Hardboiled! Hans Hillmann Draws Dashiell Hammett

By Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Cover of the new edition "Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier" (2020) by Hans HillmannOriginal Source: avant-Verlag, Berlin

Hans Hillmann, a pioneer of the German film poster, worked for seven years on a series of drawings based on Dashiell Hammett’s short story “Fly Paper” of 1929. His book Fliegenpapier (Fly Paper), with 264 pages, was first published by Zweitausendeins in 1982. Now, this prototypical graphic novel has been reissued by the Berlin publisher avant-verlag.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 12-13 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

New York 1926: when Sue Hambleton, a young woman from a wealthy family, falls for the gangster Hymie, her father hires the Continental Detective Agency to keep an eye on her, and to keep her out of trouble.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 28-29 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

After a shootout in a dive where Sue works as a barmaid, she disappears with the heavyweight Babe McCloor. A nameless investigator from the Continental Detective Agency, who was also the first person narrator of the story, sets out in pursuit.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 30-31 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The writer Dashiell Hammett was among the inventors of the “hardboiled detective,” the disenchanted, hardened investigator who would live on in the US-American film noirs of the 1940s.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 36-37 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Dashiell Hammett had a variety of occupations before joining the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Baltimore as a detective in 1915. Appearing in 1923 in the pulp magazine Black Mask was his first short story, involving an anonymous investigator from “Continental Op,” or Continental Detective Agency in San Francisco, a character who also appears in Fly Paper.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 64-65 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Sue’s father receives a telegram from her requesting a large sum of money. He wants to retrace the trail of his lost daughter, and sends the investigator to handle the handover of money. In the apartment, he finds only a hoodlum named Joe Wales, in the company of a blonde who pretends to be Sue, but whose nose is too long, as shown by a photo of the real Sue.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 66-67 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

How do you tell a story in pictures? In his drawings, Hans Hillmann adapts film techniques, with unusual perspectives, extreme close-ups of individuals and rooms, and expansive panoramas of San Francisco, with a dense sequences or abrupt edits between pictorial scenes.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 96-97 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

In this book, in contrast to a comic book, the text printed along the lower edge of the page provides only the most basic information. These are excerpts from the original text – the images alone generate the atmosphere of the detective story: the drama of the pursuit, the heat of the streets, the capriciousness of events, the brutality of interrogations, the isolation of the protagonists.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 108-109 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Where is Sue? The bogus Sue has revealed the truth, and when the investigator hastens to a nearby building, the superintendent lets him in. He climbs the staircase…

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 114-115 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

… and finds Sue dead on her bed, poisoned with arsenic. Babe McCloor has vanished. But who murdered her?

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 134-135 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

In order to find out, the detective retraces his steps. There, a colleague holds the swindler Joe Wales at bay. Joe claims he had wanted to take off with Sue and the money. Babe McCloor had treated her badly. A window pane is broken, a revolver appears. McCloor has climbed up the fire escape: he shoots Joe in cold blood.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 150-151 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The detective pursues Babe McCloor, crisscrossing San Francisco. Hans Hillmann studied many photographs of the city. He conducted research on two trips: with pencil and camera, he notated visual details - fire escapes, views through windows, street corners, furniture, staircases.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 152-153 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The meticulous, black-and-white watercolors, with countless gradations of gray, and underlain with pale red, are composed of light and shadow. Realistic in their details, they are however expressionistic and stylized in the framing of the compositions and the use of figures.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 156-157 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Even when the detective chases through the streets of San Francisco, the dense accumulation of cityscapes seems to suspend time; views into the distance decelerate the action, not unlike the use of suspense in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 176-177 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

In the dialogues, the figures are crowded together: how do the figures relate to one another? Whose bodily pose indicates that he determines the course of the story? In these drawings, a feel for claustrophobic space and the odor of fear become palpable.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 186-187 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The detective continues his search for Babe McCloor. It remains unclear who murdered Sue. Beginning now is a long journey via taxi, during which McCloor is nearly captured by accident, but then escapes again.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 194-195 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

In his drawings, Hans Hillmann moves further and further away from the text. Relying upon his oft-cited models, the paintings of the US-American artist Edward Hopper, he invents atmospheric images of solitude and stasis.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 220-221 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The zoom shot of the revolver and the framing of the figures in the following scenes generate nostalgic cinematic images. Hans Hillmann focuses the sequence of events via pictures of such intensity that they succeed in showcasing the action in just a few snapshots.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 228-229 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The detective apprehends Babe McCloor and deliberately shoots him in the leg. The dramatic scene in the harsh California sunlight concludes the extended pursuit through San Francisco.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, p. 234-235 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Only at the conclusion is the mystery of Sue’s death revealed: evidently, she sought to accustom her body to increasing doses of the poison arsenic, supplied to her by Joe Wales in the form of flypaper containing the substance. Having gotten used to the arsenic, she attempted to murder Babe McCloor with a shared meal laced with the poison. But there remains a residue of uncertainty: who killed whom? Who is lying, and who is telling the truth? Neither the text nor the images reveals the answers.

Dashiell Hammett Fliegenpapier, Detail p. 235 (1976/1982) by Hans HillmannKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Hans Hillmann conceals numerous allusions in his drawings – here, a portrait of the author Dashiell Hammett.

Trailer for the new publication of FLIEGENPAPIER at avant-verlag, music and montage by Itay DvoriDvori (2015) by Itay DvoriKunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The composer and musician Itay Dvori invented the comic concert, setting graphic novels to music and enacting them. In winter of 2016, he founded the yam yabasha ensemble, which organizes innovative improvisation projects. The ensemble enjoyed its premiere with its first program, “Fliegenpapier” (“Fly Paper”) – a musical setting of Hans Hillman’s entire graphic adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s short story with a speaker and a jazz quartet. Further details on the project are available here.

Credits: Story

Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Concept and Text: Michael Lailach
Realisation: Justine Tutmann
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Photo: Dietmar Katz
Trailer: © Itay Dvori
Cover: © avant-Verlag, Berlin
www.smb.museum
Kunstbibliothek

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