The upcoming L train shutdown isn’t the only Brooklyn horror you can read about.
Paul Levitz, an “East Flatbush kid” and former president of DC Comics, and Clinton Hill artist Tim Hamilton are the creators behind “Brooklyn Blood,” a new graphic novel that follows troubled detective Billy O’Connor as he and his partner investigate a serial killer around the borough.
The story takes a supernatural turn as victims are found near the sites of historic tragedies, like the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776 and the Malbone Street wreck of 1918, in which nearly 100 people died in a subway crash at the intersection of Flatbush and Ocean avenues and Malbone Street (now known as Empire Boulevard).
amNewYork interviewed Levitz, 61, and Hamilton, 52, over email about the book.
What was the inspiration for this story?
Paul Levitz: There’s no single inspiration. At least for me, stories lead you down their own path. . . . This one began with the choice of Brooklyn as a potential setting (it’s cool now, and I know it well) and then noticing the locations of some of the great “mass deaths” of the city were close together in the borough.
How can you relate to Billy O’Connor?
PL: Most of us have the experience of going back to a place we loved when we were growing up — maybe our own neighborhood, maybe a grandparent’s or a summer vacation spot — and seeing it changed. I think that realization of transience is a very relatable human experience. Beyond that, I think Billy’s fixated desire to solve the “puzzle” of the killings is a feeling mystery readers can easily relate to.
What kind of research did you do?
PL: A bit of historical reference, studying the 78th Precinct map and available crime data, and rewalking the neighborhoods.
Tim Hamilton: Luckily, I live in Brooklyn and am familiar with all the sites and landmarks in the book. Of course, it was hard to find any visual reference for the Battle of Brooklyn but it all worked out fine! It’s creatively satisfying to create worlds, but equally satisfying to do something visually interesting with what already exists.
How does the Brooklyn setting help inform the story?
PL: Brooklyn’s an aspirational place right now, so hopefully it draws people into the tale. It’s also a complex place . . . with history as old as any city on the North American continent, an incredibly diverse population, which adds texture, and the chance for a couple of in-jokes (Gowanus anyone?).
To what lengths did you go to make the setting authentic?
PL: Well, a lot of that was on Tim’s shoulders, and I think he did it well. I worked off memory, the map and some refresher walks, but he bicycled around constantly during the project.
TH: As with what I said above, Brooklyn looks, smells and feels the way it does. All I had to do was channel it and artistically interpret it.
Did you have a favorite famous Brooklyn landmark to draw?
TH: I guess I’d have to say the subway. In general it’s a moody, interesting landmark to deal with visually. Is the subway a landmark? Probably not. A real landmark is something like the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument in Fort Greene Park. I live around there and it’s become very familiar to me and my morning walks.
Do you have any favorite comics also set in Brooklyn?
PL: Back before Brooklyn was cool, they didn’t set comics there. Even Spider-Man got to live in Queens, a then-classier neighborhood.
TH: I agree with Paul, I can’t think of other comics that were set in Brooklyn. I think Captain America grew up there in the comic? And then lived there? As this is an interview, I’m not going to go Google that. If I’m wrong about Steve Rogers having grown up in Brooklyn, let that be a stain on my permanent record. [Editor’s note: He is correct, Rogers was from Red Hook.]
What other projects are you working on?
PL: Look for announcements of the next books soon, but meanwhile lots of teaching, some project editing for DC, boards and consulting.
TH: Children’s books that are not to be talked about yet. New Yorker cartoons from time to time. And I publish my own one-man anthology, “Rabbit Who Fights.” You can buy them at select stores and at my online store.