well in this poll (well, it's sort of a poll, right?). Sorry to say Max and I won't be doing a Ms. Tree mini-series with DC/Vertigo as had been planned. We just couldn't seem to get the darn thing scheduled, even though DC had asked us to do the project. Anyhow, they recently bumped the rights back to us, and I suppose we'll do something with her someday -- though the current (sad) state of the comic book market has kept us from getting too excited about that notion.

As for other comic book PIs, I have a certain fondness for Pete Morisi's Johnny Dynamite -- and wish that more readers had seen the updated PI/horror version Max and I did for Dark Horse Comics a few years back. And Chris Mills didn't mention Mickey Spillane's Mike Danger, the SF (that's Science Fiction, not San Francisco) PI series that Max wrote and he edited for TeknoComix (and that I inked, at least for the last half of its run). Again -- a solid piece of work (especially the 1950s flashback issues) that too few people saw.

As for Batman, I kinda like that feller, too (I'm currently inking Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Beyond for DC)-- but he's not a PI, even though he IS a detective -- or at least was originally intended to be, and functions best in that role. I think sometimes the creative teams on the bat-books forget the "detective" part of the "dark night detective."

Hey -- how about a poll for favorite PI-related song? I nominate "Watching the Detectives" by Elvis Costello...

(Actually, in the .Trivia/.section, Terry, you can find the link to Suddenly the Air Was Full of Music: The PI Record Collection. As with all lists in the trivia section, I'm always looking for suggestions. But don't worry, Watching the Detectives is definitely present and accounted for...)

From Dill Garkin in St. Paul
You want to talk great PI comix? DC's Nathaniel Dusk is the bomb. Great old-time atmosphere. It's set in New York in the depression and you keep expecting Bogart to pop up. It came out as two mini-series in the eighties, I think. And Jazz Age Chronicles was good, too. It was about a Boston P.I. The guy was a real mess, but the comic was fun. It was also set in the 1930's, which is when all the good PI's were.

From Thomas Ainsworth in Richmond, IN
I think Dick Tracy was one of the most interesting PI's if you can call him such. More on the police lines but his work was more futuristic then most. I try and write with a futuristic flair myself. Even if it isn't quite here yet. Just my opinion.

(Well, Chester Gould'sTracy may haver been a dick, but we're talking private dicks's interesting to note that P.I. writer Max Collins actually scripted the strip from about 1977 to 1993, and get rid of most of the sci-fi stuff, in an attempt to get the strip back to its hardboiled roots...but definitely a great strip. A huge influence on almost every crime eye that followed)

From Peter M. Bellani in Thailand
As I was sifting through the web a few months ago, I discovered your site and added it to my favorites. My reason being the fact that your site recognizes comics as one of the more influential mediums and not the kid's books it is made out to be by the so-called 'adults' in our society.

One of my favorites is Nathaniel Dusk, a 4 issue mini-series by DC comics released in February 1984, written by Don McGregor and drawn by Gene Colan. Dusk is a former WW I veteran who saw action in the trenches. Upon his return, he joined the police force and maintained as much as possible, his is integrity as a cop. However, he was unable to stomach the corruption that he saw and thus quit from the force in 1931 and became a private eye. He maintains a rented office in the East 80's with the name on his office door saying 'Nathaniel Dusk - Private Investigator'. He keeps a bottle of scotch in the lower right hand desk drawer.

The series starts on January 31, 1934, and includes, as the case progresses, the NYC taxi strike on February 3, 1934 during Mayor LaGuardia's tenure as mayor of NYC.

McGregor's writing and Colan's dynamic artwork made the series appealing to this reader. Colan made the artwork a combination of pencil and watercolor with inks virtually non-existent. There was anotheri mini-series by DC comics released in October 1985. Of this, I have no idea as I was unable to collect it.

(Peter was wondering why I hadn't listed Nathaniel Dusk yet. Time, my boy, time. The file should be going up soon. By the way, your return address is incorrect, which is why I haven't been answering your mail.)

From Burton Campbell in Edinburgh
One of my favorites was this one-shot from the early nineties, I think. It was handpainted, and featured a sort of New York punk/junkie/private eye who was always talking to himself. I really liked it. Does anyone remember it/ I think it was called The Girl in the River or The Drowned Woman or something like that. Great site, by the way!

(I think you're talking about Jon Hammer's The Drowned Girl, from 1990, with junkie P.I. Dick Shamus. The guy drinks chocolate Yoo-Hoo and formaldehyde. Now that's tough! It's actually one of the best graphic novels in this genre I've ever read! Thanks for reminding me!)

