A copy of the first issue of the new comic THE RINSE, by Gary Phillips and Marc Laming, out later this month through Boom Studios, recently landed in my inbox. (Hat tip to Brian Lindenmuth over at Snubnose Press for bouncing it to me)
A Rinse is another word for money laundering. It's a complicated affair. You have to take large chunks of cash and break it up, dole it out, make it smaller. Buy, sell, trade, invest. Done right, you pick it up on the other side squeaky clean, ready to go back into the pool and make more dirty money. Maybe even make a profit.
It's an art and a science. It's politics and math, sales pitches and sleight of hand. You have to keep meticulous records. You have to keep no records at all. You have to know your friends, keep track of your enemies, pay attention to when one turns into the other. It's the kind of plate spinning that makes Chinese acrobats break out in a cold sweat.
And it's Jeff Sinclair's life.
Sinclair is the protagonist of THE RINSE, a money launderer who's slick, smart and always ahead of the game. Until he's not, of course. And even then he's a consummate tap-dancer. If he's behind the game this move, he'll be ahead of it next. He's a ruthless guy, but likable. He kind of has to be. Schmoozing is half his business.
Phillips' dialog and pacing are, as always, razor sharp. As an intro this issue is quick, straightforward and a great read. You get everything you need to know about Sinclair and the business of money laundering in the first two pages as we watch a rinse in action. The rest of the time we get to watch how quickly things can go downhill.
Like Phillips' writing, Laming's artwork is crisp, clear and bullshit-free. Clean lines and bright colors fit the slick, big money tone of the story. This is noir in the sunlight, where the shady deals are done in bright rooms with suits and ties and the artwork gets that across nicely.
It's a great start to the series and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. If you like crime comics I really recommend picking this up.
Part 2: The Shill
Now, as it so happens, I know Gary. And when I got the comic I bounced him an email asking if he wanted to talk a little bit about it, give a little glimpse behind the curtain.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, Gary Phillips.
Money laundering is the third largest enterprise in the world. In those ‘40s and ‘50s paperback crime story books and films he was the fence. He’d give you maybe forty cents on the dollar for the bank payroll you stole – given the bills’ serial numbers were listed -- or X amount for the hot ice, the diamonds you and your gang swiped.
These days it’s a massive underground undertaking where billions are washed worldwide each year. The laundry man’s job is to reduce the bulk – for instance a million in 100 dollar bills weights 22 pounds – therefore the form the money takes must be changed, the trail left by the process must be obscured, and more than anything else he must hide the source of the illicit cash. Laundering isn’t something confined to dingy back rooms where hard looking guys stand around with AKs. Large financial institutions (here’s a recent piece on Wacovia being busted for money laundering) are routinely fined for suspected money laundering, for participating in the rinse. The cost of the levy they pay is nothing to what they’ve made on such transactions so that’s just the cost of doing business.
The original pitch for The Rinse was about a crooked general retiring from active duty in Iraq making off with several millions in cash and he gets back to the states and needs our anti-hero, Jeff Sinclair, the launderer, to do a rinse.
The factual basis for this arose from the almost $12 billion in $100 bills we airlifted into Baghdad on shrink-wrapped pallets by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority a few years ago. The cash was distributed with no proper control over who was receiving it, and how it was being spent. The idea being we’d create friends and influence by spreading the "love." This was the biggest transfer of cash in the history of the Federal Reserve. Naturally, a whole lot of that cash went unaccounted for to this day.
The cats at Boom dug my idea but felt the Baghdad/armed forces connection was a bit too political so things were changed to make it more of a domestic story. But I’ve been quite pleased how it worked out and very happy with Marc Laming’s work. Definitely a different kind of story for me where it’s a collision between the sort of street level crime I often write about and this white collar arena of money laundering.
THE RINSE is out later this month from Boom directly (Cover A and Cover B) or at your local comic store.