Welcome back to another creator spotlight! If you haven’t read the previous entry, an interview with Issac Willbanks and Devin Arscott, be sure to go check it out! This week I had the pleasure of chatting with Frankee White, writer of books such as EAT MY FLESH, DRINK MY BLOOD, and the just-launched WHO KILLED SARAH SHAW? We dive into various creative processes for writing, what draws people to horror, and the responsibility of those telling those tales. Check out the full conversation below:
Alex: So how did comics first pop up on your radar as something you enjoyed reading, and then how did that evolve into you wanting to create comics?
Frankee: When I was younger comics were easy to find at any grocery or convenience store, and that’s where I remember finding my first comics: JLA #22 by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter. I read it over and over, but this didn’t immediately hook me on comics in general.
Then in middle school, I found Daniel Way’s run on Venom and that was the first American comics series I followed regularly. Meanwhile, I was also reading manga like I’s, Ragnarok, and Shonen Jump quite a bit.
It wasn’t until Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run did I begin to think that it was something that I could write and take a part in.
Alex: Oh man I still need to dive into that JLA run eventually, I hear pretty unanimously great things.
Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run was a game-changer for me as well, but what was it about reading that run that sparked that idea of pursuing comics, and what were your first steps from there?
Frankee: That run came when I was in college and I had been writing mostly short stories and poetry at that point. Comics had been out of my life (outside of adaptations for Film/TV) for a bit and jumping on that run at #1 made something click in my brain that I could do this. I had a penchant for writing dialogue and pacing in other forms of writing and those felt hugely important to me as a reader of comics so I felt like I could transition to writing comics fairly smoothly.
Additionally, prior to Batman, I didn’t have the infrastructure to start making comics even if I wanted to. I didn’t even know where to look. That changed with social media. As I discussed comics as a fan, I began to find like-minded creators that I could work with and begin figuring out the creative process.
Alex: You’re absolutely right about how crucial pacing in comics is, and I feel like it can often be overlooked or an afterthought.
Finding like-minded creators is something that social media really had changed the game, but at the same time, everyone’s creative process is different. Do you have techniques that you apply to every project you approach, or does it vary on a project-by-project basis?
Frankee: One of my favorite techniques that I used for my first two books (Broken Bear and 20 Fists) and am currently using for my newest project WHO KILLED SARAH SHAW? is to have a loose outline, get the first 5-10 pages fully scripted to start a good foundation and then script as I go, always staying a handful of pages ahead of the artist. I try not to go too far ahead or get too committed to the script. This process allows me to keep flexible and add in possible cues/ideas from the art for future pages.
Obviously, this method isn’t always possible and wouldn't work in certain environments or with certain artists, so it’s not something I do every time.
Alex: That's an awesome approach, being able to easily adapt the pages ahead based on the art rather than trying to do rewrites is a really smart move.
EAT MY FLESH, DRINK MY BLOOD just had a second-print run announced, which is super exciting, and something that struck me while reading that book is the consistent panel layout throughout. Was the title always envisioned with that layout in mind?
Frankee: It’s definitely a tricky method because it requires you to keep a specific pace with the artist but I really enjoy it because it feels more collaborative in the sense that I’m playing off what the artist gives me vs handing them a 100-page script and saying “alright, your turn.”
As for EMFDMB, yes once I decided it was going to be a comic (it originally started as prose), I wanted it to be three panels per page and in a wide format so the panels seemed massive. Almost like a CinemaScope camera.
Alex: Yeah I think that anything you can do during the process that makes things more collaborative is always worth it.
That sense of scope definitely lands, and the 3 panels also set up a nice rhythm throughout the story.
Speaking of writing in prose, what are some of the differences you like when writing for different mediums?
Frankee: Absolutely agreed and the three-panel approach was a fun way to challenge myself to create really consistent pacing while also having each three-panel page be it’s own beat/moment. I was really happy with how it turned out.
I’ll be honest, prose is probably my least favorite medium to work with because my favorite things to focus on as a writer are dialogue and pacing (which is why I gravitated towards comics). What I love about prose though is that you can conjure an entire reality solely through words. It feels alchemical in that sense.
Poetry is another medium I used to write all the time and that is due to its ever-changing nature; I like that I can sit down and write a poem that is vastly different in structure or style than the one before it. There’s a playfulness to it that other mediums lack.
Alex: I’m determined to write some stories that are exclusively nine-panel grids for similar reasons, it’s a creative challenge but I think when done well are some of the coolest things.