From Ron Fortier in Somersworth, NH
My favorite comic PI has to be Max Collins deadly dame, Ms. Tree. It also has to take the nod for clearly the most successful comic PI series. Still, honorable mention should go to Don Megregor & Gene Colan's beautiful rendered Nathaniel Dusk books. If you weren't lucky enough to have seen these, the publishers tried something radically different in they did not ink Gene's beautiful pencils...and actually colored them sans inks. The art/charcoal effect was both gritty and stunning at same time. They were period pieces, the mid 40s, I recall and truly some of the best comics work done in any genre.

From Jim Doherty in Chicago, IL
Some more categories to consider:
Best Newspaper Strip PI (as opposed to comic book PI): Rip Kirby. The bespectacled, former Marine Intelligence Officer turned PI, managed to combine hardboiled elemnets with old-fashioned "Great Detective" elements (i.e. Bunter-like butler). Artwork originally by Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond was superb.
Best adaptation of Novel/Short Story PI to Comics Medium: The syndicated strip "From the Files of Mike Hammer. Very true to Spillane; in fact Spillane actually wrote the Sunday scripts. Not too surprising that the "Hammer" script gets the nod here. Mike Hammer was originally conceived as a comic character called Mike Danger, which, in turn, was recently revamped as a Sci-Fi comic. Ms. Tree fans should note that the "Hammer" strip's depiction of Hammer and Velda are suspiciously similar to Terry Beatty's depictions of the late Mike Tree and his widow, Ms. Michael Tree.
Best Not Sure How To Describe It (Adult Big/Little Book, perhaps): Jim Steranko's Chandler. Not quite a comic book, but a heavily illustrated prose PI story about 1940's NYC op Chandler. Each column of prose has a dynamite cimic illustration of the action being described just above it. Sort of like Whitman's old Big/Little Books in which a page of comic illustration faced a page of prose.

From Rick Robinson in Tustin, California
Drawn PIs, huh? An interesting topic. After reading the previous comments, I realize I'm missing a lot of great stuff! I'm not going to go for your topics, I'll just ramble on. I think of graphic crime stories beginning with Crime Does Not Pay comics back in the forties, but they didn't have a PI as a regular character. Still, great stuff, with Mr. Crime guiding weak men and women to desperate acts of crime. Maybe Rocky Jorden, hero of Private Eye comics would be a good place. Only eight issues, but the first comic with the actual words "Private Eye" in the title. There's also Sam Hill, with the white streak in his hair, was an upper-class PI who, of course, always got his man. And we mustn't forget Mike Shayne, Vic Flint or Young King Cole!

Both Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes has appeared in several comics, Holmes most recent, and possible most stylish being those drawn by Dan Day. Complete stories beautifully drawn, definitely three-star (of four) stuff.

I'd like to stretch your definitions here and mention Tintin, by French artist Hergè. Tintin is a young man whose "cases" take him the world over. Though he's actually an amateur (I can hear the howling of the enraged masses as they light their torches, grab their pitchforks and set off in pursuit of me. I know, I know, let me finish) so he doesn't detect for pay he almost always is paid or rewarded at the end of a case, and though he is supposedly a "reporter" he never seems to actually file a story, go to a newspaper office or even call an editor on the phone. He's is well drawn entertaining with a repertory cast and I like them a lot.

I have never seen (except for photos of covers) a Mrs. Tree so I can't "vote" for her here. However I do have ONE OF THE BEST DONE GRAPHIC P.I. PIECES EVER DONE, the one that, were we voting, would top my list by so much that it would be hard to imagine anything else coming close, and that's Jim Steranko's graphic novel Chandler. It's noir, hard-boiled, beautifully drawn, it's got everything. Too bad he didn't do any more of these, but the one he did, a story titled Red Tide is outstanding in every way. It was published in 1976 as the third volume of the Fiction Illustrated series, with an introduction by Joe Gores. This is the best!

Now that I've put that little beauty back in it's plastic bag, I can go on. I couldn't help glancing through it again. Mighty fine.

I wish I could include the very stylish works of Frank Miller's Sin City, but the hero of those, at least the ones I have read, are either cops or just plain citizens, so I guess I can't mention them here. So of course I won't say a word about Miller's stunning art work or the sometimes convoluted plots. Nope, not a whisper about them from me. (heh, heh).

I'll wrap this up by mentioning a very interesting "foreign" PI, Sam Pezzo, from the series Cases from the Files of Sam Pezzo, P.I. by Vittorio Giardino. Pezzo wears the obligatory trenchcoat, gets involved in sticky situations, trusts women when he shouldn't. Pretty much what we want to see in a P.I., I guess. Well done. As far as I know only Vol. 1 is available, and I don't know if in it's native country this is a weekly or daily strip. I got the collection from Bud Plant or possibly NBM.

