Johnny Shaw has almost single-handedly brought back the men’s action paperback with his zine, blog, and book, Blood & Tacos. We asked Johnny a few questions about the concept and genre.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for Blood & Tacos come about?
JOHNNY SHAW: Around the time my first novel Dove Season came out, I was playing with the idea of creating a hoax for my blog. I wrote up a few pages of what would become the “Chingon” story in the book. My plan was to write about how I found this paperback in a thrift store, including the pages I wrote. I was going to get my favorite artist (and wife) Roxanne Patruznick to paint a cover (she painted all the original oil paintings for the Blood & Tacos covers). And then to complete the hoax, I was going to get a couple crime writer pals to back me up and claim that they remembered the series on their blogs.
All said and done, it just seemed like a lot of work. I found I wasn’t interested in maintaining a blog. And I didn’t know where I would go from there. But I liked the premise and was curious if other writers would be interested in getting in on the fun. So, at my first Bouchercon in St. Louis, I brought up the idea to Cameron Ashley and Gary Phillips. They were immediately on board, pitching me ideas right there in the hotel bar. I was kind of obligated at that point. When I presented it to Pete Allen, the head honcho over at Creative Guy Publishing, he was all in. And four issues, a book, a phone app, and a podcast later, here we are.
MP: Is “Chingon” based on any particular paperback heroes?
JS: Not really. For me, it was more about using those stories as inspiration and seeing where it took me. All the writers for Blood & Tacos not only came up with their own characters and stories, but they had to create a persona for the author that wrote that story. My alter-ego is Brace Godfrey.
By writing as another person, it gives me the latitude to really play with the voice. The idea was that Brace wanted to promote more minority and female characters, but, unfortunately, he still relied heavily on racist and sexist stereotypes and caricatures. That led to series titles like “Ghetto Force,” “The Oriental Tornado,” “Knockers O’Malley: Lady Cop,” and of course, “Chingon.”
MP: What were some of your favorite male paperback series?
JS: As a young reader, I got caught up in the gateway drug of the Frank Frazetta cover. It starts small, a Conan here, a Burroughs there, but before you know it you’re branching out to the paperbacks near them on the stands.
Because many early pulp heroes were re-released in paperback in the 1970s and 1980s, in my mind, those reprinted stories are grouped in with the contemporary stories of that time. Characters like Tarzan, Conan, Doc Savage, the Avenger, the Shadow, and the Spider existed right next to the Executioner, the Destroyer, the Death Merchant, the Penetrator, and all the others. A character like Nick Carter spans both eras.
When I get time to read any now, I am much more partial to the more obscure or esoteric series from the era. I don’t know if I could get through an Executioner novel past #10 or so. Unfortunately, the stranger series usually had much shorter runs. I highly recommend Swamp Master and Radcliff.
MP: You were able to get Stephen Mertz who created the MIA series to contribute. How did that come about?
JS: One of the first readings I ever did was at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was paired with Joe Lansdale. No pressure there. I’m assuming that Joe was worried that no one would show up, so he asked me to bring in my three fans for safety.
Steve and Joe are pals. In fact, they both wrote books in the Stone: MIA Hunter series. Steve also created Cody’s Army and wrote some Executioners, among others. He showed up to the reading and we hit it off and kept in touch. At first, I was just going to do an interview in Blood & Tacos , but when he expressed interest in writing a story, I knew I was going to include it. What an honor.
There are some many authors that cut their teeth in men’s adventure. Nelson DeMille (Ryker), Lee Goldberg (.357 Vigilante), Marc Olden (Black Samurai), Piers Anthony (Jason Striker), and Robert Randisi (The Gunsmith), Michael Avallone (The Satan Sleuth), just to name a few.
MP: What are you taking away from the process of writing this book?
JS: If anything, it’s really about a sense of fun. The subtitle on my series books, Dove Season and the upcoming Plaster City, is “A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco.” I don’t write mysteries. I write fiascoes. The books are more grounded than “Chingon,” but should be just as fun.
I’ve always described the aesthetic of Blood & Tacos as ridiculously awesome. Big, never-boring, and just outrageous enough to be unique. But fun doesn’t have to be frivolous. A story doesn’t have to be bleak to be about something. More often humor can relay depth and emotion more effectively because it’s not as heavy-handed. Making something look effortless takes effort.
Chandler said, “When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” When it comes to Blood & Tacos, I would say, “When in doubt have an albino come into the strip joint with a spear gun in his robot hand.” That’s ridiculously awesome.