Crime Never Tasted So Sweet – An Interview with CHARLES ARDAI
Comic Book Yeti contributor Ty Whitton chats with Charles Ardai for a deep dive into Titan Comics' Gun Honey: Blood for Blood. Ty and Charles discuss the inspiration for the character Joanna Tan, the genre of crime comics, and what happens next if your comic is optioned for television.
COMIC BOOK YETI: It is an honor to be able to interview you, Charles, reading your crime fiction work has been thoroughly enjoyable! If you were put into a situation where you had the ability to introduce new readers to your Gun Honey series, to include Gun Honey: Blood for Blood, what would your elevator pitch to them look like?
CHARLES ARDAI: Joanna Tan is the best in the world at what she does: she’ll get you the weapon you need when you need it, where you need it, no matter how impossible. But this puts her at odds not only with law enforcement agencies but also with fellow criminals, sometimes both at once – and when that happens she has to use all her wits to escape, to survive, and to come out on top.
CBY: As Gun Honey: Blood for Blood falls into that crime fiction category, how would you best describe how you transitioned from your first hit series to the new arc?
CA: We had no idea the first series would be a hit – so I planned it as a standalone story. When the first one blew up and it became clear we’d get to do another, I thought about what the consequences would be of the first story’s dramatic climax. Joanna has brought the person responsible for murdering her family to justice – but what if that person had family too? And what if the survivor were someone just as smart as Joanna, but physically larger and stronger and more ruthless? If that person set out to make Joanna suffer for what she’s done, it could really push Joanna to her limits. And that’s what BLOOD FOR BLOOD is about.
CBY: In reading Gun Honey: Blood for Blood #1, it’s so much fun to witness the superb flow to the new arc thus far. How are you going about making sure this new adventure for Joanna Tan finds as much success as the first four issues of Gun Honey?
CA: Part of the appeal of GUN HONEY is the pace of the story, so in this one we dive right in: the action starts right on Page 1, and Joanna’s in serious trouble immediately (though she doesn’t know it!). The issue-ending cliffhangers are important, and every issue here has a real knockout. Speaking of knockouts, some readers were drawn to GUN HONEY by the gorgeous and sexy covers, and we have more than two dozen for collectors to enjoy, including ones drawn by the likes of Adam Hughes, Artgerm and legendary movie poster painter Robert McGinnis. The interior art, once again by Ang Hor Kheng, also doesn’t stint on the sex appeal – Joanna is a ferociously competent woman who’d be fun to watch get into and out of trouble regardless of what she looked like, but she’s also not exactly hard on the eyes (nor does she feel the need to wear clothes in every situation). And the exciting international settings continue: from Malaysia to Milan to Montana to Monaco, we’ll be seeing the world by her side.
CBY: Would you compare Joanna Tan and her adventures to how James Bond’s legacy began?
CA: The Bond novels and films were of course one of my great inspirations for Joanna’s adventures in GUN HONEY, along with the Modesty Blaise novels (and comic strips) by Peter O’Donnell. Like Bond, Joanna is already experienced and skilled by the time we meet her, so there’s the fun of watching the best at work – like the song says, “Nobody does it better.” She also lives in the same kind of relentlessly dangerous world as Bond and Blaise, with killers lurking around every corner and twisty intrigues for her to get drawn into. Of course, it would be a dream for Joanna’s saga to attract as many readers and fans as those classics and span decades the way they have – very few characters have that kind of staying power. But every legacy has to start somewhere, and I’m beyond excited that Joanna’s didn’t begin and end with her first story – her CASINO ROYALE, if you will.
CBY: What influences did you have in writing Joanna Tan?
CA: Aside from Bond and Modesty Blaise, I was influenced by the storytelling of brilliant mystery writers like Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake, masters of making you turn the next page and also at layering the immediate in-the-moment action with emotional significance: if you know who’s shooting at Joanna and why they want her dead, it’s so much more dramatic than if it’s just random thugs with guns. Movies like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK were also a big influence: an Indiana Jones adventure is all about the storytellers topping themselves – and then…and then…AND THEN!! It’s about momentum. A good thriller is propulsive and doesn’t leave you much time to catch your breath.
CBY: It seems as though Joanna’s opposition is stopping at absolutely nothing to get her out of their way. Is this an antagonist readers have seen before and where do you take your inspiration for their particular model of villainy?
CA: The villain in GUN HONEY: BLOOD FOR BLOOD is a woman readers glimpsed for just a panel or two in the last issue of the first story. She has powerful personal reasons for being upset by what Joanna did (we’ll find out more in Issue 3 of the new story), and now she has dedicated her life to making Joanna pay. That’s a dangerous sort of person to have mad at you! Especially when she’s six-foot-plus, built like a tank, and an absolutely merciless chess player. Joanna is stealthy and wily and a great improviser, but she’s not physically large or, when you come right down to it, a killer. She supplies weapons, she’s not generally the one pulling the trigger. But she may not have a choice this time around.
CBY: Ang Hor Kheng, Asifur Rahman, and David Leach all did a phenomenal job bringing your writing to life with their art, colors, and lettering in your work so far within Gun Honey #1-4 and Gun Honey: Blood for Blood. What would you credit as the source of the chemistry between yourself and the artists in order to produce such a fantastic book?
