Stephan Franck Gets Animated Over His Neo Noir 'Palomino'
We chat with the comic creator about his rockabilly noir and how his animation background informs his comics.
Welcome to our Creator Corner, our new reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Stephan Franck about Palomino. Listen to the unedited audio on our PATREON PAGE.
We all have a good understanding of obsession. Probably, everyone reading these words has two or three obsessions. Stephan Franck certainly does, and he's put most of them into his Palomino crime comic series.
Set in 1981, in and around the iconic country music club, Palomino drips with film noir style and rockabilly confidence. Franck grew up surrounded by comics, books, movies, and music. He absorbed all the goodies, a few of the baddies, and he's filtered that passion into a grisly, joyous thriller.
Palomino Volume 1 is available wherever rad comic books are sold, but Volumes 2 and 3 are currently searching for funding via Kickstarter. CLICK HERE to give the campaign your attention, sample Franck's rich artistic vibe, and absorb all the good quotes from cool cats like Jimmy Palmiotti, Alex Segura, and Zeb Wells.
Whether you've read Franck's comics or not, you've definitely experienced his cinematic achievements. He's worked in all your favorite animated movies, including Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, How to Train Your Dragon, Wreck-It Ralph, Kung Fu Panda, and The Iron Giant. He's also an animation supervisor on the MCU cartoon series, What If, which we discuss toward the end of this conversation.
Our interview delves into how his animation experience informs his comics work, including why Stephan Franck goes the extra mile when staging his perspectives. We chat about his passion for noir, country music, and Los Angeles. Generously, Franck goes wherever our enthusiasm propels the discussion.
Brad: I was wondering about the structure of the narrative, because the comic does go into some wild places and the surprises really rocked me. What's your process for setting tension and payoff?
Stephan: You know it's funny because I'm so used to the the movie three act structure. That becomes second nature to me, but Palomino will end up being four volumes. Your first volume is your act one. Then you have two and three, that's your second act. Then volume four will be the third act conclusion. By the time you get to the end of volume three you go, "Wow! He really did that." It's the big second act break where you know nothing is what you thought it was going to be. You know big choices have to be made.
Brad: It's good to have such a strong understanding of that structure since you're tackling topics and characters that you love so much. This is your heart on the page.
Stephan: It is. It's an open book. At this point right? I mean except for the crime mystery of it which thankfully I have never had to deal with any of that. I know the genre of crime and mystery and war is something I always gravitate towards. My first graphic novel series Silver was a whole different type of noir, but it was also in a war. This is more like neon noir.
LA has been my home for 30 years. I know this city. I love this city. When you arrive in LA, when you set foot on it, at a LAX, right? You immediately know. Just take one step outside the airport. You'll know if you love the city or hate the city. For me, it was love at first sight.
Brad: In the back of volume three, you include this wonderful essay, that I believe was originally published on 13th Dimension, called "Something Happened On The Way to Cowboy Town." You talk about this desire to finally properly communicate music in the comic book medium.
Stephan: Storytelling has two goals, right? Let's say one is for the audience. You understand what's going on. And that's great. You need that because if you don't have that you don't have anything, but then you need the second level, which is they need to feel a certain way about it. I just remember when I was a a kid discovering Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, and other artists like that, what was really amazing to me is the way they were expressing - I don't want to say violence, but action, power, just movement being released, right? You could feel it the way they were drawing it. It was not a visual symbol, right?
Brad: Pure energy!
Stephan: Yeah. Like for instance, sometimes you see this stuff in drawings that is what I would call symbolic. Somebody gets knocked out and little birds fly around their head. Those are ideas so you understand what's going on, but you don't feel it on a visceral level. What I try to do with my drawing is to get past the literal thing that you can describe with words. To get to making you feel the energy and the presence of the moment.
The experience of it in a way that's going to be onward in the way that Kirby, Colan, and those guys were able to to communicate. That energy! So, it can be like energy, like it's a fight, and we have some violence in the book, but it can just be the music too. My background in animation helps me in that direction.
When you animate, you're doing all these drawings, and every drawing is super specific. It's specific to like a fraction of a second of what the energy of the character is at that specific moment. Because you're trying to match vocal performance and stuff like that. So, like there's the the ability to try to really get into the energy of a moment from a character's point of view. That's my training coming from animation and that's what I'm trying to put on the page, and keep all those qualities that I love about a comic book page.
Brad: Does your love of comics ever inform your animation work?
Stephan: I've always looked for animated projects that are a little bit to the left of things. I mean, they're not the obvious or most expected. That's why I love The Iron Giant. It doesn't feel like an animated movie. It's a movie that just happens to be animated. In the last few years, I've had the good fortune to work at Marvel. Obviously, I would have come running no matter what, it's a dream come true, but I knew immediately that I was in the right place when they said there was no difference in tone between What If and their other films.
Obviously, I fell in love with superhero comics when I was young. I discovered that stuff when I was like eight, nine, ten. You daydream that you're Spider-Man or your dad is Batman. Then those very adult graphic novels came out when I was in college, like The Dark Knight Returns, and they were taking my childhood stuff very seriously. I want that ambition for my animated projects.
Brad: As such a huge fan of Jack Kirby, to then be touching his characters in some way in What If, can you put that emotional experience into words?
Stephan: It's very humbling. It feels like a huge privilege. I know it sounds like a cliched answer, but there's no other way to put it. If you had told me at ten years old that I would be continuing the legacy of bringing new lives and new stories, continuing the journey of those characters, and be able to infuse it with things I want...I would not have believed - actually, I would have believed it! I would have gone like, "Yeah, of course!" But no, it feels like coming home in that sense.
It is fairly new that animation allows itself to do this type of stuff. It's not only for kids.
Brad: There's a movement in the field right now. Animation is a medium. Not a genre. Same for comics. They are storytelling devices.
Stephan: Right. They say now, medium is agnostic. Which is a pretty way to say animation is awesome. Everybody's taste is different. I can only speak to the stuff that speaks to me. I always felt like animation is a whimsical medium. So when you turn that lens on something that's already very whimsical, then you get more whimsy. That's what you get out of it.
When you take something that's grounded and you turn that whimsical lens to it, then you get something interesting, which which is why I think The Iron Giant was so great. You could totally have made that movie as a live-action movie, like something from the eighties with a stop motion giant. In animation, you can easily place it in the fifties. You can easily accomplish the wardrobe, the sets. There's a vibe to it and there's an authenticity to that. Once you bring the filter of animation over that specificity, and that reality, then it becomes really, really interesting.
Palomino Volumes 2 and 3 are currently campaigning for support via Kickstarter. Head over immediately.
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