Teenage Trouble and Knightly Know-How with Frankee White & Adam Markiewicz of “Broken Bear”

“Broken Bear” tells the tale of a legendary knight and his reluctant squire … until Selm makes a fateful choice that catapults her into an adventure she didn’t sign up for, and a bit more soul-searching than she imagined. The book is an eerie horror/sword & sorcery mash-up that features excellent creature design, superb colors and a pulpy plot that thoroughly entertains. It’s refreshing, earnest and full of adventure. 

I had the chance to chat with Frankee White and Adam Markiewicz about the comic’s origins, their creative process and their plans for Selm’s future adventures.

Broken Bear Cover
Cover by Adam Markiewicz & Melanie Darling

First off, thanks for your time! Tell me a little bit about how “Broken Bear” came into the world. What inspired you to tell this story in comic form?

Frankee White (FW): The original idea for “Broken Bear” came after my first longform comic, “Wolf on Vacation,” sputtered. Originally, the story was going to follow Bear as a knight-errant, but I kept brainstorming ideas and realized it would be much more fun to change it up from what people would expect from this type of story. Ultimately, I wanted to tell a series of stories of a person who makes a terrible mistake and how that choice affects the rest of their life. My ideas ranged from larger stories to single panel jokes like in newspaper comics, but I wanted the freedom to tell this story however I wanted, at whatever pace it needed to be told. 

Selm is a fascinating protagonist. She’s a very conflicted, very young and often very unkind person. You manage to make her relatable, if not entirely sympathetic, and a lot of that comes down to Adam’s design as well. Tell me about how she came to be.

Adam Markiewicz (AM): Selm coming across as sympathetic probably comes from the fact that I never saw her decisions or actions as outright evil. She’s a dumb kid who’s gotten herself in way over her head, and doesn’t have the skill or wisdom to get herself out heroically. I think a lot of people can relate to being or having been a dumb teenager.

FW: I love Selm. The first chapter of “Broken Bear” Volume 1 is the very first thing we came up with, and it’s what defines her character at the beginning. She is self-centered\ but not without a heart, and I feel like a lot of people operate in that space. We bring our baggage, our past, with us and it informs how we process events and act in the world. I wanted Selm to be complicated. Someone who is capable of heroism or villainy depending on her circumstances, but ultimately capable of growth. She’s still a teenager in Volume 1, and growing up takes time.

How’d you come to work with Adam, and what was your collaboration like?

FW: I put out a little want ad on Twitter and it was shared by the lovely Josh Crews. Adam saw it and reached out. It was pretty straightforward, which is what our working relationship is like. I trust Adam wholeheartedly with my script. He’s a fantastic artist. “Broken Bear” took about two years to complete so it was a long process of getting to know each other and tendencies. In the script I was more focused on dialogue and panel breakdowns to make sure the story flowed the way I wanted it to. It was not a meticulously detailed script. Adam set-dressed and added background characters however he wanted, unless I had a very specific idea in mind. You’ll notice a bunch of Easter eggs in there from him!

Your creature design in this book is a lot of fun and full of imagination. Balzac’s guards are particularly interesting, but there’s a restraint here that keeps everything grounded. Can you tell me a bit about your creative/design process on “Broken Bear”?

AM: First off, thank you. The process usually involved me looking for a real work counterpart to whatever Frankee described. Balzac, for example, was visually based on Harry Knowles, Harvey Weinstein and Larry Flynt. I sketched something up, sent it to Frankee and he offered notes. For some I’d do a redesign if he felt I was way off base, a few times I nailed it on the first try. The guards were a good back and forth between us, and I actually didn’t feel like I’d gotten the hang of drawing them until I was well into the arena battle. They were fun, though, and people seem to like them and that scene, so that’s neat. 

A.H.G.’s color palette is impressive and nuanced. The gentle gloom over what would otherwise be bright, poppy colors in the marketplace in other sword & sorcery-style books hits the perfect tone for the story. Tell me about how you brought A.H.G. onto this project, and how you work together.

AM: We didn’t plan to do the book in color originally. I had finished 80 pages in black and white with tones when we decided to switch to color. A.H.G. was brought in very late to the process, and had very little time, and still was able to knock it completely out of the park. I’m looking forward to working on volume 2 with him so we can both go into it as true collaborators. 

