Welcome to the world of Stephan Franck’s SILVER, a globe-trotting graphic novel series that mashes up the world of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula with action, adventure, humor, pulp storytelling and modern sensibilities. As Batman: The Long Halloween artist Tim Sale has said, “With SILVER, Stephan Franck shows how much excitement can be packed into a fast-moving, thrill-filled story… a really, really fun ride.” Having previously funded the first two volumes of SILVER via Kickstarter, Franck and his company Dark Planet Comics are launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the third volume of SILVER and help bring the first two volumes to a wider audience.
In SILVER, a group of cons discover the late Jonathan Harker’s secret ledger, which discloses the existence of an exotic treasure of silver hidden in Dracula’s castle. Finnigan, the group’s leader, may be ethically challenged, but he knows a retirement plan when he sees it. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to pull off the heist of the last ten centuries, even if it means allying with a beautiful, sword wielding vampire hunter…. who just happens to be a descendent of Van Helsing.
“I started Dark Planet Comics because I had to tell the story of SILVER and wanted to forge my own way, without having to answer to a corporate overlord,” said Stephan Franck. “Kickstarter has allowed me to connect with an audience, print the book, attend comic conventions and, most importantly, tell the story the way I wanted, with action, adventure, mystery, humor and plenty of vampires. I didn’t have to sell a publisher on doing a period story or justify my decision to do a black and white comic because I went straight to the audience.”
When he’s not writing and drawing comics, Franck is the Head of Story for the PLAYMOBIL Movie for Lionsgate. Previously, he worked as a supervising animator on the cult classic film THE IRON GIANT and as a key story contributor to DESPICABLE ME. Franck also co-created the award-winning animated TV Series CORNEIL & BERNIE (Nicktoons, Hub Network), and received an Annie Award nomination for Best Director in a TV Program, for the special SMURFS: THE LEGEND OF SMURFY HOLLOW, the first ever hand-drawn version of the beloved characters done at a feature-animation quality level.
Now Franck is back with more of the SILVER story, and in Volume Three the con is in full swing and James Finnigan’s uniquely talented band of grifters is deep undercover. But talent comes at a price. Secrets and agendas emerge, and characters are pushed past their breaking points. While Finnigan struggles to keep his team on track, thrilling action, suspense, and drama ensues in the most intense and gothic volume yet. Stephan Franck (SF) spoke in depth about the new campaign-
Alex Yarde (AY): Abraham Van Helsing as we’ve known him over 100 years of Dracula stories was always noble, selfless and altruistic hero opposing the undead. In contrast, Rosalyn his Descendant is written as a bit of a grave robbing Rouge a bit Lara Croft a bit Jyn Erso. How did you come up with the decision to make her motivation less “Sterling” than her famous progenitor?
(SF): I like to look at the other side of things, and I started to wonder what kind of toll that kind of a life mission would take on a person, let alone on their family. From then on, I started to look at the Van Helsing story as a generational story—was the mantle passed from one generation to the next? Were some generations stronger or weaker than others? Would someone question that life if they were born into it? Maybe even see it as a curse? Then from the point of view of a spouse, did they realize what they were signed up for? And what about the children—as a Van Helsing, would you want your kids to continue in your bloody footsteps, or protect them from it? So n a way, Rosalynd is the Michael Corleone of vampire hunters… She was meant to escape the family curse, but life had other plans. That’s the part we explore in “Rosalynd”–Sledge’s diary as a child.
AY: SILVER is a bit of a heist caper / action adventure with traditional gothic horror elements. It’s darkly funny as well. How did you find the right mix to tell the story you wanted to tell?
SF: Thank you! Well, we are in a universe that expands Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, and the story starts 40 years after the events of the novel. We begin with James Finnigan, who is a cross between the classic American conman and the European “gentleman thief” a-la Arsene Lupin. He is a smooth character. Someone who is always “in on the joke”–except that he realizes that there is this whole other side to the world, that he had no idea about. Meanwhile, with the FBI closing in on him, Finn finds himself having to pull one final score. A big one–like stealing The Silver Dragon–and ancient treasure hidden in a castle full of vampires–what could go wrong? Of course, to pull this off, Finn will not only need the help of his usual associates–a crew of uniquely talented yet broken individuals–but also have to enlist someone with experience against vampires. That’s where Rosalynd comes in. Sparks fly between the two immediately. Then Tao, a 10 year old boy with the uncanny second sight invites himself on the adventure. As the story unfolds, we combine high stakes that hopefully will keep you on the edge of your seat, with earnest character moments and light screw-ball comedy.
Through all this, tone is something that I pay particular attention to. I think it’s about having fun and being super whimsical, yet at the same time, having iron-clad self-consistency with the world and the internal logic of the story so the stakes resonate. Similarly, I try to have a sense of humor, but it’s not commenting on the story, it’s coming from within the characters, often as a coping mechanism in the face of dramatic events. Ultimately, I think art is about contrast. Something only reads as dark if you contrast it with something light.
