Comics legend Chuck Dixon sets his new crime novel in the Philadelphia of his youth

Posted: September 23, 2016

Comic book legend Chuck Dixon has written a crime novel and it's set in Philadelphia.

Shrinkage is a about a shoplifter named Jeff who gets involved in a series of escalating adventures in Dixon's take on the City of Brotherly Love in the 1970s.

"I grew up in Philly and the western suburbs," Dixon said. "Most of my jobs were in the city. I had Jeff's job as a stock boy. It was at John Wanamakers. The opening scene of the novel is a day I recall very well. I wanted this novel to be less fanciful than the others I've written so I turned to what I knew."

Dixon says that time in the city had a special feel, one he wanted to convey both to those who lived through it and those who didn't.

"It's all from LOTS of time spent in the city in the '70s," he exclaimed. "I was born on Irving Street in West Philadelphia then we moved to Upper Darby. I worked lots of dead end jobs. A lot of them were night jobs so I'd just wake up and go into the city, spend my days there at the movies, the library or just walking around until it was time to go to work."

Besides the city itself being a character in the novel, there are also a lot of familiar names and faces, including an unnamed mayor who has a statue outside the Municipal Services Building.

"Frank Rizzo is obliquely mentioned in the novel. You can't write about Philadelphia in the '70s and leave him out. He was larger than life. Just about the most blunt politician I'd ever seen until Trump came along," stressed Dixon, who then shared a personal anecdote about the legendary Philly cop-turned-mayor.

"I was walking along Chestnut Street late one night and the street was empty except for a bunch of cop cars and a limo gathered around a store front," Dixon said. "I asked a cop what was going on. A black guy in a suit, this guy was the size of a mountain (and I'm 6' 3"), said, 'Get the hell out of here, kid.' As I backed off I saw Frank Rizzo exit the store with a phalanx of cops around him. Anyone around in that time already guessed that the guy the size of a mountain was Rizzo's bodyguard."

Dixon says that although the novel is a work of fiction, the characcters are based on people he knew.

"Most of them are combinations of lots of people," Dixon said. "The only exception is the Wharton School graduate that Jeff runs into late in the story. He's a guy I went to high school with, just like Jeff, and some of the details of that encounter actually happened."

Dixon feels his story is unique both because of his protagonist-"I've never read a novel about a shoplifter before"-and that placing the story in the 1970s gives it a special flavor.

"Philadelphia was really happening back then," Dixon said. "The city was at the center of the music business. The first 'Rocky' movie. The Bi-centennial. The craziness of MOVE. It seemed like a place to be. And it's the time I'm most familiar with and the time when I was young and had both eyes open to take it all in."

One thing about placing the novel in the 1970s is that there is a lot of language and behavior that people might find shocking today-some people use the N-word regularly, for example-but Dixon says it was important for the novel to be realistic.

"I write without apologies. And the book is written from the perspective of its time," he concluded. "I don't tell readers what to think about it. I don't tell readers what I think about it. But anytime I write in a certain period I try to capture the mindset, values and point of view at that time. The '70s weren't all disco and leisure suits."


@philly.com

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