White Suits and Five Ghosts writer Frank Barbiere very kindly took some time to talk to us about his latest creator-owned series Black Market from BOOM! Studios and the comic book industry in general.
UTF: How did you get into the comic book industry?
Frank Barbiere: I got into comics by doing what many pros and publishers suggest: I made comics. These days, you can’t wait around and hope someone asks you to do work. You have to hire an artist, hit the pavement, and make your own books. I struggled for a few years trying to make “pitches” (five page story previews for potential publishers), but finally just bit the bullet and made the full first issue of Five Ghosts with collaborator Chris Mooneyham. The book was very well received and managed to get the attention of Image Comics, and the rest, as they say, is history.
UTF: What comics or artists inspire you?
Frank Barbiere: I love comics and read everything I can get my hands on. When I started reading very seriously, it was creators like Brian K. Vaughn, Alan Moore, Brian Bendis, and Grant Morrison that really showed me comics (and mainstream comics at that) could really be smart, fun, literate endeavors. Reading their work is what sparked my interest to write comics. I read lots of comics weekly and I particularly enjoy the new books from Rick Remender (Deadly Class, Black Science) and Jon Hickman‘s work. That being said, there are so many good titles out these days from so many great publishers that it really is a wonderful time to be a comics reader!
UTF: You’re most recent series Black Market is out this Wednesday being published by BOOM! Studios. Can you tell us anything about that?
Frank Barbiere:Black Market is a project I’ve been wanting to do for a good, long while. I am so pleased with how it turned out, and really credit my wonderful editors Eric Harburn & Chris Rosa at BOOM! for helping me get it into fighting shape. We really worked the hell out of the book to create a satisfying, engaging read that wraps up in 4-issues and tells a full, enjoyable tale about family, superheroes, and the gray area that exists between good and bad. On the art side, Victor [Santos] and Adam [Metcalfe] have created beautiful artwork that looks better than I could’ve ever imagined! This book is truly my first foray into exploring a different side of superheroes, and I hope people enjoy my perspective.
UTF: How did you come up with the idea for Black Market?
Frank Barbiere: I’ve always been a fan of superheroes, but never wanted to do a “creator owned” superhero book—it’s just too damn hard to try to create a whole new mythology and a character that doesn’t feel like a reflection of someone pre-existing. It was [Brian Michael] Bendis who once said that he wouldn’t tackle the genre till he had something to add, and therein came up with POWERS. In the same light, I thought about the inequity that exists between superheroes and the people they protect—it’s really a strange relation when you think about it, and mirrors the idea of class war. From there I was very into the idea of having a protagonist who had to do something terrible for the greater good (I was coming off watching season 3 of Breaking Bad at the time and found it extremely compelling)—which is how I came up with the idea of having to steal blood from superheroes. The rest was spun out over time and lots of outlining!
UTF: Has anything in particular inspired you whilst creating Black Market?
Frank Barbiere: Certainly lots of different comics—the obvious ones being WATCHMEN and POWERS. Both show us worlds that are so unique and terribly realistic—but not at the sake of being fun and great stories. Also, as I mentioned, Breaking Bad really planted the seed of wanting to do a story about an everyman who is forced to do something terrible. It is one of my favorite shows of all time (which I think many of us in the industry agree with) and I wanted to do something with the same DNA, whilst not completely aping it. I thought a similar situation applied in the superhero universe could really be a lot of fun—and hadn’t specifically been done before. I really did want to find something unique to say, and the idea of “superheroes as the ultimate 1%” really shone through as a fun thesis to take apart, as well as a deconstruction of “morality.”
UTF: How have you found working with Victor Santos to create this world and how do you find working with artists in general?
Frank Barbiere: I love working with artists more than anything; it’s why I work in comics and not prose. To be able to see worlds come to life, to have another person collaborate and draw from a script—it’s wonderful. Victor Santos is truly one of the greatest storytellers working today and I never thought in a million years that I’d get to work with him. The fine folks at BOOM! paired us together and I couldn’t be more thrilled with what we came up with. Victor [Sanos] gave the book such a compelling, refined, and unique look that makes it so much more than just the “story”—it’s a universe with characters who feel alive and emote. He is a master of page layout as well—he took so many pages from the script and elevated them to beautiful, smart layouts. He is a true craftsman! I also really need to shout out Adam Metcalfe, our colorist, who has given the book such a wonderful palette and visual identity. Adam [Metcalfe] worked so seamlessly with Victor [Santos] and really made his work pop. This is all rounded out by our wonderful letterer Ed Dukeshire who has given the book such a silky flow. Again, all masters of their craft.
