On the Writing of Helltown – Denny O’Neil

Helltown by Denny O'NeilAlthough I did the actual writing of it in a reasonable amount of time, Helltown was about a decade in the making. Charlie Kochman and I first began discussing the possibility of adapting some of my comics work into novel form in the 90s, but life, as is its wont, kept having other plans. Finally, after Charlie’s career had taken him other places, doing Helltown became feasible and I got to work under the aegis of another excellent editor, Chris Cerasi.

I find that I did not translate the original comics material into another form, as, for example, I have when I’ve adapted movie stories into comics or prose. Nor did I merely amplify the original stuff. Rather, I’ve rethought and recreated the story I first told from 1986 to 1989 in The Question, a title that some kind observers credit with being the first adult comic book series. I should note, for the record, that I haven’t reread that series, or even much thought about it.

I’d like to think the narrative has improved in the retelling, at least a bit, but that’s for others to judge.

If it has improved, maybe its because with the advantage of hindsight I can understand exactly what I was writing about. And my concept of the three main characters has changed and maybe gotten a micron or two deeper.

I’d like to think that my task is to embrace a tradition that began with Chandler and Hammett and continues today with writers as diverse as Isabel Allende and Alan Moore: to use the materials and conventions of pulp fiction—the guns, the death traps, the rip-snorting action and all the rest—in the service of doing, with no hint of pretension, all those things that storytelling has always done. If I’ve even half succeeded, my work here is done.

Copyright © 2006 by Dennis O’Neil

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