Despite being nominated for the Eisner Hall of Fame Award this year, Paul Levitz isn't done trying out new things as a writer. His newest project, the Dark Horse graphic novel Brooklyn Blood, is one of his first forays into the mystery genre after decades of being known for superhero and science fiction stories.
Set in the streets of Levitz's hometown, Brooklyn Blood tells the story of detective Billy O'Connor, who recently returned from military service. As he works a serial killer case, O'Connor's PTSD is easily triggered, particularly when clues lead him down a paranormal path.
Brooklyn Blood is illustrated by Fahrenheit 451 artist Tim Hamilton and was previously published in 16 chapters in Dark Horse Presents. But Levitz said it was always intended to be a single, collected story in the format hitting shelves in July.
Newsarama talked to Levitz about the story, the familiarity of writing about Brooklyn, and what he thinks of being nominated for the Eisner Hall of Fame.
Newsarama: Paul, we saw this a while ago as a serial story, right? But this collects the story?
Paul Levitz: Yes, but this was always the intention. It was published as a serial, but it was always designed as an integral whole.
Nrama: This must have been a fun genre for you to dabble in.
Levitz: Oh, absolutely. I'm a great fan of mystery stories, since childhood. The great mystery writers were tremendous influences on me, in terms of developing a sense of structure and storytelling and plot.
And there's more skeletal logic in that genre than there is in science fiction. Science fiction is all about the metaphor and about asking the grand questions of why, which is wonderful fun and I love reading it. But mystery stories are puzzle stories. How do you put the puzzle together in a satisfying way?
It's always been something I love. I had a little bit of a chance to do it a couple of times in mainstream comics within the superhero genre. But here was a chance to play in this field that I had liked for so many years.
Nrama: When I read the title, I probably would have guessed the writer. It's an area you know. Did you find yourself writing about a place you know?
Levitz: Well, there's a beauty in writing someplace where you understand how the place fits together. You can do that by research. You can immerse yourself in a place, and these days, it's easier to travel than it ever was before.
But this was my first original in many, many years. And my first ever set in the real world. So it was a comfortable place to start, where I knew the map and knew a lot of the history and then could take things out of the history that made for an interesting story put together in a very different way than they were in reality.
Nrama: Your main character is someone who has returned from military service in Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD, which plays a role in the story. Was that something you were familiar with? Or was it just something you really wanted to write about?
Levitz: I didn't know as much directly, but I had the great pleasure, six or seven years ago, of going on a week-long junket that the U.S. military defense department runs where they take people without military backgrounds, throw them on a cargo plane for a week, and take them from base to base, letting them have the opportunity to understand more about the military world.
And at that point, the lesson of that particular year's junket really was to say to these civilian leaders, hey, we have all these guys coming home, and gals, and we have almost no budget that's been given us to re-integrate them into the civilian world. Society as a whole has a debt to these people. What can you do that can help? Can you give them jobs? Can you just understand?
And you look at the statistics of what percentage of the homeless population are people who had military backgrounds and came back damaged in some fashion or another … and we don't do enough about that. We don't think about it in those terms.
I hope, in part, that a story like this touches that issue just a tiny little bit, obviously, but in terms of showing that even these people that come back have extra burdens in the process and it doesn't make them ruined forever, but they're coping with things. And that's a part of the story.
Nrama: The artist, Tim Hamilton, was he someone you knew? Or was he recommended for this type of story?
Levitz: I didn't know Tim. A mutual friend of ours, Christine Norrie, who's an Eisner-nominated artist who had worked for DC and who's a friend I talked with when I was casting about for an artist, made the suggestion, both on thinking about Tim's work specifically but also thinking about him as someone who's been living in Brooklyn for a number of years now.
And I looked at his work on Fahrenheit 451 and said, yeah, this could work.
It's an interesting challenge as a story for an artist in that you have to very specifically be set in a very real world, hopefully very authentically, but you have to integrate this overlay of the supernatural into it.
And Tim did some beautiful moments in that. I think particularly the moment in the subway tunnels with the sort of ghost train is one of my absolute favorites of his imagination coming into play to find a way to tell the story that I couldn't have asked an artist to do, because I couldn't have visualized something as complex as the solution he came upon. But it's wonderful storytelling and great emotion.
Nrama: And Paul, you're nominated for the Eisner Hall of Fame.
Levitz: A little prematurely, I think! I'm not ready to be sealed in a slab or a mylar bag yet, please!
Nrama: That's what I was going to say! Here you are publishing new stories, trying out new genres, and I assume you have every intent on continuing. It probably feels a little weird to be considered for a Hall of Fame before you feel like you're done. Then again, maybe you feel like you'd never be done? This is the type of career you can conceivably continue the rest of your life, right?
Levitz: You hope, as long as your brain's still working.
And there are people who've been inducted in recent years who are still working away. Walt Simonson went in last year or the year before and he's still rolling along, writing and drawing.
You know, it's a great honor to be nominated. It would be amazing to win and be in there along with so many of the people who were my mentors and my heroes when I was a kid.
But I'm not in a rush. [Laughs] I would like to be around a little bit yet.