With the end of the stunning series and upcoming publication of Belle: Beast Hunter trade paperback now on the horizon, it seemed fitting to interview its writer, Dave Franchini, for some insights into the title and any future plans for the character. However, before getting started, I would like to express my sincere sympathy to the family of the title’s original artist, Angelo Ty “Bong” Dazo, who died June 29th after a battle with liver cancer. I am certain he will be missed by all.
Richard Gutierrez: Having mentioned Bong Dazo, do you have any interesting anecdotes about Bong or his attitude in creating this new character for Zenescope and how she compares to his past endeavors with other companies?
Dave Franchini: I honestly wish I had stories to share but we worked for only a short time together. Though in that short time, Bong completely blew me away with his passion for storytelling. His ability to take the words and turn them into a whole world with his line work was amazing to see, especially when he would finish 22 pages in about 2 – 3 weeks and still maintain his level of detail. He gave our main antagonist the look we ended up with in the end and was also very collaborative when it came to some reveals and how we should show them during his issues. You could tell he gave a lot of thought and effort to every page and cover he worked on whether it was the big action shot, a large establishing scene, or as inconsequential as children playing with toys. I do remember he found it funny that we kept building these large scenes and then destroyed them not too long after.
RG: What drew you to Bong’s work, and what do you think were his strongest attributes that give Belle such a unique flair?
DF: Really, we just got lucky at the time. He actually reached out to us around the same time we were setting up art teams on the book and we thought he would be a perfect fit. I loved his previous work and Belle was a new title and we wanted to make sure we gave her a chance to stand out on the shelves. With adding Bong to the team, it helped give the story life. Just looking at his pencils you can see every bit of detail he put into the pages and he really took the story to a whole other level.
RG: You personally have been working with Zenescope since 2009, but only recently started writing singular side stories, then later breaking out with Cinderella: Serial Killer Princess. What sparked the change in your direction within the company?
DF: I have always loved comic books and writing stories. When I first started at Zenescope, as an intern, I would constantly bug them with story ideas until finally, they let me write one. I know, super professional. But, really it took me about four years to get my first story and another two to start getting more. During that time I pretty much did whatever was needed of me and learned a lot about the entire comic book industry. I got lucky that they gave me a chance and am hoping that luck continues.
RG: When fans were first enticed by the appearance of a mysterious character during the Kickstarter project for Grimm Fairy Tales Coloring Book Boxed Set and then finally saw this beauty in all her glory inside the Grimm Fairy Tales: Armed Forces Edition, little did we know this young woman would become the heroine we now admire and respect within her own series. Of course, one cannot but compare your version to the character within the classic fairy tale, but barring considerable deviations, namely changing her from a Damsel in Distress to becoming her own champion, did you have a defined direction/influence for Anabelle DiMarco, now known as the Beast Hunter, or did she evolve as the story progressed?
DF: A little bit of both. The story and plan were laid out. Her backstory and what was going to happen to her in this series was there, just her personality kind of grew as she was put through a lot of these situations not only for the readers first time seeing them, but Belle’s first time dealing with these same situations. This was her first entry into the world and our Grimm Universe, so it was more of putting her through these trials and working out where she might logically go and how she might react and building around that.
RG: Belle is clearly a driven and determined young woman, and due to events in her life, namely the disappearance of her mother, she was motivated to take up the family legacy. Do you think she would have done so fervently and with obvious zeal if events had not taken a tragic turn and she was allowed to grow up with a normal life?
DF: I’m pretty sure there wasn’t really a normal life in the cards for Belle. She was basically always destined to take on the family business. It’s been passed down for generations. What happened to her mother was more of a jumpstart to that life. Though I don’t know if she would have had any objections to the life; also we still haven’t shown if she did as she got older. Some things left to explore in future stories are all the gaps between her childhood and adult life. We only have bits and pieces for now.
RG: Secondarily, after the loss of Candlestick, Belle seemed motivated for revenge; and after the kidnapping of Mel by the Beast, even more so. Or was there another purveying force driving her forward? In other words, did Belle truly believe destiny was against her or did she suspect someone was manipulating events and was just as surprised as readers with the final reveal?
DF: These reactions were really just her instincts and guilt hitting her all at once. She isn’t a person to sit back and take whatever life throws at her without a fight. I feel, at the time, she is just reacting the only way she knows how in these situations. From issue #1 on, she doesn’t have too much time to start piecing everything together. She starts asking questions but then is hit with one problem after another, but towards the end she knows someone is out to get her, but she definitely didn’t see the final reveal and I was hoping the clues were subtle enough so that everyone else didn’t either.
RG: Do you think Belle: The Beast Hunter is a series driven by family obligation, revenge, concern for one’s friends, or a combination of all? What would you like readers to take away from it?
DF: I definitely feel it’s a combination of all of those that evolved as the story unfolded. With Belle starting out just doing her duty, no real drive to avenge her mom, it’s been years since she lost her and it’s not a grudge she holds onto as loss is part of the job. Also, it’s mentioned/hinted at that her mom didn’t go down without a fight. But that doesn’t mean that it’s something she forgets entirely and we see in issue #2 it still haunts her a little. I really wanted to just show, as it becomes clear, that she is being targeted and more and more of her life is being ripped away one right after another—it just kind of snaps in her that she has had enough. She’s not a victim and won’t be made to be one. She has skills and the ability to protect those she cares about and will do what needs to be done.
RG: Like all our heroines within the Zenescope Universe, you cannot but respect her insurmountable determination and unquestionable perseverance in conquering any obstacle which stands in her way. But what do you think makes Belle unique within this exceptionable cadre of protectors?
DF: The one thing that I feel Belle has that is different from what we have shown in our other characters is a somewhat stable family environment she has grown up in. I mean, yeah, family members died or left, and she has been through some trauma, but she grew and adapted and created a new family outside of her blood relatives. She comes into this story with that support system and confidence, and we get to see what happens as she realizes it can all be taken away in an instant, and watch how she reacts.
RG: In a departure from excitement, the series ends with endless questions left unanswered; and better still, we are presented with the promise of new adventures and opportunities. Can you provide us any hints as to what the future may hold for Belle and if she will affect the possibilities for the Universe and what lies ahead for her? Any chance we will see more of the Beast Hunter in future team ups with other Zenescope heroines? I would like to see her go on a road trip adventure with someone with matching goals, like Liesel or Britney … the choices are endless!
DF: Haha yeah, I know there were definitely a lot more questions left at the end than what we started with. And hopefully coming up we can answer most of them. This first story was more about setting up Belle’s world, her family, her friends and where she falls in the middle of all of those. The questions that we created throughout were to grow this already established world she inhabited. For example, how the first issue started and ended, we wanted to establish something and then by the end show you what you thought you knew wasn’t set in stone. There are definitely a lot more threads to unravel coming up. As for teaming up with other characters, that’s pretty much inevitable with the way our shared universe works. Just nothing set in stone yet. But some Belle related news will be coming up around April/May.
RG: Lastly, are there any projects which you are looking forward to in 2019 that you can mention? Any clues you can drop without spoiling anything?
DF: I’m really excited to be taking over the writing duties on Grimm Fairy Tales, starting with issue #26. It’s definitely an honor to be trusted with our flagship series and I hope I can live up to the quality of the storytelling laid before me for all the fans. We have some really cool plans for that new arc we are calling Odyssey, which will be a new type of journey for Skye Mathers.