This is one comic book that began life as a movie.
Rather, as a screenplay.
Then, when they decided they couldn’t make a movie of it, someone had the bright idea of selling it to a comics publisher (First Second). The publisher offered it to Eddie Campbell, an artist’s artist who is best known for his work with Alan Moore on From Hell, a book that owes just as much to Campbell’s scribble-style illustrations that are sometimes wonderfully detailed as it does to Alan Moore’s prose.
Flipping rapidly through The Black Diamond Detective Agency it is possible to imagine the kind of movie the screenplay would have made—a noir western to beat all noir westerns.
Actually, it’s easy to visualize the movie based on the comic—Campbell’s illustrations are functional, yet brilliant, and it’s interesting to read a comic that, in a few parts, provides some insights into the early use of forensics to study and solve crimes. Campbell, for those who came in late, was a court artist, and some of his work does draw from this experience.
It is also easy to understand why the screenplay never became a movie. It’s the kind of screenplay that could have ended up being a B-grade western. Or, it could have, as I have already said, ended up being a noir western to beat all noir westerns—the kind of western that is debated in cinema and art schools, and on which serious academics spend serious time writing serious doctoral theses.
The comic is that kind of western.
The illustrations have a sort of washed-yet-unwashed look to them that goes well with the plot.
Ah, the plot.
The Black Diamond Detective Agency is about the bombing of a train, the robbery of something important that was being transported on it, and a hunt, by more than one party for the perpetrators.
That’s as simple a plot as westerns get. And, like most westerns of a certain vintage (although this book was only written in 2007), The Black Diamond Detective Agency has its share of gun-violence, sex, and double-crosses and betrayals.
It’s the illustrations, though, that make it a unique book.
And if someone is able to translate this look into a movie—just as someone translated the look of The Road to Perdition comic book into film—we’d probably have a winner on our hands.
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