|Max Allan Collins|
Early Life and Influences
Born in Iowa in 1948, Collins grew up in the Quad-Cities area, where he became fascinated by crime fiction from an early age, mostly due to his discovery of the character Dick Tracy. He followed the character in the Harvey Comics publication Dick Tracy Monthly, since no paper in the Quad-Cities carried the strip. He eventually began a written correspondence with the strip's creator Chester Gould, and the two men developed a friendship.
He later developed a fondness for more adult-oriented crime novelists such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and particularly Mickey Spillane. Collins became a vocal defender of Spillane, who was not highly-regarded by critics at the time.
Collins also became a fan of novelist Donald Westlake, who wrote crime fiction under his own name and under the pseudonym "Richard Stark". Collins was reportedly surprised when he learned that these two very different writers (Westlake displaying a more comic sensibility, while "Stark" was especially hard-edged) were actually the same man.
By the age of 14, Collins had completed a full-length crime novel, and was submitting it to editors in hopes of being published.
In 1971, Collins was admitted to the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. For his thesis, he submitted three novels, collectively titled The Quad-Cities Trilogy. These novels were eventually published as The Broker (1977), the first in a series of novels featuring free-lance contract killer Quarry; Bait Money (1971), the first in a series featuring professional thief Nolan (a character with a strong resemblance to "Stark's" character, professional armed robber Parker); and No Cure for Death (1983), featuring his most overtly autobiographical character, Mallory, an aspiring young Iowa mystery writer who solves crimes in and around Port City (a fictionalized depiction of Collins' home town of Muscatine, IA).
Professional Writing Career
As Collins became known as a crime novelist, he was also able to break into the comics medium. Collins collaborated with famed sports cartoonist Ray Gotto on a Depression-set daily strip about a hard-boiled Chicago private investigator named Nate Heller, called Heaven and Heller. While this strip was never purchased, it brought Collins to the comic strip syndicates' attention,and was instrumental in getting him the Tracy gig, which, in turn, opened the doors to other opportunities in the comics industry.
In 1979, he created Mike Mist, a hard-boiled Chicago private eye who (like Dick Tracy) wore a yellow trench coat and fedora. Mist solved fair-play whodunits in six-to-twelve panels.In 1981, Collins created another private eye character, Michael Tree, a hard-nosed female detective whose only overt nod to feminism was her insistence on being addressed as "Ms. Tree" (a deliberate pun on "mystery") rather than Mrs. Tree. First appearing in a six-part serial, "I, for an Eye," which appeared in Eclipse Magazine, Ms. Tree was spun off into her own comic book series, and later a novel.
Collins also did a short stint on the monthly Batman comic book for DC, and later was the scriptwriter for a short-lived Batman comic strip, collaborating with artists Marshall Rogers and Carmine Infantino.
Having honed his talents on the hard-boiled private eye story with Mike Mist and Ms. Tree, Collins began his most ambitious work to that point (the early 1980s), an historical novel fictionalizing the feud between Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak and Chicago mobster Frank Nitti. It featured a young ex-police officer turned private detective named Nate Heller (recycled from the failed comic strip), who was caught in the middle of that power struggle. Titled True Detective, the novel would win Collins the Shamus Award from the PWA for Best PI Novel of 1983. Heller has since gone on to be featured in fifteen novels and fourteen short stories, solving such famous real-life crimes as the Lindbergh kidnapping, the murder of the Black Dahlia, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and the assassination of Huey "Kingfish" Long.
Collins used the famed real-life law officer Eliot Ness (thought by some to be one of Chester Gould's real-life models for Tracy) as a supporting character in the Heller novels. He would later spin Ness off into his own series of novels, fictionalizing actual cases from Ness' tenure as the head of the police department in Cleveland, Ohio.
