Word of the the Nerd interviewed writer Frank J. Barbiere and artist Victor Santos about their upcoming mini-series Violent Love. A crime noir romance story of two notorious bank robbers in the Southwest set in the early 1970s, the first issue will be released on November 9th through Image Comics.
Frank you have worked on comics that span many different genres: horror in FIVE GHOSTS (Image) and science fiction in The Revisionist (Aftershock).
Violent Love is billed as a pulp-infused criminal romance oozing with style and action. What triggered the desire to write a criminal romance? Is Violent Love based on a true story?
Frank: I’m a writer who has been fortunate enough to put out a lot of creator owned work in a relatively short period. I love genre, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to work in a lot of different genres throughout the span of my creator owned work; I feel like the things I keep coming back to are morally ambiguous characters and stories that focus on working within the gray space between good and bad. After Black Market, Victor and I began to talk about what kind of project we’d like to do next and Victor suggested incorporating romance into the title. From the suggestion my head started swimming with a lot of different ideas, and from that simple suggestion Violent Love was born.
In terms of being “inspired by true events,” Violent Love is firmly lodged in “faux true crime” territory. There are a lot of different reality based stories and concepts that have inspired the project, but it’s not a direct recounting of any specific events. Really this adds a sense of authenticity to the project while not locking it in a cage. The whole project has a feeling of nostalgia and Americana, and the “inspired by true events” tagline really helps establish that upfront for readers.
The story appears to run along the lines of the films like Bonnie and Clyde mixed with a bit of Pulp Fiction. The first issue though is told in flash back. It opens in 1987 California with ex-lawman Lou telling a young girl Penny the story of Daisy Jane that began in 1969 Texas.
Please tell us about your decision to set the story late 1960s but narrated in the late 1980s.
Frank: We’re really trying to keep things fresh and take the unexpected path here. I feel like modern comics readers are really intelligent, savvy folks — we want to excite and delight, and we need to stay ahead of our sharp audience. I think starting at the beginning like this will really establish Daisy for our readers and show a clear motivation. Doing the book at Image allows us to take our time and really give the necessary story for this plot to matter, and we hope our audience stays with us for the long ride ahead.
The first issue tells the story of Jane before she ever met her partner in crime and lover Rock Bradley. Daisy is developed into a very complex character in the first issue. Rather than just dropping her into the story as a tough as nails character, you have provided Daisy the motivation for the path she takes. Readers will be able to identify and empathize with her character.
Will the same amount of focus (e.g. one issue) be given to explaining the motivations of Rock Bradley?
Daisy is firmly our “main character” despite Rock having a big part in the story as well. Rock is going to be a little more mysterious at first, but we will eventually take the time to flesh him out — but this first arc is all about Daisy, so for the moment we’ll be working him into the story in real-time, not flashing back and giving all the details of his life in the same way. But keep reading and you’ll find out everything there is to know about our whole cast!
The first issue is a magnificent piece of story telling. How did the two of you connect? How have you managed to collaborate together so well across thousands of miles?
Frank: I’ve said it many times and will continue doing so until I’m blue in the face: Victor is truly one of the most gifted storytellers working in the medium today. We were fortunate enough to get paired up by editorial at BOOM! Studios for our book Black Market, and since then have struck up a friendship. Victor is able to take my scripts and transform them into such unique visions; I hope to keep collaborating for him for a nice, long time! Sometimes you just click with other creators, and I’m glad we’ve hit our stride! Personally, I believe in giving my collaborators a lot of freedom to innovate and express themselves, and Victor has really taken my scripts to new heights.
Victor: Thank you! I think this is like a friendly tennis match. Or a friendly shoot-out! (Laughs). We throw ideas to the other and return with contributions. We need an order, so first of all Frank sends me the script, but work on it and change the storytelling and adapt it. Sometimes I add my own ideas or graphic elements that I think are a good fit to incorporate. Maybe a color/panels pattern we could repeat in specific moments. I really don´t change the script, but I search to empower the feelings in it. Frank later adapts his dialogues, and usually add my graphic elements to the following issues, and it’s amazing how it works!
I’ll give you my favorite example: I thought it would be emotional if Daisy´s father have a simple ritual with his daughter, so I drew the old man putting his cap on his daughter when she´s sad. Then Frank used that cap to an almost symbolic element for the character of Daisy in the following issues. I love seeing the stories growing by this way.
Nice touch working the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman into the story. Not only does it establish the time period but foreshadows what is to become of Daisy and Rock.
I am always enamored with stories that are period pieces. Did you do any research about this period of history and its locations?
Frank: We’re obviously keeping stuff as accurate as we can as this is a story grounded in realism, but I really credit Victor with doing the appropriate research. He’s working in such smart aesthetic period references that really make the book feel like part of the time period. Again, from a story perspective, this is a book that relies heavily on nostalgia and that dreamlike feeling of a folk tale, so Victor’s unique use of color and details really help sell it all.
Victor: Thank you! This was one of the added elements of our friendly shoot-outs. That moment of the story was placed in a very specific date, so we researched a list of movies released that year and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid appeared. It was so appropriate! On the most important night for this character we placed the seed of her future. The movie reference wasn´t in the script, it appeared in the process. This kind of discoveries only appear when you´re working closely with your collaborator.
I think the better way to understand an age is studying its fiction. You will learn more about the 50s watching their sci-fi movies than reading history books about the Cold War. Facts are facts, of course, but the feeling, the illusions and fears of the people, are in the fiction.
