Sunday, May 23, 2010

Of Drifting Inspirations

For me at least, ideas tend to drift a little with time. Case in point: the setting idea I introduced as a "hard-boiled fantasy" sandbox has moved a little from the mean streets walked by Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. Not that the City doesn't have those streets--it certainly does, but consideration of the wider, weirder, world, and thinking about all the disparate elements of fantastic Americana I'd like to include has caused a shift in tone, or at least a broadening. Of late, I've been thinking of the ironic humor of perennial favorite (of mine anyway) James Branch Cabell, or, more apropos to this setting--Damon Runyon.

Anyway, with all that said, here are the current major ingredients of my strange stew of American fantasy/pulp weirdness:

L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: American fantasy at its most quintessential. W.W. Denslow illustrations help, but the classic film versions are probably influential, too.

Dashniell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon: I didn't say the hard-boiled influences were totally gone. It's got tough guy dialogue, a femme fatale, and double-dealing to get an ancient artifact.

Manly Wade Wellman, the Silver John, Judge Pursuivant, and John Thunstone stories. Fantasies that draw on American traditions--but also aren't afraid to make things up.

Max Collins and Terry Beatty, Johnny Dynamite. The 1994 limited series.  A private dick out of Mickey Spillane takes on a criminal Faust, in a psychotronic yarn.

Eric Powell, The Goon. The title character and his side-kick against zombies and other weird menaces in a fictional (and somewhat surreal) American city in a period vaguely between the Depression and the 50s.

E.C. Segar,  Popeye. Fisticuffs, quirky characters, a Sea Hag, and a Goon (no relation ;) ).

Animation & Film:
Baccano! (2007) anime (based on the light novel series by Ryohgo Narita) about warring criminal families, immortal alchemists, and a host of other quirky characters vying for an elixir of immortality in the 1930s.

Carnivale (2003): HBO series about a secret battle between Manichean forces coming to its resolution in the Depression-era dust bowl.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964): An mysterious Chinese man brings his fantastic circus to a small Southwestern town. Plenty of weirdness in an American setting.


Aaron E. Steele said...

Somewhat off topic, but I remember attending a home-brew murder mystery party in the late eighties (weren't they all the rage back then?) that was set in the 30's, and featured, nazi's, egyptologists, british secret service, adventurers, nuclear scientists, and a host of other period characters. There had to be over 50 people at the party. Other than it being about egypt and an nuclear weapons, I can't remember what the mystery was.

Perhaps murder mysteries qualify as LARPing? Anyway your post reminded me of that party, as it was another wierd take on recent history.

Trey said...

I think murder mysteries are maybe LARPing light.

netherwerks said...

Seven Faces of Dr. Lao is wonderful. Definitely it packs a nice bit of weirdness into the storyline without getting too HPL about it.

M.W. Wellman's Silver John is cool. Opens the door to a host of parallel occult detectives, especially my favorite; Karnacki who could be modded ever so slightly to be either a good guy, bad guy or ambiguous figure...or even with some work an occult femme fatale.

Cool. Looks like loads of fun...

Trey said...

Carnacki is cool. Wellman's John Thunstone is fairly in the Carnacki mode.