A Calgary artist hopes to inspire people to look deeper into Alberta history with a fictional graphic novel set around the Frank Slide — a deadly 1903 rockslide in Frank, Alta., that buried the eastern side of the mining town in limestone, killing more than 90 people.

"Frank came up as one of those places that I drove by as a kid and it always kind of captured my imagination," Ben Rankel told The Homestretch on Tuesday.

"It's just such a ripe place for storytelling."

Rankel's upcoming graphic novel, simply titled Frank, is set to be released in September but an 18-page preview will be featured by the publisher Renegade Arts Entertainment at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo later this month.

Ben Rankel

Ben Rankel's forthcoming graphic novel, Frank, will be previewed at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo later this month. (Submitted by Ben Rankel)

"It's about a young woman named Eve (Evelyn) Lee, who has to pull herself out of her bottle long enough to figure out what happened to her missing lover and try to sort everything out before the mountain comes crashing down on her," Rankel explained.

He learned after the project had been given the green light that he would not just illustrate the novel, but write it as well.

Frank graphic novel

Artist Ben Rankel says he's been working 10 to 14 hours a day to finish his graphic novel before its September release. (Submitted by Ben Rankel)

"Comics are a visual medium. That is the language of comics," Rankel said.

"The text is something I have to make sure I have enough of so it doesn't read too quickly, people just skimming through panels. That is the challenge, I do a lot of the storytelling through the characters."

Rankel says he hopes his story, despite having fictional characters, will encourage people to learn a little more about Alberta's rich history.

"Anybody interested in crime, history or just into an exciting story or anybody that wants to get excited about knowing Alberta's history, even if it's a little bit fictionalized," Rankel said of his target audience.

"Anybody that wants to be inspired to tell their own stories about Alberta."

Travel Log Frank Slide 20121105

The sign for the Frank Slide is shown in this 2012 photo. The site of Canada's deadliest rockslide in the Crowsnest Pass of southwestern Alberta is impossible to miss. (Bill Graveland/Canadian Press)

Rankel says he's excited about the future of the genre of graphic novels.

"For a long time, especially in North America, comics were kind of super heroes aimed at dudes. Now you are getting people like Raina Telgemeier and Faith Erin Hicks who are targeting younger girls in school and getting new readers so I think that opens it up."


With files from The Homestretch