“Digital distribution makes independence possible” Stephan Franck discusses his new title Silver and Dark Planet Comics

silver1_coverStephan Franck wanted to make the move from animation to digital comics, but rather wait for the big companies to come knocking he decided to start his own – Dark Planet Comics – and release his own titles the way he intended them to be. Releasing their first issue, the magnificently monochrome Silver back in March, Stephan and Dark Planet are looking to take on the big boys at their own game with this 1930s infused horror/pulp adventure – with a familliar bad guy lurking at the centre. To find out more about the world of Dark Planet Comics we got in touch with Stephan hoping to find out some secrets from the world of Silver.

silver1_coverWhere did the inspiration for Silver come from?

SF: I love con men movies and especially the Rube Goldbergian aspect of the long con–which, without saying too much, is where Silver is headed in a huge epic way. So as I was wondering what would be the worst possible place for my con men to try and infiltrate, the world of vampires presented itself. Of course, the long con is all about “the greed”. So I had to figure out what the greed was for vampires. We know the lust is blood, but what is the greed? So there you have it–the greed is Silver. Why? You will find out in the next issues.

On a thematic level, I also felt that vampires and con men have a lot in common. They are both somewhat soulless and predatory, they live in the shadow, on the outskirts of society… I thought they were a natural match.

You’ve tied the book in with Bram Stoker and the Dracula myth, what inspired you to do that and do you worry about it being compared to books like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with also use Stoker as a reference point?

SF: One of the reasons I absolutely adore the original Dracula story, is for the universe that it creates. I was wondering what it would be like to continue the story INSIDE the Stoker universe–exploring a world where Dracula is not a household name. The first issue extends the world forward in time, into the pulp era of the 30’s. Soon, we will also move back in time–hopefully, creating a rich consistent universe with the Stoker story at its heart.

Regarding the second part of your question, Silver is a straight-on pulp/horror adventure story. It has a native, character-based sense of humor, but it is not any kind of post-modern social commentary. There is no distance with the subject matter. In that sense, it is probably closer to Raiders[Of The lost Ark] than it is to LXG. In Silver, the depth isn’t about social context, but about timeless human drama of the personal kind– father and sons, siblings, lovers, and how everyone struggles with issues of purpose, morals, and the elusiveness of feeling alive.

silver1_page10The book starts with a really action packed first chapter which makes it feel quite cinematic, did you pick up that idea from your time working on animated movies?

SF: I think I picked that up with movies in general. It was fun starting with a bang. What is also great about those kind of openings is that they introduce your character in action–which is a great way to dramatize character exposition. You introduce Finn by showing him try and do what he does best, and have the situation sort of get out of hands, which gives you a chance to reveal an even deeper layer.

The cinematic aspect is very important to me. Film language is how I know how to control the storytelling, and I approach the comic page the same way that I would storyboard a sequence–no bad cut, no weird jump cut, no crossing the line, controlling your horizons and eye lines, having a sense of what lense is capturing the action, etc… But most importantly, there always has to be a point of view. Whose is it, and what is the panel/shot about?

Speaking of your work in animation, how does animation differ from digital comics and what skills do you think are interchangeable? Are there any tricks you brought over to the world of comics in terms of pacing or structure?

silver1_page11SF: I started out as a 2D animator, and that kind of work tells you not to be precious or fussy about your drawings, because each drawing is only on screen for a fraction of a second. So in animation, the relationship between the drawings is more important than the drawings themselves. Here, of course, you do see the drawings, so they need to have an illustrative quality that is different from animation. Still, finding how all the shapes and lines work together on the page is not that different from how they flow from frame to frame.

Also, I originally wrote this story in a movie script format. Movie scripts are of course structured in 3 acts, but the rule of thumb is also to subdivide them in smaller sections that are about 10 pages each. Each of these sections have their own ebb and flow, and mini climax at the end. Each of those 10-page sections in the script becomes a 30-page chapter/issue in the comic. That gives me 12 issues that have great internal pacing, while they also fit together in the larger structure of the story.

The book has a brilliant low-fi feel that reminds me of Mike Mignola. Which artists inspire your style and why choose to make Silver monochrome? Was it stylistic or out of necessity?!

SF: Thanks! Mignola is a very flattering reference. Well, in terms of my influences, although I’ve always been in awe of incredible draftsmen like Neal Adams or Bernie Wrightson, I’ve always gravitated more towards artists whose drawing was a little bit more expressionistic, or you might say stylized. Through the ages, I would say Ray Moore, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Chaykin, Frank MIller, and yes, Mignola.

But the key for me was Will Eisner. When I was 13, I got my hands on a couple of Spirit books compiled by French publisher Humanoids Associés. Those were newspaper size, gorgeous black and white, with one shade of grey. I have never seen a better presentation of the Spirit. I still have those books today. They’re falling apart now, but they’re still my prized possessions. I always thought that if I was going to do noir, I would do it this way. Add to that all the black and white B movies from the 30’s and 40’s that captured my imagination as a kid, and you pretty much get the picture.

The zip-a-tone look, I thought would be a great homage to that period, and to the fact that a lot of those stories were printed in newspapers. Also, I thought the dots pattern would have a pop-artsy, more modern feel than a solid grey.

silver1_page17You published the book via your own publishing company Dark Planet Comics, how has the growth in digital comics helped you and what is your opinion on digital comics on PC and tablet in general?

SF: I think tablets are fantastic. The fact that you can access your comics or buy new ones from anywhere is just incredible. And it doesn’t preclude you from also buying the hard copy, which is what I do if I really like the book. As far as indy publishing, digital distribution makes independence possible, it’s that simple. Otherwise, the math of printing and shipping for small press is, shall we say… challenging.

Any plans to release the book in other formats (via ComiXology or another digital portal for example) and when will we see issue 2?

SF: Issue 2 should be out sometime this summer. The first 3 issues will be consolidated into a trade format, which will also go on ComiXology, and open up other digital portals (which don’t distribute “floppies”), as well as starting more robust print distribution.

sledgeFinally, are there any new characters you can let us know about in future issues and any plans to integrate other characters from the Dracula mythos into the book?

Well, in issue 2, we will meet a woman named Sledge, whose real name is Rosalynd Van Helsing. In Issue 3, we will learn new things about the Harkers, and see how their legacy ties into this. Then, of course, at some point, we’ll meet the Big D himself. My favorite character, however, is Hamilton Morley, and will also be introduced in issue 3.

Silver is available digitally via ComiXology for £1.49/$1.99 or as a print edition from via the Dark Planet Website for $3.50 (plus shipping). For more information on Silver and Stephan’s other work follow him on Twitter @stephan_franck