Today, Stephan Franck launches his Kickstarter to support the fourth and final Silver trade that is four years in the making. This series is as noir as you can get, rendered in black and white and dealing in supernatural themes. It focuses on a group of conmen and a sword-wielding descendent of Van Helsing out to steal Dracula’s treasure. As a group such as this tends to do! We got a chance to talk to Franck about Silver and the future of this series.
AiPT!: Hi Stephan, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’m a sucker for artists who utilize Ben-Day dots to add texture. How do you approach this aspect of the art? Did you ever use Zip-A-Tone?
Stephan Franck: It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me! The visual presentation of the book is rooted in the subject matter itself. Silver takes place in an original universe inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The story takes place 40 years after the events of the novel, in the noir/pulp era of the 1930s. We follow the adventures of James Finnigan, a con man/master thief, as he teams up with Rosalynd “Sledge” Van Helsing (granddaughter of you-know-who), as they attempt to steal a mystical treasure hidden in Dracula’s castle.
So while there is a natural human quality and a modern sensibility to the characters, I really wanted to celebrate the film noir and the pulp adventure at the heart of it. So the Ben-Day look connected the visual presentation to the newsprint look of the 1930s adventure strips, giving it a sense of vintage and mystery, while, at the same time, also bringing a modern pop-art cool feel to it. It was also an interesting challenge to limit myself to black, white, and one level of grey (Mostly, because I introduced glows and a few black gradients here and there). But what people don’t always realize is that even in a complexly rendered image, like say Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein, if you were to blur the details away, you would be left with basically one value of grey (somewhere between 15 and 20%)m, in between the black and white. What is also really cool, is that that same transitional tone sometimes takes a different visual meaning in different situations. For instance the grey could be used as shadows on a white object, or as highlight on a black object. So really, there are endless combinations of those simple elements.
To answer the last part of your question, I’m glad I can paint the dots in digitally, as I tried using the physical zip-a-tones sticky film years ago, and I’m not nearly coordinated enough to make that work.
AiPT!: Is your approach to Silver different than when working on a cover or comic that you know will be rendered in color? How do you approach all the shadows and use of black? It’s gorgeous!
Franck: Thank you! The danger with black and white books is that they will end up looking like coloring books, meaning color books missing their color. So with Silver, my goal was to create a black and white look that was a final, definitive statement. There are definitely a few tricks to making a page with heavy blacks work. One of them is to be very mindful of tangents; otherwise, the shapes start to merge visually from panel to panel, and destructure the page.
AiPT!: From whom did you draw influence when you first started in comics? Are these the same sources of inspiration you use today?
Franck: I had different phases in my formative years. First, it was Kirby. The power, the sci-fi, the cosmicness… It was incredible. And as far as the Marvel bullpen is concerned, I also love Gene Colan. In fact, rereading some Colan Daredevil recently, which I hadn’t looked at in decades, I was shocked by how much of his visual language had stuck with me. Then, I discovered The Spirit when I was 12, and for a few years, it became all Eisner all the time. In fact, I even did and animated short of The Spirit back then (I put it up on YouTube recently, so look it up if you dare…). Then, by the time I started college in the mid 80s, the Frank Miller/Allan Moore generation re-invented the great American novel in comic form, and that became my true north. Something I always aspired to do, and still do today.
AiPT!: I’m instantly brought into a noir feel from the book, obviously from the black and white, but there are other noir themes in Silver too. Are you a fan of film noir and have you drawn inspiration from any films or pulp novels when working on Silver?
Franck: Yes I love film noir. I love that it’s about characters caught in existential crises. Anti-heroes, if you will. That’s what we have in all the characters in Silver. They all suck at life in different ways when we find them. Finn steals from a children’s charity, Sledge spends her night in dilapidated cemeteries keeping corpses in their graves, Dracula is stuck in a post Mina funk that has him lost in morbid existential contemplations… So they all need redemption, but it comes at a heavy price they may not all be able or willing to pay. I feel that the choice between redemption versus damnation having to be made by characters at the last fork in their road is a quintessential noir theme.
AiPT!: I understand you also work in animation which begs the question…does Silver need to be a cartoon?! Or maybe a TV show. If you could choose a director, not yourself, to tackle the project who would it be and why?
Franck: While I’m very excited at the prospect of seeing a screen adaptation, all my focus right now is on making Silver the best book it can be. Once the four volumes sit comfortably in their awesome slipcase, I will feel very accomplished and will turn my attention to what comes next.
AiPT!: What do you wish someone had told you about the comic business when you first started?
Franck: Coming from animation, I was a little intimidated at first. I wish someone would have told me how fun and satisfying it is. As far as advice, in hindsight I don’t think I would change anything.
AiPT!: You’re three trades into Silver with the fourth coming soon on Kickstarter. What are the chances of an omnibus?
Franck: The chance are good, but before that, we will be offering a box set with a really awesome slip case that will collect, protect, and display the four trades in style.
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