Hard Case Crime—look for the yellow label, the label of quality!—has expanded into comic books. And they did it with a bang, with titles from noir kingpins Christa Faust and Gary Phillips as well as director Walter Hill.
Triggerman #1 by Hill—best known for The Driver, The Warriors, Southern Comfort, 48 Hrs., Hard Times, and The Long Riders—is out now. Peepland, by Faust & Phillips, streets on October 12th. I was lucky enough to get a peep at the New York Comic Con special issue, and these two noir vets capture the feel of lost, dirty ‘80s Manhattan like it was yesterday.
Faust was at NYCC to promote the comic with Hard Case honcho Charles Ardai, and I had the pleasure of touring Times Square with the author. Faust is not only a paperback pulp historian and famed writer, but also a former peep show girl. What better tour guide than this daring Angel?
Faust is best known for her Angel Dare series for Hard Case Crime—Money Shot, which kicks off in the California porn world; Choke Hold, which dives into the seamy underbelly of mixed-martial arts; and the upcoming The Get-Off, which follows Angel into the violent rodeo circuit.
We met at Faust’s childhood home in Hell’s Kitchen, where her apartment is now part of a tony if “cozy” building, stuck between a soulless white-tile edifice and a horrid upscale bourbon & BBQ joint crawling with trust-fund hipsters. It’s a long way from the “ziggurat of filth” it was in the ‘80s, in her words. Back then, Times Square was the Pyramid of Sleaze-a in Manhattan’s Valley of the Kings.
We started down the street at a park she played in as a kid, which still had graffiti and snoozing junkies if you miss “old NYC.” No one was nodding off, so we couldn’t play “junkie basketball.” If you’ve been around opium addicts, you know they nod off. Usually they fall forward, but sometimes they nod back with their mouth open, forming a hoop for you to toss rolled up balls of paper. Kids were shooting plain old basketball hoops instead, and we clambered over the Hell’s Kitchen Express, a sturdy toy locomotive that’s been there since Faust was a kid.
Next stop was Show World, one of the last standing sleaze shops in Times Square. They no longer have Live Girls, only video booths, with a sign stating “couples must leave curtain open.” Sex Toys galore. I haven’t been in a sex shop since The Pleasure Chest in West Hollywood, and Show World is like Dildo Walmart in comparison. We didn’t find any artisanal, locally sourced cock rings. But Christa did slip past the security guard so we could take a photo by the stairs that used to lead to the booths where the live girls like her performed back in the day. If you want to see what it was like, Peepland kicks off with Roxy Bell entertaining a customer, when a shutterbug pal dashes in and gives her a VHS tape.
After we got kicked out of there, we looked for the peep shop where she worked back in the day, after answering an ad in the classifieds, and having a Polaroid taken. It took us a while because Times Square is almost entirely remodeled with new facades. We made a quick stop at the Times Square Theater on 42nd, of the infamous porno marquees—The Sperminator! Romancing the Bone! et al—until Christa recognized an empty storefront’s unique marquee. Under the paint, the mirrors remain:
Navigating Times Square is hungry work. “It’s like Blade Runner, now!” in her words, and I can’t deny it. All we were missing was the rain and flying cars. We walked uptown and stopped at The Flame, near the Parc Vendome, Matthew Scudder’s territory. Lawrence Block wasn’t there, nor Matt drinking coffee, but we had good waffles and pancakes. We looked for a bar, but even the nabe joints like Rudy’s and gay bars like the Ritz—where you can get a well drink for $5, unheard of in $12-cocktail Manhattan—were crowded and noisy and lousy with tourists.
We settled on a bodega called Smiler’s that survived from the ’70s by remaking itself as a health food joint. I grabbed a forty, and Christa snagged a Kale Blazer to taunt me. You can’t ever go back to the Deuce as it once was, but you can visit if you read Peepland. The hard streets full of punks and drunks and sleazes lives on in this new story from Faust and Philips for Hard Case Crime Comics.
Kale Blazer is also my porn name—TP
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Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, a Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller coming from Down & Out Books in 2017, and the editor of the Protectors anthologies to benefit PROTECT. He has slung hash, worked on the docks, and even swept the Guggenheim (not as part of a clever heist). Hailing from Nutley, New Jersey, home of criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, Thomas has so far evaded arrest. He shares his hideout with his sassy Louisiana wife and their two felines. You can find him at www.thomaspluck.com and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.