Stephan Franck launched a Kickstarter campaign Monday morning for his latest book, Palomino, and Monkeys Fighting Robots got a chance to talk with Franck about the book.
Palomino is a neo-noir graphic novel series, set in the lost culture of Los Angeles’ country music clubs. The age of urban cowboys is in full swing. Cowboy hats and rhinestone suits are all the rage. Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” is Billboard’s number three song of the year. Dolly Parton is a national icon. And across LA, six nights a week, working musicians, TV actors, stuntmen, cops, hustlers, and broken souls all play their part in the cultural myth-making. Most of them are just trying to survive—on the B-side of the City of Angels.
As an animator, Franck has worked on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Iron Giant. He currently is the Head of Animation on Marvel Studios’ WHAT IF? for Disney+.
Palomino is a passion project for Franck, as he is the writer, artist, colorist, letterer, and editor on the series. Enjoy the interview below and check out his Kickstarter campaign here: PALOMINO
MFR: PALOMINO has a great set of compelling characters. Even Larry feels fully fleshed out. Can you talk about your process of building out the universe for PALOMINO?
Franck: Thank you for saying that! The most central characters of the story are Eddie and Lisette Lang. Eddie is a classic noir figure–a disgraced cop who is now begrudgingly working as a PI. But there’s a unique twist: Eddie spends his nights as a working musician playing the pedal steel guitar in LA’s 1981 country music clubs. Most importantly, he is also full-time father to Lisette, his rebellious teenage daughter who is quite the hard-boiled chip off the old block herself. There is a profound and unbreakable bond between them, and the dry sense of humor that they share is hilarious and endearing, however, they are in a broken place. They are stuck under the shadow of a tragedy that befell their family, and they’re running out of chances to get their lives back on track.
As a father of two daughters myself, their relationship was my way into the story. They gave me a chance to take iconic characters and turn them into real people and to lead the reader into their world and their unique subculture and time period in an honest and authentic way. Then I started to populate the story around them.
I like to think of LA as a place that, on the surface, almost seems to be standing still, but where, in reality, everybody has ten different hustles and a million things going on. That’s the way I approached all the characters in PALOMINO. In fact, I went through the process of writing their sides of the whole story separately, almost like autonomous yet interconnected segments in an Altman movie. Of course, here, it is told as one linear story, but it’s infused with the various points of view of the people who lived it, in a way that celebrates their humanity–even the ones who are terrible humans, like Larry. They all bring their slice of life to the presentation of the story.
MFR: PALOMINO is an intimate book; the reader has a very voyeuristic point of view. As the artist, can you talk about the camera angles you used and how they emotionally connect the reader?
Franck: The storytelling in my comics is always informed by my work as a filmmaker, and I always think in terms of film language, which I try to combine with a sense of graphic design to make each page visually unique and unmistakably a comic book page. But the point of the cinematic approach is to deliver the moments as strongly as possible. It’s about clarity but also how something reads on an emotional and sometimes a visceral level. That’s why my panels typically “cut like a movie,” not in the sense that every panel is drawn in a film format– they’re not. But the camera, the POV, is an active participant in the creation of the moment and its attribution to a specific character’s experience.
SILVER, my previous series, was a more theatrical expressionist extravaganza, in which things emerged super dramatically from the darkness of black ink. But PALOMINO is fully lit by the California sun and sitting in plain view. Also, “Life in LA” in general has a certain feel, vibe, and pace, and I wanted the story to feel both lived-in and specific with its sense of time and place. For those reasons, I made the choice to lean on my filmmaking and animation background to build all the story’s important sets in CG. I was able not only to maintain consistency and specificity, but also to scout the locations to find unexpected angles and points of view that put the reader at the heart of it beyond what I could simply imagine.
This filmmaking-inspired approach was also helpful in having the ability to find compelling drama in small intimate moments, like a conversation in a tiny ranch-style house kitchen. Once the set is solid, you have a stage to block out your characters’ acting performance through the sequence. The space and their relationship to it becomes an active participant in the story.
For a double dose of geeking out, I would add two things: One, that all the CG is shot with a 2.4:1 anamorphic lens, which really gives you that 70’s cinema feel, and anchors the look of the period. Two, I am obsessed with translating photographic processes into graphic art, and seamlessly transforming CGI reference into a tasteful hand-drawn visual style, so that the various components never clash in a way that would hurt the esthetic or the storytelling.
MFR: Four graphic novels is ambitious, and your audience is flooded with entertainment choices. How much pressure do you put on yourself to hook the reader with the first book?
Franck: The things that hook the reader are the same things that keep me motivated as the author/artist as I see the pages come together. I may be drawn into the series because of a certain attraction to genre or locale, but very quickly, it becomes about answering these basic questions–Do I like these characters? Do they feel like actual people to me? Am I believing their world, their lives, and do I care about their predicament? Most importantly, am I entertained by their unique way of going about things, and am I anxious to see what they’ll do next and spend more time with them? If the answer to those questions is YES–in other words, if my people become your people–then I know the reader will sign on to the adventure.
MFR: How will the events of COVID-19 influence your writing moving forward?
Franck: This pandemic is only the latest event contributing to a feeling I’ve had since 9/11, which is that we are living in a time where day after day, truth is becoming stranger than fiction. Which poses an obvious challenge to writing fiction. So the fear that real life (or reality shows, for that matter), will upstage fictional storytelling is something that I’ve been thinking about for most of my career.
But I’ve come to the conclusion that past the fun and spectacle, the ultimate appeal of fiction is internal. It is the human condition, which, as one of the characters in Palomino says, hasn’t changed in 5000 years. So that’s the big secret–unlike other narratives, fiction doesn’t make you feel dirty in the end. Even when telling the stories of bad people, fiction opens a window on the moral universe, and puts things in their correct place within it. I think that’s our beat.
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