Stephan Franck is a model of the perfect storm of creativity and endurance. Over the past four years, the comic creator has been working to bring his pulp noir vampire tale Silver to life, introducing us to twists and turns and making us privy to a heist caper for the supernatural genre. With the introduction of the Kickstarter campaign for the fourth volume of Silver launching in conjunction with Dark Planet Comics earlier this week, Franck looks to bring to an exciting close his yarn of con women and men who have the nerve, grit, and audacity to attempt to steal from the vampire himself, Dracula.
I caught up with Mr. Franck recently about the process of creating Silver, adding to the world of Dracula that original author Bram Stoker created, what has made him proud as he brought Silver to life, and what contributors can expect for donating to the Kickstarter campaign.
FreakSugar: You’re launching a Kickstarter campaign for the fourth and final volume of Silver. For the uninitiated joining us, what can you tell us about Silver and its cast of characters?
Stephan Franck: I’ll be happy to! Silver takes place in an original universe inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The story takes place 40 years later, so we are now in the noir/pup era of the 1930s, and we follow the adventures of James Finnigan, a con man and master-thief, as he teams up with Rosalynd “Sledge” Van Helsing, granddaughter of you-know-who, and with Tao Leu, a young boy with the uncanny gift of second-sight, to steal the Silver Dragon, a mythical treasure hidden in Dracula’s castle. It is totally epic, gothic and pulp, with tons of suspense, mystery and action, but also full of gripping character moments–all told with a modern sensibility. And while it is told with a light comedic tone, which I hope, goes down easy, it is also a rich world with a unique mythology that is super fun to immerse yourself in.
FS: In Silver, you’ve taken Bram Stoker’s source material and expanded on that history and world. Is there a certain mindset creatively you have to be in when inhabiting that world and crafting your story?
SF: With any story, I try to remove myself from the equation, meaning that I’m trying not to play god with the characters and the world of the story, and to not intervene in the story in a way that feels contrived or guided. I approach it more like running a simulation: I set up characters and situations, and then just try to uncover what organically happens next. And when you set up elements as juicy as a master thief, a down-and-out Van Helsing descendent, a child who sees the future, a Dracula in existential crisis, and have the former decide to steal the latter’s prize-possession, a lot will happen organically, and you, as an storyteller, just need to try and stay out of the way.
As far as expanding the world, I think it follows the same logic. It’s looking at elements from the original novel, and asking follow up questions. Was Dracula the only vampire? Did Harker tell the whole story in his diary? Where did Van Helsing come from? But I think at the end of the day, the trick is to keep creating mystery. To expand the horizon beyond which it is unknown. If all you do is revising known elements, and contriving unnecessary connections and explanations to everything, you end up making the world unmysterious and small.
FS: Following up on that, in our first interview, you said that one of the mission statements for the book was to not change what Stoker did with Dracula source material, but to extrapolate your stories from there. In that process, did you ever use Stoker’s voice as a guide in making a next step?
SF: I always say that we are in the business of telling the most universal stories in the weirdest way possible. As we all know, Stoker used Dracula as a way into themes like sexual repression in the Victorian era, or used vampirism as an allegory for syphilis (whether that was even conscious or not). Meanwhile, I’m expanding on Stoker’s “weirdness”, aka starting from his canon, I’m using it to tell a different story. Silver takes place 40 years later, and we’re now in the 1930s. A time which, as we are all aware, has similarities with the times we are in now. My work in Silver is not political as in not topical, but hopefully, it speaks to the truth of these characters–people who have lost their way in a world that, itself, has lost his way. So there is a lot about greed versus service, about one’s purpose versus materialism, about rationalizing your own moral code versus learning responsibility beyond yourself. About empathy versus nihilism… all sort of human struggles that I feel are relevant today.
FS: What is the creative process like working on a four-volume story like Silver? Do you have a rough idea of where the story is going from beginning to end? Do you work on the story piecemeal, hopping from one volume to another, or do you zero-in on one volume at a time?
SF: I wrote the entire script first. But let’s start with the math. It was about 120 pages in movie-script format, and as film scripts are usually structured in 10-page increments, that gave me a natural way to break the full story up into 12 chapters. Also, the natural structure of the script, with Act 1, 2A, 2B, and 3, broke down organically into four graphic novel volumes.
In comic form, the chapters vary in length, the first one being 27 pages, and the last one 62. The entire story clocked in at 463 comic book pages across four volumes. So knowing that I had the whole story mapped out, I felt confident drawing one issue at a time. I would do the roughs, then do the inks/finals. I usually letter the pages as I draw them, instead of all at the end, so I can see the book coming together.
And by the way, I polish the dialog as I letter the pages. Sometimes, I lose a piece of dialog that has become redundant, as the point was made visually. Sometimes dialog is needed to convey something that is better told, not shown for reason of storytelling focus. The one real addition to the original script is Finn’s voice over, which has become a staple of the book, and that was only present at the very beginning and end of the script in movie-format. As far as the voice over goes, I try to find one key idea–one clear way in for the entire chapter. It makes the chapter unique, and helps unifying moments that otherwise have a lot of plates spinning, so it becomes the glue–but the kind of glue that takes you by the hand, and has a sense of humor. For the 4th volume however, because it is the end of an intricate story and I needed to make sure that all the pieces came together, I roughed out the entire volume before inking anything. I am now just a few pages away from having finished inking everything.
FS: Following up on that, has the story taken you places you didn’t expect when you first set out to write it? Were you surprised by how certain characters changed from the beginning of the tale?
