By Rick Reed
The newest graphic novel from mystery and crime writer Gary Phillips revolves around what is believed to be a racially-motivated shooting inside a fancy restaurant/nightclub. The victim is a young black man named Deke Kotto. The suspect is white undercover FBI Agent Tim Brady, and the meeting of the two men is the formula for a heart-stopping race to find the truth. Cowboys will be released by the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics on July 13th.
Gary Phillips is best known for Ivan Monk Mystery series and the Nate Hollis Investigations series set in Los Angeles. He is also the author of the Martha Chainey Mystery series.
Spine Tingler Magazine: As written by Gary Phillips (The Jook) and drawn by Brian Hurtt (The Sixth Gun), Cowboys is truly a no-bullshit western in the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott tradition only set in the modern day. . . Deke and Brady are men of no small flaws personally and professionally, but who will ultimately do the right thing in the end, no matter how violent it may be or costly it is on their lives or soul. Read the entire review.
Tell me about your protagonist? What kind of person is he?
It’s a kind of dual story. So the story is a crime novel, so it deals with law enforcement officials as the main characters. On one end, there is a character named Deke Kotto. Deke is a street cop—plainclothes man–on one end of the case, and as we see in the opening pages he’s sort of a rough and tumble cat, but he gets the job done.
On the other end of the case is a more straight-laced FBI Agent Tim Brady. Each man is sent in undercover but their respective agencies aren’t coordinating or talking with each other, so each man is not aware of the other one. Being undercover begins to alter them psychologically, and to change them. Events conspire to push them together and this results in a fiery climax.
The book opens with a horrific shoot-out in a fancy restaurant, and by the time it’s over our two protagonists are the only two standing. The book then flashes back to several weeks before the event.
What is the genre of Cowboys?
It would be crime fiction. Even though it is with a cop and an FBI agent it really isn’t police procedural. There are more thriller elements. It is a crime story.
Are there any current television series that would compare with the story line in Cowboys?
Yes and no. The short answer is that there is really nothing on television at the present time, but in the last month or two, some of the shows that I really enjoyed have all been canceled. One was “Chicago Code” and one was “Detroit 1-8-7.” There are some elements of Cowboys that you can find in both of those shows.
What did you do before you became a writer? Did this career help you develop the ideas and characters in your private investigator series?
Well, I’ve had a varied background. I’ve been a community organizer, and I ran a non-profit that was begun after the riots here in LA in 92’ to better race-relations. I delivered dog cages at one point. I’ve done a variety of work, blue collar and non-profit as well as labor organizing for unions both as a representative for the workers and as a communications rep. So I’ve had a varied background and some of that invariably leaked into my works.
How can you not help but draw on this rich past. The people you’ve met. The people you’ve been influenced by. And hopefully the people you’ve influenced.
The great thing about working for non-profits, in particular when I did my first novel back in the early 90’s, Violent Spring, with a private eye character, Ivan Monk, being in LA at that time after the riots was a very heavy time in the sense of race and class and social issues, such as how do you rebuild things, and what have you. So the fact that I could literally be at a meeting downtown one day in a funding meeting or a board meeting, and the next maybe be in among the gangbangers, put me in an arena to meet a lot of interesting people. I always knew I wanted to write mysteries and thrillers
What’s next for Gary Phillips?
Like a lot of writers, trying to keep something in the hopper, keep things moving. I’m working on a Kindle anthology that I’m editing. I have some pretty good writers lined up with short stories about financial crimes.
Let me add too in terms of upcoming work, I’m very pleased to have a short story in the Green Hornet Casefiles from Moonstone, an anthology of original prose short stories featuring the masked crime fighters, The Green Hornet and Kato. The story is set in 1970s Detroit with muscle cars, mini-skirts and kung fu.
For more information about Gary Phillips, please visit his website.