In his debut graphic novel Silver, animator Stephan Franck draws on early pulp tradition for a fun and fast-paced supernatural thriller.
Every new story, no matter what medium, requires a certain suspension of disbelief, and it seems like the bar is being set higher all the time. Among fans of a certain age (call us the “MST3K Generation”), the mere sight of a dated black-and-white thriller – the milieu of femmes fatales, handsome rogues, and gruff detectives who really should know better – can set our camp detectors tingling.
But animator and first-time graphic novelist Stephan Franck obviously remembers the swashbuckling excitement of those cinema classics, and thanks to the first collected edition of his fast-paced thriller Silver, we can too.
While Franck’s non-funnybooks career includes work on such acclaimed titles as The Iron Giant and Despicable Me, Silver is a passion project in the fullest sense. Franck raised the funds for this collected edition (encompassing the first three extended chapters) through Kickstarter and is publishing it through his own Dark Planet Comics. The first print run of the paperback sold out almost immediately and earned Franck a nomination for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer award.
If you’re looking for echoes of Franck’s animation work in Silver, they’re not immediately apparent. Instead, the writer/artist picks one of comics’ favorite settings – cities in general, and New York City in particular – and turns the clock back to 1931 for what initially seems like a typically seedy black-and-white noir thriller.
A gruff FBI agent interrupts a charity auction for the Harker Foundation on the hunt for a notorious rogue named James Finnigan, who inevitably becomes the “hero” of our tale.
And that’s when the games begin.
While modern comics have us accustomed to more decompressed storytelling, Franck loses no time throwing us into the midst of the action. That’s one of the benefits of playing with a character type as familiar as the debonair thief. Even though you don’t know anything about Finnigan as an individual at the opening of the story, you’re immediately drawn in by the mounting tension of the cat-and-mouse plot.
Finnigan’s self-deprecating humor and grand plans also add a nice touch of levity to the story – perhaps the closest tie to Franck’s animation roots. This is a story that’s meant to be enjoyed and offer a sense of escape, and it delivers.
Given his time in the animation world, it should come as no surprise that Franck’s art is a big part of the fun of Silver. The slightly caricatured body types and stark use of shadows remind me of a pair of Argentine crime comic greats, Eduardo Risso and José Antonio Muñoz, with a dash of Mike Mignola’s faux-steampunk costume design.
Franck knows his medium. Each panel is carefully composed with attention not only to plot, but also to the page as a whole. He’s also not afraid to use an inventive perspective when it serves the moment, which adds to the melodramatic fun of it all. It’s the type of perfectly paired art that makes you wonder why there aren’t more black-and-white adventure books on the stands.
While the early pulp tradition is the most significant inspiration for Silver, it’s not the only one. After the set-up of the first chapter, it becomes apparent that the dark shadows of Finnigan’s world hold more than just cops with a grudge. The gradual inclusion of elements from Stoker’s Dracula expands the world of Silver in an exciting and satisfying way without ever coming across as bad fan fiction.
This first volume does just what it should: get better as it goes along. That’s due in large part to the introduction in chapter two of Rosalynd “Sledge” Van Helsing , a fiercely independent character who’s following in her famed grandfather’s footsteps. Finnigan’s failed attempts to win her over in far from the greatest of circumstances make for one of the most humorous scenes of the book.
According to this volume’s Kickstarter, we have nine more issues to go before Silver reaches its conclusion. If Franck can keep up the momentum he’s built in this first volume, fans of stylish supernatural thrillers that are light on the angst and heavy on the fun have plenty to look forward to. Look for the latest information at the Dark Planet Comics site.
Stephan Franck (W/A) • Dark Planet Comics, $12.99