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Silent Duo: Van Lente & Ellis on The Silencers' Digital Success

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Several years ago, Fred Van Lente and Steve Ellis jumped onto the indie comics scene with The Silencers, a book about a band of mafia with superpowers. The Silencers wasn’t only an instant hit for the creators, it was also a breakthrough project for upstart publisher Moonstone Books.

After leaving Moonstone and taking The Silencers to Image for a second volume, the book fell on hard ground, ceasing publication after the first issue. It seemed The Silencers was going down in history as countless others before it: a hidden gem with lots of poise but lacking the big-time readership to stay alive.

But then dawned the age of mobile comics. After agreeing with Comixology to put The Silencers on the iPhone, Van Lente and Ellis saw their first born become one of the most read sensations on Apple’s popular device.

BF decided to bring the silent duo back together for an interview to reflect on The Silencers past and present success.

BROKEN FRONTIER: How often do you two still keep in touch?


STEVE ELLIS: Fred and I talk every so often, in fact we just had lunch the other day. When I moved out of Brooklyn for a while we didn't see each other often. I also stopped working in comics for a while to pursue other career fun, like games!

FRED VAN LENTE: And it's certainly been exciting to see Steve's star rise ever and ever further in the comics firmament. I couldn't have gotten my start in this business without him, an established penciller for DC and Marvel taking time off from that to do our crazy creator-owned projects like TRANQUILITY and THE SILENCERS.

So, whenever I see his name in the news or people praise HIGH MOON to the heavens it warms the cockles of my heart. Whatever the hell cockles are. 

BF: Have you been keeping track of each others’ work a lot? If so, name the other person’s issue/book/project you’ve enjoyed most and tell us why!

ELLIS:
I've been really enjoying Fred's work on Incredible Hercules. It's a really fun book and reminds me a lot of things we talked about doing with Marvel characters way back in the old Brooklyn days. Herc has always been one of the most fun characters out there, but I never thought anyone could sustain a series with him. Greg and Fred have done a great job.

VAN LENTE: HIGH MOON would be the obvious choice, but I'll say also I really enjoyed the Destroyer story in the recent USA COMICS one shot. Nobody draws Nazis getting punched in the face quite like Steve Ellis. 

BF: Are there any special anecdotes about the time you were doing The Silencers?

ELLIS:
We had a lot of good times making the characters. A lot of love went into each character and I think the sheer excitement and fun we had making the book is the thing I remember most. There were a lot of times drinking late nights at a local pub in Brooklyn and busting out layouts and designs for the Silencers.

VAN LENTE: Yeah, totally. We first came up with the original concept at Steve's kitchen table in New Jersey. He let me sleep in that kitchen before we all moved into Brooklyn together. It was just me and his roommate Stew's mannequin. Sounds strange, but the kitchen was the biggest room in that apartment, which was over an old fashioned small-town pizzeria that made to this day the best meatball subs I've ever had.

I had just dropped out of grad school which, in all honesty, was a thrilling move for me. It was a time when, if you'll pardon the cliché, life was full of exciting possibilities, and Silencers was definitely one of the most exciting things to come out of that period.
 
BF: What are the odds of you guys doing another project together?

ELLIS:
I think we'd just have to find the right situation to work up a project. Timing and publisher and project. Hint Hint....

VAN LENTE:
Yeah, Marvel, you reading this? It would certainly be a full circle for my own career. Steve gave Mark Paniccia, who was then an editor at Tokyopop, SILENCERS at a con. He really dug it, and when he moved over to Marvel he contacted me about writing for this AMAZING FANTASY anthology he was editing.

I came up with the new female SCORPION, then MODOK's 11 (which with its super-crime motif is kind of a companion piece to THE SILENCERS, if you think about it), then HERC, and the rest is, as they say, history.

BF: For people who missed out on The Silencers the first time, can you reiterate the 101 about the plot?

ELLIS:
Cardinal, the head of the superpowered arm of the Provenzano crime family in NYC is looking to find out who is trying to overthrow the family. With his team, the Silencers being picked off one by one, he has to race against time to find out who the turncoat is and get revenge super-mob style.....

VAN LENTE: I hear the art is pretty good, too. 

BF: How did it finds its way onto the iPhone?

ELLIS:
I was in touch with David from Comixology, who was interested in working with David Gallaher on a new project (Box 13) and he asked me if I would be interested in getting THE SILENCERS on the Iphone. I was already familiar with his app, and I thought it would be a great way to reinvigorate a project I loved. It turned out that Fred had been contacted by another company for a similar iphone treatment, but we decided to go with Comixology.

VAN LENTE: Coincidentally, Ryan Dunlavey and I had also been talking with David about putting our ACTION PHILOSOPHERS and COMIC BOOK COMICS strips onto the iPhone, and now Comixology is their iTunes home as well. It's one big happy family!

BF: Could this digital success pave the way for more Silencers stories? If I recall correctly, the Image volume wasn’t fully completed the way you guys wanted it…

ELLIS: Possibly, I'd never say never with these guys....

VAN LENTE: "Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in!” Sorry, couldn't resist...

The Silencers for the iPhone can be purchased at comiXology here.

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