Collins has also collaborated with his wife, Barbara, under the joint pseudonym, "Barbara Allan," on a series of traditional whoduntis set in the world of antiques. He has written dozens of movie novelizations (e.g. Saving Private Ryan, Air Force One, US Marshals, American Gangster, et. al.), and original novels based on popular TV series (e.g. NYPD Blue, CSI, Criminal Minds, etc.). Collins has also authored a series of novels about murders occurring during famous disasters, such as the sinking of the Titanic and the attack on Pearl Harbor, which are solved by famous mystery writers who were actually at the scene of those events.Perhaps his most famous comics work, aside from his work on Tracy, has been the graphic novel Road to Perdition, which became the first comics-related work to make the New York Times best-seller list. The graphic novel was adapted into an Oscar-winning film, and Collins has produced a series of graphic novel follow-ups and prose novels.
Collins has, in recent years, gotten the chance to complete Mickey Spillane's work on several unfinished novels, an opportunity that mirrors his experience taking over the writing of Dick Tracy. When Spillane died in 2006, he bequeathed all his unfinished manuscripts to Collins. Collins has since gone on to complete six unfinished Hammer novels, as well as two unfinished Spillane novels featuring other characters. An unfinished Hammer short story, "So Long, Chief," published in The Strand Magazine after Collins' completion, was a finalist for an MWA Edgar, the first nomination for such an award ever given to Spillane (ironically, years after his death).
In 2016, it was announced that Collins would receive the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award at their ceremony in 2017.
In addition to his prose and comics work, Collins has found time to perform with two different rock groups, Crusin' and Seduction of the Innocent, and to produce, write, and direct such films as The Expert, Mommy, Mommy's Day, and Real Time - Siege at Lucas Street Market.
Time with Dick TracyIn 1977, Collins took over the position of writer on the Dick Tracy comic strip, replacing the retiring Chester Gould. Collins was teamed with artist Rick Fletcher. Collins secured the position based on his reputation as a skilled mystery writer and a long-time fan of Dick Tracy, as well as a writer with some experience in the comics medium.
Collins’ time as writer of Dick Tracy was marked by a return to a more traditional tone in the strip, and the abandonment of many of the science fiction elements that existed, particularly from the Moon Period. Instead, Collins kept Tracy's gadgets to more realistic personal equipment from Diet Industries such as the night-sight and the 2-Way Wrist Computer. Collins revived several Gould-era villains (such as Haf-and-Haf, Mumbles, and Pruneface), as well as creating many enduring original characters (such as Angeltop and Putty Puss). In addition, Collins, who had a less cynical opinion of the Justice System than Gould, had Tracy come to terms with the legal reforms to due process and accepting that he could operate effectively within its bounds.
Notable occurrences in the strip under Collins include the deaths of Moon Maid and Groovy Grove, the births of Joe Tracy and Jewel Tracy, and the marriages of Junior Tracy to Sparkle Plenty, and of Pat Patton to Toby Townley. Collins also re-introduced the characters of Vitamin Flintheart, Jim Trailer and Bonnie "Braids" Tracy, all of whom had long been absent from the strip. Flintheart became a more frequently-appearing character, though Trailer and Bonnie were rarely seen or referred to during Collins' tenure.
Following the death of Rick Fletcher in 1983, Collins began to work with well-known political cartoonist Dick Locher on the strip. The two men reportedly enjoyed a better working relationship than Collins and Fletcher had.
Collins was able to capitalize on the attention the strip received in 1990 with the release of the feature film, crafting storylines that mirrored the film's production and recalled its popular characters.
Collins left the strip in 1992 and was replaced as writer by Mike Kilian. The reasons given for this have varied, though the most common explanation relates to a contract dispute of some kind between Collins and the Chicago Tribune and its parent company. Collins remains a fan of the strip and the characters.
Max Allan Collins authored the novelization of the 1990 Dick Tracy feature film, as well as 2 follow-up novels Dick Tracy Goes to War and Dick Tracy Meets His Match. Collins was the co-editor (with Martin H. Greenberg) of and a contributor to the book Dick Tracy - The Secret Files, an anthology of original Tracy short stories by famous mystery writers.
Collins was the editor/compiler of several Dick Tracy strip collections, and continues to be involved in Tracy. He has contributed supplemental material to many projects, including IDW’s recent Complete Dick Tracy volumes, and has been a commentator on DVD collections of both the Dick Tracy serials made by Republic Studios, and the film noir Tracy features made by RKO.