The underbelly of America is something that has long been a subject of fascination for fans of noir and the macabre, and noir and the macabre are elements that the novel Night People exemplifies in spades. Written by author Barry Gifford and an inspiration for director David Lynch’s film Lost Highway, Night People tells four interlocking stories of the seedier side of America and uses these yarns of thieves, drifters, and criminals to comment on the state of the country and ourselves.
Now comic book fans will have the chance to experience this mind-bending look at Americana, thanks to Oni Press. This March, Oni will publish the inaugural issue of Night People, a four-issue miniseries adapting Gifford’s novel. Adapted by writer Chris Condon and artists Brian Level, Alexandre Tefenkgi, Artyom Topilin, and Marco Finnegan, the comic Night People will stay true to the grit and grime and sweat of its source material. I spoke with Mr. Condon recently about how he became involved with adapting the Night People novel for comics, his relationship with noir, and the menagerie of characters that populate this unique miniseries.
FreakSugar: Before we get into the miniseries itself, what is your background with noir?
Chris Condon: I’ve been a fan of the noir genre for as long as I can remember. I grew up with the Universal horror movies and those utilized the style and shadows of German expressionism to great effect, which then fed into what made a noir film feel like it does. I’ve just always gravitated toward those kinds of stories. I’m not sure why. But when I really started crafting my own stories, the first things I was writing were noir pieces. Seedy passion and murder. This fed directly into the first arc of That Texas Blood, the Image Comics series I do with Jacob Phillips.
FS: For folks who might not know what noir is, what is noir to you?
CC: Noir is darkness. Shadows. Noir is a crime story, yes, but it’s also a style. It’s a gritty, morally dubious thing.
FS: What can you tell us about the genesis of the Night People comic?
CC: Barry Gifford’s book came out in 1992 and Hunter Gorinson at Oni has wanted to adapt it for a very long time. The David Lynch film, Lost Highway, was inspired by the book. But for someone like Hunter, inspired wasn’t good enough. He wanted to see the book live in a visual medium. That’s when he came to me and pitched me the idea of adapting the story and I was hooked from the start.
FS: If you’re co-writing a noir tale, Barry Gifford is a perfect fit. How did this partnership come about?
CC: It wasn’t so much a co-writing partnership as it was me working closely with Barry’s work. Barry was, of course, a part of the conversation the whole time—he’d approve scripts and even before I did any writing, we had a phone call where he vetted me and made sure that I was the right guy for the job. Lucky for me, he thought I was a good fit to adapt his material. But again, this all stemmed from Hunter’s interest in wanting to see Night People adapted. The ‘partnership,’ as you call it, was born out of Hunter’s desire to see Barry’s work reach a new generation through a different medium.
FS: While each issue stands on its own, the miniseries is connected with an overarching framework. What made you and Mr. Gifford decide to adapt his original novel this way?
CC: That’s how the book was laid out originally, so the comic just follows the same logic. I think that when you’re dealing with an author like Barry Gifford, you’re dealing with a clear, distinct voice. It would be a shame to discard that voice from the material when adapting it. Sure, you could do that, and the end product might even be good, but then it’s not Barry Gifford’s Night People. It becomes a different project entirely, just another crime noir thing. The intention was always to follow Barry’s lead.
FS: Who are some of the colorful characters readers can expect to meet in Night People?
CC: Gosh, there’s so many great characters throughout Night People. There’s Big Betty and Miss Cutie, two ex-cons who are capturing and murdering men to further the teachings of their lord and savior, Ms. Jesus. There’s Easy Earl Blakey, one of my favorite characters, who flits about from story-to-story until we get to focus in on him in issue three. Dallas and Dilys Salt, rival brother and sister who lead opposing churches. Then in the fourth issue that I’m collaborating with Marco Finnegan on, there’s Bunk, a crazy old coot who likes to de-age himself with plastic surgery. How’s that for colorful?
FS: Noir is a very specific genre. Is there a mindset you have to get into when approaching a noir tale?
CC: Yes and no. I think that whenever you’re writing you need to get into a particular mindset, no matter what the genre is. But I think that with this, an adaptation, you need to keep true to the source material. If I was writing an original noir piece, I might approach that differently. But with this, you have to maintain the mindset of the source.
FS: What books are you reading right now?
CC: I’m reading a few things right now. I’m finishing up a Jim Thompson novel I’ve never read before called Texas by the Tail. In terms of comics, I’m reading some books by friends like The Displaced, Anticucho, Hounds, and a few others. They’re yet to come out and I recommend everyone check them out. This is a great time for comics.
FS: Are there any other projects you have in the works that you’d like to discuss?
