Monday, September 21, 2015

Kickstart the Week with Silver Volume 2

By: Nicole D'Andria

This time I’m kickstarting the week with vampires from the 1930’s! Silver Volume 2 is a vampire tale set in Bram Stoker’s Dracula universe. I was also able to speak with the creator, animation director Stephan Franck (The Iron Giant, Despicable Me).

Silver Volume 2 is the follow-up to the award-nominated graphic novel about vampires. The story takes place in Bram Stoker’s Dracula universe 50 years in the future in the 1930’s. The story follows a team of troubled and talented members which includes master thief James Finnigan and Rosalyn “Sledge” Van Helsing. 

In this volume the team is aboard the Orient Express which is filled with vampires going to Dracula’s castle! The group plans on stealing an ancient artifact from Dracula’s castle. There also may be love blooming between Finn and Sledge but their romance may go down in flames if Sledge has an ulterior motive for her place on the team.

Silver Volume 1 and Silver Volume 2

Silver Volume 1 was nominated for the 2014 Russ Manning Award at San Diego Comic Con and is currently up for a 2015 Geekie Award for Best Comic/Graphic Novel. It also made comiXology "Essential Submit Reads" list.

The series is the first comic book creation of animation director Stephan Franck (supervising animator on The Iron Giant, storyboard artist on Despicable Me, story artist on How to Train Your Dragon and much more). He is the sole creator on the project, handling both the writing and artwork for Silver Volume 2 just as he did with Silver Volume 1.

Silver Volume 2 will be a black-and-white 112 page graphic novel priced at $12.99 and rated Teen +. It will be funded if at least $16,000 is pledged by October 8, 2015 at 2:59 pm EDT. The project is fully independently funded and 90% of it is already written. The pledges go towards printing, marketing and conventions. It will be published by Dark Planet Comics. 

For various amounts of money backers will received certain awards. A $5 pledge will get you a PDF of Silver Volume 2. With higher pledges you could also get page layouts, t-shirts as well as limited-edition prints from Silver Volume 2's splash pages, storytelling masterclasses run by creator Stephan Franck and CTN Expo 3-Day VIP passes. After the Kickstarter, backers should expect the second volume to be released over the holidays of 2015. Pledge the Kickstarter project here.

I spoke at length with the creator of the project and animation director Stephan Franck:

Stephan Franck
Me: Can you talk about the level of success you had with Silver Volume 1?

Stephan Franck: Silver was my first comic, and hailing from the world of animation, I had some anxieties about how it would be received. Fortunately, since the very first issue, the reviews have been excellent and the fan reception super enthusiastic. I have to say that the Russ Manning nom, which recognizes newcomers to the field of comics, also made me feel super welcome. Sales to the shops and conventions have been great, and digital has also been picking up nicely. There are international deals underway, and serious interest for a media adaptation. So Altogether, It’s been a very exciting ride.

Me: I know you said you met a ton of amazing fans. Can you talk about your most memorable experience with a fan of your work?

Franck: Sometimes, those encounters get very personal and even emotional, and I feel that disclosing those moments would be a bit of a betrayal. But generally speaking, the most touching conversations are with people for whom the story or characters have become real and meaningful, and a source of strength in their real lives. I also have great interactions with inspiring artists and love doing portfolio reviews. I like to seize on the positive and be encouraging, but always try to keep it real and push the person forward. Give them a glimpse of what a next step in their artistic development could be.

Silver Limited Edition Print

Me: This was your first comic book series. Why did you decide to go into comics?

Franck: I have been a huge comics fan all my life, and was equally working on comics and animation throughout college, until my animation career started and took over. Then, a few years ago, a French publisher approached me to see if I wanted to do a book with them. Originally, I was only going to write it, but by the time I decided not to do the deal with them, I had fallen in love with the art form all over again, and wanted to actually draw it too.

Me: Why did you decide to set Silver in the pulp era of the 1930’s?

Franck: The inspiration for Silver partly came from a lot of movies from the 1930’s and 40’s that I saw as a kid, ranging from Orson Welles or Fritz Lang masterpieces, to gangster movies, B-movies…. They all blended together into a black-and-white dreamscape of mystery and imagination that Silver is rooted in. There is also a mix of sophistication and innocence from that period that is well suited to the tone of the story.

Me: Can you tell us more about how Dracula is doing in this pulp era?

Franck: I actually don’t want to give away too much of what is revealed in volume 2. But I will just say that the loss of Mina Harker, which took place 40 years before our story begins, hasn’t been easy on him. In this new book, we also lift the veil of the mysterious world of vampires beyond the scope of what the Stoker novel showed us—what is their past, their traditions, etc...

Me: Who are the members of the team in Silver?

Franck: James Finnigan is the group’s leader. He is a questionable character who combines elements of the European gentleman thief with the great American con-man. We find him a pretty soulless person, but quickly discover that he is a lovable rogue. I like to think of him as a good guy trying to be bad. Mullins and Brantley are his usual accomplices.

