Loving Comics with Frank Barbiere

Love is the catalyst of literature’s greatest romances as well as heartbreaking tragedies from Orpheus and Eurydice to Romeo and Juliet. Entering tthis grand tradition of classic tragedies is Frank J. Barbiere’s new Image Comics series, Violent Love. Described as a tale “inspired by true events,” it introduces readers to Rock and Daisy’s story of love and revenge.

I had the sincere pleasure of interviewing Barbiere about his new classic.

Violent Love centers around the romance of famous bank robbers in the American Southwest in 1969. The first issue introduces Daisy as a regular, hardworking girl whose father has unsavory connections. Following her father’s murder, she is drawn into a life of crime and vengeance. She meets Rock, a soldier turned killer after experiencing the horrors of the Vietnam War. Together they become a violent criminal team and passionate lovers.

Barbiere comes to sequential arts following a career as an English teacher. How did his time teaching literature influence his current profession?

“I’m a big reader, and my time as an English teacher really helped me analyze and take my ‘close-reading’ to new heights,” he explained. “I also taught Creative Writing which gave me a nice excuse to really dive into craft and study a lot of the more advanced elements of writing — things I still pursue as a full-time writer. All in all, it really taught me to be smart about how I work and to really think about what my own work — as well as stories in general — actually do and how they function. My literary background is a bit more prominent in Five Ghosts, but in Violent Love it taught me how to research and work in some period elements, as well as enough nuance to make this book feel like it takes place in another place in time. Also, really playing with the element of a frame story and how to utilize it in an effective and meaningful way.”

Barbiere’s strength lies in the depth of his characters. In Violent Love, both Rock and Daisy feel fully realized and researched rather than imagined. These characters resonate so true, that upon reading the first issue, I went online to confirm that Rock and Daisy were indeed fiction, not fact.

I asked about his inspiration for Violent Love and his use of the phrase “inspired by true events”.

“We’re careful with our wording, and Violent Love is ‘inspired’ by true events, not based on any specific person, place or thing,” he said. “When Victor Santos [the story’s co-creator] and I first approached the genres of crime and romance, I took a look at the obvious classics — Bonnie and Clyde, Casablanca — and really started digesting everything I could. There’s a lot of personal emotion and influence as well, and then more modern things like the work of the Coen Brothers and Tarantino. All in all, this is a melting pot of a lot of different influences and true stories — we like to think of the work as ‘faux true crime.’ It feels like it could have happened.”

One interesting creative decision was to begin the tale of Rock and Daisy by revealing that they die at the end. Barbiere shares his thoughts behind that choice.

“I wanted the frame story to have weight, and by revealing this right in the first few pages it really creates a tension for the reader.” he said. “This is a story being told to an active listener, as well as the audience, and it gives us room to play with the different elements and hopefully throw in a few surprises. I think knowing that Daisy and Rock are ‘doomed lovers’ gives their predicament a bit more weight — hopefully, this has led our audience to be on the edge of their seats, wondering exactly how everything is going to lead to the dreadful yet inevitable ending.”

Barbiere set himself the challenge of endearing these criminals to readers. He overcomes this obstacle by delving into how they see themselves. As Barbiere explains, “Both of them have been dragged into a life of violence and are just trying to make sense of things. Rock is a bit more apathetic, accepting his life of crime and his position in life as a killer. From the beginning of the story Daisy has been searching for something more — her life being derailed by Nails gives her a new purpose, but it’s her pluck and drive as a character that leads her on the road to revenge. There is also an undercurrent of guilt and regret — these characters aren’t one-note action heroes. I think that complexity, the regret about their criminal activity, makes them more believable and interesting. In their minds, they’re doing what they have to do.”

Would Rock or Daisy have followed their destructive paths if not for the love and encouragement of the other?

“Daisy would probably get herself killed without Rock’s intervention,” Barbiere speculated. “He didn’t really set out to help her, but they were forced together by chance, as things often happen in life. We’ll explore Rock a bit more and see how Daisy has profoundly affected him, as well. The fun of this story has been throwing these two volatile characters together and seeing what they build collectively, rather than how they would’ve existed in isolation. I think that’s the point of all good romances — we’re really just looking for someone to complete us.”

So what can readers look forward to in future issues?

“Issue 5 is a big turning point and the end of our first arc,” Barbiere said. “We’ll get a nice, big cliffhanger, but also some exciting revelations and character moments that will hopefully make everyone excited to check out issue 6 when we return [in July]. During that break we’ll be releasing our first paperback which will hopefully grab some readers who didn’t jump on with the first five issues.”