For a group of con men and a descendant of Van Helsing, robbing Dracula's castle could be the score they need to be set for life, but things get complicated when vampires stand in their way of a big payday in Stephan Franck's graphic novel series Silver. With Dark Planet Comics launching a Kickstarter campaign for Silver Volume 3, we had the chance to catch up with Franck for our latest Q&A feature to discuss the influences of Bram Stoker's Dracula on his work, what readers can expect to see in Volume 3, and much more.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us today, Stephan. When and how did you first come up with the idea for Silver?
Stephan Franck: It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me. Two of my greatest fascinations in story have always been vampires and conmen, and this notion of a pulp-era conmen trying to steal a treasure from a castle full of vampires really just presented itself. It’s really the thing where you wake up one morning and… boom, it’s there. But then, as I dove deeper into it, beyond the entertainment value, which is obviously a blast, I started to see that vampires and conmen were actually very similar on a thematic level. Both function by night, both are predatory in nature, and both rationalize their existence on this weird scale that swings constantly between over-the-top romanticism and complete nihilism. In other words, neither engage in the type of emotional human relationships in the way people should. So starting with a “figuratively soulless” conman, and sending him through the land of the actual living dead felt like a really interesting way into certain corners of the human condition—such as what makes one truly feel alive.
Were you a big fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula when you were growing up?
Stephan Franck: Absolutely, on many different levels. One of them is the genius meta fiction aspect of it being told as first-hand accounts. So for Silver, I wanted to honor that, and begin with Finnigan finding Harker’s journal—which is essentially the Stoker version of the story. So, we have recursive meta, if you will. And I absolutely love that we are in a universe where the names “Dracula," “Van Helsing,” “Harker,” etc., are not pop culture icons. They are actual private persons. Even the very concept of vampires is present in the culture of that world, but only as folk tales and superstitions, just as I imagine it was in our real world before the success of Stoker’s novel made it into a literary trope. Interestingly, though, in the first treatment, we were not per-se in the actual Dracula universe, but I quickly realized that I had all proto-versions of those iconic characters, they just went by different names. That’s when I realized the truth of it. This was really a continuation—not only of the Bram Stoker universe in its lore—but a further examination of those fascinating characters and their themes. I just wanted to continue their stories.
What influenced your decision to start Dark Planet Comics to tell the story of Silver?
Stephan Franck: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak, so it’s not entirely out of character for me, but in this particular case I wanted to make sure that if I was going to commit to this massive undertaking of a 500-page graphic novel, I would not only have the creative independence to fully realize a certain vision, but also the ability to control how and when the books would be released.
What vampiric adventures can readers expect to encounter in the third volume of Silver?
Stephan Franck: Volume 3 has super juicy scenes that I have been dying to draw from the beginning. Basically everything goes off the rails. Sledge’s agenda is finally revealed at the end of a giant set-piece, action sequence that goes on for 40 uninterrupted pages. The disclosure at the end of it is heart-wrenching, and shines a brand new light on the character. Dracula himself comes to a great moment of decision—a point that will redefine the course of his existence—and it involves Lillian and---GA!!! Can’t spoil it!!! But it’s the most straight up “vampiric” and gothic moment in the series yet.
Tao also may have oversold his ability to work under pressure… And through it all, Finn is running around trying to keep the whole plan on track, in an environment where there can be no mistake. It’s definitely the most intense part of the story yet. As always, the characters use their sense of humor and irony to cope, which has been a big part of the series’ voice, but here, the characters may get pushed past their breaking point.
What has it been like to incorporate elements of Stoker’s Dracula into a new vampire story?
Stephan Franck: As I was alluding to earlier, it was really about continuing the exploration of the characters, and their internal journeys in a way that creates interesting life choices for them. It all starts with a bunch of “what ifs?” For instance, what if Dracula had actually survived at the end of the Stoker novel? What if he had had to carry on without Mina, somehow haunted by the promise of redemption that she represented, but left alone in his eternal night? He would be a really lost and conflicted character, someone stranded somewhere between damnation and redemption, with a lot of interesting figuring out to do. Same with Van Helsing. Did he have a family? What would have happened to them? What was Jonathan and Mina’s relationship, with him knowing that he could never measure up to the great passion of her life? Then, on a basic world-building level, Dracula is not the only vampire around. If nothing else, there are the ones he created. Maybe many more. So, what is their world? How do they organize, and what makes them tick?
What types of perks can readers look forward to if they take part in the Kickstarter campaign for Silver Volume 3?
Stephan Franck: I’m going to start with the intangible—to me, the biggest perk of backing independent comics is the satisfaction that you are literally contributing to bringing something cool into existence within the culture that you love. You are actually shaping your world. I know that for me, as a backer of other projects, it has to start with that. Now on a more immediate level, it’s important to know that Silver Vol. 3 is already completed, so backers won’t have to wait very long at all to receive their books. Everything will be mailed right after Labor Day. We also have great bundle deals in place that will allow backers to catch up on the whole three volumes to date. We also have some cool limited edition prints, which are all signed and numbered, and that will make any room super cool. Then, for this campaign, I am also offering two of my favorite originals. One in particular is a giant 22 x 30” piece that I like to call “Silver Universe,” and that presents Silver’s entire cast of character and a bunch of elements from its mythology in a crazy epic way. This piece has been hanging over my drawing table for over a year now, and I will definitely miss it when it’s gone!
We also have really cool Silver-themed phone covers, that also have a cool “Spidey power," meaning that the back has some laser-cut micro groves that let them stick to glass and metal. Like if you forget your phone on the roof of your car leaving your favorite coffee shop (it’s happened before in my family), the phone is still there when you get home!
Have any vampire stories or films influenced or inspired your approach—both on the writing and illustrating side—to the bloodsucking sub-genre in Silver?
Stephan Franck: I have pretty much enjoyed the Dracula mythos in all its forms, sometimes for different reasons, but I have to give a shout out to the Tomb Of Dracula. At first blush, my art style might seem to be going in a complete direction, but I was always fascinated by Gene Colan’s drawing and his storytelling. I think many people can draw, but the ability for one’s art to feel truly “dangerous” is a very rare and intangible quality. The characters felt very immediate yet mysterious, and yes, the pages felt never “safe” to read. His work with light and shadow is actually a big inspiration to me, even though I render it differently, and his staging and his ability to keep the storytelling in motion are also things I aspire to. I of course also need to mention Tom Palmer, whose inks complemented and enhanced Colan’s drawings so perfectly.
Where can readers go to learn more about your work and the Kickstarter campaign for the third volume of Silver?
Press Release: July 10, 2017) It’s been over 30 years since Professor Abraham Van Helsing visited Dracula’s castle. Now his descendent, the mysterious vampire hunter Rosalind Van Helsing, is teaming up with a ragtag group of con men for a high stakes heist to rob Europe’s richest vampires. 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 PLAYMOBILE 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.