If you don’t know Stephan Franck by name, you’ll certainly be familiar with his work. The Iron Giant, Despicable Me, Open Season, Osmosis Jones; he’s had a hand in some fine animated works to say the least. Now he’s once again diving into the world of comics with his creator-owned vampire heist adventure, Silver.
Silver builds upon the world of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, adding substance filled lore to an already master literary work. The series pits a group of lovable but morally challenged and emotionally broken characters against the undead when a botched heist reveals the existence of a vast treasure in the castle of Dracula. So far, Franck has expanded upon his initial story with layer after layer of interesting characters and mystery. Now he’s bringing the latest volume of his creator-owned project to fans.
With the launch of his latest Kickstarter for Volume 3, we got a chance to talk with Franck about independent publishing and all things Silver.
COMICSBEAT: You have such a great career in animation with works such as The Iron Giant, Despicable Me, Open Season. What made you want to venture into the medium of comics?
STEPHAN FRANCK: Thank you! Some of my actual earliest memories in life are hanging out in my parents’ book store, where they sold among many things comics, home-movie equipment, and art supplies. That store to me was a cave of wonders, where I was able to spend my free time reading every comic they had, both American and European, and get my hands on the supplies and equipment I needed to start creating myself. To me, animation, comics, literature, film, it was all one thing. I remember being 10 years old, and drawing Spiderman pages, which I had complete confidence Marvel would publish the following month. Meanwhile, I was animating scenes by changing drawings on a dry-erase board and shooting them frame by frame with a super 8 camera. Then I saw the movie Heavy Metal when I was 13, and there was no turning back. I kept doing both animation and comics through general art college, but once I got into Gobellins (France’s main animation school), animation became such a life project that it completely took over my creative journey. Only a few years ago, did I realize that I didn’t want comics to be the road not taken, and jumped back into it professionally.
CB: That’s such a fantastic story of itself. But we really should talk about why were here. You’ve just launched a Kickstarter for this comics passion project, for anyone who may have missed volume 1&2; what is Silver about?
SF: Silver continues and expands on the universe implied in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It takes place 40 years after the events of the novel, in the pulp era of the 1930’s. We follow the adventures of James Finnigan, a New York conman / Gentleman-thief, and his known-associates (a rag tag group of talented but broken grifters), as they team up with Rosalynd “Sledge” Van Helsing (Grand-daughter of Stoker’s Van Helsing, and the last of her name), to steal a mythical treasure hidden in Dracula’s castle. Tao, a 10 year-old boy who has the uncanny ability to see the future (just not his own) rounds up the team, and he might be the biggest scoundrel of them all. So “it’s Ocean’s Eleven in Dracula’s castle”, and it’s a big pulp adventure that has whimsy and fun character humor as well as very intense and suspenseful moments. The characters’ relationships are also very much to the front. Finnigan, Sledge and Tao are three people who have been leading very lonely and guarded lives, and their journey to the land of the undead prompts a serious reexamination of the questionable life choices they’ve made.
CB: After having read the first volume of Silver I can definitely see that. These vampires are more in lineage with the bravado of Dracula. The thing which immediately stood out to me was how radically different this story is from your career. Much of your work in animation such as The Iron Giant, Open Season, and Despicable Me is easily accessible to younger audiences. What made you want to tell a darker noir style story in Silver?
SF: I have a lot of stories to tell, on a broad spectrum of themes, tones and genres, and ranging from naturalistic to very whimsical. In feature animation, you learn to combine accessibility with sophistication. In the best-animated pieces, although the core audience is children, there is a relevance to the comedy and to the universal truths that are presented, that make the movies captivating for almost anyone. Inversely, in things like Star Wars, super dramatic events are done in a way that an 8 year-old can receive. Silver falls in the second category. We have a pretty dramatic book that has sophistication and intensity, and deals with themes, and decisions that adults deal with, yet it is presented with a sense of humor, whimsy, and esthetic distance that a very broad audience can enjoy. We have fans as young as 9 or 10, we get adult readers who had never picked up a comic before and who tell me this got them in, we have hard core comics fans of all ages… The accessibility of the storytelling, and the diversity of the readership that resulted from it is one of the things that I’m the most proud of.
CB: In the beginnings of self-publishing, creators give themselves the chance to tell the story they want. Now that Silver has had some success finding an audience why haven’t you done a new publishing run with one of the larger publishers? Or would you even consider doing one?
SF: OK, so I have to put my business hat on for this one. Publishing through Dark Planet, which is our own imprint, did not only allow creative freedom, but also logistical freedom, which means control over the release schedule, and even the inventory. Coming completely fresh to the industry, I was also amazed with how supportive the comic stores have been, and at the end of the day, we’ve achieved circulation that was well above what is usually expected for a new artist release through a bigger publisher, and we did it with a better economic model because fewer middle men. That being said, as Silver AND the Silver Universe (yes, such a thing is currently taking shape) is expanding in scope and readership, there will come a time where it will make natural sense to have a partner that can scale up distribution. It will be all about finding the right fit. In a way, we’re doing it right now with foreign licensees, such as Glenat Comics in France, and Leser & Schreiber in Germany, and it’s been a pleasure working with them.
CB: I had no idea you’d been able to reach that level of distribution. That’s beyond what even a publisher such as Image would have been able to do for an independent creator.
You can go and support Kickstarter for Volume 3. If you’ve yet to dive into the world of stealing from vampires, the campaign comes with tons of tiers to catch you up as well as chances for great art.