P.I.s, for First Comics.

Along the way came a number of Hollywood movie and TV options, perhaps initially fueled by our female sleuth starring in a high-fashion layout in trendy Interview magazine. But Ms. Tree’s most memorable Hollywood adventure came in 1993, when at the last minute, after investing in scripts and a big-time play-or-pay producer, ABC—fearing two really violent TV shows for one season was one really violent show too many—dropped Ms. Tree in favor of something called NYPD Blue. (Adding insult to injury, I was eventually hired to write two NYPD Blue TV tie-in novels for Signet Books.)

After fifty issues of the Ms. Tree indie comic book (not counting the Eclipse serial or the 3-D and other special issues), we were approached by DC Comics, where over the course of several years for editor Mike Gold we did, arguably, our best work: ten 48-page full-color graphic novels.

Ms. Tree ran non-stop for fifteen years, and was—and is—the longest-running private eye comic book in comics history. In 1992, we were nominated for the comic industry’s highest honor, the Eisner Award, for Best Writer/Artist team. We were the first crime comic book of any note since the early ’50s purge of comics by Dr. Fredric Wertham, and undoubtedly changed the landscape to allow the entry of a new generation of creators of crime comics—notably Frank Miller and his own Spillane-influenced work, Sin City (Frank did a “Mike Hammer” pin-up for the first issue of the Ms. Tree comic book).

We’re proud of all that, but we are probably prouder of two other aspects of Michael Tree’s long run.

First, we anticipated the tough female detective craze of the later ’80s and ’90s, predating both Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. (Other female P.I.s came before us, of course, including G.G. Fickling’s aforementioned Honey West and Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, but neither Honey nor Sharon really opened the floodgate on tough female detectives in the way V.I., Kinsey and...just maybe...Ms. Tree did.)

And, second, we dealt with contemporary crimes so controversial that even though our most recent graphic novels to date appeared in the early ’90s, their subjects remain relevant: date rape; gay bashing; abortion clinic bombings; and on and on. The reason we went down the road of relevance was my frustration at certain modern crimes being taboo for the family newspaper-oriented “Dick Tracy” strip. Often stories we did in Ms. Tree I had, in some form, pitched for “Dick Tracy” only to have them rejected as “too adult.”

Terry and I are often approached about doing new Ms. Tree graphic novels, and that remains a possibility, although both of us are busy with numerous other projects, meaning time and money concerns come into play. (Eisner Award winner Terry has been inking Batman comic books ever since we did our last comic book together—ironically Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger.)

We also have explored repackaging the Ms. Tree graphic novels, which in the wake of Road to Perdition would seem a no-brainer, but somehow nothing has come together yet, despite overtures from numerous publishers, big and small.

But it’s the Hollywood interest in Ms. Tree that keeps her contemporary and not just a footnote in recent comics history. And this novel is a byproduct of the most recent television sale for Ms. Tree, deriving from material I prepared for the Oxygen Network. At this writing, we are still involved in that deal, though whether my take on my own characters winds up in any way, shape or form on the screen remains, typically, unresolved.

For the comic book fans out there, the Ms. Tree loyalists, you should have long since figured out that this book does not fit neatly into the continuity of the graphic novel series. It is a sort of contemporary re-boot, based in part on the first two graphic novels, “I, For an Eye” and “Death Us Do Part,” but largely a new story, presenting a revised origin (to use comicbook terminology) for the character, her friends, her enemies, and her world.

This is not, however, the first time Ms. Tree has appeared in prose form. Four short stories have been published over the years, notably the Edgar Award-nominated “Louise” (1992) and “Inconvenience Store” (1994), which was the basis of my independent film, Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market (2000). (Ms. Tree does not appear in Real Time, due to yet another Hollywood deal that had been pending at the time of filming; but a strikingly similar character does, played by B-movie queen Brinke Stevens, looking and behaving very much like Michael Tree.)

Whether Deadly Beloved will lead to more Ms. Tree novels is the cliffhanging note I’ll end on. That will depend on my whim, as well as the desires of Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai...and with you, gentle reader (I always wanted to say “gentle reader”—sorry).

I’ve already implied my thanks to those who made Ms. Tree’s tenure in the comics world a success— Dean Mullaney, Dave Sim, Deni Loubert, and Mike Gold—but they deserve another thank you, and this is it.

In the meantime, I will thank “Ms. Tree” co-creator Terry Beatty, who seemed to be sitting inside my skull drawing the images that appeared there during the writing of this novel; editor Ardai for this opportunity; my agent and friend Dominick Abel for making it happen; my producing partner, attorney Ken Levin, for his continued pursuit of Ms. Tree’s Hollywood destiny; and my in-house editor, my wife Barbara Collins, who is at least as tough as Ms. Tree.


December 2006

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