IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Frank J. Barbiere | FanboysInc

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Frank J. Barbiere

By Jeff Ayers

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Frank J. Barbiere

Recently, I got the chance to preview Frank J. Barbiere‘s newest work, Dejah Thoris, a beautiful new series from Dynamite Entertainment. That led to a wonderful conversation with Frank about getting his start in comics, and where he plans to go from here.

You can find Jeff’s review of “Dejah Thoris #1” RIGHT HERE!

Jeff Ayers: Let’s start with your past. Were you always a fan of comics? What comics did you read? Do you remember your first?

Frank J. Barbiere: I’ve been a life-long reader of comics, but got very serious about them around the time I entered high school.  Since then, I’ve gone to a shop every Wednesday.  I was definitely a “Marvel kid” growing up, though I’d credit Batman: The Animated Series for fostering a love of superheroes and ultimately the “style” of comics at an early age.  The first comic I ever seriously read was X-Men 2099, which I would go to a local shop every week and get.  I was in about 4th grade when the first issue came out and it introduced me to the concept of serialized comics and the fact that they came out monthly.

JA: What drew you into wanting to pursue writing? Favorite writer outside of comics for example?

FJB: I was an English major in college and always enjoyed writing in school.  I ultimately became an English teacher and really believe in writing/literature for the necessity of an enriched life.  When I was in college I took a screenwriting class, and for some reason that really made everything click for me.  Learning to actually structure a story inspired me, and from there I started writing screenplays and then comic pitches.  My favorite writer outside comics is Michael Chabon (who weirdly does write backups in the new Casanova—so there you go.)

Already, you can get a sense of where Frank is coming from with his own writing style. X-Men 2099 was definitely a departure, and fresh take on the property in the early 90’s for Marvel. Conversely, Batman: The Animated Series was a dark and brooding take on the iconic character, with a strong sense of story and structure in each episode, and was also famous for introducing the beloved Harley Quinn character to the lexicon. Finally, Michael Chabon is known for his use of metaphor and nostalgia in his work, especially his The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay, which won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001. All of these influences beautifully sum up the body of work that Frank has been able to produce.

JA: Everyone has their own origin story, how did you break into the business? What was your first job in comics?

FJB: I started hiring artists and developing my own pitches after reading an article about how Image Comics was all creator owned in Wizard around 2005.  Up until this point I thought you had to get a job at Marvel or DC to write comics, and with books like Powers really bringing me into the “mainstream indie” space, I was very inspired.  I managed to get the interest of an editor at Dark Horse with a pitch for The White Suits (a book I later ended up publishing with them) and he commissioned a series of shorts for Dark Horse Presents.  The big breakthrough came with self-publishing Five Ghosts, that found its way to Image after New York Comic Con 2012.  Five Ghosts #1 came out March 2013, and that was really the “start” of my professional career.  I had been pitching and self-publishing my books since about 2005, however.

JA: You have since written for all the major publishers, with a wide variety of stories. Is there a dream job out there for you still? To put it another way, is there a story, or perhaps a character you would love to write for?

FJB: I’m very lucky that I’m constantly developing my own characters as well as pursuing work for hire, so I’m normally taking jobs I don’t expect (Dejah Thoris for example, I never thought I’d write Dejah!).  On the superhero front, I’d love to work on the X-Men.  I grew up with them and they were always a favorite.  And of course Batman, haha—but with the excellent work that’s been coming out of the Bat Office, that remains intimidating!  For me, it’s really just finding something important to say with the characters. Luckily that opportunity exists with every character, not just the big ones.

JA: You have a brand new series, Dejah Thoris, coming out with Dynamite Entertainment. Can you talk a little about how that came to be? Were you approached to jump into the world of John Carter, or was it your idea pitched to Dynamite?

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Frank J. Barbiere

FJB: My editor (Rachel Pinnelas) approached me to see if I had any ideas.  Gail Simone and Nicola Scott had come up with the “revamp” of the character (Nicola providing the beautiful art and Gail with an inspired new take).  After digesting the redesign and Gail’s take, I pitched a full story—and luckily Dynamite enjoyed it!  I had a great experience working on Solar with them, and that got me in the door, but ultimately they were really excited about the story I presented.

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Solar:Man of the Atom was a character created by Gold Key Comics in 1962, whose powers stemmed from exposure to radiation. He had went through multiple incarnations at a few different publishers, before Frank gave his own take on him with Dynamite Entertainment in 2013. So, tackling Dejah Thoris isn’t the first time Frank has written his own refreshing take on a well established character.