UTF: The main character of Black Market is Raymond Willis. What can you tell us about him?
Frank Barbiere:Ray is a man who has struggled his whole life to “do the right thing.” He grew up in a poor, working class family in Boston and has fought to build a successful life. His brother, Denny, fell into a life of crime and we learn that something happened between them that ruined Ray’s life. He’s a man at the end of his rope doing everything he can to protect the ones he loves and get the life he earned—the life he feels entitled to—back in his hands. I really wanted a believable, sympathetic lead and I’m very happy with how Ray comes across. He’s certainly got a restrained fury to him bubbling below the surface, and Victor [Santos] has done such an amazing job in bringing him to life on the page.
UTF: You take a very different viewpoint on superheroes in this series. What made you decide to take this more edgier route?
Frank Barbiere: Really it was all about finding a unique perspective on the genre. We’ve seen superheroes done in every which way, and I really wanted to go with the class war aspect, as well as the question of morality. Should superheroes do more? What’s their place? How can the common man excel in a world where people can fly and wield fire? What happens when someone who’s not “super” has to face one of these guys? These were all questions that guided us in our creation of Black Market. Of course we didn’t want to skirt too closely to something like Watchmen or The Boys, but I feel like we carved out our own path in having a clear idea of what we wanted to say and managed to homage some of the more popular books in the genre during the process.
UTF: Black Market is planned as a four issue mini. Will this then be a one off story or do you hope to continue it like you did with Five Ghosts?
Frank Barbiere: This story, the four issue miniseries, has a concrete ending and was built to be a singular story. That being said, we have built a world here that we’d love to revisit so it really just remains in the hands of readers and how the book is received. I’m a creator who is always doing new stuff, and while I’d love to come back to Black Market, I’ve still got plenty more stories on the horizon. I do have to say that I feel like we’ve utilized the format of the four issue miniseries very well here; we were able to really get our point across in this amount of space and think it helps our story a lot—by not running wild over twelve issues we told a very tight, focused tale that will gain traction from being re-read. Or at least I’d like to think so, haha.
UTF: Solar: Man of the Atom has been a thrilling read so far. Can you tell us anything about what happens next?
Frank Barbiere: We’ll be seeing Erica officially take over as Solar and get a brand new costume in issue five. The next arc (issues 5-8) take place entirely in space, so we’ll be playing with a lot of the more cosmic elements of the character which is going to be a lot of fun! We also have a new artist, Jonathan Lau, who is amazing.
UTF: You spread your work round all the reputable companies working with Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite, BOOM! and most recently Marvel. How do you find working with all of these different companies and has working for Marvel made you consider working for either of the big two on a more permanent basis?
Frank Barbiere: I love making comics and I’m thankful for anyone who gives me the opportunity to do so. Working for different companies is always slightly different, but always in a positive way. It’s great to have different opportunities and work on different characters—it’s taught me a lot about myself and how I write, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’ll continue writing for everyone who’ll have me! That being said, I think it’s important to balance creator owned and work for hire, so I’m thankful I’ll be continuing both for the foreseeable future. It’s very much like stretching different muscles.
UTF: Finally what advice would you give any aspiring writer about getting into the comic book industry?
Frank Barbiere: Get out there and make your own comics! Don’t wait for permission! This is a tough business, as are most of the arts, but don’t let your audience define you. Work to please yourself, work to get better, and love what you do. If you love what you’re doing, you won’t get caught up on worry about “breaking in” or “publishers.” Make work you care about and the other stuff will follow—trust me! It’s all about believing in yourself and improving, not giving up in the face of adversity. Don’t let anyone define you.
I’d like to thank Frank Barbiere for taking the time to talk with us and I wish him good luck with Black Market and his other projects. I for one have been enjoying his writing over the last year and look forward to seeing more of his work over this coming year. Black Market is out this Wednesday but until then you can find out what I thought off the first issue by checking out the ADVANCE REVIEW!