Five Minutes with FIVE GHOSTS' Frank Barbiere

Five Ghosts, vol. 2 cover by Chris Mooneyham
Credit: Image
Five Ghosts #12, cover by Chris Mooneyham
Five Ghosts #12, cover by Chris Mooneyham
Credit: Image Comics

Over the past year, Frank Barbiere has been taking the comics industry by storm. Breaking onto the scene with his fan- and critically-acclaimed series Five Ghosts, Barbiere now has either current or up-coming projects with six of the biggest comics publishers in the United States. Given that his work with both Marvel and DC will be coming out this summer, we wanted to take a chance to chat with Frank Barbiere about his current and future projects as well as get to know this rising talent just a little better.

Newsarama: Frank, let's just get this out in the open: You're planning to take over the indie comic scene aren't you? From Image and Dark Horse to Dynamite and beyond, what's left outside of the Big Two that you haven't gotten your hands onto yet?

Black Market #1, cover by Victor Santos
Black Market #1, cover by Victor Santos
Credit: BOOM! Studios

Frank Barbiere: Haha, well it’s been a very good year for me. Five Ghosts really hit the scene and got a lot of attention from publishers and luckily, I was ready with a lot of projects I’ve been brewing for a while (like Black Market, which has a home at BOOM! Studios, out this July and White Suits at Dark Horse). I’ve been very fortunate and really trying to push myself with my various work for hire gigs, particularly Solar: Man of the Atom. Dynamite really took a chance on me and I’m so proud of what we’re doing with that book—it’s a very new take to be sure, but I think those willing to give it a chance will love it.

I’m also very flattered to be doing work for both Marvel and DC. I’ve got the New Avengers Annual in June (which is entirely surreal as the current run by Jonathan Hickman is a personal favorite of mine) and I’ll be doing the Superboy: Futures End story, which is out in September. Both are really nice done-in-one stories that gave me a chance to play in these universes.

Nrama: Early this summer you'll be taking the leap into Marvel's New Avengers Annual #1. What can you tell readers about this project, how you got picked up for it, and anything else you may have coming up with mainstream superhero comics?

New Avengers Annual cover by Marco Rudy
New Avengers Annual cover by Marco Rudy
Credit: Marvel Comics

Barbiere: My editor, Jake Thomas, had seen Five Ghosts and White Suits and just dropped me a line to see if I’d be interested in pitching for the annual. He mentioned they would be interested in a Doctor Strange story (or any other Illuminati) and something just clicked and I whipped up a pitch for my story that day. As I said, I’m a huge fan of what Jonathan Hickman has been doing and it just clicked with me—Strange is at a really interesting point right now, having just sold his soul for more power, and I was very excited to tell a story that explored what was going on with him. The pitch clicked with everyone over at Marvel and we were off!

The real treat of the whole thing is Marco Rudy coming in on art. Marco loves Strange and is lovingly water coloring the entire issue himself with traditional paints—it’s insane!  It is by and large the most beautiful book I’ve ever worked on (and that’s not meant as a slight to any of the amazing artists I have the pleasure of working with) and I think it’s really going to turn heads. I’m damn proud of the story as well and couldn’t be happier to have it be my first work at Marvel.

The Superboy: Futures End issue is going to be a lot of fun as well. The fact I got to do an issue out of continuity and set in the future is really great as it lets me get in there and do my own thing, not worry about interrupting someone else’s story. I think fans will be pleased to see the characters popping up in there and hopefully will like my take on the character.

Nrama: Can we expect some literary allusions to Faustus and Dr. Strange?

Barbiere: Well there's a definite subtext there, but I really wanted to give readers a glimpse at who Strange is and why he would pursue this particular gambit. It's a bold move, trading up with your soul for more power, but I think it fits with Strange's character and a lot of his current struggles. It was a lot of fun to add some context to the already layered and nuanced version of Strange we've been seeing in Jonathan's run.

Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Nrama: You're working with Chris Mooneyham on Five Ghosts, Marco Rudy on the upcoming New Avengers Annual, Victor Santos with Black Market, Joe Bennett on Solar: Man of the Atom and finally, Toby Cypress on The White Suits. Let's face it: These artists have different aesthetics when it comes to putting pencil to paper, so to speak. Given the collaborative nature of creating comics, how do you find this impacts your storytelling (if at all)? Do they inspire you in different ways? Present any challenges?

Barbiere: The number one thing I love about working in comics is getting to collaborate with different artists. Every artist brings something different to the table and offers you a chance to reinvent yourself. I do my best to write to each artist's strengths, and while I write "full script" style (i.e. with panel descriptions and layouts), I always give my collaborators the room to do their own thing and reinvent the page--they normally have a much better idea than I do, haha.

I think it's a challenge to figure out how to get the best work from everyone, and I think communication is key. Also, being familiar with an artist's work helps--particularly someone who is heavily stylized, like Toby. I want artists to be themselves in our collaborations and be comfortable taking risks...I think many writers and editors can be a little too involved with art and change the direction of things. I want the artist to always be proud and stay true to their own vision...and I think it's shown in many of my collaborations and I couldn't be more proud of the work my collaborators have done.

Nrama: So your story for Superboy: Futures End is going to be a stand-alone story. What will you and Tyler Kirkham be bringing to the table story-wise?

