In the lead up to San Diego Comic Con, BOOM! Studios rooled out announcement after announcement about upcoming books fans can expect from a host of some of the hottest up-and-coming talent. One of those new books – Black Market – is saw its release on July 16, 2014 and features the combined talents of Frank Barbiere (Five Ghosts, White Suits, Dr. Solar) and Victor Santos (Mice Templar and Furious) marking the first time either creator has worked with BOOM!
This mini-series tells the story of a mortician, Ray, who finds himself mixed up with the wrong crowd – a crowd that includes his brother. Set in a world where superheroes are the norm, Ray's brother enlists him to secure the one thing that gives the Supers their power – their blood. Believing this super blood to possess a "cure all" power, the hunt is on to secure donors… no matter the cost. And for a down-on-his-luck medical examiner, the black market seems to possess a cure all of its own.
Fortunately, both Frank Barbiere and Victor Santos found the time to speak to us about their upcoming mini-series, how they came together to work on it, and some of their thoughts about this unique take on the traditional superhero genre.
Newsarama: For readers not familiar with Black Market, what is the elevator pitch you used to sell BOOM! on your project?
Frank Barbiere: Black Market is about a world where superheroes exist and a down on his luck medical examiner discovers that their blood contains a cure for all disease. Teaming with his ex-con brother, the two formulate a plan to steal blood from superheroes (known as “Supers” in our world) while working with a shady pharmaceutical corporation. It’s part crime, part drama, and part superhero story—a real fun mesh of genres I love, but as always with strong, relatable characters at the heart.
Nrama: This isn't the first time either of your have played in the "superhero sandbox." What about Black Market was new for you? Was there any particular part about telling this story that was particularly challenging from a writing or artistic standpoint?
Barbiere: I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again—it was Brian Bendis & Mike Oeming’s Powers that brought me back into comics, and Bendis always had a lot great tidbits to share about creating worlds. One thing he said that stuck with me was that he wasn’t ever going to tackle superheroes on his own (in a creator owned capacity that is) unless he felt he REALLY had something new to say.
With Black Market, I feel like I found something unique to say. This is very much a story about inequality, about normal people struggling against their superiors for the “greater good.” It was very important to ground the story with human characters who are absolutely astonished by the crazy things the Supers can do. It’s about dealing with things you can’t control and the prices we pay to do what we think is right.
Black Market has a very deliberate flow to it and is told in an interesting, non-sequitar narrative. We see stuff in issue #2 that takes place before the events of issue #1 (this is a story that has a lot of history) and it was difficult to plan out. Ultimately (it’s all done on my end) I’m thrilled with how it came out and a lot of the fun “reveals” were able to be held do to the non-sequitar plotting. And there is a wonderful ending that I think will take a lot of folks by surprise!
Nrama: How did you and Victor come together to work on Black Market?
Barbiere: My wonderful editors, Eric Harburn and Chris Rosa, put us together. It was such a thrill, as I am a tremendous fan of Victor’s work—he was certainly on my “dream list” of potential collaborators and this is some of the best work he’s ever done, in my opinion! Every page is brilliantly crafted; Victor is a true master of sequential storytelling and has created a wonderful look for this book that will have a lot of jaws hitting the floor.
Our colorist, Adam Metcalfe, has also really helped define the look of the book. It has a wonderful, flat style to it that really makes it pop and will surely get a lot of people interested—I really could not be more thrilled with how it looks. Also, Ed Dukeshire is one of the best letterers in the business and has given a great reading flow to many of our crazy layouts. I do a lot of my own lettering, but having Ed here has been a real godsend as he really lettered the hell out of this book, ha!
Victor Santos: I have been following Frank´s work at Dark Horse and Image. I think
a great generation of really interesting artists and writers are rising up right now as seen in various independent series. As artist (and reader), I'm always searching good stories and I'm seeing them with talented people like Frank, Justin Jordan, Jim Zub, Joe Keatinge, and (my Mice Templar pal) Bryan J.L. Glass. It's an exciting time in comics!
Nrama: Visually, this series has a different look and feel from both of your past work, and it seems to be due in part to Adam Metcalfe's coloring. How did you bring him on board, and what about his approach to colors made him the right person to bring onto Black Market?
Barbiere: Again, Adam was someone that Eric [Harburn] and Chris [Rosa] had worked with (most notably on Translucid) and he has a very great handle on unique palettes. We have different timelines happening in our book and really needed a way to set them apart—Adam wonderfully found two unique palettes that really jump of the page. Victor’s work also lends itself to more classic cartooning so we wanted to go with a relatively “flat” coloring approach—vs. a lot of shading/texturing techniques for those who aren’t familiar with the term.
