Ace Atkins has made a living as the successor to Robert B. Parker as author of the Spenser crime novels, but for his comic book debut he’s revisiting his own crime detective Nick Travers.
On stands this week, the OGN Nick Travers: Last Fair Deal Gone Down adapts Atkins’ first novella about the blues-inspired P.I. with art by up-and-coming artist Marco Finnegan. Based in the city and surrounding marshes of New Orleans, Last Fair Deal Gone Down finds Travers investigating the suspicious death of his friend Fats when his trademark saxophone comes up missing.
Newsarama spoke with Atkins and Finnegan about their shared love for the crime genre, how they found each other through Robert B. Parker’s iconic character, and how they made their way together to Southern publisher 12 Gauge.
Newsarama: Ace, what can you tell us about Nick Travers: Last Fair Deal Gone Down?
Ace Atkins: This is a very special story to me as it was really the first solid, professional thing I ever wrote. I had been working since high school (way back in the eighties) to develop a good character and story. But it took me about five years until I knew I had something that worked. Last Fair Deal was that story. But unfortunately it sat unpublished -- due to it being too long for a short story and too short for a novel -- for nearly 15 years. The year it was finally published, 2008, it was a finalist for the Edgar Award.
Nrama: So just who is Nick Travers?
Marco Finnegan: I think Nick is very similar to the classic noir detectives I love (Spenser, Marlowe, etc.) but his motives are more personal. With the traditional P.I. their motivation (at least to begin with) is usually monetary, it's their job. With Nick (especially in this story) he's motivated by heart. Someone hurt someone he cares about and he wants it handled. There's no financial gain with Nick, he risks more than he gains. It's the moral code with some impulsivity that gets him going... I'm also pretty sure there's some Ace Atkins in there too. Ace is a big strong dude who has a code that makes him a great friend... but I wouldn't want to piss him off.
Atkins: Hmm. Well, I guess he's someone I always wanted to grow up and be. Someone I thought to be the embodiment of cool. (For the record, I never came close to being as cool as Nick.) But he's a former athlete turned scholar. He spends his time teaching blues history and searching for performers lost to time. But, of course, that doesn't pay the bills, so he's often hired off the books to track down something missing or stolen or to right some wrong. Many time he does it for free. I was very much inspired by the knight errant figure of characters like Robert B. Parker's Spenser (I now write that character for the Parker estate) and John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee.
Nrama: So for this story, how does Nick get involved in the murder mystery of his friend Fats?
Atkins: Classic and simple. He doesn't believe what he's told about his friend's death. He takes it on himself. The classic hero walking the mean streets. And in this case, the mean streets of New Orleans.
Nrama: As you mentioned earlier, this was previously published as a prose novella; why'd you decide to work on adapting it to comic books?
Atkins: It was published as a short but I never had any intention of drawing it out into a full length novel. It works the way it was written. The idea to turn it into a graphic novel came from many discussions with the brilliant Marco Finnegan. We kept on kicking around different projects to work on.
Nrama: Marco, I don’t recall seeing your name before this. Is this your first comic book work?
Finnegan: Yep! This is my first real pro gig! I primarily have done storyboards for commercials and I've done a lot of pitches for comic books that just never got going, so it was really nice how easy everything fell together on this one. Ace has been great about letting me play in his sandbox and Keven Gardner is the most supportive editor/publisher....they've really spoiled me in regards to collaborators!
Nrama: Did you adapt it into a comic book script, or did Marco work directly from your prose?
Atkins: I wrote it nearly 20 years ago and Marco did the rest. He would ask for my approval on certain cuts and edits. But in truth, his changes only improved my story and streamlined it.
Nrama: How did you connect with Marco and 12 Gauge to begin with?
Atkins: Twitter! Marco sent me some spot-on drawings of Spenser and our friendship began.
Finnegan: I really enjoyed his take on Spenser, read some of his other books and did some doodles of those characters. Ace liked those and said "it'd be neat if we made a comic based on one of the books." So I whipped up some samples and we went about shopping it... it didn't get picked up but we really liked working together. Ace mentioned Nick to me and I read some of them and was blown away! It had everything I loved drawing set in a world that I loved. So I started doing some samples and then by luck Keven liked some stuff I was posting on Twitter and asked if I had any desire to draw a book. I sent him the Travers pages and he liked them. It all fell together really nicely.
Atkins: Marco's work is so hip, cool, and unique. He understands the world I write about and brings it to life. Marco (who lives in Southern California) introduced me to Keven Gardner at 12 Gauge. In a weird coincidence, Keven and I are both from Alabama and both attended Auburn University at the same time. It was strange we hadn't met before.
Nrama: Do you have any plans to adapt your other prose novels, or do something new, in comic books after this?
Marco, 12-Gauge, and I hope to bring the first Nick Travers novel to life soon. Crossroad Blues is up next. I can't wait to see what Marco does with this one. And if he keeps on drawing them, I'll be happy to write some new stories for Nick. I miss that guy!