May 12, 2018


Spillane to the Max

Max Allan Collins went from teenaged super fan of author Mickey Spillane to that of advocate and personal friend of Spillane. Ultimately Collins took on the role of co-author completing several unfinished works by Spillane and managing Spillane’s estate. 2018 marks the centennial of Mickey Spillane’s birth and the occasion will be marked with the publication The Last Stand (Hard Case Crime) in March and Killing Town (Titan) in April, two new works by Spillane and co-author Max Collins.

How did that develop into a relationship with the author?

I began visiting Mickey at his South Carolina home once or twice a year. We started doing projects together—anthologies, a comic book, and my documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (1999). It’s featured on the Criterion Collection’s release of the great Spillane adaptation, Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

You co-write new Mike Hammer stories with Spillane as equal billing. Was that intimidating?

Mickey thought I was right for it, so that’s good enough for me. Also, my first major writing job was taking over the writing of my favorite comic strip, Dick Tracy, from its creator, Chester Gould and I did that for fifteen years (1977-1993).

As the manager of the estate and his co-author, describe the very different back stories of these two new works.

I set two manuscripts aside, knowing that they would be perfect for Mickey’s centenary in 2018—his last novel, The Last Stand, and his never completed first Mike Hammer novel, Killing Town, begun around 1945, prior to the first published Hammer, I, the Jury (1947). The first Hammer and the last Spillane seemed the perfect centerpiece for the Spillane centenary.

Tell us how you came to hold such a pivotal role in work of one of the great Noir fiction masters.

As a teenager, I was obsessed with noir fiction by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Mickey Spillane. Spillane wasn’t getting the respect he deserved, so I became a defender of the most popular writer on the planet in his heyday.

What were you doing to address this issue?

I published articles and essays on Mickey, which got the attention of Bouchercon—the mystery fan and professional convention where I interviewed him in front of the entire convention.

How did that develop into a relationship with the author?

I began visiting Mickey at his South Carolina home once or twice a year. We started doing projects together—anthologies of his short fiction, anthologies of other noir writers, a comic book called Mike Danger that ran several years, and a documentary I did called Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane (1999).  It’s featured on the Criterion Collection’s release of the great Spillane adaptation, Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

How did this lead up to you completing his unfinished work.

Mickey had started numerous novels that he did not complete, so a week before he passed in 2006, Mickey asked if I would complete the Hammer he was working on. A few days later Mickey told his wife Jane, “Take everything you find and give it to Max—he’ll know what to do.”

What can readers expect from The Last Stand?

The book with that title includes a previously unpublished early ’50s novella by Mickey that I polished and completed—”A Bullet for Satisfaction,” a very typical “Vintage Spillane” yarn. The Last Stand itself is a lovely adventure story and a surprisingly gentle rumination on getting older, though it has its exciting and tough elements. It involves a downed pilot who is aided by a Native American, both of whom become involved with a precious mineral discovery. At its heart The Last Stand is about the friendship between two men, the love between a man and a woman, with jealousy and greed unsuccessfully toppling those two relationships—a more meaningful place for Mickey to wind up is hard to imagine.

What has it been like writing new Spillane novels and what can we expect from the latest book – Killing Town?

My approach to completing a substantial manuscript into a novel, or a developing a novel out of a shorter (say 40 page) manuscript, is first to try to determine when Mickey worked on it. I prepare for a novel by reading books Mickey wrote around the same time, to try to get into where his head was then.

I really don’t try to write like Mickey, though. For one thing, he already heavily influenced me, as did Hammett and Chandler of course. I just stay true to the character—if I get Hammer right, the book will be right.

My wife Barb — with whom I write the “Antiques” mysteries for Kensington as “Barbara Allan”—and I joined Jane in the Spillane home in Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina, and began gathering material from Mickey’s three offices there.

There’s a comic of Mike Hammer on the way. What are the challenges of adapting this character to graphic novel and what can readers expect from that story?

Mike Hammer began as a comics character., and Mickey began as a comics writer, scripting Sub-Mariner and Captain America, among many other characters. Mickey, in the ’40s, called his private eye Mike Danger and Mike Lancer, and only managed to sell one story with the character to the comic book publishers.  After the war, needing money to build a home for himself and his family, Mickey transformed Danger/Lancer into the prose Hammer—when he talked about that, Mickey would say, “Now you know what you’ve been reading all these years!” There was also a Mike Hammer comic strip in the early ’50s, when the Mike Hammer craze was at its peak, which Mickey co-wrote.

Of course I am a longtime comics writer, of everything from Dick Tracy and Batman to my own Road to Perdition, so this was hardly a challenge. I had done a science fiction version of Mike Danger as a comic book in the ’90s.  For the Titan mini-series, which will be collected as a graphic novel, I used a story Mickey and I developed from an unproduced radio script he wrote in the early ’50s—”The Night I Died.”  So far I have never done a Hammer project that didn’t begin with unpublished material from Mickey’s files.  I view all of this as collaborative work between Mickey and myself—I’m not just a writer assigned a famous character created by someone else.

Some purists might object, but I don’t just pick up where Mickey left off. I take his work and expand it—for example, if a scene happens off stage in his manuscript, I will likely put it on stage. His 100 pages becomes the first 200 pages of the book, which means actual Spillane content goes deep into the novel, with me writing only around 100 pages by myself.



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