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Lesbian detective Helen Keremos returns in ‘Work for a Million’ graphic novel

Helen Keremos Work for a Million

The graphic novel “Work for a Million” will introduce a generation to lesbian detective Helen Keremos, who came out readers in the 1986 mystery novel of the same name. Keremos is considered the first lesbian protagonist in an ongoing pulp fiction series. Eve Zaremba created her. Photo: Bedside Press.

Helen Keremos, a no nonsense gumshoe who isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty when investigating a case, is considered the first lesbian protagonist in an ongoing pulp fiction series.

Keremost was first introduced to the world in the 1978 mystery novel “A Reason to Kill,” which was written by lesbian author Eve Zaremba.

Keremos’ sexuality was hinted at in that book. But she came out of the literary closet eight years later in “Work for a Million.” In that book, Karemos’ tough dyke exterior is matched only by her softness for a pretty girl in trouble.

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More than 40 years later, a new generation will be introduced to the hard-boiled investigator when “Work for a Million” is turned into a graphic novel and scheduled for release May 2020. 

In an interview with Q Voice News, Zaremba, 88, and her wife, Ottie Lockey, talk about their decades-long love affair, creating Helen Keremos, and how Margaret Atwood (the award winning Canadian author of “The Handmaid’s Tale”) helped them bring “Work For a Million” to a new generation.

Here are some excerpts.

Helen Keremos Work for a million

Eve Zaremba seen here in Poland in 2015) created the Helen Keremos mystery series. Keremos is considered the first lesbian protagonist in an ongoing pulp fiction series. Photo: Paul Salter

When Eve Zaremba met Ottie Lockey

“I met Eve in 1977 when feminists were organizing protests against the screening of snuff films (where women were actually killed on camera for men’s gratification – a sick form of porno) in downtown Toronto,” Lockey says. “Eve was one of the leaders of the group know as WAVAW, Women Against Violence Against Women.  We started dating in 1978 and were living together soon afterwards.

“Eve was and is a writer, and when her first book, ‘Reason to Kill,’ came out in 1978 – her dyke detective Helen Keremos was created — and I was smitten,” Lockey says. “ We’ve been together over 40 years, and once it was legal, we were married at Toronto’s City Hall” (in 2003).

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Creating Helen Keremos

“I’m a fan of mystery-detective genre. At the time (during the 1970s), there were no lesbian detectives. So I created one — Helen Keremos,” Zaremba says.

(After “Work For a Million,” four more Keremos novels were published in the 1980s and 90s. All six were first published in Canada. A number were published also in the United Kingdom, Germany, and China. None of them were published in the United States.)

Eve’s coming out

“When did I come out?  That’s a meaningless question,” Zaremba says. “Is that phrase still being used? Not by me. Let’s just say that by 1970 I was a dyke.” 

Margaret Atwood helps

“I always loved the idea of a strong lesbian hero, but it took Margaret Atwood’s suggestion just last year to put things into action,” Lockey says. “Bedside Press was instrumental in Atwood’s successful Angel Catbird graphic novel series.

“After an introduction from our friend Atwood to Hope Nicholson at Bedside Press, Eve and I began working with Hope to produce a graphic novel adaptation of Eve’s mystery ‘Work for a Million’,” Lockey says. “We are both thrilled that author Amanda Deibert and illustrator Selena Goulding are adapting the novel, and can’t wait for its publication early next year.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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