Five Ghosts, White Suits, Blackouts, And Going Solar – Talking With Frank Barbiere

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FBFrank Barbiere has been a light in the comic universe for quite some time, both as a writer and a letterer, but with hit series like Five Ghosts, Blackout, The White Suits, Solar: Man of the Atom, Robocop: Memento Mori, and the upcoming New Avengers annual, his star is about to go supernova! A graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in English & Creative Writing, as well as a Master’s in English Education, he has had work published by Dark Horse, Image, Arcana, BOOM! Studios, and his own Atlas Incognita.

His style is recognizable, but fluid, writing a suspense thriller one moment, with supernatural fantasy the next, and he handles them all masterfully. A storyteller with a firm grasp of pacing and dialog, he deftly crafts a story that grabs you and doesn’t let go until the final page.

I recently had the chance to chat with him, about the past, present, and future, self-publishing, and telling superhero stories without superheroes.


tumblr_mf32aotn3C1qciqrso1_500First off I’d like to ask a few questions about your background. You went to Rutgers University, where you received a degree in creative Writing, as well as a Masters in English Education. It sounds like you have long been serious about writing. How did you first get into the comic industry, and were comics something you always aspired to write?

I’ve always loved comics and writing, but for some reason I didn’t put the two together until I was in college.  I read an article in Wizard Magazine about Image comics and it came up that a lot of Image books were blind submissions to the company.  At that point I started looking around online for collaborators, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The books I’m working on now all came out of story ideas that have probably been floating around in my head forever, waiting for the right platform to work them in.

You have been in this industry for a number of years, publishing titles independently through Atlas Incognita. How did this come about, and how has publishing through Image or Dark Horse changed the way you do things?

For one thing, I no longer have to worry about managing everything myself.  Self-publishing is the ultimate trial by fire–you learn to wear every hat, from editor to project manager to in my case letterer and designer.  Image is still very hands off, and Five Ghosts still feels like making comics in our garage.  That’s a great feeling, because it’s the ultimate freedom.  Dark Horse is also amazing, but there I work with editor Chris Warner who has taught me so much.  I’m happy to have him on my books as he’s a real industry vet and keeps me in line.

WSObviously, many of us that grew up reading comics want, at least a little, to write the characters that inspired our love of the medium. Is that something you are interested in, or do you prefer putting your own ideas/characters into print?

First and foremost, I love coming up with my own stuff.  It’s the ultimate way to have creative freedom–no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong if it’s all your own stuff!  That being said, I just love writing and story, and I think it’s the job of the writer to find the story in any concept.  The various work for hire gigs I’ve been lucky enough to get have been extremely fun and interesting–breaking a story for a character that isn’t yours certainly has its challenges, but sometimes it feels like the heavy lifting has been done for you!

I actually just wrapped up my first work for Marvel with the New Avengers Annual (out in June!).  It’s a Doctor Strange story, and it was very interesting to approach a character with so much history as it felt like writing a real person–I already knew how the character would speak and react!

You launched Five Ghosts with a Kickstarter campaign, sold out of your copies at New York Comic Con, and got picked up by Image Comics at that same show. Was it as swift from idea to publication as many make it out to be, or was the behind the scenes process a longer one?

tumblr_miovxkFRuk1qciqrso1_500It was a very, very, very long process.  Eric Stephenson approved the book in November and issue one didn’t come out until March.  That issue had been written almost a year prior, and finally completed over the summer.  It’s part of the reason it seems like I suddenly have so many projects–they’ve all been brewing for a very long while in one form or another.  What’s scary is the “what’s next.”  I’m already trying to fill the rest of the year and going back to the drawing board with some new creator owned ideas.

What or who were some of your inspirations for Five Ghosts specifically, and your creative output in general?

I just love storytelling and story mechanics.  I think structure is very inspiring–if you have an idea or concept the next step is applying a logical structure and story to it, and that part becomes a bit like building a puzzle.  You apply genre as well, and that gives you a set of tropes to work with, but ultimately you have to construct a whole story out of a few blocks–that’s what drives me, what I love.

From there you get to flesh it out, add dialogue, and see it become artwork–it’s all a very addicting process, to be honest ha ha ha.  I read a lot of books and comics and try to always be inspired–seeing great work from others always inspires me to try new things and push myself harder.  I’m always reading writing books or stuff on theory–I think it’s very important to stay educated and be a student of your craft.

robocop_cover_colors_by_mooneyham-d6u7lcwFive Ghosts has been a really great series, full to brimming with wonderful ideas, and masterfully executed by the whole team. Was it a collaboration from the start? How did you first come into contact with the amazing Chris Mooneyham? His style reminds me of the best bits of Neal Adams as if inked by Klaus Janson, yet definitely taken in wholly unique directions.

Chris was actually roommates with another artist I was working with.  He was attending the Kubert School, which was a town over from where I was living and teaching, and we quickly became friends after I hired him to work on a project with me.  It was a really fun time as I was able to just head over to his apartment and jam on ideas, see art, and just collaborate.

We quickly built a great rapport which really helped when it came time to work on Five Ghosts.  Chris is a young artist, despite his style, and I feel like he just keeps getting better.  He’s very influenced by classic comics, and I think that’s missing from a lot of art today.  He applies modern sensibilities as well, which really just creates a unique style that’s all his own.

There have been many comics in recent years inadvertently following the ideals of Warren Ellis’ Apparat line of thinking, as if comics had taken a natural progression forward from the pulp archetypes, without the invention of Superheroes. All of your books seem to fit this mold, at least tangentially. Did this type of thinking inform the genesis of any of your titles at all, or do you just come up with great ideas and run with them?

I made a conscious decision to stay away from superheroes, as quite frankly publishers just don’t want them in a creator owned capacity.  This lead me to explore other avenues to come up with “super heroic” types of stories without using the exact tropes of superheroes.  Again, I think story is king, and always try to find the interesting story before worrying about things like genre and hook.  I’ve been fortunate that I happen to come up with ideas that don’t fall into a basic mold and still appeal to people as widely as they seem to!

You have quite a few hits on your hands now, with Five Ghosts, Blackout, and White Suits all getting critical acclaim. That isn’t even mentioning the multiple books you’ve been lettering. What is next on your plate, or is this enough for now?

solar1Blackout and White Suits are miniseries, so they’ll be wrapping pretty quickly.  I’m working on Solar for Dynamite, which I’ve been loving, and thankfully will be around for a while.  It’s great to work on a book and know you have space to grow the story.  Five Ghosts will be around for a long while (at least issue 25), so that keeps me busy as well.  I’m brewing some new creator owned stuff (with one project placed at a publisher which should be announced soon) and have started talking with a few other places about doing some work.

It’s great to be busy–I’m writing full time so I have to find things to keep my work interesting and exciting.  I really just want to keep pushing, keep growing, and do the best work I can.  I love comics and feel so fortunate to be getting work–I want to prove that I’m worth having around and hopefully keep my readers excited and entertained!

Okay, Battle Royale time. Fabian Gray, Blackout, and the White Suits. Who would come out on top?

I’m partial to Fabian, as he’s got quite a bit of abilities and swagger!

Thank you once again for the interview. We look forward to seeing your career explode! Most of his books are available now at your local comic shop, and on Keep up with Mr. Barbiere here, and be sure to follow him on Twitter.


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