Stephan Franck is one of the most celebrated animation veterans in the industry (The Iron Giant) and he’s been telling one of the most unique vampire stories in recent memory. The pages of the Bram Stoker Dracula inspired heist story, Silver, have been full of suspense and the classic version of horror’s most iconic monsters. On November 14, Silver Vol 4 will mark the end of Franck’s successful crowdfunded project. We recently talked about the book’s end, what makes Dracula tick, and his future.
COMICS BEAT: For anyone who may not have heard of Silver, how would you describe it now that it’s reaching the finale?
STEPHAN FRANCK: Silver is set in an original universe inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. 40 years after the events of the novel. It’s a wild adventure with supernatural elements that celebrates its fun Pulp roots and adds a modern sensibility to its characters. storye follow the adventures of conman James Finnigan, as he teams up with troubled vampire-hunter Rosalynd “Sledge” Van Helsing—last of the Van Helsings—and Tao Leu, a young Chinese boy with the unnerving gift of second-sight. Together, they attempt to steal the Silver Dragon, a mythical treasure hidden in Dracula’s castle.
We travel from New York City all the way to Transylvania, there are gigantic action set-pieces, and we have all the fun of a heist story full of twists, turns and fake-outs. Meanwhile, at its core, we have a very fun and genuine human story. The characters—living, dead, and otherwise—get one last crack at figuring out the meaning of their existence.
This original Silver arc (the Silver Dragon heist) was always conceived as a complete story in 4 volumes, and I am really excited with the ending. I think the finale delivers on spectacle in a big way, but also with compelling character disclosures and life-changing moments of decision. As the story concludes, the redemption-tale aspect really comes to the forefront. Some characters will find redemption, others will not, and this final volume will keep you guessing which ones are which until the very end.
CB: Classic story universes such as the one of Bram Stoker’s Dracula have so many figurative landmines that might upset its most loyal fanbase. Developing this story, how do you navigate trying to do something fresh while remaining true to the material you need to be influenced by?
FRANCK: I think it’s about going back to the core idea at the heart of the material, which in the case of Dracula, I see as a simple question: “what are the things that makes one feel alive?” Is it enduring and roaming the Earth for centuries, or is there something more. In the original Victorian setting of the Stoker novel, the metaphor was about societal strictures and repression, and about how that repressed part of the self is demonized. In Silver, we are 40 years after the events of the novel, so it’s the 1930s, which was a very a different time, and we’re looking at the same question from a different point of view.
We have a new set of characters who have also repressed important part of who they are, but in their case, it’s not about societal norms as they are already misfits to begin with. The real disconnect, the alienation, is emotional and psychological. I like to say that Silver is about people who are great at what they do, but who suck at life. They suck at feeling alive, and how they go about chasing that feeling is what makes them conmen, vampires, or vampire hunters, but at the end of the day, they all try to quench that same emptiness by taking something from someone else. That’s why it’s so interesting to collide these characters, and see which ones can find the light at the end of it. It’s a fresh new way into the core question of the Dracula mythos, and it’s put across through new characters that you hopefully fall in love with and care about.
Then, there are all the fun things you want to see in a heist story and in a Dracula story… So you have to deliver those while staying mindful of the shorthand that the audience already has with the genres, and not belabor anything. At the end of the day, I feel that as long as we’re doing something fun, meaningful and human with the material, people are happy to receive it. If that’s lacking, that’s when they become sticklers for the rules.
CB: Over four volumes Silver has taken some fantastic twists in mixing the psychology of Dracula with heist adventure. This ending even has some Murder on The Orient Express flavor to its suspense, was this always the intent from when you first came up with the idea for Silver?
FRANCK: Thank you! I like to describe the world of Silver as a meta-world of Pulp, and it comes straight out of 1930’s black and white movies—ranging from Fritz Lang’s masterpieces to things like Nick Carter vs Fu Manchu—that I saw and fell in love with as a kid, and that have been part of my creative landscape ever since. In my imagination, all those movies connected into one universe that combined crime, exotic adventures, monsters, supernatural, mystery — all in black and white! In my mind, Casablanca and Hound of The Baskerville existed in the same world. That was the inspiration for Silver. One additional genre from that era that’s often forgotten is screwball comedy. From The Thin Man to It Happened One Night, that sort of male/female banter inspired much of the relationship that readers have been enjoying between Sledge and Finnigan. But now we do it with a modern twist.
