Francesco Francavilla: Presenting The Black Beetle

A comics interview article by: Chris Kiser

In a relatively short period of time, Italian artist Francesco Francavilla has risen to become one of the most beloved and respected creators in the American comics scene. With a recognizable, striking style that often hearkens back to the pulp stories and movie serial posters of yesteryear, Francavilla has turned heads on covers and interiors for such books as Zorro for Dynamite Entertainment, Black Panther: The Man Without Fear for Marvel and -- perhaps most notably -- Detective Comics for DC, where his contributions to Scott Snyder's "The Black Mirror" helped make it one of the most haunting comics stories of the past year.

Currently, Francavilla's work can be found in the pages of Captain America and Bucky, and in April you'll be able to catch him as both writer and artist of The Black Beetle, a creator-owned property that will be appearing in three issues of Dark Horse Presents. Much to our delight, Francavilla recently set aside some time to tell us all about what he's planning for that story, which promises to be an exciting and beautifully rendered pulp adventure.

Comics Bulletin: For starters, would you tell our readers a little about the premise of The Black Beetle? What kind of comic should people be expecting?

Francesco Francavilla: Someone defined it as "neo-noir," a definition I quite like. Think action, mystery, suspense, more action, thriller, with a pinch of horror. It's what I call "all the good stuff." 

"Night Shift", the three-part story that will start in Dark Horse Presents #11 this April, takes place in the home of the Black Beetle, Colt City. When a very rare amulet arrives at the Colt City museum, things get really complicated. A team of dangerous individuals isn't far behind -- they want the amulet and will stop at nothing to get it. 

CB: How about the Black Beetle himself? How would you describe his personality or motivations?

Francavilla: His mission is to fight crime in Colt City. We don't know who he is -- not yet, anyway. We do know that he has access to some advanced technology that allows him to take care of the many threats the citizens have to face from time to time. Black Beetle is definitely the hero and protector of Colt City.

Francesco Francavilla Interview - The Black Beetle

CB: This is a character who appeared before in some of your self-published work, both on the web and in a limited edition print comic. Was it always conceived as something that you would want to later return to and expand upon?

Francavilla: Definitely. The ashcan was the introduction to "No Way Out," a longer story I was -- and still am -- planning to tell. And I'm running (sporadically) the "Kara Bocek" story on my website. I've been plotting more stories and creating a whole set of characters (including some very dangerous villains), waiting for the moment The Black Beetle would land on shelves, and it seems that moment has arrived.  

CB: How did The Black Beetle end up at Dark Horse? Was it something the publisher approached you about specifically, or did it come as a result of you pitching it to them?

Francavilla: [Dark Horse president] Mike Richardson is a big fan of my Pulp Sunday blog, and that's where he saw The Black Beetle for the first time. He is a huge lover of all things pulp, so he asked me to bring my hero to Dark Horse and create a special story for Dark Horse Presents. As a long-time fan of Dark Horse and the long line of writer/artists that label represents, it didn't take more than two seconds for me to say: YES!

CB: In the last few years, you've had the chance to serve as artist for some of the most well regarded writers in the business, such as Matt Wagner on Zorro, Scott Snyder on Detective Comics and, currently, Ed Brubaker on Captain America and Bucky. Is there anything you've learned from these guys that you've been able to apply to your own writing? 

Francavilla: I have been extremely fortunate and blessed to have worked with -- and in a relatively short period of time -- some of the best storytellers/writers out there who are killing it on the shelves day in and day out. So yeah, I'd be crazy not to try and learn everything I can from the best in the biz.

Definitely all these experiences have influenced me and made me, I think, a more mature storyteller. It's always been my dream to be a comics creator, whether that's collaborating with other creators or going solo. I've been creating comics in some form since my teens and have been lucky enough to have a few stories I've written published in other anthologies, so I guess it's pretty safe to say I've been training for this for most of my life. 

Francesco Francavilla Interview - The Black Beetle

CB: Typically, when you do the interior art for a book, you also serve as your own colorist, which is fairly uncommon to see in the industry. What is it about doing your own coloring that appeals to you? Or, conversely, why do you feel that so few other artists do things this way?

Francavilla: Coloring my own art started almost as an accident, one of those "let me try this coloring thing and see how it goes" situations. [Laughs] I grew up with black-and-white Italian comics and had been training to be particularly strong with B/W, so coloring was a new universe for me to explore. Luckily, I found myself really enjoying it and I found that other people really seemed to dig my approach to colors. So, if everyone is happy and I am happy, why stop coloring myself? I can honestly say that it does take a lot of training and time, so I can totally understand why it's not more common.  

CB: The press release for The Black Beetle describes it as "pulp-noir," and I think you could safely say that a lot of your other work -- Detective Comics and Black Panther, to name a few -- has contained heavy doses of those elements. A lot of folks might not realize, however, that you've dabbled a bit in sci-fi as well, once doing an issue of Rick Remender's Fear Agent. Is there a particular type of genre that you believe your art is most well suited for?  

Francavilla: If it's a good comic or book, then I'm in. I have done historical fiction, action thrillers, crime, noir, sci-fi, horror, western, superheroes -- heck, even covers for Archie and kids' books for Scholastic. I think it's safe to say my art is suited pretty much for everything. [Laughs] Obviously, I really love pulp and noir, but mainly I just try to push myself and give my best on everything I do.

Francesco Francavilla Interview - Detective Comics

CB: I've always found your art to be quite effective at establishing mood, particularly in all those eerie moments in Detective featuring James Gordon, Jr. What goes into designing a character like that -- one who makes the reader feel unsettled just by looking at him?

Francavilla: Setting the mood derives, in my opinion, from the right use of light and shadows -- not just for the environment, but also for the characters. Coming from a background of chiaroscuro training, I find this helps to make the same character look friendly or sinister and creepy, and I tried to use that technique pretty heavily in my Detective pages, so I'm glad it worked out well! 

CB: Anything else you've got on the horizon that we should be looking out for?

Francavilla: Besides the three-part Black Beetle story that's going to be in Dark Horse Presents, I am wrapping up my Captain America and Bucky arc with writers James Asmus and Ed Brubaker at Marvel. After that, I plan to focus on more Black Beetle stories, and I have a couple of other projects in the works with some amazing collaborators that I can't talk about quite yet. And, of course, I'll have a few covers out every month!

The Black Beetle begins in Dark Horse Presents #11, which goes on sale April 18 and can be found on page 64 of the February issue of Previews. In the meantime, be sure to check out the official webpage/blog of The Black Beetle here:

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