When it comes to prose I’m always impressed with the amount of detail an author puts in, toeing the line between overly descriptive and broad enough for the reader to build their own version of the world you describe. Alchemical is a fantastic descriptor for it.
Would you ever want to work on a project that’s a sort of bridge between mediums? THE LABYRINTH, by Simon Stålenhag, for example, is prose writing, but with huge almost concept art like images to accompany it.
Frankee: I actually did something akin to that with STARLESS DAYDREAM. It’s a combination of comics, prose, character bios, pin-ups, etc that tell the finale to a mech anime that never existed!
Alex: That sounds amazing and is a testament to the creative versatility of comics.
Switching gears a bit, you’ve just launched a new webcomic, WHO KILLED SARAH SHAW?, could you talk a bit about that?
Frankee: Absolutely, it’s the newest project from my frequent collaborator Adam Markiewicz and myself. We’ve been wanting to do a full black & white comic for a while and this felt like the right time to do it.
WHO KILLED SARAH SHAW? is a “true” crime mystery, two content creators go to the small town of Hardground, Michigan to cover the story of Sarah Shaw, a high school valedictorian and basketball star who was murdered one winter night after a crosstown rival matchup. It’s been 40 years and her murder is still unsolved. The most likely suspect, Marvin Rainey, Sarah’s neighbor and her father’s best friend, disappeared six months later.
I really wanted to dig into something new with my storytelling, a long story with multiple characters/suspects each of whom tells their own versions of the past through subjective narrated flashbacks. The goal is for the reader to be an active participant in the story, to listen to what these characters are saying, try to parse the truth from fiction, and come to their own conclusions and try to answer the question: WHO KILLED SARAH SHAW?
Alex: As a huge fan of true crime, the premise sounds super promising.
What made you want to dive into the area of true crime fiction, and what sort of research did you do before writing?
Frankee: I am also a big fan of true crime as well. There’s something morbidly appealing to the genre. Why are we compelled to stories of death and tragedy? It’s become such a massively popular genre that there’s money to be made and people who want to make it. What are the moral obligations, if any, of the people who tell these stories? How do you make a life out of it?
True crime aligns itself well with horror so the jump for me as a writer felt natural. I watch true crime docs and listen to podcasts quite often so I’m always “researching” but for this story, I’m not basing it on any specific real-life events or people, though I’m sure there will be some collective unconscious bleed-through that is unintentional.
What really compels me here is obviously the mystery of the crime itself, how does an event like that occur, and how it can affect a small town in its aftermath, but also, when covering a cold case 40 years in the future how interview subjects can have subjective memories of past events. Those events are as they happened to them. If they slip up in the telling, is it a lie or something misremembered? When we do flashback sequences to the past in the comic, there will never be any direct dialogue. They’re always told from the perspective of the person interviewed and it’s up to the reader to decide if they believe them or not.
Alex: There certainly are no shortages of podcasts, shows, and documentaries covering the genre. I’ve sunk an untold number of hours listening to them, and I’m still not quite sure why it’s so compelling but there’s no denying it is.
I think you bring up some fantastic points about the aftershocks of a crime like this happening, and how impactful various points of view can be in investigating. To that end, what would you say was the biggest challenge in weaving this mystery?
Frankee: The biggest challenge is creating vivid backstories for the characters and town. It’s a lot to balance.
Since we are hopping back and forth in time 40 years from the time of Sarah’s murder to the present day, all of these characters' past and present need to be accounted for. Much of my previous work takes place over a very short period of time, so it’s easy to hop in and get into the headspace of a character for a night or two. Not much backstory is required because it’s not relevant. In WHO KILLED SARAH SHAW? the backstory is the relevance in a lot of ways. The events of the past propel the present towards the future.
This kind of character-building work doesn’t always show up on the page directly but needs to be done so that the characters and town feel true.
Alex: That definitely sounds like it’s a lot to juggle, but that you’re putting the right amount of care and forethought into it for things to really land.
To wrap things up and do a bit of housekeeping, where can people find you and your work online, and if there’s anything else you want to plug the floor is yours!
Frankee: You can find me on Twitter (@frankee_white). Most of my comics can be bought on Amazon or wherever books are sold!
WHO KILLED SARAH SHAW? has launched on Adam Markiewicz’s Patreon page and you can gain access to updates for only $1/month, but the first five pages are free for everyone to read!