An interview with Rhawnhurst graphic novelist Duane Swierczynski

By Christopher Wink

He is a rising star in graphic novels and comics, but like too many people, Duane Swierczynski saw a neighborhood he loved make a change for the worse.

The Frankford-native discovered in 2005 that a pack of heroin dealers had taken over his peaceful childhood home on the 4700-block of Darrah Street, just east of the Margaret Orthodox El stop.

“[Growing up] my daily commute was a stroll down Frankford Avenue, right under the El,” he says. ” Which was an education in itself.”

And Swierczynski, 37, who made stops in Center City, Pennypack, New York City and elsewhere after leaving Frankford and before moving to Rhawnhurst in 2002, has come a long way from those roots playing underneath the El.

Using social media, a wicked pen and a wild imagination, he has developed something of a legend — a proud son of Northeast Philadelphia.

He has written five graphic novels, been anthologized in a half-dozen published collections, and has movie producers nipping at his heels. His latest novel out is the acclaimed Severance Package, and he’s been getting attention for bringing Punisher to Philly, as author of Marvel Comics’ monthly series Cable and The Immortal Iron Fist.

But, his native and bubbling neighborhood that is often at odds with Northwood, Wissinoming and Oxford Circle has been the inspiration of his writing before, and it seems like it will be again.

“Frankford’s going to play a huge role in my next novel, which should be out next year,” the former editor of CityPaper says. “It’s a murder mystery that plays out over 50 years. I don’t want to say more than that, but it’ll definitely be my most Northeast-centric book.”

After the jump, see a childhood photo and read where the Northeast shows up in his novels, when his kids will finally be able to know what daddy does and more.

1. Do you have any favorite haunts in the Northeast?

As nerdy as it sounds, I’ve always loved the Northeast Branch of the Free Library. I’ve spent a lot of time there. But my absolute favorite haunt is Pennypack Park — the crown jewel of the Great Northeast. And unless you live here, you have no idea it exists. Just a week ago I went biking there with my 5-year-old daughter, and we stopped for a while to hang with a couple of geese and just chill out. Everybody, even gritty city-dwellers, should have a hit of green every once in a while.

2. Tell us about the appearances the Northeast has made in your work.

The Northeast was featured in The Wheelman. I actually blow up a house on Colony Drive, just off Axe Factory Road. I based it on a friend’s house. And there’s a spin down Roosevelt Boulevard, with a stop at the Roosevelt Mall. And part of The Blonde takes place on the El, and another gruesome scene plays out on Edison Avenue, in the Far Northeast.

But as I mentioned earlier, the next novel will be the most Northeast-centric of them all. There’s a brief scene downtown, but most of it takes places in Frankford and other NE locales.

3. Because you have two children, do you have any plans or intentions to write a children’s book?

As for a children’s book, I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m actually dying to write a Marvel comic that would be appropriate for my kids to read. I admire creators like Robert Rodriguez, who can jump back and forth between gritty adult fare, like Sin City and Planet Terror, and fun, insane kids’ stuff, like Spy Kids, Shark Boy and Lava Girl.

I’ll never force my stuff on my kids. If they’re curious about it, great. They’re definitely not allowed to read the novels until they’re like… 30.

4. We’re ecstatic someone as accomplished as you has stayed within the city, particularly the Northeast. Do you think you’ll be around to watch Philly grow, or do you see anything that might force you out of the Northeast or the city generally?

You flatterer, you! We have no plans to leave. But you know, the crippling business privilege tax doesn’t fill me with a lot of warmth for the city. And as a freelance writer, I’m suddenly a “business.” … [But] The entire city is where my imagination goes to play. I’m always looking at things and filing stuff away in my mind for future use.

5. Any other Northeast favorites or shameless neighborhood name-drops that will make our readers like you more and encourage them to go out and buy three or four copies of each of your novels? Hah! I feel like I keep losing my favorite parts of the Northeast… I’m a graduate of Mater Dolorosa, now closed…  Marlo Books closed its doors back in 2003. I’m still heartbroken about that. And then they bulldozed the Orleans 8, which is where I watched an absurd number of horror, science fiction and action movies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The last movie I saw there was Grindhouse, which was only appropriate.

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