Victor please tell us about your training and when did you decided to work professionally as an artist.
Victor: Well, I studied Fine Arts in college, in Spain. But my true school was making comics. I am not an illustrator, I consider myself a storyteller. I don´t remember myself as a 6 years old kid simply drawing, I was telling stories before I knew how to write, mute sequences! And I keep a lot of my early comic books. I keep my little bootleg comics of TV shows like Knight Rider and V!
So simply I tried to improve and improve, first self-publishing my stuff, later in Spanish independent publishers until now in the professional field. But I decided to work professionally because I was sure I couldn´t stop telling stories. So I tried to live by art because as my mother wisely advised me “Try what you love, because you always will have the chance for a job you hate”.
Your artistic style is reminds me of the late, great Darwyn Cooke. It is a clean cartoonish style but effectively communicates very emotional and violent scenes. Who is among you artistic influences?
Victor: I´m a huge fan of Darwyn Cooke’s works, I bought all his books and as reader. I really feel sad about all the great stuff we are not going to read because of his premature loss. He really wasn’t a direct influence on me; it was Bruce Timm. Batman the Animated Series changed my perception of animation and comics. I belong to the first manga generation. I read a lot of USA and European stuff during my childhood: books like Kamandi, Batman and the Marvel Transformers, Tintin and Asterix. Later at the end of 80s and the 90s Dragon Ball, Akira or Saint Seiya came. American comics were unapproachable to me, all full of references to other issues and collections, so I only read manga books.
So it was in college when I met again with the USA comics. I read Eisner, I read The Dark Knight returns (well, all Miller) and Watchmen, I discovered Mike Mignola and Matt Wagner. And I discovered the classic manga, Tezuka, Koike & Kojima. I studied animation and illustration in college and the Bruce Timm storytelling and designs were my references, my projects were complete rip-offs of his works. So I think my art spans this transmission of violence and feeling because is that mixture of eastern elements, animation and USA books.
Are you both fans of crime noir films and novels? Which are your favorites?
Frank: Of course! I feel like crime comics like POWERS and CRIMINAL are really what turned me on to comics as a more diverse medium and ultimately resulted in me telling stories in the medium. I’m much more of a comics reader than anything else, and I feel like I owe a huge debt to creators like Bendis, Brubaker, Lapham, and Cooke for creating such a brilliant landscape for crime comics. It’s an honor to be putting out work alongside them, and their work has been hugely influential on me.
In terms of film, I’m much more of a modern cinema fan and films like THE DEPARTED or THE USUAL SUSPECTS are more in my immediate vocabulary — I have a fondness for vintage crime cinema, but I think that’s more Victor’s territory in terms of our collaboration.
Victor: I use to say I became a noir fan because of samurai films. One of my favorite movies is Kurosawa´s Yojimbo, and a friend of mine told me it was an adaptation of Dashiell Hammet´s Red Harvest. I read it and it was love at first sight, the ambiguous characters, the ambience. I bought cheap editions of all Hammet and all Chandler, and later Jim Thompson. So I’ve read noir compulsively since those days. Love the classic stuff, but right now I buy the books of people like James Ellroy, Dennis Lehane, James Sallis or John Connolly.
About films, I love the classic black and white movies aesthetics but my true love is the 60s-70s: films like Point Black or Bullit. I love Asian noir, yakuza films or Hong Kong stuff like Johnnie To´s movies.
Frank and Victor: After Violent Love, what projects are next on your plates that you can discuss? What projects are on your bucket list?
Frank: Violent Love is going to be fairly all consuming for me at the moment. I’ve got a few things brewing at the big two that I can’t wait to announce, as well as a solid lineup of creator owned projects I’ll be slowly unveiling as well — but that being said, we really want to do Violent Love as a long form, ongoing so we’ll be pouring a lot of time and effort into it as the months go by.
Victor: I just finished the third Polar book, No mercy for Sister Maria, and my plan is to close the trilogy.
Right now I´m also working with Dark Horse on the US edition of one of my Spanish graphic novels, Rashomon: A Case of Heigo Kobayashi, a noir story placed in the Feudal Japan, inspired the writer Ryonosuke Akutagawa but with elements of us writers like James Ellroy. As you see, it connects with the origin of my love for noir, samurais and Red Harvest. Dark Horse will publish it next year.
Of course, I hope Violent Love continues in a long march because working with Frank is so easy and fun. Even after the end (in a long future, I hope) of this series we will work together on a new project.
I have a list of people I would to work on graphic novels or miniseries, friends I´ve collaborated with like Mike Oeming or Brian Azzarello, and people I never worked with, but they really rock, writers like Alex de Campi or Fabian Rangel Jr.
What is the best way for fans to provide each of you feedback and support the series Violent Love published by Image?
Frank: You can reach me at @atlasincognita on twitter and find my website at http://www.atlasincognita.com. Make sure to pickup issue #1 on November 9th and you’ll find a letters section you can submit letters to, as well!
Victor: I have my website http://www.victorsantoscomics.com and my twitter account is @polarcomic. I hope this interview feeds your curiosity and you buy the books, but you also can check our Facebook and twitter profiles and chat with us about noir and crime and love. Violent Love has official page in Facebook and tumblr. I try to upload a lot of work in progress stuff there. I think this is a marvelous tool to show how we make the book and keep in touch with the readers.
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