Adam really stepped it up and brought a whole new dimension to the book!
Santos: I always try to give to every series a distinctive look. Although this mini-series was working with superheroes, I didn´t want to draw upon the same resources I used in Furious. I drew and colored Furious more with more gleaming colorful and design. It tells a story about mass media: using panels as TV monitors and smartphones screens. It's a story about redemption and hope. Black Market has its own tone. I considered its need for more traditional storytelling with softer and more classical inking along with playing with higher lighting contrasts.
Nrama: Now, looking at the story for Issue #1, readers are introduced to their "in" character, Raymond, whose background is a bit atypical from most comic book characters. Frank, what led to wanting Raymond to be a funeral director? It's a pretty unique choice.
Barbiere: Ray mostly handles prepping the corpses (embalming, cleaning, etc.) at the Funeral Home, and it definitely seemed like a fun job to explore. We learn in issue one that he is actually a disgraced medical examiner, so this seemed like a great profession for him to fall back to AND really made a lot of sense in the story. Ray is a very smart man who has been shamed by a mistake involving his brother—as he said, he has a knack for digging up details from the dead and it’s going to lead him to some dangerous places in the pages of Black Market.
I also wanted a real world job for Ray that wasn’t so typical. Yes, he’s our hero—but he’s also a man struggling to make ends meet and a normal person. The real hook of the book is seeing how normal people deal with the craziness of superheroes, so it was important he didn’t seem like some kind of overpowered superhero himself.
Nrama: As I was reading the first issue, I couldn't help but recall Syndrome's line from The Incredibles when he tells Mr. Incredible "I'll sell my inventions so that *everyone* can have powers. *Everyone* can be super! And when everyone's super…no one will be." Was this – or something like it – a factor in the genesis of Black Market? What would you both say influenced your respective creative processes as you approached this new project?
Barbiere: As I mentioned, I think it’s more of working with the fear of people who seem so far superior to ourselves. It would literally be a very strange thing to have unknown super people flying around and doing incredible deeds—I’m very interested in the divide that would cause among humanity, how they would be embraced. The real x-factor here is that the Supers are denying humanity their greatest contribution—the cure in their blood. This is what really drives our heroes to get started on their “mission,” the fact that they feel the Supers aren’t actually doing ENOUGH good.
Santos: About influences, I absolutely love comics that mix noir and superheroes like Powers, Sleeper, Top Ten or Azzarello´s work in the Batman universe. Animation and manga were important as well because I always tried to show the superheroes as different from regular people. The normal people are drawn more realistic, but if you check the heroes' appearances, they are more iconic. The Bruce Timm animated productions are great examples of this. It happens in shonen manga series too, like Dragon Ball and Fist of the North Star. The fighters, physically speaking, belong to another dimension.
Nrama: Frank, you mentioned that Ray and his brother seem to think "the cure is in the blood" of the superheroes for mankind's greatest illnesses. How do they know for certain that their pursuit of "super blood" will produce the results they're looking for?
Barbiere: It’s hard for me to say exactly without spoiling the story, but Ray’s medical/scientific background and unique career pursuits certainly put him in a good position to tell there’s something interesting about Super corpses. As we find out, Denny has come on the trail through a different path and the two will have to work together moving ahead to bring their plan to fruition.
Nrama: Victor, what did you find was the most challenging aspect of this story for you to create and what has you most excited as an artist?
Santos: I think the challenge for me was how to show the superheroes are both dreadful creatures and at the same time ridiculous. At least, that's Ray´s vision of this new breed of humans. I was also very focused on the attitude and the visual scope of these characters.
Something challenging and exciting was drawing this story with these high black-and-white contrasts, which I love. It's very much in line with Jim Steranko, Frank Miller, and Jose Muñoz; however, I also want to give it a different style along the lines of other noir projects like Polar or Filthy Rich.
Nrama: Issue #1 of this mini-series helps set the stage for this real world scenario in which superheroes exist. Where do you see this series going down the road? Are there any specific storylines or themes the two of you would like to tackle that you can tell us about?
Santos: Right now, I´m penciling the 4th and last issue. I can say I´m enjoying the experience of drawing Frank´s script, and I hope to have the chance of repeating the experience. I tried to put his awesome ideas down in the best possible way, but this is Frank´s little baby. He sets the direction. It would be great to create some new concept with him as well.
Barbiere: This is just a four-issue mini, so everything will be wrapped up by the end of issue four. It most certainly does build a world for us to play in in the future, but this storyline has a definitive end that will deliver some satisfying closure to our readers. Hopefully, if enough people get excited, we can revisit it in the future!