Two things stand out in the comic book work of Australian comic book artist and writer Frank Candiloro, his propensity for putting a brain-bending twist on classic American genre tropes and his unique art style — what I’ve been referring to as his “German Expressionism, wood-block print, indie wonk vibe style” in my reviews of his books, The Widowmaker and Blood Across Broadway.
Frank was kind enough to agree to the following interview in which he talks about his background, his influences, the Australian comic book scene and the trials of self-publishing through his imprint FrankenComics.
Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: I hate starting interviews with boring questions, but since you are not yet a household name, can you tell us a little about your background?
Frank Candiloro: I came spiraling into this world on June 26th, 1985, in the cultured and sophisticated heartland of Melbourne. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of artistic interests or experiences, but I remember reading quite a lot of books and started writing my own stories (influenced by movies and books that I was reading at the time) when I was 15.
At the age of 17, I started to gain an appreciation of cinema and filmmaking, watching films like Seven Samurai, The Godfather and Pulp Fiction, and that was what led me to pursue a career in the arts. I started making short films, which led to making stop-motion animation, which led to studying 2D animation at the Victorian College of the Arts as part of the Film/TV school. It was there where I began to start drawing and where I also developed a love of comic books; it started with reading graphic novels such as Maus and The Dark Knight Returns, [where I was] enraptured by the cinematic method of storytelling that these books would use and which influenced the illustration style I would use to this day.
CB: So, why comics?
Candiloro: Originally, I was a 2D animator and had a love for comics in general, but I was reluctant to pursue making them; it was hard enough finding animation work in Australia, let alone comic work.
In 2009, I saw an online ad that was seeking submissions for a horror/adult anthology called Yuck! by James Andre of Milk Shadow Books. After speaking with him, he encouraged me to submit a comic for it, and thus began my series Millennial Monsters (which was sort of Robert Crumb meets the Universal Monsters of the ’30s). That was published in four issues of the anthology.
After that, I decided to turn an animated series proposal that I was pitching, The Adventures of White Wolf, into a weekly superhero webcomic. With the regular practice I was getting as a result of doing that webcomic, I became enthralled with the medium and decided to start publishing my own books under my label FrankenComics. I’ve been making comics ever since!
CB: From the two books of yours I’ve read, The Widowmaker and now Blood Across Broadway, I think it’s safe for me to say that you have a very distinct artistic style. As that is one of the first things people notice when they see your books, can you talk a bit about how you developed it? Who were your influences?
Candiloro: Being a massive Batman fan at the time, my three biggest influences were Frank Miller, Bruce Timm and Darwyn Cooke. Their styles were sleek, stylish and kinetic with a sense of design, action and purpose. Given that they all had influences from the Golden and Silver Age of comics, my style also took from artists such as Dick Sprang, Chester Gould, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Jack Cole, C.C. Beck as well as the animation done by Max and Dave Fleischer. When I first started doing comics (and animation), I was attempting to replicate the kind of “pop-art” drawing that the above artists did, using a thick bold outside line with smaller inside lines.
When I started making my comic The Testament of Doktor Zeitpunkt, which was influenced by German Expressionist films such as Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, I decided to do a more angular, cubist kind of design to reflect the nightmarish, expressionistic art seen in those films. I was only going to use that style for that particular comic, but people responded very positively to it, and I realized I’d be foolish not to keep using it, so I continued to draw that way for the rest of my comics, developing it more and more until it became the style you see now.
CB: Based on both The Widowmaker and Blood Across Broadway, you seem to have an affinity for American genre films of the 1930’s. Is this true and, if so, how did this develop?
Candiloro: When I was 17, I went through a phase where I watched a lot of gangster films such as The Godfather, Once Upon A Time In America and Goodfellas, which led to me watching crime films from the 1930s and 40s and subsequently led me to watching just about any kind of film from that era. Reading old Dick Tracy and The Spirit comics as well as watching the Fleischer Superman cartoons also contributed to my love of all things 1930s.