Which brings me to the last remark - sources. I would certainly like to see a list of them show up when the month is done and you are doing your summary! I've started you off with a couple just two sentences back. You take it from there.

From Richard Awl
Man, you guys should check out this one-shot I found called THE DETECTIVES!!! It fucking rules!!! It's got a Maze Agency story, a Mike Mauser story, it's even got an old Johnny Dynamite story. And a story about some Magnum kind of guy called Tony Bravado I never heard of. The Detectives was published about five years ago, or something. I found it in a bin. Best damn fifty cents I ever spent.

(I agree with Richard. The book was actually designed by our own Chris Mills, and was supposed to celebrate "Seventy Years of the American Private Eye." It also features an intro by Ed Gorman, as well as a Mike Mist story and a Jazz Age Chronicles Pin-Up. If you only have one private eye comic, this one will do very nicely, thank you very much.)

From Jim Stephenson in Alexandria, VA
Hey Kevin, let me put in a vote for my favorite "graphic" P.I.: Charles Burns' El Borbah, the "hero" of a series of stories in Raw Magazine. El Borbah, dressed in a leotard and wrestling mask, stumbles around in a nightmare world that looks like Chester Gould on a bad acid trip. Dark, violent, confusing, and very funny. These stories were collected in Hard-Boiled Defective Stories a few years ago, and are going to be reprinted in November, this time under the title El Borbah.

From John Platt in Plainfield, NJ
Okay, I was going to pass on my comments, since everyone else has already mentioned Ms. Tree, Mickey Spillaine's Mike Danger, Nightmark, The Spirit and all of the others I could think of. But then you had to go and mention Jazz Age Chronicles. Man, that was a great, fun, interesting book. Ted Slampyak wrote and drew it, and Caliber published it. There's at least one trade paperback, and a few short stories appeared in the Negative Burn anthology series. One great PI book. And everyone should tell their comic shops to order the Mike Mauser reprints that are coming out in the next few months. (Oh, and while we're talking about Mauser, don't ignore his appearances in the E-Man comic book. Hey, and there was even a Mike Mauser/Ms. Tree cross-over book called ... The P.I.s. Sigh, those were the days...)

From Nameless in California
It occurred to me that no one else has mentioned Hip Flask, Private Hippopautamus. Hip is a hard-boiled detective in a brief series of comics. This guy was one gutsy hippo, surrounded by beautful babes. Very rare I understand. I have never seen an intact comic, only excerpts.

Actually, mon ami sans nom, Hip Flask isn't real. He's a marketing tool for Amazing Images, to show off their comic book fonts. In doing so, they poke a bit of fun at the comic industry. It may all be a gag, but it's a good one. Some of the perpetrators included Jim Lee, Brian Bolland and Sergio Aragones. As a graphic designer myself, I must admit that those are some mighty tasty typefaces, and as a fan of both detectives and comics, I really wish Hip had been a real comic book. For a good chuckle, head on over to Amazing Images and see for your own bad self.

From Jim Doherty in Chicago, IL
Last comments, I promise. Best Cozy/Traditional PI series in Comics: The Maze Agency, created and written by Mike W. Barr. I think of the traditional "puzzle/whodunit" type of story, a la Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, or J.D. Carr, as being something separate from the hard-boiled PI, which is why I didn't think to mention this series earlier. But Jennifer Mays, proprietress of the Maze Agency, is a by-God licensed detective, and her adventures with her boyfriend, free-lance journalist Gabe, are among the best fair-play, traditional mysteries in any medium.

(Another great one, and best of all, I think The Maze Agency is actually being published these days, by Caliber. Unfortunately, the art isn't the greatest or most consistent, this time around.)

From Richard Awl
Found another treasure in the bins recently. It's called Green Candles, by Tom DeHaven and Robin Smith. It was published by Paradox Press as a 3-part graphic novel miniseries and it's pretty cool. It has this divorced PI whose hired to help out this pretty schoolteacher babe, who's his daughter's teacher, who's being threatened by this Devil-worshipping nutbar. A pretty good story, and since nobody bought it when it came out, you might find it for sale cheap, like I did.

(Thanks for reminding me of this one, Richard. You're lucky you found it cheap. It's a pretty low-key story, which actually fits into the mood quite well, actually. The detective, John Halting, is an appealing, down-to-earth character who's just trying to be a good dad, and come to terms with his recent divorce. Someone told me this has been re-issued lately as a single book, comprising all three issues. It's definitely worth checking out.)

Oh, and by the way,
the results of the Summer 1998 P.I. Poll, which asked readers to discuss
The Cheese Stands Alone: Alternative P.I. Classics,
are posted here.

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