New book transports HBO crime drama to a Dickensian setting
Parodies of epic HBO crime drama The Wire abound, with the latest attempting to tackle the show’s themes of institutional corruption and the futility of the drug trade through the bleak lens of Victorian literature. In blog-turned-book Down in the Hole: The unWired World of HB Ogden, authors Joy DeLyria and Sean Michael Robinson used a Dickensian approach as the inspiration for text and illustrations by fictional author HB Ogden, which correlate to scenes from the Baltimore-set series. They chatted to us about the new book.
Were you both fans of The Wire before conceiving this project? Robinson: We first watched the series together and enjoyed it immensely. A few weeks after we finished, I was asked to participate in a round table on The Wire at [cultural criticism blog] Hooded Utilitarian. Since it’s primarily a comics site, it made sense to talk about the show from the angle of serial fiction. It was a short jump to the thought that The Wire could have been an unpublished novel by Dickens. I talked about the concept with Joy, and she insisted that the concept would work better were the novel to be penned by a contemporary of Dickens instead. The Dickensian comparison is often made about the show.
As aficionados of Victorian literature, do you think this is apt? DeLyria: Dickens tends to have some more ultimately positive views about humanity. The outlook in The Wire is a little more bleak – it’s not that nothing good can ever happen, but rather that we can have little impact on our fates as individuals. Were you inspired by any specific authors while trying to find Ogden’s voice?
DeLyria: I confess to using quite a bit of Dickens. However, since Ogden was supposed to be more harsh and realistic, I also used Thackeray, whose Vanity Fair was criticised for being too cynical at the time of publication. I also used Brontë and Gaskell, and even though the period is wrong, Jane Austen. I’m a fan of these authors and very familiar with them, so turning to them was instinctive. How did you decide which scenes to include?
Robinson: We made a list of the most iconic scenes in the series, then selected the ones that could help us make larger points about the show’s themes, or issues of class or culture. Even though it’s only 200 pages, the book feels really dense, and I think that’s partially due to how each of these different sections are speaking to each other. We did have to eliminate some scenes based on the lack of a strong visual moment, as we wanted to illustrate most excerpts.
Do you know if David Simon, the show’s creator, has seen it? Robinson: We heard indirectly that he was amused by the initial article. I get the impression from interviews that The Wire’s transformation from somewhat obscure critical darling to commercially successful cultural product has been a strange process for him, and whether we intended it or not, we were participants in that transformation. It’s certainly not our intention to lessen the work, rather we hope to treat it as the complex and nuanced accomplishment that it is; but I can certainly understand if someone would resent us playing in their sandbox—or possibly p***ing in their sandbox. I don’t know. From Dhs38 at www.amazon.co.uk.