CC: I can’t really talk about anything that’s in the works at this point but I have some stuff out soon. The Enfield trade is dropping in April and Jake and I also have a short story out in the pages of James Tynion and Michael Avon Oeming’s Blue Book that same month. I’m excited to see that one in person.
FS: If you had one last pitch for the book, what would it be?
CC: A fastball.
Night People #1 goes on sale Wednesday, March 6, 2024, from Oni Press.
From the official press release:
FOR SOME OF US, IT’S ALWAYS MIDNIGHT. Oni Press, the multiple Eisner and Harvey Award-winning publisher of groundbreaking graphic fiction, is proud to present the much-anticipated first look at NIGHT PEOPLE #1 (of 4) – the first issue of the violent and volatile new series from literary icon Barry Gifford, the internationally renowned creator of Wild At Heart and co-writer of David Lynch’s neo-noir masterpiece Lost Highway.
Adapted from Gifford’s acclaimed novel by breakout writer Chris Condon (That Texas Blood, The Enfield Gang Massacre) with 30 pages of story in each deluxe, ad-free issue, NIGHT PEOPLE is a pulsating roadmap of the American subconscious that follows an uneasy company of wanted criminals, cartel killers, and lost souls as illustrated by a chorus of visually provocative artistic talents – Brian Level (Poison Ivy, Lazarus), Eisner Award winner Alexandre Tefenkgi (The Good Asian, Once Upon A Time at the End of the World), Artyom Topilin (I Hate This Place), and Marco Finnegan (Crossroad Blues) – through four interlocking tales punctuated by lipstick, sweat, and blood.
“Night People is beyond noir, a parable that embodies both a revision of the past and riddle for the present, informed by the Church on the One Hand and the Church on the Other Hand that portends a future wherein whomever is left on the planet are cast forth on an even more mysterious and perilous voyage on a ghost ship sailing into the Sea of Red,” said Gifford. “As evidenced by this powerful graphic representation of my novel, the quest for a safe harbor is neverending.”
“Each issue is unique in terms of story, so it makes sense to have each issue have a different, unique artistic approach,” said Condon. “I’m so thrilled to see the artistic powerhouses Oni Press has brought onboard to tackle this adaptation with me. The way Barry’s book works is that you never know what turns it will take or what characters you’ll be following in any particular chapter. We’ve utilized that approach in this adaptation, and I think we’re crafting something that should be exciting for readers and will have them coming back issue after issue to see where this wild story is going to go next.”
In our first tale of desperation, fanaticism, and murder, as told by Gifford, Condon, and Level, two ex-convicts—a pair of inseparable lovers named Big Betty Stalcup and Miss Cutie Early—are out on parole using their newfound freedom to purify the world of men’s evil influence . . . and leave a trail of mutilated bodies in their wake. As the psychotic dimensions of their star-crossed romance—and the twisting paths that first led them to their fateful meeting at the Fort Sumatra Detention Center for Wayward Women—come into full view, their experiment in righteousness culminates in the kidnapping of Rollo Lamar, a kindly attorney whom Betty and Cutie abduct just to see if they can reeducate at least one man on the planet before the demise of civilization.
Barry Gifford’s novels have been translated into 30 languages, and he has been the recipient of awards from PEN, the American Library Association, the Writers Guild of America, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, BAFTA, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Premio Brancati in Italy, among others. David Lynch’s film Wild at Heart was based on Gifford’s novel (Grove, 1990), and he co-wrote the films Lost Highway (1997) with director David Lynch and City of Ghosts (2003) with director Matt Dillon. His books include The Phantom Father (Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997), named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Wyoming (Arcade, 2000), named a Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year, Sailor and Lula: The Complete Novels (Seven Stories Press, 2010), Roy’s World: Stories 1973-2020 (Seven Stories Press/Penguin Random House, 2020), The Boy Who Ran Away to Sea (Seven Stories Press/Penguin Random House, 2022), and Ghost Years (Seven Stories Press/Penguin Random House, 2024). Mr. Gifford’s writings have appeared in Punch, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Sport, the New York Times, The New Yorker, and many other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Featuring a stunning line-up for covers from a murderer’s row of visionary talents – including J.H. Williams III (Sandman: Overture, Promethea), Joëlle Jones (Wonder Girl, Lady Killer), Jacob Phillips (That Texas Blood, Newburn), and premiere artist Brian Level (Poison Ivy, Lazarus) – travel down the interstate of dark, elusive dreams from New Orleans to Egypt City, Florida, and back again when NIGHT PEOPLE #1 debuts in comic shops everywhere on March 6, 2024.