JA: You are taking an updated approach with the character, who was established way back in Edgar Rice Burroughs‘s work in the early 1900’s! Is it daunting to write for such well established characters, while at the same time crafting a new and different story?

FJB: There’s always a little bit of worry that the legacy fans of the property won’t like any of the new elements, but I think we’ve managed to be very repectful of the mythology and characters while providing some newness.  I find a lot of the mythology and previous stories very inspiring and look to build on them to find something new to say.  I’ve emphasized many times that this isn’t a “reboot” of Dejah—it’s a new chapter in her ongoing story with some new elements, such as her redesigned “costume” which readers will find has a function in our story.

JA: Can you talk about any plans you have for the character, and the series in general?

FJB: I’m very excited to shine some light onto Dejah’s character and show some aspects of her we don’t often get to see.  She’s had a few of her own series, but I really want to keep building on the fact that she is a capable and complex character who warrants her own book, not just a side character to John Carter.  I think there’s a lot to say about royalty, perception of the “common people,” gender, and some views on the military that will come to light in this book, and I’m really excited to have such a rich character to use as my platform.

JA: Are there any other projects you have in the works that you can talk about? I know that you are part of the up and coming After Shock Comics crew – anything coming out of that camp?

FJB: I’m really excited for the Aftershock title—we’ll have more info on that VERY soon, but mum’s the word for now.  I have a few other new things in the work, including a brand new series with Image Comics later this year, but I’m going to have to wait to talk about it until we’re closer to release.

JA: Seeing as you have worked on a myriad of different characters in your career, do you have a favorite superhero/villain in the comics world? Doesn’t have to be one you wrote for necessarily!

FJB: As I’ve mentioned, I really have a softspot for the X-Men.  I’ve been a huge fan of al the new X-Books Marvel is putting out, and as a Jeff Lemire fan I’m excited to be reading both Extraordinary X-Men and Old Man Logan from him over at Marvel.  I think Scott Snyder’s run on Batman is amazing and will be remembered forever, so I’ve been excited to read that month in and month out as well.

JA: Are there any artists you have on a wish list to work with?

FJB: Too many to name.  Part of the fun of being a comic book writer vs. prose writer is the collaboration, and working with artists you love is really the greatest pleasure of doing comics work.  I’m very excited to be collaborating with some of my personal favorites again this year, and I’ll be announcing some of the partnerships soon.

JA: Working in the industry is hectic and time consuming for sure, do you have time to read comics anymore? Any current titles you are following?

FJB: I always make time to read every week.  I understand life can be busy, but I think it’s really important to stay current with what’s out there.  I follow a lot of books, but I’ve been most excited by the work of some of my close friends.  Black Mask Studios, a newer publisher, had a great 2015 and the books WE CAN NEVER GO HOME and SPACE RIDERS were both great (and done by close friends).

JA: Finally, I know that the comic industry is built on the backs of everyone involved, and for the most part, there can be a camaraderie amongst peers. Are there any writers you are currently fans of? Any up and comers?

FJB: Many!  I’ve worked long enough to become close with a few other creators, but I’ll have to give shout outs to Matt Rosenberg, Fabian Rangel, Steve Orlando, Chris Sebela, Mike Moreci, and Ed Brisson.  They’re all phenomenal writers who people should be paying close attention to—each one of them have amazing stories coming in 2016.

Jeff Ayers

Both my parents instilled in me at an early age the awesome power and incredible wonder of the written word. My father sat with me when I was four years old and taught me to enjoy reading with classic comic strips like SPIDERMAN, PEANUTS, B.C. and, later, CALVIN AND HOBBES. My mother exposed me to such classics of literature as Poe, Tolkien, Stoker and Doyle, and I started my own comic collection with allowance money from mowing lawns. I liked Wolverine before it was cool, I watched as Superman died and returned, and huddled under the covers as I turned the pages of SANDMAN. Reading is like oxygen to me, and all genres and formats are welcome and devoured equally. I am the co-host of The DW and Incredible Jeff Show, CEO of Permian Productions, and a reviewer at Graphic Novel Reporter. I am 34 and live in scenic Saratoga Springs New York, where I haunt coffee shops and dive bars and the best comic shop anywhere, The Comic Depot.

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