Spun out of Bram Stoker’s literary classic Dracula, Silver retains the original novel intact at its core, while extending its world in every possible direction: Toward its future, following what happened to the original characters and their descendants, and introducing new characters; in its scope, lifting the veil on a secret world of vampires spanning ages and cultures in which undead aristocrat engage in endless intrigues and arcane politics; toward its past, presenting an extended vampire lore reaching back to Bronze Age with tales otherwise lost to the sands of time.
In advance of the upcoming Silver release, we thought it would be fun to have writer, David Gallaher of the award-winning werewolf comic High Moon, interview the man behind Silver, Stephan Franck.
David Gallaher: Silver is equal parts heist and horror. What drew you to telling this sort of supernatural caper?
Stephan Franck: It’s basically childhood fascinations. I grew up religiously watching a midnight movie show every Friday night, that curated the best in 1930’s genre pictures. From Orson Welles to King Kong, but also the awesome B movie adventures of detectives like Nick Carter, or Cagney gangsters, supernatural thrillers like, well…Supernatural, and Screwball Comedies. In my imagination, they all connected into this meta universe in which New York conmen and old-world monsters existed in the same reality— A little bubble universe of Black and White Pulp that formed in my head when I was a kid. So I don’t know about other people, but for me, I think it always starts on instinct. I pull out some of my favorite toys (AKA story subjects) without fully knowing really why, then, as I play with them, I slowly realize how it actually makes sense—like for instance the thematic link between con men and vampires–The fact that there is a predatory nature to both types, of course, but also an uncommon level of soullessness and nihilism. Clashing one type against the other became a really interesting little exploration of concepts such as “what makes one really FEEL alive?”
David Gallaher: What do you think makes for great horror storytelling? Who do you think are the current masters of horror storytelling?
Stephan Franck: It’s funny, just yesterday, I was having a conversation with a story room colleague on the way stories engage audiences, and I think storytelling in general only works one way. It lets the audience/reader/listener develop certain expectations about what’s about to happen, and then subvert those expectations. So I think horror storytelling is no different. It’s about getting the audience to engage, to where they start to think ahead for the characters, and somehow always guess wrong. I think there’s a small and yet critical difference between confusing the audience—which makes them disengage—and having them continuously guess wrong. That’s what you want, because if you have them consistently guess right, that’s obviously bad. As far as the current masters, I think Mignola is unequaled in his ability to capture that altogether Lovecraftian take on things, and do it with a sense of visual poetry. Meanwhile, I also think that horror as a fictional genre is being given a run for its money by reality, these days. Compared to anything in our lifetime, faith in our societal systems is at an all time low. People no longer have rosy glasses on that horror is here to shatter.
It’s almost the other way around, where horror is the anti hero of fiction that is still able to navigate life when the world goes to shit. I think that’s the appeal of The Walking Dead.
David Gallaher: One of the things that really stood out to me about Silver was cinematic storytelling. Each shot feels very meticulously crafted. It reminded me of illustrators like Jim Steranko and Leonard Starr, but it also seems to take just as many cues from directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Tod Browning, and Fritz Lang. Who were you visual influences? His did they inspire the look and feel of Silver?
Stephan Franck: Thank you so much for saying that, and I think you named some of my biggest influences. The cinematic angle comes from my background in film and animation. Film language is my default mode of storytelling. Basically, I like to have my page cut panel to panel like a movie would cut shot to shot. What film language does really well, is to manage the audience’s bandwidth, and keep them situated and unconfused with most things so they can full pick up on the dramatic focus of the scene. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I think that’s also really interesting, because these days, there are a lot of new readers—adult readers—coming to comics because they discovered those characters in film or on TV, and are swimming back up to the source. But these readers often don’t have a shorthand with the comic book page, and I’ve been told by many of them that having a visual storytelling language that is accessible to them is key.
Jim Steranko also happens to have one of my favorite films-to-comic adaptations, which is Outland. I was fascinated by it as a kid, because I thought it recaptured the experience of watching the movie uniquely well, and the use of the heavy black was such a bold statement. That book was definitely on my mind when I started Silver. Leonard Starr is one of those very few artists in the medium: insane draftsmanship, elegance in design, all seen through a cinematic lens. No cut corners of hiding places. Such 360 degree mastery is just beyond rare, and I feel, something completely humbling and beyond my reach. Another one of those monsters is Paul Gillon, who also had come from the strips (in the French papers), then cut loose and went full BD in the 70’s. Because of the printing limitations of the strips, they had mastered the art of the black and white. Their pages don’t look like line work waiting for its colors. They looked like a fully completed artistic statement, with just black, white, and one value of zip a tones. That is what I try to emulate for Silver.
David Gallaher: The decision to use black and white, rather than full color, is such a beautiful creative choice. It’s almost as if the black ink is its own character in the story; I love how the shadows dance around each page. What drove that decision to go black and white? What other advantages does working in black and white provide?
Stephan Franck: Thank you again! In the case of Silver, I think it really is about capturing the spirit of the period. It may be a little meta, but I think that when recapturing a period, you need to also pay homage to the way images were created or presented at the time. That’s why in Saving Private Ryan, you have the beach invasion sequence shot with camera from that period. I think in a reverse way, many years ago, I was doing my military service in France in the film unit, and I got to go into their giant underground photo vault, which had war pictures going back fairly deep into the 19th century.
And for instance, seeing color pictures of the trenches World War I (let alone 3D/stereo pictures of WW1, and yes, they exist, I’ve seen them) is a very disturbing experience, because that’s not the way our culture has processed the look of that era. So when you mention Fritz Lang, or adventure strips (Ray Moore’s Phantom is one of my favorite), I wanted that vibe to be present in the form, not just the subject matter. Then the fun is to use that to tell real character stories, in a way that feels modern and relevant. Then it becomes a little bit of a radical statement.
David Gallaher: Your credits in animation include Iron Giant and Despicable Me. How did you get into animation? How has that experience influenced what you’re doing on Silver?
Stephan Franck: In two ways, I think. Because animation is so intense to produce, it tends to get to the point. From the character design to the storytelling, animation usually doesn’t mess around. I think the ingrained sense of economy helps bring out the stuff you really want to focus on. But also, the best animated movies manage to say things about life that appeal to all audiences. You can understand those moves on different levels depending on your age, but they are accessible to everyone without pandering. Iron Giant is of course a great example of that. That’s also what I try to do with Silver. I am super proud to have 9 year old fans of it, as well as people of any age.
David Gallaher: Okay, so you’re planning a caper to steal Dracula’s treasure. Are you the mastermind? The grifter? The muscle? What role would you most want to play? Why?
Stephan Franck: I’m going to have to say the mastermind, because I’ve been pretty good at roping people into crazy adventures—Silver and Dark Planet being some of them.
David Gallaher: And finally, everybody is scared of something… so what are some of the things that you find horrific?
Stephan Franck: SNAKES, man! Freaking snakes. I got this bad case of the flu when I was 6 or 7, and I had that fever dream in the middle of the night, where I thought the room’s floor, walls and ceiling where covered in snakes! A total horror show. I was really into snakes before, but I woke up in cold sweats, and I’ve had a total aversion to snakes ever since.
Volume 3 of Silver is currently approaching its goal on Kickstarter. You can find more information and support the project here.