|JANET HARVEY, MEGAN LEVENS & NICK FILARDI
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DF Interview: Janet Harvey, Megan Levens & Nick Filardi bring ‘30s Hollywood noir with Angel City
By Byron Brewer
Introducing Angel City, a hard-boiled 1930s noir miniseries from Oni Press by writer Janet Harvey, artist Megan Levens and colorist Nick Filardi.
When the best friend of Dolores Dare, previous Hollywood hopeful and current enforcer for the Volante mob, turns up dead in a dumpster behind the Chinese Theater, Dolores starts her own investigation of the "April Fool's Killer." As she gets closer to the truth, the studios, the corrupt homicide division, and even her own gangland contacts work to cover up the scandal. Has she bitten off more than she can chew?
To get to the heart of this question and more, DF sat down with the whole creative crew.
Dynamic Forces: Janet, you certainly have a lot of experience in the world of writing, inside and outside of comics. How did you and your creator-owned tale (shared with artist Megan Levens and colorist Nick Filardi) Angel City come to Oni Press?
Janet Harvey: That's a great question because this actually isn't the first time I pitched  Angel City to Oni! This story may be instructive to someone who is trying to break into comics, so I’ll tell it.
Back in the late ‘00s, I wrote the initial storyline for Angel City and started pitching it to publishers, including Oni. They all passed, but I did get a very good piece of feedback from one of the editors I spoke to, which was that he couldn't tell from my pitch what the tone of the series would be like. In those days, my pitches were often glorified outlines. They were too long, and they focused on story beats instead of broad strokes. Which was useful to me, as a writer, but it's not necessarily what you want to use as a selling tool for a potential publisher. They want to see a high concept, not a step outline. So I'd spend a lot of time shopping these three or four-page outlines around to publishers, and wondering why it took them so long to get back to me.
Flash forward a few years, and I met a manager who was looking at a stack of my pitches. She picked out Angel City and asked if I had a script. I said "sure," and went home and wrote the script, making sure the tone of the comic was CRYSTAL clear—hard-boiled, straight noir, terse dialogue. She ended up passing on the project, but hey, now I had a finished script.
So I took the script back to Oni, with a much shorter, tighter, three paragraph pitch. I was like “Hey, I know you guys passed on this before, but I have this script now, it’s easier to see what I have in mind. Do you want to take another look?” They got back to me right away. They put me together with Ari (our editor), and Megan and Nick, who all brought their own sensibilities to the table. So it became this thing that was bigger than the sum of its parts, which is the magic of collaboration. But none of that would have happened without a tight pitch that was, essentially, polished by many rejections!
DF: There seems to be a growing love among comic readers (or at least comic publishers) with noir, particularly crime noir. Tell us a little about the world of Angel City and what readers can expect from the book.
Janet Harvey: Angel City is all about the Golden Age of Hollywood—and its seedy underbelly. Someone called it “Ellroy with a feminist twist,” which I take as the highest compliment!
I love Ellroy, and I grew up reading trashy books like Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger, which is all about Tinseltown tabloid scandals. So I was already sold on the idea that there’s this secret, scandalous history of Los Angeles that runs through classic Hollywood noir, and books like LA Confidential from the first corrupt mayor of the City of Los Angeles to Kennedy getting shot at the Ambassador Hotel. I wanted to create a noir in that tradition, but with a twist—the protagonist is the person we’d usually call the “femme fatale.”
I chose 1939 because it was really the crest of the wave, culturally speaking. It's generally considered the apex of the "golden age" of Hollywood. Serials were just starting, Bugsy Seigel had just arrived in Hollywood, and there was talk of him becoming a movie star. All the German directors were arriving there, but World War II hadn't started yet. Hollywood was just starting to grow into a cosmopolitan city, but it still had roots as a lawless Western outpost. Add in the gorgeous Art Deco architecture, the gowns, and cars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and it's just so visual! It's an irresistible subject for a comic book.
DF: Tell us a little about Dolores Dare. What is her story, and how did she get to the uncanny predicament she finds herself in with Angel City?
Janet Harvey: Dolores has been knocked around on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and that’s where we find her at the beginning of Angel City. She’s become hardened, and she’s taken the best gig she can get with her skills – she’s a small-time enforcer for the mob, shaking down dress shops and jewelry stores for her patron, Gino Volante. She’s kind of fallen into the life of a criminal, because it beats what she was doing before, and it gives her a sense of control over her life. But all that gets shaken when she finds out what happened to her best friend, Frances. Dolores and Frances had moved to Hollywood together with dreams of stardom, and Frances went a different route and ended up getting killed. And in the process of finding out what happened to Frances, Dolores has to confront all the hardness that’s inside her. She revisits her past, and opens up her heart—and that can be a scary thing to do in Angel City.
Dolores has really come to life as Megan has drawn her—she feels like a real person to me now, I can't imagine her any other way! Between Megan's characters and Nick's lush colors, I feel like the time and place, the people and the world of the story, really comes to life. Talk about establishing the tone! They are killing it!
