By Stephan Franck,
It very recently dawned on me that my entire relationship with comics—in all its various dimensions—is all about one thing. Family.
That thought began to form this year on the convention circuit, talking with fans about SILVER–the series of graphic novels I write and draw in which a descendent of Van Helsing’s teams up with a group of con men to rob Dracula’s treasure . I like conventions because I like meeting people, and at the shows, I meet A LOT of people. Within the last 4 years, I must have spoken with 10s of thousand of folks. They often come as families, and the interactions are almost always pleasant, but sometimes, they are very emotional, and a few are downright profound. Without betraying any private conversations, families have shared with us how they surmounted sometimes tragic events, and how a story that the family had become invested in together was what saw them through. The fact that they would not only share those real-life events with me, but also that these life-saving stories — some that I was lucky enough to contribute to, some that I created — helped them even in a small way is deeply humbling, and super emotional.4
And what’s really crazy is that had I only stayed with my animation career, I would never have known about any of this. Life inside the Hollywood studio is a strange paradox. It is obviously very collaborative, and working with a bunch of talented people is inspiring, but at the same time, it is very disconnected from the audience. You read box office numbers, so you get a sense of whether the work is connecting, but it is all statistics. It is very abstract. By contrast, creating comics is a very solitary experience. Sometimes, I open my Manga Studio file, half-expecting to find pages and pages of “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” But in the most unexpected ways, meeting the readers has completely redefined my own relationship with storytelling. It made me aware that those lucky enough to practice it are not just indulging their own creativity. There are actual people at the other end of the line.
The conventions have also become a thing in my immediate family. My wife Christina, a talented painter in her own right, is not only a staple at the Dark Planet booth, but also the back-office of this whole operation. Doing cons in many states means paying taxes in many states. Then there’s transportation, accommodation, inventory, accounting…There is a lot going on. My kids too, all got into it, as their own busy schedules permit, and if you visit us at shows, you probably know them by now, as well as the other usual suspects who work the Dark Planet booth, and who also have become family. When I came back to comics a few years ago, I would never have suspected that it would become such a wealth of shared experiences for our family.
But maybe I should have known. After all, my life-long love for comics started at my parents’ store. They were retailers, and when I go to France later this summer, I will go to their former store and buy the French Edition of SILVER Volume 1 there. Because sometimes you have to do these things.
I have been creating stories for a while, so to paraphrase an old, late friend of mine, if I don’t know what “my themes” are by now, I haven’t been paying attention. SILVER is about nothing if not about family. Finn is still trying to get validation from that bad father he could never please, and is stuck playing the role of “a good guy trying to be bad.” Sledge—Aka Rosalynd Van Helsing is also all about family. A family cursed with a certain tradition. Then, we have Tao, an orphan who needs a father figure that Finn can’t provide. The pull of the family gravity-well is undeniable, but does the family who does heists together stay together? We’ll have to see.
Which brings me to this Kickstarter for the printing of SILVER Volume 3 (and ROSALYND). The previous campaign (for SILVER volume 2) largely benefited from a number of commissions. This year, I unfortunately don’t have the bandwidth, so we decided to only offer a few. I thought I would get cute by doing a Dracula thing—pick your favorite on-screen Drac, and I will do my take on it. Well, my KS family—who has been following me with 3 campaigns now—didn’t go for it (only one got selected as I’m typing this). But I think I know why. My Silver tribe is invested in Finn, Rosalynd (Sledge) and Tao. Mullins, Ham, and the rest of the gang. That’s the family that they care about. Not some random Drac. In other words, they didn’t want cute, they wanted family.
Then of course, there is the Strange case of ROSALYND, the book I was not planning to write.
It all began with SILVER Vol. 3 – the scheduled new tome in the Silver story. In it, there is a flashback. A mind-trip of sorts. A sequence in which we visit Sledge as a child—Rosalynd Van Helsing—Rosie, as her family called her. The flashback ended and the Silver story continued, but I had found young Rosalynd too compelling a character. I couldn’t let her go.
That’s how I ended up surprising backers with a “double kickstarter.” Because Rosalynd was a story I just had to surrender to. And let me tell you, the surrender was complete, because not only is it the story of the Van Helsing family, but in a way that I never saw coming, it also became a strange meta-fiction about my own family. My grandfather Abram (early 20th century Russian, wandering Jew, doting father, unlicensed “practitioner of the dental arts”, and war hero), somehow became Abram Van Helsing, similar in many ways but the obvious one. A man burdened by a mysterious family tradition. A father doing all he can to escape “the life” and protect his family, only for said life to inevitably catch up to them.
After my grandparents were deported, my mom and her younger siblings had to survive—often on their own. Hidden children on the road. Processing the horrors of the world through their somewhat innocent eyes. I grew up hearing these stories (my mom Francine Franck wrote about them in a wonderful book called “Les Feux Follets De Bourg D’Iré” that you can read if you read French), and somehow, Francine became Rosalynd. To top it all off, yesterday we unveiled our first Stretch Goal, and it is an audio book of ROSALYND. Why? Because ROSALYND is about a child’s ability to process horrible events, and to somehow come out all right at the other end. It is told as a diary. First-person accounts in her voice. Hence the audio version. And in that version, I cast my daughter Adele to play Rosalynd. Not out of convenience or vanity, but out of self interest, because she is a terrific actor, and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, inhabits the role.
So there you have it. My Kickstarter story, from my family to yours.
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