Talking Comics with Tim | Francesco Francavilla on ‘The Black Beetle’
Frequent readers of ROBOT 6 know I’m a big supporter of Francesco Francavilla, and particularly his Black Beetle character. Wednesday marks the release of The Black Beetle: No Way Out #3, the penultimate issue in the first of a series of miniseries for Dark Horse. As much as I was eager to learn about the pulp-fueled noir comic, I was equally keen to chat with Francavilla about his approach toward layout and storytelling in general.
As part of the interview, Francavilla shared some preview pages for the latest issue.
Tim O’Shea: Comparing the early adventures of the Black Beetle, as shown in Night Shift versus No Way Out issues 1 and 2, how liberating did it feel to be increasingly ambitious with your layouts on the pages?
Francesco Francavilla: Very liberating. One of the tricky parts of doing Night Shift was to have three small installments (chapters) of eight pages. I wanted each single chapter to be meaty enough to be entertaining on its own, but I also wanted each chapter to end with a cliffhanger. Going from that to a full 22 pages a month with No Way Out, I have much more room now to have fun with different layouts and give extra room for some big reveal sequences.
Walk readers through the two-page spread that opens Issue 2. Did you always envision using the search beacon as an element that ties the pages together, or was that a decision you made in the midst of coloring the page (I also love how the button detonator reveal guides the reader’s eye along the page).
Everything you see is planned from the layout stage. Even if I don’t color my layouts, I do grayscale them and spot all the lighting (and shadows) in that stage. It really helps to establish the mood from the get-go. For that double spread, I wanted just to give that grand, CinemaScopic camera view, like the opening of a movie (it’s the title page after all).
How many different versions of Labyrinto’s costume did you design before settling on the final version?
The design in the book is pretty close to what I had designed in the concept stage. The only thing I added when penciling this issue is the circular motif on Labyrinto’s chest, to make it more of a logo/emblem like superheroes (and some villains) have.
You seem to like to strike a balance between noir and a bit of whimsy in your storytelling. For instance, in Night Shift, Dr. Howard calls the hero “Mr. Scarab” only to be corrected by him. As much as you take pride in your art, how equally important is it to you to work nuances like this into the dialogue?
I usually am a funny guy by nature. I like to laugh and I like to make people laugh, so if there is a chance to get a laugh or two or even a smile from my dialogue, you bet I am gonna go for it! And I didn’t want Black Beetle to come across as too serious – you need to like the guy, right?
Speaking of Dr. Howard, any chance she will be part of the Black Beetle supporting cast?
Yes, as a matter of fact you can tell from the intermezzos I have planted in No Way Out #2 (and this week’s #3) that Antonia is coming back on the stage in the second mini. Big time.
In developing the series bible for Black Beetle, how much have you fleshed out your larger vision of the role Colt City plays in the series?
Colt City is definitely THE place where most of Black Beetle’s adventures are set, so it naturally plays a big role in the Beetle mythology. But the plan is to get BB out of town a few times and in some more exotic locales as well.
Many comics have blurbs of endorsements from fellow creators, but I was struck at some of the praise Black Beetle earned. Tell me how you got the Gail Simone, Warren Ellis and Jim Steranko endorsements?
I am lucky and honored enough to call most of these guys friends. They all have expressed praise and love for The Black Beetle in the past, before I even took it to Dark Horse (i.e., Steranko read the ashcan a few years ago and loved BB at first sight, while Ellis praised Black Beetle’s Kara Bocek a couple of years ago on his blog). So when it came time to promote the book, it was a no-brainer to ask them for a few words. Easy thing, since they all knew already about BB and his adventures. I owe those guys a drink now [laughs]
There’s no doubt that Black Beetle is a resounding success for you and Dark Horse. How instrumental are designer Justin Couch and editor Jim Gibbons to this success?
I had a very precise vision for the design of this book (a vision which was summarized in the ashcan edition), so I was VERY happy to see everyone at Dark Horse going above and beyond to bring that vision to fruition. Even if I am writing, drawing, and coloring, the book is very much a team effort: from my wife Lisa and Jim Gibbons’ edits to Nate Piekos’ lettering to Justin Couch’s assist on the design, to the whole Dark Horse crew for helping putting out the book and promoting it. I am a very blessed creator.
How many covers are you producing on a monthly basis? I am astounded at how many companies tap you to do cover.
Actually I lost count. The other day I was flipping through Previews and I saw a cover I forgot I did! Then I went to check if I forgot to invoice it too [laughs].
It’s definitely something I enjoy doing and I’ll keep doing it as long as publishers ask me to cover their books.
If you could would want to solely do Black Beetle full time, or do you like the opportunity to work in DC and Marvel to give them up?
I absolutely enjoy working on other characters as well. That’s why you will see me doing Hawkeye at Marvel and Batwoman at DC. Right now I’m only doing occasional fill-in issues so I can focus the bulk of my work time on Black Beetle (and other properties I am developing) but yeah, I enjoy playing in other sandboxes too. I have what you might call “Creative ADD.”
Do you find it gratifying to connect with your audience via social media (you seem quite active on multiple social media platforms)?
Absolutely! I like that we have so many ways (other than just conventions) to interact with our audiences. In addition to my official website, I have three blogs which I update fairly often: my sketchblog, Pulp Sunday [the place where I developed Black Beetle] and the most recent official Beetle blog.
But it’s on twitter [@f_francavilla] where I do most of my interacting—teasing new things to come and sharing tons of art and photo of books. I love books and comics. A lot.