AY: What have you learned previously funding the first two volumes of SILVER via Kickstarter that has helped fund the third installment? How will you use what you’ve learned to bring the first two volumes to a wider audience?
SF: It’s been great to see previous backers from the first two campaigns also join this one! I think readers have become invested in these characters–Finn, Rosalyn, Tao, Mullins (Finn’s conman father figure), and Hamilton Morlay the first (a washed out burlesque actor turned bombastic conman)–but also in the vampires–our version of Dracula, the uber nihilistic Lillian, Rakshash (Dracula’s terrifying, yet long suffering right-hand man), and in the world we’ve built around them. With these 2 new books (SILVER 3 and ROSALYND), the universe and mythology are only getting deeper and more dimensional, and I think that is what will also keep growing the audience—the presentation of a cohesive world with compelling characters who have exciting adventures ahead of them, and a long road to redemption.
AY: I loved the whole “dirty dozen” type of vibe reading SILVER. A crew of amoral misfits thrown together out of mutual need. The witty banter amongst very different characters with a broad range of motivations. Who is really “in charge” in your estimation? Or is it more fluid depending on what obstacles they come across tapping on the teams strengths?
SF: Thank you again! Yes, I’m having a lot of fun with that group of conmen. My favorite one might be Hamilton, who is so much fun because he is such a bombastic character, and at the same time a bottomless pit of insecurity. Basically an emotional time-bomb in a situation where one false move will do you in. Now who is really in charge is a good question. Part of the fun of writing complex characters, is that they all have their moment to shine, but also all need to be talked off the edge at one time or another. I find that very true to life, and that is also what makes the dynamic of the group interesting. You see people get closer together or further apart as the adventure unfolds. Now remember they are all conmen, so hopefully, they will keep you guessing until the very end.
AY: I liked the tension between Van Helsing & Finn. Plus I really enjoy the little lost psychic boy Tao. Will there be a sort of “family” of sorts developing there with these lost souls getting closer to eachother?
SF: Exactly. When we first meet them, they are all trapped in very unfulfilling and lonely lives—he’s a conmen, she hangs out in cemeteries making sure the dead stay in their graves, and Tao’s psychic talents are being used to cheat in poker dens. And then, they meet the undead, and that brings about a bit of a reexamination– what is it that makes one feel alive? Is it owning a bunch of shiny stuff? Is it walking the Earth at night for a thousand years? Or is there something more? At some point, it becomes clear that no matter how much they try to deny it, each other is all they have. Even Dracula is struggling with this, and with Liilian promising him that “together, they will dance on the ashes of the world,” there is also the attempt at recreating a proto family unit–but one of a much darker kind.
AY: My family and I are HUGE fans of the Iron Giant! We still watch it. Despicable Me as well! Dracula as you’ve written him is very vulnerable. I really enjoyed how he was written. A powerful immortal fiend yet destined to be alone. Do you feel sympathy for the Devil in this case? Do you think your version of Dracula is like The Giant & Gru in that they are misunderstood and can be redeemed?
SF: Thank you—yes, Iron Giant was a wonderful film, and I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to work on it. We felt that we were doing something special, and it’s been incredible to find out that the audience who has been discovering it over the years feels the same way. If you wanted to compare my take on Dracula to the Giant, then I would say that Mina Harker was his Hogarth. Meaning that Drac was, as you said, a soulless fiend, but one day, that bright, single point of light of grace and compassion lit up his night, and making him feel in a way he never thought was possible. Then he lost her, and was never the same. Lost between two worlds, and not feeling like he belongs to either of them. While I like to think of Finn as a good guy trying to be bad, I see Dracula as a bad guy trying to be good. We will have to see who finds redemption, and who is lost forever.
AY: How has your experience wearing so may different hats at all the big animation studios help inform your creative process?
SF: Working on projects that have to combine a lot of different points of views taught me that there is always more than one way to tell a story, and that it’s not about any particular idea as much as it is about its execution. I also learned that it doesn’t matter how big the team is, the good work is always done alone at your desk. Just like when you were a kid, drawing alone in your room. The experience of it never changes.
AY: Do you see SILVER as a property that could be made into a NETFILX or HULU series?
SF: This would be of course very exciting, but until something like that happens, I am very excited about the world of Silver and Rosalynd continuing to grow in publishing. These books give me a chance to explore genres that I have had a lifelong love for, and to create a unique mythology, while following characters that seemed to have resonated with readers and that I have fallen in love with. I’m having a blast!
They’ve just announced a very cool stretch goal: a ROSALYND audio book.
You can listen to an audio sample, here:
Why an audio book? As Stephan says on the KS page, “Because “Rosalynd” is about a singular voice. A unique point of view, we thought that developing it as an audio book–Rosalynd’s voice with music and sound effects–would offer another immersive and compelling way to experience this story.”
Go check out this monumental project and support the Kickstarter!
All art courtesy of Dark Planet Comics