FW: Originally, like almost all my projects start, I wanted to do “Broken Bear” in black and white. Adam’s linework is so good that I was not even interested in getting a colorist. When Caliber showed interest in the book, our editor Andrea Molinari recommended hiring one and now I can’t imagine the book without color. 

A.H.G. has a very painterly style that fits the tone of the book perfectly: grimy yet magical. My coloring notes are even less detailed than my scripting notes. Outside of figuring out how characters should be colored, my usual stance is: I don’t know jack about coloring, so based on how the scene is written, you color on that vibe. I really like to hand the project off to the artist and collaborate, not dictate what I think it should look like. For example, when Selm first appears in Balzac’s Bazaar, in the script, the details are focused on the energy of the Bazaar and general layout. For color it only says, “It’s surprisingly well-lit for being underground because M A G I C” and A.H.G. turned in this beautiful page of the bazaar absolutely coated in pinks and magentas. It was not what I had pictured in my head at all, but it worked so well. I could trust him to either know exactly what I was going for or turn in something I wasn’t expecting at all, but was just what the page needed.

Your font choice in this book is interesting, and very welcome. We’re often bogged down with ornate fantasy fonts in this genre, but “Broken Bear” features some clean, concise lettering. Tell me about that choice, and anything else you’d like to add about lettering your own work.

AM: I approached the lettering for “Broken Bear” exactly as I did with “The Great Divide” or “Trench Coat Samurai” – I don’t want it overpowering the artwork. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that good lettering doesn’t draw attention to itself. So that’s what I aim for. It’s also probably because I’m a competent letterer, not a great one. A great one would use fancier fonts AND not overpower the artwork.

Is there more “Broken Bear” in our future? We’re obviously not done with the story! 

AM: There damn well better be! 

FW: Yes! I have a lot of Selm’s overall story mapped out in basic plot points and Volume 2 is fully plotted and is currently being scripted. Unfortunately, I have no idea when it will come out. Making comics is expensive, and Volume 1 was completely self-funded. We need to build up some steam behind Volume 1 first, keep pushing it into the public eye as best we can, and then hopefully in the near future we can continue Selm’s story because I really want to show everyone the crazy places we’re going with it.

Tell me about what you watch, listen to, read and consume media-wise when you’re creating comics – specific to “Broken Bear” or in general, if you like.

AM: I mainly listen to music while drawing, and I’d like to say I pick specific things that fit the project, but it’s really just whatever I’m in the mood for. That said, I listened to a lot of Dio and Black Sabbath while working on this book. Sometimes I listen to audio books or podcasts, and, if I really want to slow my work down, I’ll put on a movie.

FW: I listened to a lot of heavy metal like Black Sabbath, Green Lung, and Uncle Acid while writing. “Broken Bear” is specifically inspired by Hellboy in the way that Mignola structured Hellboy’s overall story so I was reading a lot of that early on in production. I also watched a lot of horror films, but I always do that so I can’t say it’s specific to the process.

Anything else you’d like to plug, any projects you’d like to share about?

AM: I finished a project recently that hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t say anything more about that. So, no, I don’t have any pluggables yet. 

FW: I’m currently working on a book with Kat Baumann and DC Hopkins called “20 Fists.” I’m labeling it as a “rough and tumble romance” with an emphasis on action. Basically, a queer “Romeo & Juliet” meets “The Warriors”. Issue #1 is out now, with a Kickstarter for issues #2 & #3 coming shortly. 

Where can we find you on social media/the web/in person at cons, appearances, etc?

AM: I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @admancomics, my website is admancartoonist.com, and I’m on too strict a budget to make it to any cons unfortunately. 

FW: You can find me on Twitter @frankee_white. I’m on there quite a bit and always happy to chat. As for cons, I’ll be at C2E2 (2/28 – 3/1) and PeoriaCon on 3/7! So hit me up and say hello!

Make sure to follow Frankee and Adam for more info on the next installment, and you can pick up a copy of “Broken Bear” from Caliber Comics, and on Comixology or Amazon.

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