I’m old enough to remember when comics were considered strictly for kids. The very term “comic book” implies the immaturity and humor of the earliest examples. Comic strips in the newspapers were even grouped together on what was called the “funny pages.” The idea that one day comics would be considered literature–that there would be something actually called a graphic novel–would have made my parents’ generation either laugh out loud, or condescendingly shake their heads. But my own kids see comics as just another literary form, totally without any stigma.
Mark Bloodworth, the artist/author of Night Streets, is exactly two days younger than me, so he remembers it, too. A Michigan native, you can read about his career here. I wanted to talk to him about Night Streets, and he was kind enough to answer my belated fanboy questions.
I know you didn’t create Felonious Katt, but clearly the character spoke to you. What was it about him? And what did you change from the original concept?
Ok, this is going to be long – lot of set-up:
Yes, Katt was created by Rob Knight; he was a friend of Ralph Griffith and Stuart Kerr. He was there with them at the beginning of the Fantastic Fanzine back in the 1980’s along with Randy Zimmerman. So they had the reviews and editorial portion of the Fanzine down but wanted to put in some actual sequential art stories as well. Rob had his character and cast so they started with that; I believe Ralph may have done the art on the initial story before they started looking for artists, but I could be mistaken. I know they were doing stories of The Wheinous Brothers that Stu was scripting and Ralph was rendering, and there may have been some early stories of The Aniverse by Randy.
Anyway, Rob had Katt and wanted an artist for that. Eventually, those guys separately met me, Guy Davis and Vince Locke at local conventions and asked us to contribute. I didn’t have anything raging to get out of me, but Rob approached me about illustrating his story of Katt. I liked it because it reminded me of an episode of The Incredible Hulk where Banner intervenes with an abused child. So I pencilled it and by then Tim Dzon had been brought in so he inked it.
So, jumping ahead: after a few stories with Katt in the Fanzine, Ralph and Stu decided to start publishing comics. We have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to thank for that. Not that independent comics hadn’t been published before, but Eastman and Laird opened the flood gates to aspiring creators. So we all entered the arena of the black and white independent comics of the ’80’s.
Now, Stu and Ralph had the ideas for The Realm and tapped Guy to pencil, and Deadworld, on which Vince would do all the chores except scripting back then. “So, Mark, what do you want to do?” Well, I thought there’s no way a Felonious Katt book is going to fly, even though Rob gave me total ownership of the character; besides, at this point, Randy along with Sue Van Camp were already doing Tales from the Aniverse (a quasi-serious funny animal book).
I decided I could still use Katt as a “Kingpin” sort of character and just expand the scope to include the entire city. My inspiration came from the TV shows at the time (Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, etc.), and also in the comics at the time, Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil along with Love and Rockets by the Brothers Hernadez. They had already been combing realistic stories with the fantastic for years.
Basically I envisioned an ensemble piece with no definitive “lead” character. That’s when I decided to create Black Dahlia as vigilante character along the lines of The Huntress with the look of Black Canary. I needed Black Dahlia there because if I already have the city and a mob boss – along with other gangs (big and small) I wanted that third entry into any storyline (i.e., two gangs go to war then BD shows up and screws everything up). I also needed that because it would be rare for Katt to come out in public. That’s another thing I changed from his initial outing: he just doesn’t walk down the street thinking to himself.
Is the Black Dahlia strictly a human vigilante, or would she be revealed to have any superpowers?
Yes, strictly human, along the lines of Batman, and The Huntress. She may have gotten some extra powers at some point should things have continued, Arrow Comics-wise. The last book they published was System Seven and that was totally full on superhero stuff. So I may have taken advantage of that and upped her strength and healing and such.
Now, to answer the question that just popped in your head: “Were the books all connected?” Yes and no. It was never the initial intention, but should things have lasted long enough, we did have ideas and plans in place to do a crossover series with all the existing properties. We were thinking of this as early as late ’86 or early ’87. If you check out Night Streets issue #4, page 8, the second headline of the paper Captain Harrison is reading says: “Michigan Millionairess and friends still missing.” That is a direct call-out to the four main characters of The Realm. So their universes are connected.
What would Mal’s Black Dahlia comic book have been like? Would he present her actual adventures, or use fictional ones to build her legend? Did you plan to include it in future stories, the way “The Black Freighter” was used in Watchmen?
Well, first, let’s get this out of the way. The character of Mal Brayton was what we would now refer to as a “Mary Sue”–he was me. I’m sure that was self evident, but I wanted to make sure that was out there.
That being said, yeah, probably there would have been a story that would have dealt with that, or even actually putting out a Black Dahlia comic as if it were written and drawn by Brayton. As to the in-universe stories? Possibly a mixture of real adventures and made up ones, to keep up with the publishing schedule. Looking back, I think the best way to use that leverage would be to create the Black Dahlia comic and release that, then do a story later on that shows a parallel between what “really” happens and what winds up in the book.
A little of both. I would want to continue on with the ’80’s timeline but still do stories that jump ahead and behind. I have a storyline of doing like a Godfather II thing: a storyline from the ’80’s or so, along with showing Mal’s family, Shantel’s, and Katt’s from back in the late ’20’s – early ’30’s during the ending of Prohibition, to show how it employed and affected their families.
There was a story I did for Arrow Anthology that shows Blossom Colbert as an older woman in 2024, relating a story to a girl regarding something that occurred during the ’90’s.
Looking back, what do you think works the best? And what do you wish you’d done differently?
BEST: I think the ensemble piece of it really works. I wanted to do stand-alone stories of all the characters in some issues knowing that it would all connect at some point. An example would be something like seeing Capt. Harrison on vacation or on a holiday leave with the family, and something triggers a memory about the first time he and Black Dahlia crossed paths. Stuff like that.
DIFFERENTLY: I would have tried to get other creatives involved, art-wise. That way I could take a break from trying to get it all done. That is one of the biggest reasons the book ended. Even after Arrow Comics dissolved, I still had areas to get it published. I was just burnt out.
How often do people mention Night Streets to you at conventions and other fan gatherings?
Oh I get a few – not a lot – but a few. Maybe about fifteen or so during a three day convention. Mostly it’s about Deadworld or any of the later things I did with Caliber. I still get a rare Cheerleaders from Hell comic to sign. I don’t even have one of those anymore. 😉 Oh and Hellraiser. There were a lot of different packaging of those stories, so there’s always something I haven’t seen before. When BOOM! Studios got the rights to reprint a few years ago, I started getting those to sign. Some of those were new fans. Internet helps a lot with that, researching wise and seeing whose attending a convention, etc.
I’d like to thank Mark for taking the time to talk about Night Streets. If this has piqued your interest, you can find the original issues and the graphic novel collections on Amazon and eBay. Thank you to my readers for staying with me on this arcane little quest.
If you remember Night Streets, or have discovered it since, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.