Noir is, in some respects, the water of life.
It can be applied to so many different kinds of creative media: writing, film-making, photography, art, comic books, fashion, even music. For me, noir’s best application is when it is combined with other genres, veering from pulp, crime and science fiction to gothic horror.
Hence you’ll witness Ed Brubaker taking varied routes in his comics like Fatale (horror noir), Criminal (crime, obviously) and The Fade Out (noir served straight).
With my own approach to noir, I’ll readily ‘fess up to inspiration from Brubaker, along with the style’s pioneers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane and Ross Macdonald.
I’m forever scouring or re-reading their work, and as a movie buff am enamored with cinematic adaptations like John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, or The Big Sleep as channeled by Howard Hawks.
Coming from a twenty-first century perspective in which a sense of the meta and pop-cultural references hold sway, you’ll find a million and one allusions to these gems between the lines of my comic books and novels – respect where it’s due, and all that jazz.
Hence characters and room numbers and hotel names mirror those found within the worlds created by Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, et al. Choices of drinks, taxi companies, even clipped moments of dialogue.
But as a writer I like to distill the noir into other elements, as I already mentioned, to create a different kind of tapestry.
What noir enables me to do is isolate those genres and render them a little different, whether it be an homage to golden age comic books from the 1940s (Bullet Gal), or rebooting a medieval romance (Black Sails, Disco Inferno). The standards of noir – a certain sense of cynicism, the not-so-happy outcome, mood, drinks, and cutting dialogue – bring out the best in any such side-step.
While some would decry taking a fine Scotch whisky like Bunnahabhain ($300 plus) and mixing it with water straight from a city faucet, I’d go so far as to assert that this adulterated tap water adds flavor – a gloriously varied one, depending on the metropolis in question.
Just skip the debased local H20 I discovered once in Hong Kong.
Andrez Bergen’s novel Black Sails, Disco Inferno is out now via Open Books.
His seventh novel Bullet Gal will be published through Roundfire Books in November.