The Dynamite Pre-vinterview: Frank Barbiere on Solar: Man of the Atom

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There’s been a lot of buzz about writer Frank (Five Ghosts) Barbiere of late. As in literally. I keep hearing “Frank Barbiere this” and “Frank Barbiere that.” All good. Likewise, Dynamite’s Gold Key revival has been a surprise hit thus far, with some sturdy characters getting a fresh update. So Barbiere’s take on Solar: Man of the Atom along with artist Joe Bennett definitely qualifies as a buzz book.

The first issue of the book is out today, and Dynamite provided this preview and interview with Barbiere conducted by Jim Kuhoric.

Q: he Gold Key characters have such an incredibly rich history in comics. Were you a fan of Doctor Solar before you took on creating this new incarnation for Solar Man of the Atom series?

A: I was familiar with Solar from seeing him a lot in the 90’s, but I was never really a reader of the book. When I started talking about the gig, I went back and read a whole lot–I really wanted to absorb what worked, what was fun, and what the aesthetic of the book was. That was really important because it ended up being crucial to us finding a way to subvert a lot of elements of the book–something that I think is really exciting and hopefully helps us bring Solar to a whole new generation! There is, of course, a caring reverence and I certainly have a strong fondness for the 60’s stuff–it was my favorite of everything I read.

Q: Solar has the potential to be a tremendously powerful character. I thought it was a brilliant stroke to avoid the “superman complex” by having the character be unstable and struggling with his control. What can you tell us about Solar’s struggles coming up in the series?

A: I love the idea of this great power being unstable–a concept I clearly didn’t even, but as you mentioned, works so well in grounding the character a bit. We’re going to be exploring what the “cost” of being Solar is as both he, and our new female Solar, learn to control the powers and really push them to their limit. There is going to be that implicit danger of discovery, the knowledge that at any given time the power could nuke the planet, and those are some pretty exciting stakes to me!

Q: You did both the writing and the lettering for the new series. One of the things I really enjoyed about the first issue was the creative use of lettering placement and the communication of action through mathematical and chemical formulas. What was your inspiration for that novel approach?

A: I enjoy being able to letter my own work because it’s another part of the creative process–it give an almost tactile element to my writing, working it into the art, and I’m always struggling to find new and fun things to do. I was a big fan of how in Bendis’s NEW AVENGERS they would always label the spell that Dr. Strange was using–I thought it would be really fun to try to have the equations that Solar was using in his head (he is a genius, after all) to rationalize the way he’s trying to use his powers.

Q: The artwork of Joe Bennett is really incredible. As a comics fan I was immediately drawn in by the creative panel placement and the fantastic art. This is the way Solar should look! You must be thrilled with the pages. What did you think when you saw the first art samples coming in?

A: I was blown away! There’s always the fear in starting a new project that the art won’t live up to your expectations, but Joe completely has blown us away. He has taken my scripts and created such a dynamic, iconic look for the book–I really can’t just say enough good things. To that end, I’m also really excited that colorist Lauren Affe (whom I have worked with on Five Ghosts) is on the book–she has done amazing work that just makes the art pop off the page and gives the book such a fun, colorful identity. A writer is only ever as good as the artists and colorists working on their stuff, so I’m flattered and humbled by their awesome work.

Q: How does Solar fit into this new Gold Key Universe that is unfolding at Dynamite? Are all four books – Solar, Magnus, Turok, and Doctor Spektor happening in the same shared universe?

A: It is a shared universe. We are planting some seeds and having some fun, but right now the focus is really to build our own characters and not feel bogged down by continuity. Solar is certainly the most “superheroic” of the books, and that gives it its own flavor, but we’ll be seeing some stuff tie in very concretely down the road! Readers who are attentive and read the whole line will start seeing some fun stuff taking shape!

Q: What can you tell us about the current story arc and what is in store for Solar in the upcoming issues? Are there any villains from the past on tap to challenge the good doctor?

A: I’m always mining the original Gold Key source material to find some fun stuff to put in. The first arc is very much the story of our new, female Solar (who we will officially unveil in issue three) and she is going to be facing a powerful threat and putting her powers to the test by the fourth issue. We purposely really wanted to take our time and grow these characters organically–it’s been a blast and I think readers are going to really love our new Solar and appreciate the time we’ve taken building her character and the world that shapes her.

With variant covers by Rob Liefeld and more.

“This all started with an accident…”AN ALL-NEW CORNER OF THE GOLD KEY UNIVERSE! Flooded with experimental radiation that grants him unbelievable powers, the brilliant-and-obsessive Dr. Phil Seleski seeks to unlock the secrets of the universe, begrudgingly becoming a “hero” along the way. But can a single man be trusted with near-limitless abilities? What will this mean to the ones he loves? And will his choices lead to utter chaos and destruction? Brilliant writer FRANK BARBIERE (Five Ghosts) and JOE BENNETT present the Man Of The Atom as you’ve NEVER imagined!

