With every bit of information and history seemingly at our fingertips, it can be hard to recall that once, finding out things was much harder. Occasionally, though, you run across a topic that hasn’t been done to death on the web, and for which there’s virtually no information. Then you have to roll up your sleeves and start digging. So to give you some background, let me tell you a little story…
In the 80s and early 90s, I bought comics regularly. I had pull lists at multiple stores, preferring mostly the independent black and white titles that exploded on the scene in the wake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Over the years I’ve sold or given away a lot of them, but I’ve held on to the ones that still speak to me: Alan Moore’s Miracleman and Watchmen, the all-watercolor adaptation of The Vampire Lestat, Martin Powell and Seppo Makinen’s Scarlet by Gaslight, and so forth. But all those are fairly well-known, and have either been reissued or kept in print.
Night Streets, as its noir-ish title implies, follows crime in an unnamed city, encompassing the gangs, the police, the crusading reporters (remember those?), and even the female vigilante Black Dahlia. Oh, and the head of one criminal organization is a seven-foot-tall bipedal talking cat. And he is most definitely not a joke.
There’s no explanation for Felonious Katt in the five extant issues; he simply is. He was created by Rob Knight and Ralph Griffith for an unrelated series in Arrow’s Fantastic Fanzine, and turned over to Bloodworth for his new book. Katt becomes one of the moral centers for the story, along with the Black Dahlia.
The Dahlia prowls the city at night, while during the day she’s a single mom with an office job. Her best friend Mal helps with her investigations, as well as writing and drawing a comic book about her exploits. She’s considered an ally by most of the cops, and spends as much time ferreting out information as she does breaking heads.
If I had to choose a single word to describe the series, it would be dense. And not in an overly-complex, confusing way, but more novelistic. Artist Bloodworth illustrates writer Bloodworth’s stories in crowded, heavily-detailed black and white panels that really capture that late-80s urban sense: punk fashions, extreme hair, nightclubs, and casual smoking. The plethora of characters could be overwhelming, but the writing and art are sharp enough that they never are.
I don’t consider myself any sort of obsessive comics expert here; others may know far more about antecedents and precedents. Certainly other comics I read around the same time had realistic settings and characters with no superpowers—the Hernandez Brothers began Love and Rockets in 1982, and it was true slice of life stuff. And of course the list of night-prowling vigilantes goes way, way back. Even the idea of an anthropomorphized animal in a realistic setting was nothing unusual, especially in independent comics; Robert Crumb began Fritz the Cat in the early sixties, and Art Spielgelman’s Maus was in the near future.
But there was something about the way Bloodworth pulled these elements together that created something new, or at least nothing I’d encountered before. This was a world that felt tangible enough to step into, as if the nameless city existed out their somewhere and could be visited. This was no Metropolis or Gotham, places where colorful costumes fit right in; this was something darker, and meaner, and for lack of a better word, pettier. Everyone’s actions came from a place of self-interest, as they usually do in the real world, and that made the moments of selflessness and altruism stand out in stark relief.
The first (and only) story arc, “Mob Rules,” covered six issues. And yes, you read correctly above: only five came out. At the end of the fifth, it promises the conclusion in the next issue, which never appeared. Titles came and went quickly in those days, often with extensive gaps between issues, and without the internet there were few sources for behind-the-scenes gossip or explanations.
So for me, Night Streets remained a great unfinished story that never got the attention it deserved (although Harlan Ellison did send a fan letter). I usually get blank looks when I mention it, even when I add, “you know, the one where the crime lord’s a giant talking cat.” The five issues are still available, at reasonable prices for a thirty-year-old independent comic. Occasionally I poke around online to see if anyone else is talking about it, but with very little results.
Because I just found out…well, you’ll see.
End of Part 1.
If you remember Night Streets, let me know in the comments.