Revisiting the American Century with Stephan Franck’s Palomino

Cars pull in to the parking lot of the Palomino club. There is a big line up outside the building

Following up on the critical success of his Rosalynd Van Helsing series, Silver, creator Stephan Franck returns with Palomino, a noir-styled exploration of the lost subculture of LA’s country western music scene of the ’80s, the myths the era created, and the people who believed in the promises the lifestyle offered.

“Cowboy culture is central to California’s history,” says Stephan Franck. “It came out west with the Dust Bowl Okie migration that Steinbeck depicted in Grapes of Wrath, showed up again in Easy Rider and the hippy generation’s cosmic cowboys, and in one form or another sold the American century to the world and to America itself.”

The main character of this story is Eddie Lang, a former police detective turned private investigator who finds release on the stage of The Palomino Club. Tragedy darkens his past and shapes the strong bond he shares with his rebellious teenage daughter, Lisette. But murder just won’t leave them alone…

With a Kickstarter now live for the first of this four-volume series, Franck took some time to answer a few questions for WWAC.

You created Dark Planet Comics to tell the stories you wanted to tell. How long has this particular story been with you?

A lot of my story ideas are inspired by genres or subjects that I’ve had a life-long fascination with. These stories live in the back of my mind, sometimes for years–and that was the case with Palomino, which goes back at least 15 years to when I was playing music at clubs here in Los Angeles. Palomino grew out of my love of noir, and my love for life in LA in general, and the Valley in particular. I find the city’s weird and sometimes forgotten history beyond fascinating. But just because I’m a fan of something and dying to take a crack at it doesn’t mean that I have a legit way into it.

Once in a while, something happens in my life or in the world at large that suddenly brings into focus what a specific project is actually supposed to be about. And at that point, I become obsessed with it and I have to do it, no matter what. The deeper I get into it, the more its true meaning reveals itself. To paraphrase Stephen King, who’s one of my favorite authors, art is discovered, not created. So when you stumble on a nugget of truth sticking out of the ground, that’s your cue to start digging.

My most important breakthrough for Palomino was understanding that this had to be a father daughter story. The relationship between Eddie and his daughter Lisette really was my way into this story. It’s about the unbreakable bond that exists between them. Yet they are stuck–alienated from themselves and each other because of a tragedy that befell their family. The unresolved nature of that event is looming large over them and preventing them from moving forward. Also, she is 16, so they are running out of time to put their relationship back on track.

Why 1981? Why cowboys? What is the significance of this particular era to you?

From Watchmen to Forrest Gump, I’ve always been fascinated by stories that chronicle what became of the American Century. I was always interested in iconography that offered a powerful way into it. In 1981, the cowboy was still America’s most central symbol and cultural export. Everything from syndicated TV shows running around the world, to some of the best selling albums of all times, to Reagan himself–it was all about the cowboy. And guess what? All of it came from California.

Palomino is written in 2020, a vantage point from which we can see that those early 80’s were most importantly the start of a new cycle, which I believe ended with the 2016 election. All the seeds of the world we’re living in today were planted back there, and many of them right here in California.

This first volume of Palomino chiefly focuses on establishing the characters and their world, and hopes to make you fall in love with it, but as we continue on with the story, we’ll find that the mystery at hand and these characters’ lives are connected to the major tectonic shifts under their feet, foreshadowing the world as it is today.

Eddie moves through the crowded entrance of the Palomino

Did you visit the original Palomino Club before its closure? If so, what was the vibe like at the time of your visit?

Unfortunately, The Palomino closed in 1995, which was the year I moved to LA. I was never able to see it in all its glory. However, the structure still exists as a banquet hall. The stage, the split-level floor plan, even the iconic sign outside are all still there, although it doesn’t say Palomino anymore. Not only did I walk around the place to sort of feel the space, but I took tons of pictures, including looking at and from the stage. Then, I went back to my studio and built a CG model of the place, both interior and exterior. I actually built the whole block up using a footprint from Google Earth. With that model, I was able to not only stay accurate with the location, but also scout it for very cool shots that enhanced the storytelling. I did that for most of the key locations in the book, which was needed for a book with such a specific sense of place. Having very solid and specific CG sets also gave me a chance to really block out the characters’ scenes, and use their interaction with the space to enhance their acting performance.

And while I never got to visit the Palomino in real life, as a guitar player myself, I played clubs since I was a teenager, and what was left of the LA country music clubs after moving here. I had the honor to work and become friends with many of the former Palomino musicians–some of them my musical inspirations as a kid, whose records I relentlessly practiced over. So if the club scenes in Palomino feel lived in, that’s because they are.

There is a significant father-daughter relationship at the heart of this story. What influences did you draw on to create these characters and their relationship?

The spark to explore Eddie and Lissette’s story came last year when my youngest daughter graduated from college and started her professional life, joining her two siblings into the ranks of well-adjusted adults.

Turning that page made me want to revisit my own journey in parenthood–warts and all–and a desire to better understand the nature of that relationship–especially through the tough teenage years. So Lisette, with her endearing and hilarious combination of precocious old-soul hard-boiled-ness mixed with general teenage confusion is really a combination of my kids as teens, especially my 2 daughters. Meanwhile, Eddie…mmm…I have no idea who that is.

What defines Eddie as a parent, is that he’s never judging his child. Kids already judge themselves so harshly, that the last thing they need is for parents to judge them, too. So even though, like all teens, Lisette has her own inner and outer life that Eddie knows very little about, she knows that there is an unshakable bedrock of love and support from him, and that is the foundation of their relationship.

Also, I always felt that, from a disturbingly early age, the world is working overtime to remind children that *the stakes are high* so parents need to be the counter voice, and reassure the kids that “this too shall pass,” not to pile on more pressure. The only hard line I held with my kids was to make sure they understood that there are mistakes from which you learn, and mistakes from which you never recover, and trusted that they were smart enough to know the difference. That’s also the line Eddie is struggling with.

With Eddie and Lisette’s characters grounding the story emotionally, and placing it into a way of life that felt honest and relatable, I was then able to follow them into their world and our larger story.

The first volume of Palomino offers 112 full-colour pages that are almost ready for press. Check out the Palomino Kickstarter for art prints, behind-the-scenes details, and more.

Old fashioned billboard sign advertising the Palomino Kickstarter

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.