Mystery, Murder, and Missing ACTION COMICS Art in THE SWAN KING

"Action Comics #305" cover by Curt Swan
Credit: Curt Swan (DC Comics)
Credit: Kevin Greene

Owning rare comic book art can make you a killing. But in a new prose novel, it can also cause a killing.

The Swan King is a new novel by Kevin Greene about the disappearance of a particular piece of comic book hisory -- a Curt Swan Superman cover -- and how it prompts a murder. You could call it detective fiction, but the protagnist isn't any kind of detective -- he's a comic book art dealer.

Newsarama spoke with Greene about this unique comic book-inspired mystery, the impetus for him setting it in the world of original art collecting, and why a certain piece of Curt Swan art stood out to him.

Newsarama: Kevin, what can you tell us about The Swan King?

Kevin Greene: The Swan King is what I call Geektective fiction. I've always wanted to write a mystery novel and I wanted to combine that with my love of comics and all of geek culture, really, in one book. So specifically The Swan King is about a comic art dealer named William Farrar who is asked to find a missing piece of Silver Age Superman art. It starts simply enough but he soon discovers that there is more to this art that meets the eye.

Nrama: What led you to base it around comic book art?

 Greene: Well, I am an artist myself, a cartoonist and caricaturist so I definitely wanted the book to be a mystery centered around art. I was kicking around what kind of art and finally I said to myself, "Stupid, you know and love comics." And the old axiom is "Write what you know."

Nrama: And the specific Curt Swan piece at the center of this, Action Comics #305. Why that one, an do you know who actually owns it?

Greene: The specific art is the cover to Action Comics #305, which features Clark Kent switching to Superman while three criminals are watching through a trick mirror. One of them has sold the secret to Superman's identity for a million bucks while another plots to bump off Clark Kent at the Planet with some Gold Kryptonite. Another crazy 60's Superman story. And I have no idea who owns the art. [Laughs] I've looked online but could not figure it out. So I just ran with it.

Credit: Curt Swan (DC Comics)

Nrama: So what can you tell us about the lead in this, William Farrar? Is he a detective himself?

Greene: No, William Farrar is just a normal guy. Well, a normal guy who loves comics and sci-fi and collectibles and sells original comic art. So, not so normal, I guess. He is good at finding pieces of art that people want but that's pretty much the extent of his detective skills. He just walks into a situation that becomes a lot more than he expected.

Nrama: And why are people in pursuit of this Curt Swan piece willing to murder to get it?

Greene: Well.... that's the mystery, isn't it? I will say that it is completely comics related. That much I will say.

Nrama: Can you tell us about the other pieces of comic history and lore you've included in The Swan King?

Greene: Well, early in the book William Farrar goes into a comic art gallery that the man who has hired him has arranged in his home. And there I get a chance to geek out on all kinds of art that I love. In this gallery there is art and original pages by Win Mortimer, Rafael Grampa, Bernie Wrightson, George Perez, John Romita, Eduardo Risso, Will Eisner and a lot more. And of course, Jack Kirby. And throughout the book, there are discussions of comics and creators and visits to comic stores... in some ways it's really a love letter to what I called in my dedication "The most underrated art form known to man."

Nrama: Can you tell us about yourself, what you do, and your own connection to comic books?

Greene: I am a freelance logo designer, cartoonist and caricaturist and I went to the High School of Art and Design and The School of Visual Arts, both in New York. I've been around artists and comic fans my whole life. I remember in high school running with my friends to get comics (back then they came out on Thursdays) to get the new issues of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Uncanny X-Menn and Frank Miller's Daredevil. Over the years I've read some of, in my opinion, the greatest runs on comics: Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Teen Titans, which was just as big as the X-Men; John Byrne’s Fantastic Four; Walt Simonson's Thor; Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel on Nightwing ( I loved that book!). So many great comics over the years. My last “Cannot Miss” comics were Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic on Thor (and still now with Dauterman) and Mark Waid and Chris Samnee on Daredevil. I love comics. I always will.

Nrama: What do you have planned next now that The Swan King is out?

Greene: Well, I am plotting a sequel to The Swan King tentatively titled Red Machine. More comics, more art, more murder, more cops. And now toss in the Secret Service (?) and the Russian Mob (!!!!). And romance. (Ooooh Ahhhh). No idea how I'm going to pull that off but gonna try my best! 

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