To pull this job, they need to find someone who actually knows what to do with vampires, and that would be Sledge, AKA Rosalyn Van Helsing (Abraham's great daughter). As we meet her she is also a bit of a lost soul, whose life is misspent in cemeteries at night, making sure the dead stay that way… and who is a little too disconnected from the living for her own good. We also have Tao, an orphan kid with the gift of second sight, who will become a key part of the plan.

The last member of the team, and a favorite of mine, is Hamilton Morley, a washed out burlesque actor who moonlights as a con operator and struggles with his own feelings of failure and inadequacy. They are all adorably broken characters who use wits and a cutting sense of humor as a coping mechanism. This allows the story to have a fun sense of levity, even in dramatic situations, as the comedy springs from the characters themselves.

Silver Limited Edition Print

Me: One of the rewards for backing your Kickstarter is master classes taught by you. Can you talk a bit about what you will be covering in these classes?

Franck: The classes will be held at the Center Stage Gallery in Glendale (which is part of the CTN organization), sometime in the new year. The first class is mainly about writing, or “story with a capital ‘s’” as I like to call it. This covers story structure and esthetic. What makes a story work. How to pitch a story. How to introduce characters in a dynamic and interesting way. What makes the audience care about the story, etc. The second one is about visual storytelling. It focuses on two levels of skill: 1) to have the work communicate its ideas clearly, and 2) beyond clarity, making sure the art has impact (sensory and emotional). So, in other words, it’s the idea that when people look at your art, they must not only understand what is going on, but also be made to feel a certain way about it.

Me: You’ve also been a part of animation projects such as The Iron Giant and Despicable Me and fulfilled various roles such as animation director, supervising artist and storyboard artist (to name a few). Can you talk about the different animation jobs you have had and how they have differed from each other?  

Franck: I started out in hand-drawn animation as an animator, which specifically means that you are animating actual scenes in the movie, creating the character’s screen performance on top of the actor’s vocal performance. It is a very challenging job because you need to be in control of your drawing enough as to not be limited in the execution of the character’s likeness, the natural quality of their anatomy, attitudes and motion, or the acting choices. I can honestly say that I cried tears of blood learning that job.

From Stephan Franck's The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow

Then as a story artist in feature animation, you enter the world of writing. People often confuse feature animation's “story artist” with “storyboarder”. The story artist is a combination of storyboarding AND staff writing. You create characters, locations, story structure, dialog, set-piece moments, etc. It’s one of the most well rounded jobs there is artistically, and sort of a best-kept secret kind of thing. Story then led me back to writing proper, and directing. I love the macro of writing… the fact that you can write "the car explodes and crashes through the crowded mall” in about 10 seconds, knowing that the poor bastard who will have to draw it will be at it for days! Directing is something I love. It’s about creating a challenging yet safe environment for all your performers (artists, actors, and everything in between), where they can take chances and try their best and craziest ideas, knowing that you have their back.

Me: If you had to pick, what would you say was your favorite animated project to work on and why?

Franck: I have a couple of original animated features that have come really close to going into production these last few years… and then not so close… I hope they can come back to life someday, as I feel that they have a lot of relevance and artistic merit.

Me: How would you relate your experience as an animation director to your comic book work?

Franck: It is very similar in the sense that it’s all about visual storytelling, and the exact same principles apply. However, one is the ultimate collaboration and involves hundreds of people, while the other is completely solitary. 

Silver Limited Edition Print

Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book writers?

Franck: I feel that too many aspiring writers are misled by the desire to be original. But originality is not a thing. You are a unique person, so as long as you commit to your inspiration with honesty, the work will be uniquely you, and therefore original.

Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book artists?

Franck: Don’t be precious about your drawing. The best artists that I’ve been lucky enough to see at work fill trash can after trash can with perfectly good drawings. They’re just not the right drawing. They’re not being precious. Here too, it’s about looking for the truth. When you cling to a drawing, knowing in your heart of hearts that it’s not the very best you can imagine at that time, you’re acting out of fear, and holding yourself back.

Me: Do you have any advice for people trying to break into animation?

Franck: Artistically, the same advice as above also apply here. Tactically speaking, I will take this opportunity to plug the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank, CA, this November. It is THE place where all the industry gathers, and where studio artists both show their personal work and do portfolio reviews, where the studios take meetings, etc. This is a great entry point for people who wish to enter or reenter the industry, and there have been many many CTN success stories, including people being hired from overseas.

Silver Volume 2 Sketch Page

Me: Thank you for your time and not only comic book experience but your animation experience as well! You can pledge Silver Volume 2 on Dark Planet Comics’ Kickstarter here.

Do you have a Kickstarter? Want to be interviewed about it and have it showcased on “Kickstart the Week?” Let me know in the comments below or message me on my personal website  

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