DF: Megan, locale is often important to a book, and in good noir sometimes even takes on the qualities of a character itself. Tell us how, as an artist, you made 1930s Los Angeles and Hollywood come “alive” for this series, as Janet was telling us.
Megan Levens: Well, it doesn't hurt that I currently live in Los Angeles! The LA of 2016 is obviously a very different place than the LA of 1939, but it still has that same sparkling exterior that lures you in, and once you get here, you find something completely different—at times, ugly—underneath. Certainly, the images that we associate with "Hollywood" came into being in the late 30s and early 40s, so those visual cues were pretty familiar. Beyond that there was a lot of research into what certain neighborhoods or areas would have looked like back then (the Sunset Strip, Little Tokyo, etc), which was helped by Janet's awesome photo reference library!
Nick's colors also play a huge role in making the book “feel” like LA. It looks hot, dry, way too sunny, oppressive ... lots of warm colors, drab greens, and bright lights against cold desert skies at night. He really nailed it!
DF: Tell us a little about the design work you did for Angel City. Did you do that in collaboration with Janet and Nick?
Megan Levens: Janet and our editor, Ari Yarwood, were both heavily involved in the character design process, which was great because I feel like it was this organic process of developing who they were between the script and the drawings. Joe was originally envisioned very different, and his current design came about through our collaboration, and I think it really helped him come alive as a unique character. Ari and Janet also gave me the go-ahead to draw Dolores as a more muscular figure, which I have so much fun with. I love drawing women who are strong literally as well as emotionally!
DF: I know we are just beginning this noir tale in October, but tell us, in working on the series, who your favorite character to render is thus far, and why.
Megan Levens: Joe's evolution made me very attached to him, and I've joked in the past about developing crushes on my own original characters. I definitely crush on Joe. He's absolutely my type. One of my other favorites is a character who's introduced in issue #2, named Rita, who has this great range of expressions ... she doesn't take crap from anyone.
DF: Nick, the pencil artist certainly establishes the mood in a book, but a color artist’s selection of palette is equally important, as Megan was just telling us. What were your considerations in selecting just the right palette for Angel City?
Nick Filardi: The goal for Angel City was to make it feel sinister while still also feeling like LA. I wanted the palette to feel oppressively hot. The kind of heat that makes you feel claustrophobic and a little wild. The kind of heat that makes your neighbors’ temper rise. So obviously I'm dialing up the reds/oranges/yellows. But so much of coloring is also about the notes that you don't hit. I'm trying to desaturate the blues/purples/greens to keep even night scenes feel warmer than usual creating a heat that you can't seem to escape.
DF: While there may be an overall tone for a story, tell us, Nick, how you might use color differently in diverse sections of the same book to emphasize action, character moments, etc. I find this fascinating.
Nick Filardi: A lot of emphasis is just knowing that no moment exists in a vacuum. If you build a scene for 4 or 5 pages where someone is shot at the end, the muzzle flare and blood need to be the exclamation point on that scene. To get there I have to make the reader be thinking about the other side of the color wheel. It doesn't mean that the scene needs to live there, but that maybe some green accent colors are hard to shake. Leave the reader thinking Green Green Green BLOOD RED. This can function the same way with characters too. With Angel City, I'm more concerned with the space the characters occupy than marking each with their signature color. Instead of trying to emphasize characters with a signature color, they are instead getting color that is echoing what is going on with their scene. Are they ok with what is happening around them? Are they angry? Trying to blend in? How do we show those things with the palette? That is the kind of thing that works better on moody books like Angel City. Blend the characters with their emotions more than giving them signature colors. Signature colors are great for superhero team books but don't function well for what I'm trying to achieve with Angel City. Plus, this way I have a lot more fun with the fashion of the time.
DF: Any projects, current or near-future, you guys would like to tell the readers about?
Janet Harvey: My feature film, Scene Queen, just got accepted to the Social Justice Film Festival in Seattle. It's a movie about a clique of teenage girls who videotape their fights and post them on the internet. Hopefully, we will have more screenings to announce very soon! Follow me on Twitter at @janetharvey.
Megan Levens: Well, this October I have another creator-owned miniseries, Spell on Wheels, coming out from Dark Horse Comics. It's the story of three witches who go on a road trip to hunt down a magic thief after their apartment is robbed. It's written by Kate Leth, drawn by myself, and colored by Marissa Louise. And you can always follow me on Twitter at @sadmegangirls to see the most current updates of what I'm working on or announcing!
Nick Filardi: Alongside Angel City, Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye #1 drops in October. It is part of DC’s Young Animal imprint, and I'm working on that with Mike Avon Oeming, Jon Rivera, and Gerard Way. If you like things that are a little off the beaten path, that book will knock your socks off. Try it. I will, of course, be tweeting about conventions and whatever I have coming out as well as posting some behind the scenes stuff on my Instagram. Follow me! Twitter: @nickfil Instagram: nick_filardi.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Janet Harvey, Megan Levens & Nick Filardi for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Angel City #1 from Oni Press hits stores Oct. 5th!
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