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NYCC 2015: Duane Swierczynski Interview
Interview conducted by James Ferguson
Dark Circle Comics came out swinging with a powerful title in The Black Hood. Written by Duane Swierczynski and illustrated by Michael Gaydos, the book follows drug-addicted cop Greg Hettinger as his life spirals out of control. His only lifeline is a mask he wears as he begins to pursue a career as a vigilante on the streets of Philadelphia. The first five issues will be collected into a trade paperback soon and issue #6, featuring art by Howard Chaykin, debuted in late October. I had a chance to catch up with Swierczynski at the Archie Comics booth on the floor of New York Comic Con.
James Ferguson: Philadelphia plays a huge part in The Black Hood. You mentioned at the Dark Circle Comics panel that you grew up there. Was it a conscious decision to set the book there?
Duane Swierczynski: I like to set stuff there. My crime novels are all set there too. For comics, you rarely get a chance to set things in Philly. Usually super heroes have their own home base like Gotham City or New York as a default. I thought it would be fun to set it in not only Philadelphia, but in the places you never see. My neighborhood where I grew up was called Frankford and it's really a shithole, honestly. It was a proud little country village that just hit the skids over the years. The house I grew up in was purchased by drug dealers after we left, which I didn't learn until later. I became a little obsessed. I sort of love and hate and miss my old neighborhood, so I want to set a super hero series in a place where you really need a hero of some sort.
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JF: The Black Hood isn't necessarily a hero. I don't even know if you can call him an anti-hero.
DS: [Laughs] Barely, yeah.
JF: You've referenced a lot of 1970s crime movies when speaking about The Black Hood. Are there any specific titles that were a major influence for the book?
DS: One is definitely The French Connection. I mean, the villain is called The Connection, so that's a nod to that movie. A lot of '70s vigilante movies like the first Death Wish. I like downbeat private eye movies too. There's one called Hickey & Boggs that's great. It's got a white and black detective team with Bill Cosby (of all people) and Robert Culp team up for this case that kicks their ass. They're always behind the eight ball. It's a very dour movie, but I love it. To be a proper noir story, the hero has to always be losing. The goal is not to stay alive. It's to not lose as much. You're going to lose something. You're going to lose your soul. Those are the influences spiritually.
JF: Is that the aspect of that genre that interests you the most?
DS: Those themes, yeah. I of course love big, dumb action movies like anyone else, but if I were ever to see a Black Hood movie, it would have to be more of a noir, lower budget, really dark ride, like “Abel Ferrara's Black Hood.” A Bad Lieutenant kind of vibe. I love those kind of stories.
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JF: So much of The Black Hood is grounded in reality, as if this is what would really happen if someone were to put on a mask and start fighting crime.
DS: That's the goal really. I had a picture of the streets that I grew up on. What would happen if a guy in a mask popped out? People would either laugh or they'd run. I didn't want that kind of reaction like “Oh, there's the Black Hood”, although there's a nod in issue #7 where he's well-known enough that people actually recognize him because they've seen him in the tabloids. He wants to be a hero and do good. That's why he became a cop, but it's a hard battle. It's all up road.
JF: Because he is a police officer and he's taking justice into his own hands, has there been any reaction from the law enforcement community?
DS: I'm pulled over a lot more. [Laughs] No, I'm kidding. I have relatives and good friends who are cops. There's been nothing bad so far. I'm not a cop. I was a journalist in my previous life, so I'm always leery about writing about someone else's world and getting it right. I try to run things by people. I have a few cops that I've interviewed and asked about procedure stuff. “If this happened, what would you guys do?”
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JF: So if someone showed up in a mask, what you would guys do?
DS: A mask, no, but I figured he'd probably be treated as a menace, not as a hero.
JF: You've also written X for Dark Horse Comics. There are some similarities between him and The Black Hood, at least in costume. If you had to pit them against each other, who would come out on top?
DS: Sadly X, as he actually has powers. I think X would totally eviscerate poor Greg, but I'd root for Greg more. He's a scrappy guy trying to fight to the death. He's tested in the first arc, but in the second, he's really tested. It's a make-or-break time for him. I like characters that change. If they're injured, they don't just bounce back when the reset button is hit in the next issue. He'll have those scars for a long time.
JF: Is there anything you want to tease going into the next arc?
DS: The next arc features a proper villain team. It's a real-world super villain team in Philadelphia called The Crusaders. They wander the streets in a white van wearing masks and carrying tasers and bats. They're targeting the scumbags like the addicts and the homeless. In a real way these are the people we should be helping, but the Crusaders are trying to rid the streets of them forever. The Black Hood gets involved. It's kind of a weird class warfare thing happening and it gets ugly.
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