Written by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips | Art by Andrea Camerini | Published by Titan Comics
Sex sells, right? Well, that’s what Titan and Hard Case Crime are hoping with the launch of this new series. Co-written by Christa Faust, who as a former fetish model and dominatrix knows of what she speaks, and Gary Phillips, another prose crime fiction writer. This is very much Faust’s baby, set as it is in mid-1980′s Times Square, New York, the exact time and place Faust was manning those same peep booths. The characters are also based on real people she knew and interacted with, so Peepland sure won’t lack for authenticity. I’m reviewing the first two issues together, which should give a good feel of how the book will be.
The first half of Issue 1 does two things. We get a passing introduction to the mid 1980′s sex trade in Times Square, as mundane and seedy as you would expect, and meet Roxy Bell, one of those peepbooth girls. We also jump in on the plight of Dirty Dick, a pornographer running from some bad people. His path crosses with Roxy when he stuffs a VHS tape in her booth, tells her to tell no-one, then runs again. He unfortunately ends up underneath a New York Subway train not too long after. The police turn up at Roxy’s place, looking for information on his death, but Roxy keeps quiet.
As the men who murdered Dick rifle his apartment looking for the tape, Roxy deliberates over what to do with it. Destroy it? Hand it in? Watch it? She decides on the latter, and goes to her punk ex-boyfriend Nick Zero for a safe place to watch it. Watch it they do, and see why it is being looked for. While filming a standard porn outside, Dirty Dick captured a real life murder on film. Someone is trying extremely hard to get that tape back, which means that person is probably very important. Roxy realises she may be in a lot of danger, though more than she realises. The goons on the trail of her tape have now tracked it to her, and are looking for the apartment she shares with her uncle.
Turns out the man who wants the tape is Donald Trum…..er, Simon Went. (A middle aged rich New York white guy, married to Oksana, with a lot of blond hair, I think that was deliberate don’t you). Roxy has to rope in a friend, Snyder, to fix the tape, but after watching it he fancies freelancing it to get paid himself. Bad move, but then greed makes people do stupid things. The rest of the issue sees us looking in on the characters as they each ‘celebrate’ Christmas where they live; sometimes happy, more often sad. Great dialogue and character work make these scenes especially strong.
As authentic and well written as this is, poor artwork would have dragged it down. Happily, the artwork by Andrea Camerini and colours by Marco Lesko just add even more to immersing you in the book. The background detail in the art is incredible, so much to look at, and all the characters are well defined and well drawn. 1980′s New York, and especially the seedier parts like Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen never looked so good.
This is a really great read. It paints an extremely vivid picture of this time and place, of seedy porn, rampant street crime, casual racism, police brutality, and a wealthy elite who feel they can treat everyone else like they own them. The characters are never cyphers, they are real, living, breathing people all doing what they do for their own reasons. We learn to suspend our judgement on their lives as we learn more about them, what made them who they are. Little glimpses of the past are skillfully woven into the ongoing plot, especially with Roxy, which prove as interesting as the main story. The great covers, and the creator credits in pink neon really add to the immersion in the story as well.
If you want titillation you’ve come to the wrong place. Plenty of sex and nudity, but plenty of realism and accurate depictions too. Real people caught up in bad situations.
Fantastic first two issues, one for the top of the reading pile next month for sure.