The upcoming graphic novel Frank N. Stein: Private Eye puts Doctor Frankenstein's monster in a city called Monstertown, where fictional characters from superheroes to fairy tales need Frankie's help with mysterious problems.
Tthe book reunites writer Keith Champagne and artist Dev Madan, who worked together on Young Heroes In Love for DC. The two creators are in the midst of a Kickstarter fundraiser for Frank N. Stein, but have already raised enough for publication, hoping now to reach some stretch goals to make the book a longer hardcover.
The charm of the story is Frankie, the lead character who, as Champagne describes it, has the "face of a monster, brain of a detective, and soul of a poet."
Newsarama talked to Champagne about the project, why Frankie was so compelling to him, and what's next on the fan-funded Kickstarter.
Newsarama: Keith, tell us about Frankie, the title character in the book. Like the name suggests, he's based on Frankenstein, right?
Keith Champagne: Yes, our Frankie is based on that Frankenstein's monster. When Dev Madan and I launched this campaign, I actually got lectured via message for calling him Frankenstein who, of course, is the doctor that creates the monster. So now I'm careful to point out that I know the difference.
Anyway, our monster is Frank N. Stein: Private Eye, which kind of says it all. Frankie is this big lug who has been stitched together with the body parts of different corpses, but he can't really verbally express himself. The one thing he wasn't given when he was created were vocal chords. So people just assume he's this big hunk of beef that lumbers around.
But on the inside, Frankie has the soul of a poet. His inner monologues are full of depth and dry humor and observation and I love that contrast to the character. The whole not-reading-a-book-by-its-cover aspect was my hook into Frankie when we first started to work on him. "Face of a monster, brain of a detective, soul of a poet." That's how we describe him.
Nrama: Since Frankie's a detective, is the story a mystery?
Champagne: You could say that, yeah. Some are more mysterious than others but every story has a mystery angle to it and a twist to the ending. They're all told in a different genre: We range from classic detective noir fiction to a fairy tale mystery to a newspaper comic strip to one that's a bit more superhero-y. The character lends himself pretty well to genre-jumping, partly because of where he lives, which is a city called Monstertown.
Monstertown is literally a fictional city. You can bump into any fictional character, whether it's a comic book character or a fairy tale or a Norse god or Santa Claus. You could potentially bump into anyone on any street corner there.
When these characters have problems and need to hire a private investigator, they come to Frankie. He's big, he's tough, he's discreet and he gets the job done, although every story has a twist ending and nothing ever really ends the way the characters that hire Frankie might hope.
Nrama: Who are some of the fictional characters he meets, the ones with problems they need Frankie to solve?
Champagne: In these first four stories, Frankie runs into an infant rocketed to Earth from a dying planet, Little Red Riding Hood, his ex-wife The Bride (who's a source of endless heartbreak for Frankie), and a character with a deep love for Spinach and Olives we call The Sailor Man that, for years, has been sailing the seven seas, searching for his lost love. The trail finally takes him to Monstertown.
Future stories we've got planned include run-ins with The Alien, Thomas The Tank Engine (anyone ever wonder why there are so many train derailments on the island of Sodor?) and a bat-like Dark Knight that wants to solve the mystery of his parents' murder, once and for all.
The amount of fun and variety of stories we can tell with Frankie are literally endless; if only we could do it full-time!
Nrama: Before we get to that possibility, let's talk about how you guys came up with this idea. You said the idea piqued your "interest." I assume it wasn't originally your idea, so how did you get involved in the project?
Champagne: It all starts with Dev! We had worked together back in the '90s, producing Young Heroes In Love for DC. When that book ended, he segued back into the video game world and I stuck around in comics, but we always stayed in touch and talked about working on something together again.
Fast forward until after I had started writing a bunch of stuff and he came to me with the concept of Frank N. Stein and the idea of doing these stories just out of our love for comic books.
Next thing you know, we've got this whole world built up and a bunch of stories put together!
Nrama: What's Dev's art like in this project? How would you describe it?
Champagne: It's definitely the Dev Madan show! Our process on these is, literally, he has almost no idea what he' s going to be drawing. For instance, Dev might say, "Hey, I really want to draw a story where Frankie is drag racing!" I go off in my corner and write something and the rest is up to him. He changes his approach, especially his approach to the coloring, depending on whatever genre the story is told him. If it's noir, he goes fully painted black, white and gray. Superhero is more in a traditional comic book approach. The Sailor Man is all cracked and yellow, like an old newspaper strip. There are so many little Dev-isms in that one that weren't in the script! The Red Riding Hood story is lushly painted in a way that gives it a totally different identity than the others.
If people only know or remember Dev's work from Young Heroes, they're going to see what he likes to do when deadlines and the Fed-Ex guy aren't breathing down his neck. It's a pretty impressive showcase!
Nrama: The project has a little under a half month left, and it looks like you've raised your original goal on your Kickstarter page, so what's next?
Champagne: We're very fortunate in that we hit our original goal in the first week. So right now, we have a living, breathing 48-page book and are in our first stretch goal phase where we're trying to expand the page count to 64 pages. It will include another story we're doing which sees Frankie going undercover back in high school to investigate a murder.
It's called "Riverdale Jump Street." Frankie goes to Riverdale High and interacts with some of those characters. Or rather, versions of those characters, since it's a parody and we don't want to get sued. The joke of it, the thing that just amuses me the most, is that here's this seven foot green lug wearing a varsity jacket and going to classes and no one notices how different he looks. In fact, Frankie is pretty popular, especially with the ladies, which causes some problems.
In addition, we also have pin-ups by Neil Edwards, Tom Nguyen, Andy Smith, and Kevin West. And we're throwing in a variant cover that I'm drawing, along with some activity pages like "How to Draw Frankie" kind of stuff. Right now, we're getting close to that version of the book, and if we're lucky enough to hit that goal, we have one final stretch goal, where we want to go full hardcover with it and give everybody the best possible version of the book that can exist.
And of course, everyone gets lots of extra stuff for free, as outlined on the Kickstarter page.
If any Newsarama readers check it out and are inclined to back it, just leave a comment with the word "Newsarama" and you'll be entered into a raffle-style drawing to win a page of Doug Mahnke's Justice League original art (inked by me). We always try to do something a little special for people when we can.