SF: I had a fairly strong sense of where I was going with Dracula and Finn as I was writing them, and I ended up very close to where I thought I would. But the biggest surprise was how Rosalynd’s story kept expanding, gaining depth and relevance as it progressed, to where I even felt compelled to squeeze in a prequel (called Rosalynd) in between Volume 3 and Volume 4 to get deeper inside her story and her voice. Even as deep in the story as in chapter 11–so literally at the 11th hour–new doors kept opening on the characters (in ways that I can’t spoil).
FS: You have described the book as a Ocean’s 11 in Dracula’s castle, which is incredibly inspired take to lay over the classic Stoker story. Did you have any an “Ah ha!” moment that made sense to mashup genres in that way or did the story evolve as you began to shape it?
SF: I don’t really remember the actual ideation moment when it occurred to me that con men taking on vampires would be a fun thing to do. I think it may have been an evolution process. The first character I created was actually Sledge. Meanwhile, I always wanted to create a character that would be a cross between the European gentleman thief and the American conman/public enemy #1, which is how Finn came about. Only after the fact, did it occur to me that vampires and conmen were thematically related–predators; roaming by night; not engaged in life like normal folks…
Interestingly, that was not planned. It’s something I only saw after a while–which is as it should be. You don’t want to decide on things like that. You want them to be creative eruptions straight from your unconscious that you accept on instinct, and that only make sense in hindsight. Lastly, the vampire wasn’t originally Dracula, but, at some point, the idioms were so obviously present that the Bram Stoker of it became unavoidable.
FS: Where do we find Sledge, Finnigan, and company at the beginning of Volume 4?
SF: So, as Volume 3 ends, the team has managed to make Dracula’s treasure disappear and are about to escape, but they are not out of the woods yet. They need to get out of dodge before the vampires figure out how they did what they did, and react accordingly. Also, it would seem at the end of Volume 3 that Sledge/Rosalynd has found the redemption that was eluding her by saving the two babies from Lillian, but Sledge is in fact far from done, and there is a lot to her story that is left to unfold in the final chapters. Generally speaking, in Volume 4, all the characters will be tested even more deeply than they have been before. The series really ends on a high note. I am extremely proud of that ending.
FS: What can you tell us about rewards that contributors to the campaign can expect?
SF: They can of course expect Volume 4, which concludes the story. They will also be able to catch up on the previous volumes if needed. Then, for the completists (you know who you are), there will be an awesome slipcase to house and protect your four volumes, and it looks fabulous. Lastly, there is a series of collaborative prints with a trio of extraordinary artists: Takeshi Miyazawa (Ms. Marvel), master animator and BD sensation Rodolphe Guenoden (aka RODGUEN), and the one and only Mel Milton. I loved working with them, and discovering their takes on the characters.
FS: At the end of Volume 4, what will have you made you most proud about the process?
SF: The process is so micro-focused, as you try to get it right, one drawing, one panel, one page at a time, that watching it become “a thing” in real time… seeing an actual fan base grow, and seeing these fictional characters develop into compelling beings that we can empathize with, feels like pure magic. It’s humbling and exhilarating at the same time. What starts as an act of self-expression ends up belonging to everyone.
At press time, Silver Volume 4 has already reached $6,698, over half of its $12,000 Kickstarter goal. Check it out and consider contributing to helping Mr. Franck conclude his dark and compelling tale!
From the official press release for Silver Volume 4 and its Kickstarter campaign:
Stephan Franck has worked on some of the most beloved animated films of all time, including The Iron Giant, How to Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me —and his passion for storytelling extends from the silver screen to comic books and graphic novels. Over the course of the last four years, Franck has been writing, illustrating and self publishing 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. Told over the course of 4 volumes (and a stand alone novella), Franck has created an unforgettable cast and a compelling caper that picks up 30 years after Professor Abraham Van Helsing visited Dracula’s castle. Now Van Helsing’s descendent, the mysterious vampire hunter Rosalyn, is teaming up with a ragtag group of con men for a high stakes heist to rob Europe’s richest vampires. Will they succeed, and live off their take from this one last job? All will be revealed in the fourth and final volume of SILVER, which Franck and his company Dark Planet Comics are funding via a Kickstarter campaign.
In SILVER, a group of criminals 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, knows a retirement plan when he sees it, so he’s willing to do whatever it takes to pull off the biggest heist of the last ten centuries—even if that means allying himself with the mysterious, sword-wielding vampire hunter Sledge, aka Rosalind Van Helsing.
This year, Dark Planet Comics released a Free Comic Book Day Edition of the first issue of SILVER. “My hope is that fans who love old-fashioned storytelling that’s chock full of action and adventure, mystery and humor, discover SILVER in time to be a part of the epic finale.” The series has already attracted the notice of comic book creators including Tim Sale, Bill Sienkiewicz and Jim Lee, and has been widely praised with coverage from an array of outlets including NPR, THE NERDIST, HORROR NEWS NETWORK, NEWSARAMA and COMICON.
Fans who back the new Kickstarter can get digital editions, all four trade paperbacks individually, a signed slipcase featuring forall four trade paperbacks, the acclaimed novella ROSALYND, an audiobook of ROSALYND and limited edition prints by or done in collaboration with three incredible artists: Marvel comics and Kickstarter sensation Takeshi Miyazawa (Ms.Marvel, Spiderman, Code Monkey Saves World), animator and bandes dessinées artist Rodolphe Guenoden (Kung Fu Panda, Ma Reverence), and superstar illustrator Mel Milton.
When he’s not writing and drawing comics, Franck is an Executive Producer and 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.