Very few creators will tell you their real influences because they don’t know. They know who and what they want people to think influenced them, but after awhile you automatically internalize influences. You’re often influenced by things you don’t like as much as or more than by things you like.
For instance, people who haven’t read the 2 Guns graphic novel and haven’t seen the film, only the trailer, often bring up Lethal Weapon. That’s a fair comparison, but not in the way they think. I thought Lethal Weapon was awful, and the sequels went in the wrong direction from better. 2 Guns is in a small way a reaction to that sort of film. It’s not a “buddy film,” it’s an “anti-buddy film.” The producers, the actors, the screenwriter, the director, they all got that before I even had a chance to speak to them, bless ‘em. It’s got a lot of elements in it that reflect a variety of genre riffs. It’s a film noir but it’s not a film noir, a comedy but not a comedy, a western but not a western. The whole thing, including the name, is a tenuous balance of dualities.
But at heart I just wanted to write something that would be fun to write, after constantly being asked for grim stuff. Say you write crime stories and people bring all kinds of notions to it. They think it’ll be 1930s private detectives, or grim noir stories, all kinds of things. I don’t read a lot of crime stories. There are a handful of writers I like, like Jim Thompson, Eugene Izzi and James Ellroy, but don’t really think they’ve had much influence on my work; whatever similarities might exist are more along the lines of parallel development. (Izzi’s work in particular I like because he shares my natural plotting structure, but I recognized it in him after seeing it in my own work, and I know I didn’t influence him either.) My main interest in crime stories is they’re good vehicles for the ideas I want to explore. The fun thing about crime stories is they’re about losers. Losers are more fun to write than winners. I also tend to view my crime stories as very deadpan comedies. Everyone in them always thinks they know what everyone else is thinking, and no one ever knows what anyone else is thinking.
The biggest influence on that approach was movies. There’s a particular type of crime comedy that was fairly common when I was a kid, that no one really does anymore. They were entertaining, often charming, and include some of the earliest films I can recall. I didn’t realize while I was writing 2 Guns, only afterwards, that I was trying to emulate that mode. These films I can trace to 2 Guns:
The Jokers (1967)
I’m not a Michael Winner fan. In fact, this is the only Winner film I like, but I loved it. Saw it on a black and white TV late one night and it stuck with me. Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford, who later became famous as The Phantom Of The Opera, play upper crust British siblings in Mod-era England, who opt to prove their superiority by stealing the Crown Jewels. They think they’re playing a game against the police but they’re really playing against each other, and only one of the brothers knows it. It gets very twisty, and made a huge impression on me.
A now mostly-forgotten classic (Mark Wahlberg remade it a few years ago as The Truth About Charlie) that I didn’t much like at the time, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, who I still don’t much like. But James Coburn was worth the ticket price. A criminal gang tries to recover heist proceeds from their dead leader’s widow, who knows nothing about it. My first exposure to the concept of undercover cops that I can recall.
The President’s Analyst (1967)
James Coburn tour-de-farce where he’s Lyndon Johnson’s personal psychologist, driven half-mad himself by the demands of the job while finding himself immersed in a cold war world where everyone is secretly a spy trying to get White House secrets out of him. This one’s a flat out comedy, but it’s the ultimate paranoia comedy.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
For my money, Robert Altman and Elliot Gould’s best film. It incenses Chandler purists by drastically altering the material and reconfiguring legendary detective Philip Marlowe to fit Gould’s personality. It’s also the single best representation of Chandler’s worldview on film, and maybe that’s the message: when you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. This is the one film that directly influenced 2 Guns on a conscious level, via a scene where Marlowe is confronted in his apartment by gangster Marty Augustine. It inspired Manny Brazo’s invasion of Bobby Trench’s apartment early in 2 Guns that tips the plot from plan into action.
For A Few Dollars More (1965)
Clint Eastwood’s second foray as the Man With No Name (who has a name, by the way). I loved Sergio Leone’s desert landscapes so much I eventually ended up living in the desert. The film works equally well as western, crime story and deadpan comedy: bounty hunter Eastwood tangles with bounty hunter Lee Van Cleef as both hunt the same target, then Eastwood goes undercover with the gang so he and Van Cleef can catch them in a crossfire. It goes very wrong.
Charlie Varrick (1973)
I’m very familiar with this one, watched it maybe 12 times one weekend when I worked as a film projectionist, but hadn’t thought about it in decades until Bill Paxton brought it up on set. He’s right. Directed by the great Don Siegel, Walter Matthau is a low level independent criminal who robs a bank, then discovers it was a Mob front, and they want their money back. They send the very scary Joe Don Baker to get it. 2 Guns is sort of the funhouse mirror version of that premise, turned on its ear.
Forty Guns (1957)
A peculiar Sam Fuller western, this had little bearing on 2 Guns besides the name. It stars Barbara Stanwyck as a domineering cattle baroness, and Fuller originally called it Woman With A Whip. The studio thought that was too suggestive, and changed it to Forty Guns for no particular reason. They then had to insert a scene to make the name make sense. When I was coming up with a name, I thought of 2 Guns in reference not to weapons but to Bobby and Marcus is their undercover roles as, essentially, gunslingers for hire. The title refers to them, not to guns. I liked the simplicity of the name, but remembered Fuller’s film and also decided to go with 2 Guns as a little homage to that, another little play on dualities.
Influences are tricky. Almost all of us start out in imitation of something or other, but you have to learn to internalize and abandon your influences so your own voice can get out. Try to avoid copying characters, scenes or plots. If you’re going to be influenced by something, be influenced by attitude, because the attitude you like best will probably turn out to be very close to your own anyway.
Come back tomorrow to read an interview with Steven and also just because we miss seeing you around here, buddy.
Steven Grant is the author of 2 Guns and many, many other comics and original graphic novels, including the upcoming resurrection of His Name Is…Savage!