One of the key things in that type of story is also tone, and two things that you can really lean into that won’t break the tone are suspense and mystery. That’s where a night train full of vampires racing across Europe comes in. Then there’s a murder on the train, secret agendas, and that’s just among the vampires. And without giving away any volume 4 spoilers, the train also plays a big part on the way back! There is so much cool stuff happening around it, by the time we’re done with the train, I don’t think we’re leaving anything on the table.
CB: You’ve crowdfunded every volume of this series successfully. With so many projects in the space vying for attention, you managed to complete an entire series. What advice would you give to independent creators navigating the waters of Kickstarter?
FRANCK: We’ve been really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish — one of the amazing spillovers from the kickstarters has been Silver becoming a convention phenomenon too, selling more copies than almost any other series on the floor. This year, we’ve been selling 600 trades and hard covers at every one of the major shows (SDCC, NYCC, ECCC, C2E2, Phoenix). Doing so in such a competitive environment tells us that readers are connecting with the world of Silver and with its characters.
As to why, and how, I feel that we are in an altogether very noisy culture. Everything is cranked up to ten, but not everything is interesting, and most importantly not everything comes from an honest place. When I do panels, aspiring writers/creators often asked me “what does the industry want?” My answer is that what the industry knows it wants, the industry already has, so it doesn’t need you to make more of it. In this environment, I think the only way forward for creatives is to pick a genre that they are passionate about, within which they tell stories that they are genuinely excited about, that are populated by characters that they honestly care about. I think raw honesty is everyone’s best bet right now. That’s the only way to cut through the noise.
And whether it’s Kickstarter or conventions, or any other platform that lets independent creators connect with an audience, I think another key elements beyond genuine passion is endurance and consistency. Show appearances or crowdfunding campaigns build upon each other. Back when we had only one Silver trade out, a frequent question from prospective readers would be “OK, this looks great, but…if I buy this, you’re going to finish the story, right? You’re not going to leave me hanging?”. And I would have to promise them that we would see Silver through. That to me is key. If you want people to back you, you need to have their back too. And as long as you do, they will stick with you. For the Silver 4 Kickstarter, 80% of previous backers came back within the first 3 hours. At shows, one of the things most often heard is “I’m so happy you’re here again this year. You were first stop on my list.” So in short, you just have to keep showing up with the same passion time after time, and the thing will build upon itself.
CB: With Silver ending what’s next for Dark Planet Comics?
FRANCK: As you can see in the Silver Volume 4 finale (which hits comic stores on November 16th), the story of the Silver Dragon heist comes to a satisfying end, but a new door opens into another storyline. By now, I have fallen in love with these characters and their world, too much to not continue the series with this new cycle.
Meanwhile, I have already started expanding the world of Silver with Rosalynd, an illustrated novella that is presented as Sledge’s Diary as a child. In Rosalynd, we not only explore her origin story, but we also begin to paint a picture of the Van Helsing family lore in the Silver Universe. Rosalynd debuted at Conventions this year, and I had trepidations about it because it is a very unusual book. First, it is presented as Rosalynd’s childhood diary. It combines the written form of a diary with very impressionist/expressionist illustrations aimed at capturing fragments of her distant memories. Creating this very gritty pulp story that is processed through the eyes of a child made it a very emotionally affecting process. Then, there is a layer of personal metafiction to it, because some of it is inspired by my own family history. My ancestors’ weren’t vampire hunters, but they were similar to how I am portraying the Van Helpings in other ways. I found another way something honest and personal could fit into a work of pulp fiction, an infuse it with some kind of human truth. But between the unusual presentation and the personal aspects, I felt doubly exposed.
As it turns out, my Rosalynd trepidations were unfounded, as the Silver fans embraced Rosalynd with a passion. The true test came at NYCC a few weeks ago, as we had sold out of all things Silver by noon on Saturday, so we were able to fully focus on Rosalynd—not just as a Silver prequel, but as its own thing—for the rest of the show. I’m happy to report that people who were entirely new to the Silver Universe strongly connected with Rosalynd too. So having proven itself at cons, Rosalynd will solicit to the Direct Market in January, with a March ship date. It’s been such a gratifying journey to take with fans, and I’m inspired to keep going!
CB: That’s great to hear, I was a afraid by the end we wouldn’t get the full story on Rosalynd. While we wait for that, everyone should go to Dark Planet Comics and check out Silver.