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Frank Barbiere on Five Ghosts: “It’s About to Get Pretty Crazy” [Interview]

Buoyed by the success of the five arc of Five Ghosts, the ship-shape creative team of Frank Barbiere, Chris Mooneyham and Lauren Affe have been sailing forward these past few months on a wave of critical acclaim. Okay, sorry, no more ship puns. With the second arc of the much-loved Image series now underway, protagonist Fabian Grey sees himself taking to the high seas as he continues his quest ever onwards.

Five Ghosts is another one of those books from Image which continues to build a reputation for itself every month, with a pulp-y adventure vibe to proceedings and a healthy dose of humour and action in each issue. I’m a fan myself, which is why I was delighted that Barbiere kindly agreed to talk to The Beat about his inspirations on the series, his approach to the characters and story, and what we can expect from the second half of ‘Lost Coastlines’.

 

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Dynamite Tease Project Involving Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Frank Barbiere

Dynamite have started teasing projects this week, with the arrival of three images promising a project from Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and Frank Barbiere. Each of the teasers – released since Monday – have gradually started building up a phrase, which presumably when completed will form the tagline for whatever the writers have planned.

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SDCC’13: Genre in Comics: Can Image Do Anything?

If today’s “Image Comics and the Genre Fiction Renaissance” panel at Comic-Con can be any guide, there are only two genres in the comic book industry: superheroes and everything else. Image are putting out a lot of ‘everything else’ these days, and genres are crossing like crazy. A panel including Tim Seeley, Mike Norton, Ed Brubaker, Ron Marz and Frank Barbiere gathered to talk genre under the watchful eye of Ron Richards.

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Preview and Interview: 5 GHOSTS with Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham

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5 GHOSTS is a new genre-splicing series premiering with Image Comics on March 20th, 2013 from writer Frank Barbiere (recently of THE WHITE SUITS series in Dark Horse Presents) and artist Chris Mooneyham (ANATHEMA). Frank and Chris produced the first issue of 5 GHOSTS independently and distributed the issue in a limited edition at New York Comic Con 2012 in the hopes of generating buzz for the concept and the artwork. Their strategy not only led them to sell out of issues at NYCC, but also to achieve their ultimate goal: to have the comic picked up by a publisher. There’s plenty of debate out there over what the best strategies are for developing a comic concept and getting a publisher interested, but one thing many editors have admitted on public panels this past year is that having at least a few pages of the comic drawn when you pitch a comic to an editor is highly desirable. It’s a way to “show” rather than simply “tell” a publisher what your work is all about, and for Frank and Chris, producing an entire first issue of a quality product really paid off.

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New and Noteworthy: 5 Self-Published Singles

EASY PIECES: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ME & YOU, by Neil Dvorak

Neil Dvorak’s series EASY PIECES premiered and continues to appear on the web platform ACT-I-VATE, but his print issues were available at NYCC and sold out. Dvorak composes in large format on light weight cream colored paper and uses white space around his clear line drawings that encourage pausing. Sometimes long pauses, where you might forget to turn the page. Keep turning the pages. You might call THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ME AND YOU, EASY PIECES’ first installment interactive. It poses questions, and includes a perforated bookmark depicting the narrator dangling, doll-like for your implementation, as well as an insert card that allows you to cut-out and insert pictures of the important people in your life to convey an equally important message. His prose directly addresses the reader, “Ready? What shall we call this journey?” and you’re away on a journey with Dvorak through some of the fragmented questions we face in life.

Dvorak creates ingenious images to suggest the contradictions of identity and perception. One two-page spread about being “struck” emotionally, mentally, physically, depicts in diagrammatic fashion a figure being impacted, reeling backward, and perceiving the the rooms of his home within his line of sight, conveying both motion and sharpness of detail as awareness changes. A remarkable double-page line-drawing of entire blocks of buildings, houses, trees, and a shoreline from an elevated vantage simply states “You know where I am”. Dvorak’s elegant style, and his careful use of language create a unique comics experience at once unfamiliar and engaging. It’s like reading Walt Whitman in haiku form presented with powerhouse design and detail. The first issue concludes “now on to the adventures”, and you’re likely to be game. Hunt down Dvorak’s comics if you want to see the simplicity and psychological depth comics are capable of.

