By Vaneta Rogers
As comic book fans discussed the recent death of Pa Kent in the Superman titles, despite the wide array of opinions, one thing most people could agree upon was the quality of the work done by artist Gary Frank.
Working with writer Geoff Johns, Frank orchestrated a dramatic scene of heightened emotions in Action Comics #870 that ended with the death of Superman's father, Jonathan Kent, while concluding a story that redefined Brainiac and brought thousands of Kryptonians to Earth.
Newsarama talked to Frank about the issue's emotional climax, the funeral scene he drew in New Krypton Special, and what he has coming up next in the world of Superman.
Newsarama: Let's start by just talking about the storyline overall, Gary. What was your impression of the way the Brainiac story worked, particularly that powerful ending in ?
Gary Frank: I really enjoyed the story. Over and over you hear people complaining that Superman's Rogues' Gallery is a little lightweight with too much emphasis on Luthor. I think this story has, in the space of a few issues, elevated Brainiac to a much more important and relevant position.
NRAMA: Obviously, the issue ended with the juxtaposition of very emotional scenes. What was the biggest challenge as you put it all together?
GF: As always, my first priority was clarity. After that, I'm looking to get things to evoke an emotional response.
NRAMA: When we talked about this storyline back in June, you said that you and Geoff talk a lot before and during each issue. Did you two discuss the death of Pa Kent a lot? How did the scene evolve as you spoke about it? Were you on the same page with the way this scene should happen?
GF: Geoff and I are so on the same page with these things that we might need a DNA test to make sure that we are different people.
An example of the way the process works, though, is the longshot at the end. We talked about it for a bit. We talked about some of the approaches (downshot, side view, close-up, Superman holding Martha, Superman floating at a distance etc) and the last thing we wanted was a kind of stock scene. This was too big a deal.
Eventually (feeling the pressure!!!) I said to Geoff "You know, there's no way I'm going hit be able to draw these faces in a way which is going to hit a nerve for every reader so the best approach might be to give almost a blank canvas and let them fill in the gaps." Most people have dealt with some sort of tragedy and, if they can subconsciously tap into a little of that, it'll be a lot more powerful than looking at a drawing of a comic character with tears streaming down his face.
So the longshot takes us away a little from the characters and leaves the reader free to develop a more personal response to what is happening.
NRAMA: Did you start over a lot as you tried to get it right? Or did it just flow naturally?
GF: That's the value of talking everything out and examining it from various angles before putting pencil to paper. Of course, sometimes when you start to get the images down you realize that things need a rethink but, in this case, it seemed to work out pretty well.
NRAMA: Because of the way the scene was structured, the horror of Jonathan's death seemed to be most emotionally communicated through his wife's cries. How do you think that helped the scene, and how did you approach that visually?
GF: My biggest issue with this part was more technical and related to Kandor growing in a way which could last the length of time necessary, even though it is not actually physically growing (the bottles don't so much shrink the cities as hold them in a dimensional anomaly).
The power of the emotional aspect comes from Superman's excitement and eventual awe alternating with Martha's terror and eventual despair. But that came to me on a plate from Geoff so I didn't really have to do anything there.
NRAMA: We've seen a lot of funeral scenes in comic books. What were you hoping to communicate in the funeral in the New Krypton Special?
GF: Geoff was really keen to keep it silent so we had to do everything with posture. The idea was that Clark was keeping it all together by bottling everything up inside. He is always the rock, whether it be for the JLA or his family so he's just getting through things the only way he knows how. Then we have the barn scene where he finally allows everything to hit him.
Interestingly, the Brainiac beat-down scene came up very late in the day during a conversation Geoff and I had. We were talking about how, if Superman was anyone else with that power, Brainaic would probably be the deadest dude in the Universe. So we came up with the wish sequence as a way of showing why that couldn't happen. Of course, it's all down to the kind of man Jonathan Kent turned his son into.
NRAMA: Does this change Superman/Clark Kent?
GF: I don't think it permanently changes him. It helps us to clarify an aspect of him. Geoff has such a sharp, clear idea of who Superman is that he is entirely consistent throughout. He what Superman will do even if Superman himself takes a while to realize himself. Isn't that how people are? Sometimes they seem to be behaving out of character but, of course, no one ever truly does anything out of character. It's just that sometimes the complexities of life cause us to behave in a way which others don't expect.
Long term, the actual death itself will have an effect on him. He has lost his own "rock".
NRAMA: Pete Woods is doing the three Action Comics issues for the New Krypton story ... and we haven't seen solicitations yet for February. The January solicitation for Action Comics says that issue will end the New Krypton crossover and introduce "a major change to the Man of Steel's status quo." Are you drawing Action Comics #874 for February? Any hints of what we'll see?
GF: Everything is still a little hush, hush at the moment but I'm not quite done with the big guy yet.