It’s been over 30 years since Professor Abraham Van Helsing visited Dracula’s castle. Now his descendent, the mysterious vampire hunter Rosalyn 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.
The third volume of this truly independent project has just launched on Kickstarter, and I was fortunate enough to speak to writer/artist Stephan Franck about Silver, his favorite vampires and his day job.
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FOG!: What was the genesis of Silver?
Stephan Franck: Let me warn you, it’s quite a saga… I have been a life-long fan of comics (my parents were retailers when I was little), and drew them throughout college, but after that, my career exclusively focused on animation, and took me from Paris to Hollywood.
Then fast forward to a few years ago, when I had originally written Silver as a spec movie script. However, around the time that it was done, I realized that it would be the perfect story for a big fun immersive graphic novel–a wild pulp adventure with a deep universe, and compelling characters to bring to life—a bucket list item of the first magnitude. I originally thought about handing the script out to another artist to illustrate, but it became clear that I had to do this.
Four years, three volumes, sixty conventions and one publishing company later (and other stuff we will announce soon), this has been the most unexpected and one of the most fulfilling adventures in my life.
One of the things I enjoyed is that the book is a true sequel to Dracula, bringing it into the early Thirties and never ignoring the world that Stoker created. Was there a specific reason to set it during this time period, and once this series is over would you revisit it possibly during another time period?
Thank you, yes, I feel that the choice of the time period was very important. Bram Stoker’s novel was not only a groundbreaking idea, but it was also a masterfully executed story, and the characters have fully completed their arcs by the end of it—at least for that phase of their lives. So I felt that having a sequel situated too close in time would retread on the novel too much.
Meanwhile, there is a high sense of whimsy to this story, and I think having it in the past brings it the kind of distance that makes the whimsy acceptable. We’re talking of a time were the word was still big and full of mystery. We’re in 1931. 1933 is King Kong. 1936 Indiana Jones. Having it happen today in the age of cell phones and Google Earth would require a completely different tone.
Rosalynd Sledge is the granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing. She is anything but a woman of the time period. Tell me about the character and what drives her to continue the family tradition of vampire hunting.
What specifically drives her is a secret that is actually revealed in Volume 3, so I won’t spoil that. However, what I love about this character is that when we find her, she is someone who has probably been spending way too much time alone in cemeteries, making sure the dead stay that way, and somewhat lost touch with the living. It is even a fair question to wander what exactly she is doing with her life.
It is actually a common theme in all the main characters of the story, and through this adventure, they are lead to reexamine how they have been living their lives—or not really living them, as the case may be. But that said, she is also a really fun character, as she is super badass, and has a pretty unforgiving sense of humor. But yes, there is a brokenness to her that is very endearing, and makes her a fully dimensional characters.
I must also add that I have no shortage of incredibly strong women in my family, including too very kickass daughters, who have inspired me to write female characters that are actual humans, as I’ve watched them grow up.
You work in animation and do comics on the side. What projects have you worked on and what about the comic medium do you find so appealing?
In animation, I have worked on tons of movies for most Hollywood studios, but among my favorite is the Iron Giant, on which I was a supervising animator. With my brother Emmanuel, I have also co-created a TV show called “Corneil and Bernie” which aired on Nicktoons in the US and in over 100 countries. I am also very proud of having directed a Smurfs special called The Legend Of Smurfy Hollow for Sony. Having grown up reading the Smurfs in France, it was a great honor to not only do a film with them, but to do it mostly in hand-drawn animation—a medium in which the Smurfs never really had a chance to exist at a feature animation level of quality. I also worked on Despicable Me, and many other movies.
Meanwhile, as I was saying earlier, comics have always be a huge part of my life and creative inspiration, but it’s true that the medium and the industry have become a bigger and bigger part in my life. When I started Silver I used to hear people introduce me as “ this is Stephan, he’s in animation. He also does some comics”. Then, one day, I realized that people were saying “He’s a comics guy. He also does animation.” But to me, it is all one thing. It is all about storytelling. It is all about trying to get to the most universal truths about character and life, and present them in the weirdest way possible. Deep moral choices being wrestled with by someone dressed like a bat. That kind of things. I think at the end of the day that’s what this whole thing is about.
What are your favorite vampires in pop culture?
Dracula, of course, whose lore is the basis for this book. I like most of his incarnations, from The Hammer films, to Herzog’s Nosferatu, to Coppola’s version, to many others, but I also very much like Interview With The Vampire. I thought that the Neil Jordan film was fantastic. Purely as a matter of personal taste, I prefer stories where the vampires are hidden. Once they are openly into the world, I feel that it crosses over to another genre which you could call parallel history, or even sci fi. It’s fun too, but to me, it becomes a different thing. I’m all about mystery.
Your art is very reminiscent of Tim Sale. Are you a fan of his? What other creators have influenced your work?
Thank you, that is a great compliment! Yes, I am actually a huge fan of Tim Sale’s, and I have to say that getting his endorsement on the back of the first volume absolutely blew me away. Although I love all sorts of styles and creators, I have always gravitated more towards artists who combine a strong sense of draftsmanship and storytelling with a high level of—call it abstraction, or stylization—let’s just say a different point of view. People like Tim, Mike Mignola, Kirby, of course, or Frank Miller. Bill Sienkiewicz is also a master at capturing life so accurately and injecting it with world-class abstraction, who has been an inspiration to me. Getting his endorsement on the second book also made my year.
In addition to the final volume of Silver, what else do you have coming up?
We have another title which is the backstory of one of Silver’s main characters. I am super excited about this book, and it is also the beginning of a “Silver Universe” taking shape. More on this very, very soon. (I am actually so excited about it that it’s physically painful for me not to share it yet!)
What are you currently geeking out over?
Man, I geek out on pretty much everything. Let’s face it, we can nitpick on this movie or that, but the truth is that my head would have exploded as a kid if I had known that I would see my geeky little world take over the mainstream world of entertainment. But if I had to pick one thing, I would single out Gotham. In my mind, over the last couple seasons, it has become the best representation of the world of Batman ever put to screen. I think it captures its quality as a dark fairy tale extremely well. Now, in a completely different style, thanks to YouTube, I have discovered interviews of the late Richard Feynman, and I just can’t get enough of them.
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