DEE’S DREAM: THE COSMIC WOMBAT HOUSE by Dre Grigoropol

Dre Grigoropol creates a disarmingly attractive half-sized comic in black and white with a colored cover featuring a retro palette. Her indie style has manga accents and refreshing, hand-lettered speech balloons. THE COSMIC WOMBAT tells the tale of Dee, aspiring rocker, on the eve of opening for her favorite local band. Vomiting ensues. And there is still more vomiting on the way. To her credit, Grigoropol manages to make hurling meaningful and rather amusing, a shorthand for emotional states, and essentially the “dream” of Dee’s band name. The story of the nervous underdog is relatable and the achievement of a little piece of her dream, opening for her favorite band, is satisfyingly undercut by disastrous, if slapstick events. One of the most appealing aspects of Grigoropol’s artwork on DEE is the varied width of line, giving a textured feel. Her uncrowded panels and choice of moments also show a strong sense of storytelling and an eye for eliminating the extraneous. Grigoropol crafts a protagonist full of “hang ups” with plenty of sympathy and “gusto”.

I’LL TAKE YOU TO THE MOON & LEAVE YOU THERE Vol. 1, by Skuds McKinley, partial inks by Dan Elisii

Skuds McKinley’s book screams “art first”, but interlaces compellingly grotesque scenes of transformation with intriguing narrative breadcrumbs. His oversize volume is presented in rather lavish, ink-heavy black and white with card cover in limited a limited palette of pink and red. Text inset in the cover tells us a little bit about McKinley and the people who have inspired his work, but between the covers it’s a sudden drop into a sometimes terrifying, mysterious world of shifting realities. A cracking egg, a transforming, monstrous man-bird being, and human characters who wear prosthetic beaks are surreal to say the least, but there’s a muscle to McKinley’s use of contrast and slick shadowing that encourages the reader to suspend their disbelief. McKinley also breaks down genre expectations through seamlessly blended elements of  horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Common themes of ominous transformation guide you through interrelated shorts before culminating in a relationship narrative, “This is how we destroyed each other”, in two parts. Here recognizable aspects of daily life blend into dizzying reality shifts that form a dialogue with earlier chapters and leave you with a haunting sense of psychological extremes and threatening isolation. McKinley creates an intricately visual trip that keeps you guessing.

DUELING by Noah Van Sciver

DUELING is so firmly grounded in Noah Van Sciver’s trademark historically evocative style that he has to clarify on the inside cover “a work of fiction”. It’s a simply stapled paper mini with a narrative voice that resolves into a speaking character during the finale of the tale. The detail Van Sciver crams into his carefully arranged panels gives a remarkable impression of texture even while the fast-paced narrative encourages you to move more quickly through his landscapes and interiors. The subject matter, dueling in a nineteenth century setting, builds plenty of tension on its own, but the barebones narrative commentary couches the drama in terms a modern reader can grasp easily, peeling away any romance that may cling to the concept. “It’s awful. Really awful…”, Van Sciver’s narrator warns. A “spat” between two congressmen “escalates” into gut shots and suicide in visceral terms, but not before nerve-driven mishaps emphasize the very human reality of violent conflict. Van Sciver’s use of silent panels is particularly effective, focusing in on the trembling hand of the shooter post-impact, as well as his use of narrative to emphasize the “message” of the story. “Do you understand?”, the narrator asks his audience, including the reader, even as we view the tragic outcome for the “winner” of the duel, living, and ending, his life as a murderer. It would be hard to conceive of a heftier message conveyed in short form, and this is largely due to Van Sciver’s eloquently bristling lines and emphasis on strained facial expressions.

5 GHOSTS by Frank J. Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham

Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham have produced a larger than standard single issue comic in full color with a vintage sepia paper-tone that gives the book a prestige feel. It debuted at NYCC and promptly sold out, but will be available commercially from mid-November onward. This fantasy story has a strong literary strain but also suggests the more compelling elements of genre video games. Mooneyham’s confident and masterful artwork shows off his versatility both in action and in narrative-driven sequences. Color combinations are well chosen for mood. Use of heavy shadow with contrasting indigo, stark white, sea-green and scarlet red, gives the narrative a period feel while keeping the visual storytelling sharp. The story’s rather ingenious concept, that the protagonist, “infamous treasure hunter Fabian Gray” has been “possessed by five literary ghosts” and can partake of their qualities, sets up the potential for a serialized narrative.

This first issue illustrates Fabian as he takes on the qualities of Sherlock Holmes, Musashi Miyamoto, and Dracula to evade Nazi pursuit before he takes on a mysterious “case”.  Readers follow Fabian into his tortured past and get schooled in the strange form of “demonic possession” or mediumship that afflicts him. Occult powers line up against our hero as pulp adventure sets in. Nazis, black magic, treasure-hunting, exotic locales: 5 GHOSTS has it all. Barbiere sets up a narrative that engages with the pulp tradition in comics and adds in a heavy dose of multiple-genre homage that would appeal to readers of horror, fantasy, and adventure alike. Mooneyham’s capacity for conveying motion and period settings in lithe fashion while suggesting pulp illustration is downright sexy. He captures the energy of older adventure comics that, in combination with the fresh color choices, makes for a highly readable comic. If you like esoteric adventure tales, you can’t go wrong with 5 GHOSTS. It even concludes with some lines of verse from William Blake.

 

Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.