Artist Francesco Francavilla has quietly become one of the most dynamic and speedy artists in comics as seen from his work in DC Comics’ Detective Comics, plus Marvel’s Black Panther: Man Without Fear and the current Captain America & Bucky arc, and even regular covers for Dynamite Entertainment. And now he’s spreading his wings with a story of his own as he writes and draws a three part pulp-noir story in the pages of the prestigious anthology Dark Horse Presents.Scheduled to launch in April’s Dark Horse Presents #11, the three-part story Night Shift follows the Italian artist back into the world of his enigmatic hero Black Beetle and the crime-ridden burgh of Colt City. Francavilla first explored this hero and his world in an ashcan preview for a still-unreleased graphic novel as well as a webcomic short, but this venture in Dark Horse Presents poses his biggest platform yet, and possibly the beginning of a new future for Black Beetle. Newsarama spoke with the artist about Black Beetle and this anthology story, as well as his ambitions for writing and drawing comics both here and at Marvel and DC.
Newsarama: Francesco, you’ve written comics before, but never on this big of stage – what’s it like to be able to do it here at Dark Horse Presents and now with your own creation, the Black Beetle?
Francesco Francavilla: I have written short stories here and there for a few anthologies, but this is definitely a new experience for me in terms of structure (longer story, divided in three acts) and audience, and I am very thrilled and thankful for the opportunity. As someone who has still lots of stories to tell, I consider this debut in Dark Horse Presents to be very important and possibly something that could set a new path for my future career as a full-on storyteller.Nrama: For people that may be following you to this from your Marvel and DC work, who is Black Beetle?
Francavilla: Black Beetle is the protector and hero of our story. His mission is to fight crime in Colt City. We don’t know who he is, not yet anyway. When we meet him in my three-part Dark Horse Presents story Night Shift, we learn that he’s patrolling the city streets and protecting the citizens the best he can. How he came to be in this position and why he feels compelled to protect others is something we’ll discover as we go along. This is definitely an action-packed thriller with lots of twists and turns, so I hope fans will come along and enjoy the ride!
Nrama: If Black Beetle’s the pulp hero, what kind of pulp adversary/adversaries will he be up against in Night Shift?
Francavilla: It's a short story, so I don't want to reveal too much other than to say that they are highly-trained, professional baddies.
Nrama: What kind of world does Black Beetle live in, Colt City and beyond?
Francavilla: Colt City itself is used as a character and is featured prominently in the series. It’s a fictional city set in the late ‘40s America on the East Coast and has a very pulp-noir vibe to the environment and inhabitants. Located on beautiful Colt City Bay, it is home to Black Beetle and is the main location for his tales & adventures. And of course, being a metropolis, it comes with all the bad guys, criminal elements, and villains that will make life in Colt City quite interesting.
Nrama: What kind of story are you aiming to tell here, Francesco?Francavilla: Up until now, people have only gotten a limited taste of my Black Beetle stories either in ashcans or through my web series. So my goal with Night Shift is to tell a story that will satisfy those who've been supporters all along but that will also really grab new readers. It's a short story told in three parts, so I'm packing in as much story, action, and thrills as I can so people get a fun, entertaining read. It's a delicious meal with dessert and coffee afterward!
Nrama: As you mentioned, this isn’t the first time you’ve told stories with this character as you’ve released ashcan comics and even a webcomic previously. For people that like this story in Dark Horse Presents, is there a way they can se the previous Black Beetle stories you’ve done?
Francavilla: The first published appearance of the Black Beetle was the No Way Out ashcan, which included the first few pages of a full length (and still unpublished) graphic novel. The ashcan is sold out but I do plan to release No Way Out in its entirety so everyone can enjoy it. The other published story is Kara Bocek, a web-only tale that ran on my Pulp Sunday blog a couple of years ago. I plan to have that in print and available soon as well.
Nrama: Speaking on the craft of this, I’ve seen you on several occasions do your own lettering, especially with titles. Will you be lettering and coloring your own work in this Black Beetle story for Dark Horse Presents?
Francavilla: Yes, I am hand drawing all the SFX and will take care of balloons and lettering as well.
Nrama: And speaking of going beyond just drawing, you’re also writing. We’ve seen a number of popular artists expand to write and draw their own material in recent months. What are your thoughts on doing more of it, with creator-owned work like this story for Dark Horse Presents but also work-for-hire like at Marvel and DC?Francavilla: I am definitely enjoying the plotting/writing side of things. I do have several concepts at different stages that I plan to develop and realize in graphic format (like U.S.R.A. and From The Deep for example) so I am planning to do more and more of this. And if Marvel and DC would give me the green light to play with their characters, I have a few cool stories to tell there too.
Nrama: This Dark Horse Presents story of yours is coming out at the same time your art on a half-dozen covers and you’re drawing Captain America & Bucky – which is nothing compared to when you were drawing both Detective Comics and Black Panther: Man Without Fear last year. How do you balance it all, Francesco?
Francavilla: I take crazy pills. [laughs]
Seriously, I think I have said it before, but it’s the result of a few things: most definitely hard work and dedication, a pure love and passion for this medium and this craft, very few distractions (i.e., no videogames over here), and last but not least, complete support from the best woman I know, my wife. Also, never underestimate the power of espresso!