Steven S. DeKnight Drives A ‘Hard Bargain’ With His Horror Noir Graphic Novel

Hard Bargain cover crop

Steven S. DeKnight is well known for his TV work on shows like Angel and Netflix’s Daredevil. But this year, he’s branching out with not one, but two graphic novels. The first, Beneath, hits Comixology next month. But before (and after) that, he’s got a horror noir book titled Hard Bargain through publisher Humanoids, which has already been successfully funded on Kickstarter in mere days.

Featuring a detective named Frank Harding who tangles with demons in Los Angeles, fans of the Buffy spinoff might find a lot of parallels with DeKnight’s other work. But as the author tells it, this graphic novel influenced Angel, and vice versa.

“I started working on the concept for Hard Bargain years before Angel premiered,” DeKnight told Comic Book Club over email. “I like to think Hard Bargain influenced my work on Angel as much as Angel influenced work on Hard Bargain.”

To find out more about the book, DeKnight’s influences, his take on the noir genre as a whole and more, read on.

Comic Book Club: This project seems to bring together a lot of elements you’ve worked on before… There’s a little bit of Angel, some Daredevil, and of course, your comics work. What was it about this idea in particular that drew all this together?

Steven S. DeKnight: I think all creations that pour out of a writer’s head are an amalgam of their experiences, be it from their childhoods, with their family, friends, lovers, and everything they’ve read and seen. That definitely includes the jobs they’ve held, particularly in my case the ones in television. My time on Angel probably had the biggest influence on Hard Bargain due to the fact that both Angel and Frank Harding are private detectives specializing in supernatural cases. However, it’s a bit of the chicken and the egg since I started working on the concept for Hard Bargain years before Angel premiered. I like to think Hard Bargain influenced my work on Angel as much as Angel influenced work on Hard Bargain.

Noir is a tried and true genre with its own peaks, valleys, and tropes. How do you approach something like this, while still making it feel fresh for you as the writer, as well as for the reader?

With noir, it’s incredibly easy to fall into a trap and end up with two dimensional characters buffeted by an insanely convoluted plot. It really all boils down to the same thing that makes any story really shine: Character and dialogue. You want your reader to be invested in these people. Love them, hate them – doesn’t matter as long the audience is interested in what happens to them next. And the linchpin of character is more often than not dependent on what they say. How they communicate, what they reveal, what they hide. Nail that, and you have the audience along for the ride.

You’ve got a heady stew of demons and monsters, along with some light superheroics… Did you lay out rules for this world? What was important to throw in – or keep off the table?

For Hard Bargain, I wanted to make sure the characters stayed grounded no matter how fantastical the world around them was. It’s the Indiana Jones model boiled down into his classic response when asked what his plan was to retrieve the Ark from the Nazis: “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” That one line was so utterly human and relatable that it really cemented the character in reality against the backdrop of extraordinary, often supernatural events.

This is getting a bit into spoilers, but the central theme is somewhat about legacy… Why was that interesting to you?

It’s always fascinating to dig into not just what characters do in a story but why they do it. This is often answered by revealing something that happened to them in the past. Events that molded them into who they are and inform or even dictate their actions in the present. I wanted to bring that to the forefront in Hard Bargain for both Frank Harding and the “villain” of the story (you’ll know why I put that in quotes when you read the graphic novel). Legacy, particularly in regard to family, is rich, fertile ground that everyone can relate to.

Leno Carvalho’s art is pretty fantastic here. What was it like working with him on the project? And were there any character designs that surprised you?

Working with the amazing Leno Carvahlo couldn’t have been easier. He took my mad ramblings on the page and transformed them into absolutely stunning images. I would often get pages from him and just sit in stunned silence. I particularly love what he did with “The Lady” who visits Frank Harding’s friend Rumi every night (no spoilers!). That was just such a wonderful surprise. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bruno Hang’s sumptuous color work. I think the three of us really complement each other and together really elevate the book.

General question, but what is it about LA that makes it such a good setting for noir stories?

Los Angeles, especially in the 1940s, has that perfect blend of Hollywood big dream fantasyland and just-below-the-surface darkness and desperation. These two extremes – and the people caught in the middle – make it a wonderful backdrop to craft an engaging noir story.

Beyond the tightly woven central mystery, you have so many fascinating characters with their own side stories and back stories… Do you have more in this world you’d like to explore?

Oh, hell yes! If this first volume is successful, I have a metric ton of other stories in this world I’m planning on spinning. I have tales concocted that center on all of the supporting characters – and even ones that only pop up in a few panels. For example, there’s a doorman at a club Harding goes to. We know he’s a boxer and a friend of Harding’s, but that’s all you find out in this volume. I have a whole story worked out for him that I’m dying to tell. And hopefully my friends at Humanoids and I will get the chance!

Hard Bargain is now live on Kickstarter.

Hard Bargain cover

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