Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meeting Mickey

I said in the post below that I’d write about meeting Mickey Spillane, so here we go. Of course, being me, I couldn’t just write about the actual meeting but had to backtrack a bit to explain how and why I ended up meeting him in the first place.
For a guy who read almost nothing but hardboiled detective fiction for more than a decade, it took me a while to get around to Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer books. In fact before I read any of the Hammer novels I read a book about Hammer and Spillane called One Lonely Knight: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer by Max Allan Collins and James L. Traylor. This would have been in the late 1980s. Not sure where I got the book. Might have been at the late lamented Science Fiction/Mystery bookstore in Atlanta. I might have ordered it. I might have bought it at a convention. Can’t recall.
Anyway, One Lonely Knight is a literary study of Spillane and his work and also a history of the character Mike Hammer with chapters devoted to Hammer’s appearances, not only in books, but movies, TV, records, comic strips, etc. A very cool book and once I had read it I wanted to actually read the Hammer novels. I went to my local used bookstore and picked up a couple and that was it for me. I read straight through all the Mike Hammer books and eventually even bought them on audio to listen to during my daily commute. (Television’s Mike Hammer Stacy Keach read the books on tape.)
Obsessive compulsive type that I am, I became as fascinated with Spillane as I was with Hammer so I hunted down all the articles and interviews I could find. I got a bootleg VHS of The Girl Hunters, the movie where Spillane plays Hammer, and when I couldn’t find a copy of Ring of Fear, a movie where Spillane plays himself, but sort of Hammer too, I went to the trouble to track down One Lonely Knight co-author James L. Traylor who was a fellow Georgia resident and he was kind enough to loan me his copy of the movie. (It was on Beta-Max but Cliff had a beta to VHS tape machine and he dubbed me a copy. See the lengths I go to?) I also got Traylor to sign my copy of One Lonely Knight. Later I would get Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty, who drew the cover, to sign it as well.
So that’s how I became interested in all things Spillane.
Now, jump forward to 1995. A new comic book company called Tekno Comics (Big Entertainment) had started a handful of comic book titles, most featuring the name and involvement of a famous writer or actor. They had Gene Roddenberry, Isaac Asimov, Neil Gaiman, John Jakes, Leonard Nimoy and…Mickey Spillane.
The Mickey Spillane comic book was called Mike Danger. Legend has it that Mike Danger was the original prototype for Hammer. Spillane, who had written for Marvel (then known as Timely) comics in the 1940s created a tough guy private eye for the comics around 1947. The comic failed to sell and Spillane turned Danger into Hammer and wrote the novel I, the Jury. (Apparently someone did get around to printing some of the original Mike Danger comic stories in the 1950s in the pages of a comic called Crime Detector. Hmmm, I should track those down.)
The new Mike Danger comic, co-written (I suspect mostly written) by Max Allan Collins, was sort of a twist on Buck Rogers, with the hardboiled Danger ending up in the far future where his old school attitude is out of step with the times. Collins was no stranger to the four-color page, having written the Dick Tracy comic strip for many years and having created the private eye comic Ms. Tree. He also wrote Batman and Wild Dog at DC, revived Johnny Dynamite for Dark Horse, and wrote the justly famous graphic novel Road to Perdition. I still consider Ms. Tree the best private eye comic in the history of comics and really wish someone would collect the whole run into graphic novels.
But I digress, as Peter David is fond of saying. Back in 1996 I was still a regular reader of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper (their editorial stances have since driven me away) and one morning I saw a small article about Big Entertainment that mentioned that Mickey Spillane would be signing copies of Mike Danger at a comics/record store in Atlanta that weekend. I knew roughly where the place was, so on the advertised day I gathered up my hardback of the most recent Mike Hammer book, 1990’s The Killing Man, and headed for Atlanta. I didn’t take any Mike Danger comics with me, figuring I’d buy them at the store.
The first thing I realized when I got to the store was that not only was Mickey Spillane there, but so was Max Allan Collins. The article hadn’t mentioned he would be there as well and I was a little put out, as had I known I’d have brought some of his books too, but fortunately I saw Collins at San Diego Con and Chicago Con several times.
Anyway, there sat Mickey Spillane, in a black polo shirt with the Tekno Comics logo on the sleeve. His crew cut was snow white but otherwise he looked just as he had in all the beer commercials. I could hear him as I walked in, chatting and laughing with folks who waited in line to get their comics signed. I bought several issues of Mike Danger and joined the line.
Tekno had a couple of folks there dressed up as characters from their comics. You could get your picture (Polaroid) taken with a rhinoceros-headed alien. I saw my chance, so when I got to the front of the line I asked the photographer, “Hey, can I get one with Mr. Spillane?”
Spillane jumped up and said, “He sure can!” and hurried around the table. When he got to me he looked up, (I was about a foot taller then him.) grinned, and said, “Jeez! You make me feel like a little shrimp.”
The guy took the picture and that Polaroid still rests inside the dust jacket of the Killing Man, right next to where Spillane signed the book to me. I looked at it last night. There I stand with Mickey Spillane. He has his arm around me like I’m his grandson and I’m grinning like an idiot.
I chatted with Spillane and Collins for a bit, and Spillane told me about the new upcoming Hammer novel, Black Alley. Both men signed my comics and then I stepped aside for the next person in line.
Sometimes when you meet a hero, they don’t live up to your expectations, but Spillane was great. Just the nicest, funniest, just plain coolest guy you could imagine.


Tex said...

"The comic failed to sell and Hammer turned Danger into Hammer and wrote the novel I, the Jury."

Yeah, I sometimes get them confused, too.

And thanks for the info on One Lonely Knight! No idea how I missed that one.

(who popped over from Al's Blog That Time Forgot)

PS--Ain't it a kick when the guys you admire turn out to be cool cats?

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Glad to see you here, Tex. Yeah, Spillane and Hammer are so closely linked in my head that it's easy to confuse them. One Lonely Knight is a great and fun book. My copy is very 'well thumbed' as Holmes would say.