CA: Ang is the main man behind the stunning visuals, since he’s the guy who takes a blank sheet of paper and fills it with whatever insane things I dream up. I can’t give him enough kudos for it – he’s simply brilliant. He lives half a world away, in Malaysia (where Joanna is from!), so our interaction is almost exclusively via email, and with a 12 hour time difference for good measure. But we both get excited about the same sorts of story elements, so an email exchange between us can be like a pair of excited fans talking about their favorite character: what if she did this, or this, or this? A gun hidden where? Shaped like what?? We bounce off each other really well. And then Asifur comes in to bring Ang’s black-and-white pages to life with his amazing colors, adding depth and dimension and drama, separating key elements and drawing the eye to just where we want it to go. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of color in making a scene, especially a complex one, work on the page, so that you see and understand what’s going on right at first glance, and get carried along from panel to panel with the feeling that you’re inside this world, not just peeking in from outside. And then of course David has the nearly impossible challenge of getting all my words to fit in somewhere without covering the gorgeous details we want you to see of Ang’s and Asifur’s work! Without the words, you don’t know what’s really going on – it’d be pure kinetics. But getting all those words in there and making it feel organic is a real challenge, and I’ve never met someone who does it better than David. I am always certain he’s going to call me and say “We can’t get it all in, you have to cut something!” But it hasn’t happened yet.
CBY: What do you believe Gun Honey offers readers that other comic books cannot?
CA: The genre of crime and thriller comics is not as big as superheroes or horror or even science fiction/fantasy, but I think that also makes it fresh and different – it’s not just yet another person in a cape and tights, or yet another brain-eating zombie. Sometimes you just want a fun change of pace. Burgers are great, but not every meal every day – sometimes you want pizza. We offer that change of diet. Plus, most comics still feel like they’re written with an “all audiences” mindset, while GUN HONEY is very much for adults – like the Bond movies or Bourne movies or any other great Hollywood crime thriller, there are real stakes here, meaning when bullets start flying, they actually hit people and the consequences aren’t sanitized for kids in the audience. When Joanna takes her clothes off we don’t demurely pan away. This is a grown-up story meant to make your heart race and your palms sweat. Nothing against comics for kids – I grew up reading them – but this ain’t Richie Rich.
CBY: Noting that Gun Honey has been optioned for a television deal, how involved do you plan on being within the development of that opportunity? By the way, congratulations on this wonderful announcement!
CA: Thanks! Believe me, I’m as excited as you are. A pilot script has been written, by a terrific screenwriter, and the third draft is circulating as we speak to potential directors and lead actresses, and we’ll see what happens. I worked with one of the two production companies involved, Piller Segan, for six years making the TV show HAVEN, and it would be a treat to work with them again. Meanwhile, Vision New Media, based in Asia, has been amazing to work with in getting the project off the ground, and I love the idea of telling Joanna’s story with creative talent from the part of the world where the character is from. Joanna is half-Asian and that side of her heritage is a big part of who she is. Not to mention that I want an excuse to get on a plane and go to Kuala Lumpur!
CBY: What do you hope to see in the television opportunity that has and has not made it into your Gun Honey books?
CA: In the comics, we only have 22 pages per issue and 4 issues per arc, so you have to stay very tight and can only build out Joanna’s world so much. Even if the television show only had, say, 8 episodes to play with, that’s 8 hours – more than THE GODFATHER PART I and II put together! We could really get to know the people in Joanna’s life, find out who she relies on for her supply of weapons, who she goes to when she’s injured or needs to hide, what her home looks like (does she even have one, or is it all hideouts and hotel rooms?). We could give her relationships beyond the immediate needs of the story we’re telling. In a feature you might still confine yourself mainly to the action, but a TV series can give you more, as we’ve seen with some of the amazing streaming shows over the past few years, and I’d love to give Joanna that extra room to show us her world.
CBY: What can you tell us about the future of the Gun Honey books and what lies in store for Joanna Tan?
CA: You mean assuming she survives BLOOD FOR BLOOD? Because if she doesn’t, I guess anything else would need to be a prequel. :) I can tell you that Ang and I have a cheat sheet of ideas we haven’t tackled yet, places we’d like to take her and that he would enjoy drawing. We’d like her to go to Japan, for instance, and there are storylines in Eastern Europe that have been tempting us. Russia – have you seen that long, long table Putin sits at, so that no one he’s meeting with is anywhere near him? I wonder if anyone on Earth could get a gun into that room…
CBY: Can you let us know what other projects you’re currently working on, and any additional projects that you have yet to start writing?
CA: Hard Case Crime is coming up on its 20th anniversary – we haven’t been publishing comics for all that time, but our first novels came out in 2004, and 2024 is just around the corner – and there are some very cool books coming between now and then, like TOO MANY BULLETS, which is ROAD TO PERDITION author Max Allan Collins’ take on the assassination of Robert Kennedy, done as a classic private eye story. We’re also bringing out the novel that inspired the upcoming movie FAST CHARLIE, starring Pierce Brosnan as a ruthless killer and James Caan, in his final role, as a dying Mob boss. I haven’t sat down to write a new novel myself for several years, but to celebrate our 20th anniversary I am putting together a collection of my 20 best short stories, including one that won the Edgar Award and several that have been chosen for various Year’s Best anthologies or other awards. Tentative title: DEATH COMES TOO LATE. Though maybe I’ll just call it “20”...
CBY: Where can readers and fans of your work find you online?
CA: Start at www.hardcasecrime.com, or search for Hard Case Crime on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Between our website and social media, you can see all our covers, read sample chapters from our books, and stay on top of what’s coming next.
CBY: Thank you so much Charles for hanging out with us in the Comic Book Yeti cave for this interview! I have a great feeling about Gun Honey: Blood for Blood and what’s in store for the future of Gun Honey on the pages and on-screen!