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Comic Books: A Family Affair

Fairfax family’s comic book business starting to take off.

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Scenes from "Dracula Vs. King Arthur."

Super heroes, vampires and time-travel might seem like fantasy talk to some, but for the Beraneks, it’s completely professional.

Silent Devil Comics, an independent publisher of comic books, is headquartered in Fairfax. “Headquartered” really means that Beryl Beranek works from her Fairfax home as a business manager for her sons’ business and has a hefty pile of comic books stacked in her garage. Her sons, Adam, 31, Christian, 32, and Nicholas, 24, are off in far-away lands — Richmond and Los Angeles — pursuing their dreams to turn comics into careers.

And it’s working.

The guys released a comic series in 2005 that has become their first cult-classic: Dracula Vs. King Arthur. “It’s our flagship,” said Nick Beranek, a 2001 Fairfax High School graduate.

The brothers are currently writing a screenplay for the popular series, which features the ongoing struggle between a vampire and a knight. The screenplay is a vision into the future of Silent Devil. They want to visualize their comic books via different media, and film is a medium the brothers focused on creating.

It’s tough to break into the film business, said Christian Beranek, but the brothers have their feet in what seems to be the right door.

“We’re kind of living the goal right now,” said Christian Beranek, the founder of Silent Devil Comics.

Multimedia is the future of Silent Devil, and it’s a long way from where the comic book world was in 1996 when Christian Beranek first had his business vision. Back then, the Internet wasn’t what it is today, and “it was still kind of a mystery, how to make comics.”

“We sort of learned the hard way,” said Christian Beranek. “It was a lot of trial and error in the beginning.”

What wasn’t trial and error though was the brothers’ business model. Christian Beranek got things rolling, and Adam and Nick Beranek didn’t come aboard until a few years later, but the guys all agree that Silent Devil was and will always be a haven for creator’s rights. It means the brothers aren’t greedy when it comes to the authors and creators of comic books that Silent Devil backs and publishes.

“Our key thing is creators maintain their own rights for their work,” said Nick Beranek, the Web master. “We didn’t want them to think [creators] were selling their soul to us. They still have ownership rights to their stories.”

Christian Beranek said Silent Devil obviously wants to make money, because it’s a business like any other, but the company is more hands-on, he said. Some companies buy an idea and it becomes theirs to alter. At Silent Devil, “we want to build up, rather than just take away.”

Too often, creators put “their heart and soul into projects,” and the companies get rich while the creators have to “nickel and dime,” said Adam Beranek, president of Silent Devil.

“They’re the ones creating it; they should have a majority of the rights,” he said.

CHRISTIAN BERANEK’S FULL-TIME gig is Silent Devil. He’s living in Los Angeles, running around from studio to studio, trying to get the film projects rolling. Adam and Christian are working on the screenplay for “Dracula Vs. King Arthur,” which they expect to complete around October. They partnered up with a film production company, Comflix, and they’re really excited about the possibilities.

“They take the images out of the book, and add animations and voiceovers,” said Nick Beranek. “They’re slogan is ‘bringing comic books to life.’”

The slogan sums up exactly what the Beraneks are looking to accomplish. Silent Devil has auctioned a bunch of its “properties” for film, said Adam Beranek, and now they’re waiting for things to take off. But they company isn’t trying to slide from one medium to another. Its goal is to expand.

“At the end of the day, how we got here was because we made good comics and graphic novels, and we’re not going to stop doing that,” said Christian Beranek.

And Beryl Beranek, from the comfort of her Fairfax home, is crunching numbers for her sons’ business on a daily basis. In December 2005, after the “Dracula Vs. King Arthur” phenomenon blossomed, Silent Devil needed some help handling the company’s finances. Beryl Beranek had just retired, so she volunteered. Now Mr. and Mrs. Beranek’s basement and garage looks like a comic book store.

“Christian calls it the East Coast warehouse,” said Beryl Beranek.

Beryl Beranek ships orders from the home and does the accounting work there too. She’s been known to pick up a book and read it too, since she likes to know what her sons are creating.

“Some of them aren’t for the faint of hearts,” she said.

Nick Beranek said some of the earlier Silent Devil books are somewhat dark, but in recent years the company has been producing works that could reach the masses.

Beryl Beranek remembers when Christian would make comics by drawing stick figures on notebook paper. He was about 5, and he said his drawing skills haven’t really improved.

“I want to draw badly, and I do draw badly,” said Christian Beranek.

So that’s why he and Adam stick to the writing — something they both have done since an early age. Beryl remembers Adam’s first story. He was about 9, and he wrote a story called “Marcus the Carcass.” It was about animal cruelty.

“He’s always been aware about things that have gone on that aren’t right, especially toward animals,” said Beryl Beranek.

When Christian was a sophomore in high school, she remembers telling his English teacher that her son wanted to be a writer.

“The teacher said, ‘Oh, Mrs. Beranek, he is a writer,” Beryl Beranek said.

All of her sons have sacrificed a lot to make the business happen, she said. Christian Beranek is full-time, but both Adam and Nick Beranek are working multiple jobs in addition to Silent Devil. Adam Beranek works as an accountant during the day, and he’s a pizza delivery driver at night. “It helps pay for the company,” he said.

Nick hasn’t quit his day job yet either, but he’s optimistic Silent Devil will someday pay the bills.

“These are exciting times for us right now,” said Nick Beranek.