Adam Beranek (Col ’01) admits that his company, Silent Devil, an independent publisher of comic books, was the hobby that took more time than it should have.
Now, however, Beranek is gladly taking more time for it. His graphic novel, Dracula vs. King Arthur, co-created with his brother, Christian, has become a bestseller, been optioned for a screenplay, and is being adapted into a role-playing game. Talks are also under way for a video game adaptation.
The Dracula vs. King Arthur concept was originally two separate ideas that somehow coalesced. Initially, Beranek envisioned a story about vampires killing mobsters. He also had an idea about a vampire in King Arthur’s court, a play on the Mark Twain classic, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
“My brother said, ‘Why don’t we have the top vampire in Camelot?’” Beranek recalls. “When doing the research, we discovered that the similarities were perfect, and we juxtaposed that into the story. The first five pages show Arthur for the better and Dracula for the worse.”
The plot has Dracula journeying back in time to Camelot. There, he meets the sorceress Morgana Le Fey, Arthur’s sworn enemy. The two form an unholy alliance and conspire to bring about Camelot’s downfall, transforming Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot into vampires. Dracula also steals Excalibur from Arthur. The Knights of the Round Table broken, Camelot invaded and destroyed, Arthur seeks out the Lady of the Lake in one last desperate attempt to rid his land of Dracula’s evil.
It took the Beranek brothers three years to get everything “down pat” as they researched countless books, movies and Web sites about the two legendary characters, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and the 1981 movie, Excalibur. Their Dracula research centered on the character Vlad the Impaler, an actual historical figure on whom Stoker based Dracula.
“We wanted to portray Dracula as more of a military leader,” says Beranek.
To date, Dracula vs. King Arthur has sold roughly 50,000 copies, a respectable feat for an independent publisher. It has drawn comparisons to the Marvel Comics’ classic Iron Man stories in the 1980s, in which Iron Man and the villainous Dr. Doom travel to Camelot.
“It’s definitely the title we’re most known for. We’ve had people who picked it up say, ‘How come no one thought of this before?’” says Beranek.
He points out the stigma attached to comic books—that it’s for geeky kids with Coke-bottle glasses and pocket protectors—is out the window.
“Comics have a cult status. People can relate to these stories. It’s brought lots of people into this industry as well,” he says, naming Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and New York Times bestselling novelist Brad Meltzer, both of whom grew up reading Marvel and DC Comics. “Entertainment Weekly and Maxim publish comic book reviews. A long time ago that would’ve been unheard of.”
Growing up, Beranek says he read comics like Iron Man, G.I. Joe and Transformers, but was more into movies, particularly those of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
Christian was the bigger comics fan. “Christian had 20 long boxes of Marvels and DCs. He sold 80 to 90 percent of his collection to get startup money for us to be able to create our own comic books. He’d rather create something than sell secondhand stuff,” says Beranek, who always had a day job to fund Silent Devil, having worked as an accountant in the Richmond, Va., area.
Founded in 2000 and based in Fairfax, Va., with operations in Los Angeles, Silent Devil is truly a family business: Beranek’s younger brother, Nick, is the Webmaster and his mother, Beryl, is the business manager. “When we get into disputes over stories, Mom’s the level-headed one who keeps us from fighting,” he adds.
Asked what makes Silent Devil stand out among other comic book publishers, Beranek says, “We’re all about creators’ rights. We want to be signing everywhere and getting our books out there. We do 40 to 50 shows per year to meet people and have fun creating comics. People recognize that. We stand out because we’re persistent.”
He continues, “When our first movie comes out, I will be a happy camper … I’m just having fun and creating cool stories people can read. Getting feedback from people on how much they like our work is an awesome perk.”