A Little History
By Christopher Mills
Way back in the long-ago 90s, I made a pitch to a small, now-defunct publisher, for a series of standalone crime tales. Each issue would tell a story in a different sub-genre of crime fiction: a heist, a PI story, a police procedural, a hitman story, etc… “The Scavengers” was the first – and ultimately, only – script that I finished writing before the project fell apart.
Several years later (and still long ago, from where we stand now), I was involved with a short-lived online comics site, and wanted to do a crime serial. I dusted off the “Scavengers” script and sent it along to Rick Burchett, the Eisner Award- winning artist of such comics as The Batman Adventures, Batman/Huntress, Blackhawk, The Black Hood, Green Lantern, She-Hulk, Queen & Country Declassified, and, most recently, the webcomic, Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. In that script, the main character had a different name, and the ending of the story was quite different. As Rick got more enthusiastic about the story, the character became somewhat more fleshed-out, and the ending was reworked. Rick’s storytelling experience and skill vastly improved the story and my writing.
Gravedigger: The Scavengers is a hard-boiled crime story revolving around one “Gravedigger” McCrae, a professional criminal. He’s a thief and a killer, and not above betraying his partners if it serves his own interests. He’s greedy, ruthless and has a dangerous weakness for women. In short, he’s an irredeemable bastard.
The story begins when “Digger” is released from a short stretch in prison and decides to join some other thieves in a risky heist because he desperately needs a score. He’s getting older and has his eye set on retiring. But his base instincts get the better of him, and before long he’s up to his armpits in betrayal, sex and violence.
It’s a “B” crime movie in comic strip form. It’s fast-paced, action packed, and not at all “deep.”
My inspiration for Gravedigger came from the lurid Sixties paperback crime novels of authors like Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake’s hard-boiled nom de plume), Donald Hamilton, Dan J. Marlowe, John Trinian, Mickey Spillane, and many others. I’m also heavily inspired by the gritty action films of the same era and the tough-guy actors that starred in them, like Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Lee Van Cleef, and, most obviously, Lee Marvin. I’m a huge fan of the crime genre, and have been since High School. Hell, when I was a teenager, my buddies and I would watch Eastwood and Bronson films on VHS over and over again. I think I know Magnum Force and Bronson’s The Mechanic word for word.
Rick and I share an interest in what he calls “smart pulp.” We’re also both fans of hard-boiled crime fiction and film. Some years ago, I was editing a crime fiction magazine, and Rick did some illustrations for it that were simply outstanding.
When I initially approached Rick about drawing Gravedigger, I had no doubt about his ability to capture the mood and tone of my influences. I also knew that he was an accomplished storyteller, and as a guy who then hadn’t had much of my writing published, I was looking forward to working with a pro who would be able to help me through whatever rough patches there might be in the script.
The Scavengers was later collected in a (now-long-out-of-print) one-shot comic and was very well received by reviewers and critics. In fact, it was named “Best One-shot (Adult)” comic of 2004 by Alan David Doane of Comic Book Galaxy, and “Best Crime Noir” comic of 2004 by Andrea Speed of Comixtreme.
Immediately upon its publication, Rick and I started thinking about a follow-up, but, as often happens in life, the project kept getting pushed aside and back-burnered. Now, though, the second “Digger” McCrae caper, “The Predators,” is nearly completed, and we’ll be running it here on this site once we’ve re-presented “The Scavengers” in its entirety.