Superboy: Futures End #1
Superboy: Futures End #1
Credit: DC Entertainment

Barbiere: There are going to be some definite surprises. As I said, it's a very fun opportunity to be able to write something out of continuity here and allows us to do some fun stuff. We will be planting some groundwork for some other stuff here, so attentive readers will definitely find some Easter eggs buried in there. I can't really say more than that, but it's going to be a very fun issue with some interesting things going on!

Nrama: In a past life, you were a high school English teacher. How has your education and experience informed the comics you're writing today?

Barbiere: I studied literature and creative writing in college (and then got my Masters in English Education), so those were extremely formative years for me. I really learned to move beyond a lot of the more simple things I was trying to do with my writing and focus in on structure and character. It’s really given me a good mindset of always being a student and always pushing myself—while I’m pleased with the work I’m doing, I strive to do much, much better. Being able to hit the ground running and work on so many different books has taught me so much…I continue to study my craft and see what works, what I like, and what really engages readers. I hope people stick with me on this journey and can see the growth in my work!

And of course, with Five Ghosts, that book is really spawned from my love of story and literature. I never really wanted to dive in with a heady book like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Sandman, so Five Ghosts tends to lean much more towards pulp/action, but comes from a similar place. It’s fun to mine so many great characters, tropes, and themes from classic literature and we’ll really be pushing that as we move on. We just wrapped our "Lost Coastlines" arc, which had some fun pirate stuff and a lot of elements from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, so that was a lot of fun. We’ll be doing a more horror-centric arc next that will definitely be full of surprises and fun new references.

Credit: Dynamite

Nrama: A lot of writers and artists have a particular routine they like to follow as they engage in the creative process from working only in specific locations or listening to a given music playlists for various types of writing projects. What's your process look like? Any particular artist or album that fuels your work?

Barbiere: I’m a music lover, but regretfully I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while I write…it distracts me!  I do listen to a lot of scores and ambient music while writing and do my best to fit the mood of the work to the music. It’s a fun way to get “in the zone,” I guess. As far as actual writing goes, I’m pretty obsessed with getting an entire script out in my first draft. I know a lot of people like to do a few pages at a time, but I’d rather outline like crazy and just fire my first draft out—having that whole thing to work with just makes for better revisions and lets me visualize how the whole issue is going to flow.

I do a lot of my own lettering which is also a big part of my creative process. This allows me to make last minute changes quite often (which can be good and bad!) and definitely is a very “Zen” process for me.

Nrama: So in addition to your writing duties, you're a letterer as well. I'm a firm believer this is a key element to comics that is highly underrated. What should readers look for in effective lettering?

Barbiere: I think the key to good lettering is to work with the art. I don't think I'm an amazing letterer by any means, but I really do enjoy doing it on my own work--it feels like I'm working with the art and becoming part of the final product rather than sitting back in my chair and seeing it from afar. As I mentioned, it does also allow last minute changes, which I think, are so crucial to good comics--the acting in a scene can change everything, and when you work with great artists a lot of emotion and ideas can come across visually which makes a lot of dialogue unnecessary. Or at least I think so. [laughs]

Nrama: Five Ghosts is set to return in September with a new arc, and I've heard you've been given the green light for going up to issue #25. What else is out there in the comics world that's left for you to conquer? 

Five Ghosts Vol. 1, cover by Chris Mooneyham
Five Ghosts Vol. 1, cover by Chris Mooneyham
Credit: Image Comics

Barbiere: We hope to go far beyond #25. Image is incredibly supportive to us and will let us find our legs with the book -- no one will tell us when to stop. We truly love working on the book and are building a world here, so we're so happy to have the opportunity to make something lasting.

I've had a lot of amazing opportunities pop up over the last year and truly, my main goal is to grow and get better. I'm still relatively new in the industry and on the younger side (I'm 29), so I really hope I can continue to challenge myself and learn from my own experiences moving forward. I can already say that I've learned a million things from doing a year of Five Ghosts and that our next arc is going to be our best yet. Comics is one of those arts that you only learn by doing, and I'm very lucky that I've been able to get a lot of work. I really hope that the small audience I've built will stick with me...there are many great things to come, and I'm thankful to everyone who has given me a shot.

I have more creator-owned work I'm itching to get out as well. It's a huge risk to put new ideas out into the market, but it can also be the most rewarding. The next project I have brewing is something I've had in my brain for a long time and I can't wait for people to see it. I think anyone who has enjoyed what we've been doing in Five Ghosts will definitely find a lot of connective tissue in this new project!

Nrama: Last word: Where can fans (new and continuing) find you in the world of comics?

Barbiere: I'm very active on twitter at my handle @atlasincognita as well as on my Tumblr at fjbarb.tumblr.com. I have a personal website, www.atlasincognita.com, which I need to update more, but so it goes. I'll be doing a lot of cons, so be sure to stop by and say hi--I always love to talk about the industry, craft, and comics so I appreciate face time with readers and other creators.

As for my work be sure to check out Five Ghosts which is monthly from Image Comics, Solar: Man of the Atom monthly from Dynamite Entertainment, Black Market out this July from BOOM! Studios, and many other books popping up here and there like the New Avengers Annual from Marvel in June and Superboy: Future's End in September from DC!

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