Joe R. Lansdale - author, teacher, and East Texas martial arts badass - is getting his due. In my opinion, it's about time.
Lansdale is, without exception, my favorite storyteller. To read a Lansdale novel is to sit with the man on his back porch and listen to him spin outrageous, ferocious yarns over beers.
He tells funny, exciting, enthralling stories of characters you can't help but love, caught up in impossible, preposterous situations you can't help but believe. And he talks to you, not at you, like your uncle might - not the creepy, wandering-eye uncle who touched you - the other one.
I picked up my first Lansdale novel during a book signing at Cobblestone Books in Carmichael, California; it was the early nineties and it seems to me the book was "Two-Bear Mambo." Over the next days, the world of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine swallowed me whole.
Collins, a white, middle-age, sometimes-day-laborer and Pine, a black, gay, ex-Vietnam vet and country music buff with a bad attitude, are nearly polar opposites in personality but well-suited to be the tightest brothers and friends you'll ever meet. They have a rabid fanbase, yours truly present and accounted for.
Besides the Hap and Leonard series, Lansdale's written award-winning novels, short stories, chapbooks, scripts and comics in many genres. Read "The Bottoms" or "The Thicket" or "Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's Back."
He's versatile, no doubt, but Joe and his unique voice are always there; you can feel him right beside you, sipping that beer, leaning back in a groaning, weather-worn rocking chair.
Mojo Joe's work eventually caught the eyes of filmmakers and television producers and they decided to build him a bigger porch.
"Bubba Ho-Tep," a feature film based upon one of Lansdale’s novellas, starred Bruce Campbell and Ossi Davis as Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy, respectively, living out their days in a rest home when called upon to fight an ancient Egyptian spirit who sucks his victims' souls out of their assholes.
Read it again. I didn't stutter.
"Cold in July," also a feature film and adapted from the novel of the same name, introduces Richard Dane, an average-Joe Texas family man and business owner who, one late night, shoots an intruder in his living room.
Dane, who is already an emotional wreck after the shooting, is besieged by the father of the dead man, a dangerous ex-con looking for payback. To protect his family and restore his life, Dane goes down a macabre rabbit hole so dark and twisted that finding his way out the other side will change him forever.
I didn't get to see Cold in July in theater release but I bought the DVD the day it came out - it's a go-to when friends come over.
And the first season of the Hap and Leonard mini-series on Sundance Channel ended a couple months ago - it was a helluva ride.
Based largely upon Lansdale's first entry in what would become the Hap and Leondard series, "Savage Season," the guys become involved in a treasure-hunting adventure led by Hap's ex-wife, Trudy, and her more recent ex-husband, Howard.
James Purefoy, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Christina Hendricks starred as Hap, Leonard, and Trudy, respectively. Hippies, terrorists, murderous mercenaries, a prison-cell tale of millions in stolen-then-lost cash come together in a story only Lansdale, his ownself, could build. Nick Damici and Jim Mickle, who also brought Cold in July to the screen, wrote and developed it. Season two is in the works.
As a fan, I'm thrilled to see Joe Lansdale get more exposure and a bigger base; he's worked hard enough for it. As a reader, I look at what's happening for Joe and hope that studios continue to recognize great stories and storytelling for the precious, and all-too-uncommon, things they are.
Maybe that's a pipe dream, maybe it'll be a while... hopefully neither.
In the meantime, we have Mojo Joe. Pull up a chair and grab a beer. The cooler's over there.
Joe R. Lansdale... the website
Hap and Leonard / Sundance Channel
UPDATE: JOE ANNOUNCES A NEW HAP AND LEONARD NOVEL FROM HATCHETTE BOOKS!