Thursday, January 07, 2010

Guest Blog: Brian Ritt on Max Hamm, Fairy Tale Detective

Storybook Land.

A place where travel brochures play up the "happily ever after" thing big-time, but where "for every happy ending there are fifty miserable ones." Where trouble lurks at the corner of "Easy Street" and the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams". Where the local scandal rag, Storybook Confidential, heralds salacious headlines such as "BO PEEP'S CRIME SCENE SECRET" and "GEORGY PORGY LOVES THE LADIES".

So who is Storybook Land's protector? Its white knight who walks its mean streets, neither tarnished or afraid?

Max Hamm, Fairy Tale Detective...detective...detective...detective...

Your name is Max Hamm. You're a pig who barely makes enough dough to keep you in fresh mud. You run the HAMM AND EGGS DETECTIVE AGENCY. Your partner's a good egg named Humpty Dumpty.

Once upon a time, a mousy little frail named Bo Peep knocks on your door. She needs help. She claims she's lost her sheep. Actually, she claims they were kidnapped, and she's got the ransom note--complete with cut-out letters of different shapes and sizes-- to prove it.

You glance at the note. You fume. You're one Hamm who won't take any baloney. You're going to find the sheepnapping hardboiled yeggs and put the heat on 'till they're scrambled.

But Peep wants to pay the ransom and Dumpty offers to accompany her for protection...

It's after midnight. You're asleep. The phone rings and the cops want you to come to King Cole's Supper Club. It appears Dumpty has had some kind of "accident".

You arrive. You brush aside the "police line" tape in front of the Supper Club and cringe when you see Dumpty lying on the sidewalk, sunny-side up. No kings, no horses, are going to put this egg back together again. "For this one they were gonna need a spatula." You hear witnesses claim Dumpty was soused. You aren't sure what to think. You know Dumpty'd fallen off the wagon before. Still, something smells rotten. And it ain't just the fact that Dumpty was long-past his "sell-by" date.

Your eyes search through the crowd of gawkers, but Peep is nowhere to be seen. You begin to get the feeling you might be getting double-crossed. But nobody double-crosses Max Hamm. It just isn't kosher.

Time to investigate.

Peep works for "The Big G", aka "Ma Goose", aka "Mother Goose". The Big G owns one of the two biggest movie studios in Storybook Land. The other is owned by The Grimm Bros.

You try to get in to see The Big G, but her secretary, a tough broad named Muffett, says Ma's out of town, so come back next week.

You have to think fast. You see a black, fuzzy creature hanging from the ceiling by a thread. "Is that a spider?" you ask.

Muffet screams and runs down the hall, giving you a moment to slip into Ma's office and go through the confidential files on all her stars and starlets. You find Peep's file.


Little Bo's been in trouble before. In her file are at least a dozen baby pictures, showing Miss Peep both shameless and diaperless. "A youthful indiscretion," you think. But one that could provide a solid foundation for blackmail.

You head back to Ol' King Cole's Supper Club. You've done some work for Cole in the past. The fat man owes you a favor.

You ask Cole for the skinny on Peep. Cole tells you she hangs out with a sleazy trumpet player named Eddie "Little Boy" Blue. He give's you Blue's address and warns you to be careful.

You make the scene at Blue's fleabag boarding house. Ironically, Little Boy lives "in a shoe. A perfect place to find a heel." You bust into Blue's roach box as he's starting to climb out the window. You pull a gat and persuade Blue to stay and answer some questions.

You ask Blue about Peep and Dumpty. Blue pulls out some ragged papers. They concern Dumpty. They provide a tragic secret about your partner's past. No wonder the egg cracked up.

Blue pulls out a gat while you peruse the papers. Suddenly his apartment door opens and--

Blam! Blam! Blam!

One holey horn blower bites the dust.

Standing in the doorway is The Big G herself. The barrel of her roscoe is smoking. You know, based on the papers, that Ma Goose played a part in Dumpty's tragic end. You hear the cops, so you let the Goose take a gander at the papers while you scram.

Now there's only one piece of the puzzle missing

Your tires screech as you pull up to Peep's cottage. In the foyer you find packed suitcases, an insurance policy on Bo's sheep, and a one-way ticket on The Queen of Hearts.

You think you've cleared up the case, but then hear a sound from the back room. You head over there, and just as you ease open the door...

Max Hamm, Fairy Tale Detective is a graphic novel by Frank Cammuso. It contains four separate stories: The Big Sheep, and a three-part story called The Long Ever After.

Cammuso does a great job blending classic fairy tales, hardboiled legends, and the classic Hollywood era. This is one of the few comics in black-and-white I've enjoyed. But the drawing style is not just black-and-white; there are plenty of noirish shadows and shades of gray.

The book's raunch factor is much closer to Who Framed Roger Rabbit than Fritz The Cat. More specifically, a number of the fairy tale ladies, especially in The Long Ever After, have ample bosoms, and Max Hamm smokes and drinks. But no sex or four-letter words.

The book is somewhat modeled after those "Little Golden Books" you might have read as a kid. Like The Little Golden Books, on the inside of the front cover is written "This Book Belongs to", and a space is provided where you can sign your name. Unlike The Little Golden Books, that rest of the inside cover is filled with images of knives, guns, bottles of hooch, packs of cigs, and babes in bikinis.

The book is a little longer than 200 pages; each story is told in about 50 pages. I zipped through the book in two sittings. "Volume 1" is printed on the spine and title page, but the book was published in 2005, and at Mr. Cammuso's website, no Volume Two is mentioned. Which is a shame, because this book is successful in every way, in my opinion. It is a great novelty item for fans of hardboiled fiction, and I will proudly place it on the shelf next to my copies of The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. Though I doubt it will stay on the shelf for long. It is the kind of book I can open at any page and just savor fairy tale characters wearing trenchcoats, spouting hardboiled lingo, and getting involved in Confidential-type scandals.

If you want to get a look at the Max Hamm universe, you can find a sample story (one not included in the book) here.

This is an incredibly fun book and one I heartily recommend.


Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

Damn. Sam Spade transplanted to cartoonia. Should be worth a read.

Rittster said...

Mr. R.,

Your choice to comment on this post shows your impeccable taste.

Mr. R.

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