Andrew Vachss, an activist, novelist, essayist and comic book writer who dedicated his career to fighting against and detailing the abuse of children, died on November 23 last year. He was 79. His death, reported by the New York Times, was confirmed by his wife, Alice Susan Vachss. A real-life lawyer who specialized in abuse and neglect cases in his day job, Vachss frequently penned dark crime fiction featuring villains who preyed on children.
Best known for his hardboiled crime series following an unlicensed ex-con private investigator named Burke, Vachss insisted the hardboiled world of his series was built on the things he saw in reality. “I didn’t devise [Burke’s] world,” he said in an interview in 2012. “It exists. It’s real. It’s out there, but most of the planet ignores it because it’s convenient.”
Born on October 19, 1942, Vachss grew up in lower Manhattan. After graduating from Western Reserve University in Cleveland in 1965, he landed a job at the United States Public Health Service as a field investigator on a syphilis task force. The job of contact tracing was his first exposure to what would become the great cause of his life, after encountering a man who had raped his 5-year-old daughter.
After doing humanitarian aid work during the Nigerian Civil War and supervising a juvenile prison in Massachusetts, Vachss made his way into a law career, graduating from the New England School of Law in 1975 and setting up his own practice the next year. He published his first book, Flood, in 1985, and when his writing career began to take off he transitioned his law practice to only take on cases involving children.
Prolific across multiple mediums, Vachss wrote dozens of novels, a host of non-fiction essays and articles, and several plays and short stories. His first comics work came in 1992 with the ten-issue Dark Horse series “Hard Looks,” an anthology collaboration with several comic writers and artists that adapted his short story collection Born Bad. Vachss adapted several of his other works to comic form, working with artist James Colbert on a comic book version of his Cross novels, and adapting his post-apocalyptic story “Underground” for Dark Horse.
No stranger to creating art about serious topics in an entertaining format, Vachss lent his pen to licensed works as well, dropping a Predator into Paloverde State Penitentiary in “Predator: Race War,” and setting the Dark Knight on the trail of a sex trafficking ring in “Batman: The Ultimate Evil.” Vachss saw himself as a “warrior” fighting on behalf of children and the disenfranchised against the predators he collectively dubbed as “the Beast,” using his fiction as a method of fighting his battle.
“I learned, a long time ago, that people can read for entertainment and come away with enlightenment,” Vachss once wrote as part of his contribution to the collection L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories in 2010, “so long as the vein of truth runs throughout and doesn’t detract from the narrative force.”
He is survived by his wife, Alice.
Reid Carter is a freelance writer, screenwriter, video editor, and social media manager who knows too much about pop culture for his own good. You can find his ramblings about comics and movies at ReidCarterWrites.com and his day to day ramblings about everything else on Twitter @PalmReider.
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