Pitting Con Men Against Vampires And Crowdfunding Silver- Talking With Stephan Franck

by Hannah Means Shannon

 

What may be the ultimate gothic noir comic saga, Silver, has plunged into crowdfunding its third volume today on Kickstarter, following two successfully funded volumes previously. Created by Stephan Franck, whose work you may know from animated features like The Iron Giant, How to Train Your Dragon, and more, Silver has been a personal project that Franck both writes and draws, but also one that has found a wide fan base and gotten plenty of attention at conventions where a Silver booth can often be found sporting its trademark artwork.

Silver is a vampire/gangster epic set in the 1920’s and 1930’s featuring a female vampire-hunting Van Helsing descendant, a group of vampires, and a seemingly cuthroat band of criminals attempting to take advantage of them. This third installment of the series is described by Franck as “Ocean’s 11 in Dracula’s Castle” as the heisting heats up.

The conmen in this tale are, nevertheless, “lovable” characters who are facing “truly soulless” vampires and the contrast may teach us something about being among the living. As this team of misfit thieves finally make their attempt to infiltrate Dracula’s Castle, where they believe a unique silver treasure is hidden, we’re going to encounter Silver’s “most intense and gothic volume yet”.

Stephan Franck joins us to talk about Silver and the rise of its third arc on Kickstarter below:

Hannah Means-Shannon: Stephan, you both write and illustrate Silver. Is that a lonely enterprise? Do you bounce ideas off of other people at all?

Stephan Franck: Because of my work in animation, I am used to collaborating with a large number of people, and especially in the story room. That’s a great environment where you can’t be afraid to really examine ideas and where you learn to open yourself to other points of view. So even when working alone on comics, I try to retain my story-room ethos, keep myself honest, and not be precious about any particular idea. If it doesn’t work for the piece, no matter how cool it is, it has to change.  However, I have also learned that the most interesting ideas don’t necessarily appear fully baked, and you need to allow them a safe space to grow without too much interference or premature judgement. The last line of defense is Christina (my wife and partner), who has excellent taste.

HMS: There’s a certain noir tradition, a grandeur in this presentation of vampirism, that speaks to the history of vampires and mysteries in literature and art. What are you most interested by in those traditions?

SF: The original Dracula mythos, of course, always fascinated me in most of its forms. In fact, Silver is the continuation of Bram Stoker’s original universe. It is set 40 years after the Stoker novel, in the pulp/noir era of the 1930’s where a group of conmen team up with Rosalynd Van Helsing (who is the famous professor’s grand-daughter and who carries on the family tradition) to steal a mythical treasure hidden in Dracula’s castle.

I always thought of stories about the undead as some sort of dark mirror on the human condition. That’s why I felt it was fascinating to pit con men against vampires–because they are thematically very similar. They lurk at night, on the outskirts of society, are predatory in nature, and most importantly, are not supposed to engage with others on an emotional level.

So, we have our figuratively soulless conmen entering a world of literally soulless creatures. It leads to a reexamination of how they have been living their lives, and asks the question: what is it that makes one feel alive? Is it just enduring for 1000 years, or is there something more? The other fun aspect is, of course,  the blending of a vampire universe into a conmen story/big Pulp adventure. There is also a lot of fun character banter between our two leads in the great tradition of classic screwball comedies of the noir era like the Thin Man series.

HMS: How have you engaged fans on Kickstarter in Chapters 1 and 2? Are you surprised by the success that you’ve had?

SF: The first campaigns were built of the fans base we had started to accrue through comic conventions, but it was also amazing to see people just randomly discover us on Kickstarter, get intrigued and fall in love. I also have to say that I have been involved with many projects in my career, and sometimes, to use a movie cliché, you build it, and there’s nothing wrong with it, and yet no one comes. But twice so far, I have had to chance to work on projects where I could sense a palpable passion, and involvement on a very emotional level from fans. One was the Iron Giant and the other was Silver. Going back to your first question, although Iron Giant was a studio movie, it was done with an unusually high level of artistic autonomy, just like Silver, and I can’t help but to think that that is a factor.

HMS: What is new and compelling in Volume 3 for Kickstarter supporters of SILVER?

SF: Volume 1 was really fun because it introduced you to a world and to a set of characters that hopefully were endearing, and Volume 2 was like a fun chess game, where all the pieces of the game were coming into place. Volume 3 is where the roller coaster crests over and comes barreling down on the other side. It includes a giant action set piece with Finn and Sledge, some extremely gothic moments between Dracula and Lillian, and all characters pushed past their breaking points. I wrote the script for the entire series a few years back now, and Volume 3 has insane moments I have been dying to see fully realized ever since.

HMS: What is the benefit, artistically, or financially, of composing in black and white? What tools do you use?

SF: The main reason I work in black and white for Silver is to connect with the vibe, visual flair and mystery of the noir/pulp era. When I was a kid, I used to watch a late show every friday night on TV, that was extremely well curated, and featured movies from the 1930’s and 40’s ranging from Orson Welles and Fritz Lang, to wonderful B movies like King Kong or Zardoff, but also Cagney gangster movies, The Thin Man series…all in back and white.

So, in my mind, it created an imaginary meta dreamscape where all those movies were connected in the same universe, and you could be following gangsters in New York, take a propeller plane to Europe and get chased by a wolfman on the moor, and hop on an ocean liner to Africa and find a lost city in the jungle. That was a world full of mystery, light and shadows, all in black and white, and this is the world Silver takes place in.

Of course, I made sure the look of the book created a complete visual statement, and didn’t feel like something missing its color. That’s where the use of zip-a-tones come in, giving the book a crisp tone, and connecting it to the old pulp adventure strips, but also giving it a Pop Art, modern, high-end feel. All that is done in Manga studio, then I sometimes kick it over to photoshop for special brushes or other graphic embellishments.

HMS: Why have you felt so personally invested to pursue this story to a third volume? What compels you to continue?

SF: While it opens the door to a wider universe, Silver’s original arc, and the story of Finn and his crew stealing the Silver Dragon takes place over 4 volumes. So, I’m all about finishing things, and in this case, it will take 4 volumes.

HMS: Why do you think the comics medium tells this story best, initially? What about the medium complements the story you want to tell?

SF: First there is a sense of whimsy to comics that is wonderful, and perfectly suited for high-imagination stories. As I always say, story is about telling the most universal truth in the weirdest way possible, and comics is a great incubator for weirdness. Another tool that is unique to comics is the ability to play with the compression of storytelling.

In the old days, masters of compressed storytelling like Kirby were able to tell you a giant cosmic epic in 18 pages. Then the medium developed more decompressed forms, where everything takes longer, and gives you a novel-like immersive quality. In Silver, I love playing with varying levels of storytelling compression. When I hit certain tropes, I am able to compress them Kirby-style in a way that feels satisfying, and yet doesn’t belabors things unnecessarily, while I can decompress original character moments to make them really come alive in a believable manner.

HMS: Can you give us a little sneak preview of what’s coming up in this third chapter for SILVER? What do we have to look forward to or dread?

SF: As I was alluding to above, all characters are pushed past their breaking points, and confronted with life-defining choices. Lastly, a deep secret about Sledge’s past and her true agenda comes to light, and I have been told it will tear your heart in two.

Many thanks to Stephan Franck for taking the time to answer our questions for Comicon.com in such an enlightening way.

Silver just opened its Kickstarter campaign for Volume 3 in the series, and you can find that right here.