Head bent, sketching hit men on a title page, I do my best to let the blur of the convention fall away. A line forms: three people deep, clutching copies of my new graphic novel and waiting for my angular signature and brief sketch to scar their pure, untainted book. Using skills honed while penciling to music at drafting tables, I tune out noise to ensure each book’s owner receives a drawing on par with the level of quality poured into the book—a sequential history of the rise and fall of Murder, Incorporated—and with the research still living in my head, nothing will tear focus from the page, ink and line…
…Until a voice breaks through, stopping my pen, promising one hell of a story. A relative’s connection to one of the book’s gangsters, a momentary brush with Lansky, Lepke, Bugsy, or Waxey. Important enough to tell yet definitely not the first time it’s been told, performed with beats and banter so pitch-perfect either or both have been rehearsed several times before. A story, personal and dear, heard in the neighborhood and carried across the nation to bring a place, an act, a crime to those that have yet to cross its dark, dangerous path.
Capping my pen, I stop to listen. Hell; I’ve always got time for a story.
A personal crime story, like a comic book, is best experienced and traded (in my humble opinion). Picked up in a convention bar or at a panel, possibly accumulated while reading an interview, the personal crime story is perfect when related by one familiar with its native streets. “I knew a guy that knew a guy” proves poor comparison to Uncle Maury, black sheep of the family, who not only knew the guy but also delivered corned beef to his Flatbush Avenue apartment every Thursday afternoon. The story carries weight from the place it was born, evolving not only from those involved, but from the streets, avenues, and city around it.
Years ago, living in Detroit, my friends and I prided ourselves on the fact that we hailed from the Murder Capital of the World (spoken with Honor Capitals, as if discussing the President of the United States). Detroit was dangerous, which meant we, in turn, were dangerous despite the fact that the lot of us were, in fact, short, nervous, and Jewish. But despite the truth, when it came to tales of murder, gangland crimes, or urban intrigue, every Shlomo, Dov, and Heshy in North Oak Park, Michigan, claimed to be the god-given successor to the Purple Gang itself.