I couldn’t really tell you exactly what it was about that era that continues to fascinate me and influence my work. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a time so removed from my own, or it’s the elegance and glamour of it all. At any rate, I’m amazed by it.
CB: What’s the comics scene like in Australia?
Candiloro: I’ve only been in the scene for two years, so I don’t know much about it prior to this, but recently there has been a huge explosion of talented Australian artists devoted to making quality, professional local comics, particularly here in Melbourne. The majority of Aussie comic artists pursue self-publishing in order to get their work out there, so the downside of that is no editorial presence. However, there have been a few locals who have started their own comic publishing labels to counter this, such as Gestalt Publishing, Black House Comics, Milk Shadow Books and FEC Comics, so hopefully that presence will become much more prevalent in the oncoming years.
Because the scene here is relatively small, we’ve formed a tight-knit community and we’re very supportive of one another. As a result, it’s inspired more people to make comics. Although none of us can really retire from our full-time jobs just yet, it really is an excellent time to be a comic artist here in the Land of Oz
CB: We are big proponents of creator-owned properties and self-publishing ventures here at Comics Bulletin, and we try to do our part to get the word out to help some great books gain a wider audience because we know how hard it can be producing your own work. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered as a self-publisher?
Candiloro: Apart from the usual trappings (printing costs, time, etc), a big setback for me in particular is that it’s very difficult to get my comics to stores outside of Melbourne. U
sually, I send a pile of books to either interstate stores or overseas and never hear back from them, and given that they cost a lot to print out, I’m reluctant to keep doing this. Fortunately, though, I’m able to sell them online, which is where most of my interstate/overseas sales come from.
The other issue is that, naturally, your comics are going to be alongside the American and European comics, as well as the other local comics on the stand, so you’re in direct competition with them. It can be hard for a reader who’s picking up Batman or Spider-Man to glance at your independent book and decide to take a chance with it. It might intimidate some, but I think the competition is a good thing. It challenges you to better your art so it can stand side by side with the other excellent comics out there.
CB: What advice would you give someone thinking about going down the self-publishing route?
Candiloro: To quote Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins: “You must make yourself more than just a man.” In other words, you need to treat publishing your own comics as if you were running your own publishing company, which is more or less what you are actually doing. It’s important to produce as many comics as you possibly can. With each book you make, set a deadline for yourself, as this motivates you to actually finish the book instead of dawdling and procrastinating over it. Decide on how many books you want to make in a year and organize a schedule accordingly (e.g., you’ll make Book 1 by the end of April, Book 2 by the end of August, etc.).
Although, yes, this will cost you quite a bit to print your own books, if you’re realistic and sensible with your goals, then it’ll come to you quite easily. Don’t be overzealous and print out 3,000 copies of your first book, as realistically you won’t see a return on it. Opt for 80-100 copies instead, and if you happen to sell out, simply order more! Find a professional printer with reasonable rates and establish a good relationship with them; this will work wonders for you later on.
Most importantly, take them to as many stores and outlets that’ll stock them as you possibly can. Make sure they’re available at any place or venue that a comic reader will see them. It sounds like a lot of work, but if you are devoted and passionate about making comics, then this will pay off big time in the long run. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you publish your first book.
CB: What are you reading now?
Candiloro: I have a regular comics pull list with titles from Marvel, DC and the like, but in particular, Image Comics has been producing some excellent, original material, such as Saga, Manhattan Projects, Severed and The Strange Talent of Luther Strode. I also like to read a lot of local comics that my friends have produced. Milk Shadow Books, in particular, has produced some beautiful, stellar graphic novels, such as It Shines and Shakes and Laughs by Tim Molloy and No Map, But Not Lost by Bobby N.
CB: What’s next for Frank Candiloro?
Candiloro: I’m currently trying to finish up my next comic, Thicker Than Water, for release sometime in May. It’s my fairy tale interpretation of slasher films from the 1980s. Also, I have three more books that I plan to make before 2012 is out. I can’t say too much about them, but they’re in the same horror/expressionism vein that my previous work explored. 2011 was a big year for FrankenComics, but 2012 is going to be even bigger!