Last month, Paste brought you an exclusive look at the prologue to Violent Love, Frank J. Barbiere and Victor Santos’ upcoming Image crime series. The title is utterly accurate: Barbiere and Santos tap into a long tradition of doomed, guns-blazing romance in their nesting tales of crime and passion in the ‘60s and ‘80s. It’s clear from the opening sequence that protagonists Daisy and Rock don’t wind up with a traditional storybook ending once the bullet casings cool, but Barbiere and Santos have plenty to say in the meantime. Paste corresponded with Barbiere over e-mail to discuss the bloody inspirations behind Violent Love, collaborating with Santos and the series’ potentially Criminal future.
Paste: “A criminal romance inspired by true events”—just how true are the events behind Violent Love, and how’d you come across the inspiration?
Frank J. Barbiere: The “true events” that are inspiring Violent Love are drawn from a wide variety of sources, as well as some personal experience/feelings on relationship and love. Largely, what we hope to achieve with that statement is a feeling of authenticity—a “faux-true crime” tone to the story that helps establish it as a de facto slice of Americana. Obviously, the films of the Coen Brothers are a huge influence (particularly Fargo and No Country for Old Men), so it’s also an obvious nod to them—but far deeper than that is the reason why developing a faux-true crime story works so effectively. As with Fargo, there is an immediate sense of the fact that we’ll be seeing grounded, human elements in the story (as well as plot beats) that wouldn’t necessarily be there if this were entirely a work of fiction.
Paste: Bonnie & Clyde, True Romance—even Romeo & Juliet to an extent. What do we find so compelling about doomed, self-destructive, violent love? Why do we romanticize it so frequently?
Barbiere: Victor [Santos] has spoken to this and I agree that love and crime are both intense acts of passion on opposite ends of the spectrum. Just as love is intoxicating and alluring, so is crime—that buzz of doing something outside of the rules, making your own way. I think there is a piece of all of us that longs for something more—something outside the rules of society and conventions we’re forced to deal with day-to-day. I think the rise of the anti-hero and crime stories in TV and film (as well as comics) are a direct response to the overindulgence of typical “good guy/gal” stories and speaks to a more visceral part of the human psyche. We’re definitely not trying to romanticize “violence” per se—I myself am a pacifist who loathes violence in real life. But the idea that there is an intensity here, an element of the Wild West—violence is a big part of that, and we are going to see it horrifically realized in the book. I think its intent isn’t to titillate, but to shock with how horrific it is—something we tend to be a bit desensitized to in a lot of modern fiction.
Violent Love #1 Variant Cover Art by Victor Santos
Paste: This is your second collaboration with Victor Santos after Black Market, and I love the slightly looser look he’s bringing to the book. How long has Violent Love been in the works?
Barbiere: We started discussing and developing VL as soon as Black Market finished. We really enjoyed working together and found we collaborate well, so really wanted to keep the wheels turning. Victor is unabashedly one of my favorite artists working in the industry, and any chance to work with him is a dream for me. I’m immensely flattered he wanted to keep collaborating and VL really is us both bringing everything we love about comics to the table. The chance to work on an ongoing series that will have a nice, long run is a dream come true, and the fact I get to see new art from Victor every week is just icing on the cake. We’re pretty far ahead already (wrapping the 4th issue currently), so we can assure readers the book will be on time every month, which is a relief!
Paste: The book’s framing sequence takes place in the early ‘80s and the core story of the first issue takes place in the late ‘60s—has the book been a period piece since its gestation? What influenced your take on these decades you weren’t actually around to see firsthand?
Barbiere: I study writing and craft pretty intensely when I’m not actually writing, and I’ve found myself more and more fascinated by a frame story and a “storyteller.” I was looking for a good way to work this in and when we started on Violent Love it just clicked. I do think it gives the book a bit of a unique feel and really makes it feel like a folk tale—again, coming back to the “inspired by true events” idea. This stuff is true to Lou, our narrator, and we’ll be seeing the extent of which he is accurately recalling the events/what he’s getting out of telling the story. There is a very deliberate plan for the frame story and it works into the main narrative organically—I think readers will be very pleased with how the whole thing is structured in a new way. I’m always trying to figure out fun ways to do something different, and this was a real happy accident in terms of combining the structure with the source material. And obviously film is our major touchstone in terms of period—I think that’s really Victor’s realm as his use of art and color to evoke different eras is just amazing.
Violent Love #2 Cover Art by Victor Santos
Paste: Unless the young girl in the framing sequence has infinite patience for oral storytelling, it seems like Daisy and Rock’s tale is a finite one. What’s your current plan for Violent Love’s scope?
Barbiere: Our first storyline runs for ten issues (the first two trades). We are building a very deliberate world and history within our narrative, and we hope to keep exploring it for years to come. In a perfect world it may act a bit like Criminal, where it’s an anthology series (that keeps its numbering; we don’t plan to relaunch different series) that jumps around to different characters and eras within the world. It’s a very lucky thing to stumble on a storyworld that has such legs, but we keep coming up with new characters and stories that we want to explore fully.
Paste: You’re best known for high-concept genre books like Five Ghosts. Crime comics were once a booming market but have grown more niché over time—Brubaker/Phillips, Lapham, the short-lived Vertigo Crime imprint. What drew you to throwing your hat into the crime ring?
Barbiere: Modern crime books are really what turned me into a voracious comic reader and made me take writing comics seriously. Books like Criminal, Powers, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series, Scalped and 100 Bullets are some of my favorite books and showed me just how amazing this medium (and genre) could be. That being said, it was always in my mind to do some kind of crime story, but it would have to be the right one. I think we’re still a little flooded with “straight” crime stories, and in the current marketplace you have to give the audience something to excite them. I worked on The White Suits with Toby Cypress, which was a bit of a crime story, and I think at the end of the day Black Market has the genre in it, too. VL is my first attempt at a more deliberate crime story, but we wanted to turn it on its head a bit by also putting a real love story/romance in there.
Paste: Assuming no romantic shootouts in your near future, what else do you have in the works that you’re able to tease?
Barbiere: I’ve got a bunch of exciting creator-owned books that have been long gestating that I’ll be announcing at the end of the year that I couldn’t be more thrilled with. We’ve got more Five Ghosts that we’re working on that should be out in 2017 as well. I’m also wrapping up The Revisionist over at Aftershock that I’m extremely proud of. I try to keep as busy as possible and hopefully will have some more Marvel and DC stuff to talk about soon, but right now Violent Love is my priority. This is such an important project to both of us and we’re in it for the long haul!
Violent Love #2 Variant Cover Art by Victor Santos