The world is beset by amoral bloodsuckers, inhuman monsters who will stop at nothing to get what they want and will devour anyone and anything that gets in their way. And then there’s Dracula. “Dracula: The Company of Monsters,” a new ongoing series beginning in August from BOOM! Studios, written by Kurt Busiek and novelist Daryl Gregory and illustrated by Scott Godlewski, sets the infamous vampire against the power players of a major corporation. CBR News spoke with Busiek about the world of the series, heroes and villains and the parallels of feudalism and big business.
“The world is, at least on the surface, pretty much like our own. There was a Vlad the Impaler, prince of Wallachia, and he lived and, well, ‘died,’ more or less like he did in real history. But the events of ‘Dracula,’ the Bram Stoker novel, are also true – more or less, anyway; the bit about Dracula dying at the end is clearly not 100% accurate – but they’re thought to be fictional,” Busiek explained.
“What that means was that we’re rooting our Dracula in those sources, largely ignoring all that’s built up around the character from countless pop-culture interpretations, and going back to the core – which for us at least is two things: the Stoker novel and the life of Vlad III of Wallachia,” the writer continued. “But the world itself is the world we see around us, full of business competition and economic woes and politics and emotion and big companies and employees and so on. The history of Dracula is important to who the character is, but it didn’t change the way the world around us looks or functions. At least not on the surface…”
In this particular meld of fact, fiction and reinvention, Dracula is a famous name, though few suspect that he and his vampire brethren are real. “There are people, of course, who know of his existence, who know that there are things out there in the shadows that are beyond most humans’ experience, but most of them stay quiet about it, because those who aren’t quiet about it are treated as lunatics,” Busiek said. “So there’s a subculture that knows about magic and monsters, people very experienced in dealing with vampires and the other dangers out there. But they don’t make the news, for the most part.”
All of this is not to say, however, that old Vlad has been working as a behind-the-scenes player in world affairs since his supposed death. “As for Dracula being mysterious, he’s more a secret than a mystery (or is that DC territory?), because he starts off the series dead. So he’s not a mysterious operator, because he’s not operating…yet,” Busiek said. “He’s a legend, a story, a being that used to be, that those who know he was real still respect as a dangerous force, but most people have no idea he’s anything more than a horror-movie character and a Halloween staple used to sell everything from beer to children’s cereal.”
Having Dracula square off against captains of industry has the benefit of timely appeal, with Wall Street reform working its way through both houses of Congress and popular outrage riding high against some of the more predatory practices of big business. But, Busiek said, his story “dovetailed with current events” rather than being inspired directly by them. “The idea came from me thinking about Vlad the Impaler as a feudal lord, and how feudalism has a lot in common with modern corporations, from the top-down pyramidical power structure to alliances, wars, one group swallowing up another and more,” the writer told CBR. “But the parallel isn’t perfect – there’s a lot more freedom in the modern world, but also a lot less stability in terms of a normal guy’s expected work life. And Dracula – Vlad the Impaler, at least – was a very strong protector of ‘his’ people, who would probably see corporations as shockingly disloyal. But at the same time, he’s a brutal sumbitch who impaled his enemies, so it’s not like he’s a moral paragon either.
“That was the conflict that built the series. A feudal vampire lord versus a powerful corporation. Both of them have their good points and their bad points, making for a nuanced, interesting context for adventures and drama. Mix into that vampires, magic, action, technology, family issues, bloodlust and more, and it just gets better.”
As to how the conflict between Dracula and the businessmen emerges and the nature of the corporation, Busiek said that it’s all sparked off by a bit of hubris. “What we start with is Barrington Industries, a family-owned corporation that owns other companies, that have various interests and holdings, and somewhere in the depths of all that, it turns out that over the years, without knowing it, they’ve come into possession of Dracula’s resting place,” he said. “And Conrad Barrington, the head of the company, is very intrigued, and starts doing some research, and learns some of the secrets that most of the world thinks are just fantasy.
“Conrad’s not the kind of guy to let a powerful asset go unexploited, so he sets out to resurrect Dracula – under his control, of course,” Busiek continued. “The idea of having a vampire – Dracula himself – reporting to Conrad, doing his bidding, whether it’s killing off the competition or subverting and mesmerizing the other side in a merger negotiation, these are very attractive things to a power-hungry guy like Conrad.
“And Conrad is just egotistical enough (well, okay, way more than egotistical enough) to think he can control Dracula. He’s wrong, but by the time he learns that, things have gotten out of anyone’s control.”
Busiek added that the corporate structure of Barrington Industries would also play into the story of “Dracula: The Company of Monsters” as it unfolds. “These days, Barrington is mostly known for industrial robotics and biomedical supply, having worked their way up from a small tool-and-die operation. And that’ll come into the story somewhat, but more important is the structure of it, the layers of management, the workers seeing jobs outsourced, the top executives looking for profit at every turn,” he said. “What the bosses do is channel money and power; whether they’re leveraging a manufacturing operation or a hospital services company doesn’t change their approach.”
With Dracula on one side and Conrad Barrington on the other, CBR asked Busiek whether there were any good guys to speak of in the series. “Dracula sees himself as the hero, at least. Conrad would see himself as the hero too, at least to the extent that Conrad defines ‘good’ as whatever serves him and his shareholders the best. And there are vampire hunters who’d tell you that both of them are monsters; Dracula for being Dracula, Conrad for reviving him,” the writer said. “So who the hero is depends on where you’re standing, and on what’s happening at the moment. There are times Dracula’s very much the hero. And times he’s very much a villain.
“In the middle of all this is a young man named Evan, Conrad Barrington’s great-nephew and a junior executive at the company. He’s the one Conrad’s had doing research on Dracula and magic, so he’s right at the middle of everything that goes on,” Busiek continued. “He’s our viewpoint character, through whose eyes we’ll see and get to know Dracula, Conrad and the other forces that play a role in all this.
“At the start of the story, he’s definitely not the hero. By the end of the story, though, he just might be.”
Busiek also gave a few hints to what may be coming further down the line for the ongoing “Company of Monsters.” “You’ll learn about the Scholomance, the school of dark sorcery where Dracula learned the magic that transformed him into a vampire,” he said. “You’ll see corporate takeovers, vampire-style. You’ll see all-out firefights between a band of Romanian vampire hunters and the creatures reawakened by all that’s going on. You’ll get dangerous romance, the world’s coolest hi-tech vampire restraints, unleashed ambition, a very small dog, ancient magic unlashed in America today, desperate choices and a situation where, in order to do what he thinks is the right thing, one of our characters has to execute a triple betrayal. Plus, fancy cars, upscale restaurants and blood. Lots and lots of blood.”
For “Dracula: The Company of Monsters,” Busiek is teaming with “Devil’s Alphabet” author Daryl Gregory, who will be scripting the series. “Essentially, I’m the big picture guy, he’s the man in the trenches, doing the real work. My job is concepts and structure, his is bringing it all to life,” Busiek said of their collaborative process. “I’ve written what, for lack of a better term, is the series bible, and outlined the first twelve issues, planting ideas and concepts that could spin into stories beyond that. Daryl’s taking my outlines and bringing them the rest of the way, choreographing and dramatizing them, and putting his stamp, his vision, on the finished work.
“Since Daryl’s new to comics, I’ll be giving feedback and advice, at least at first, to help him with any part of the form he has a problem with – and Daryl’s got friends, like Chris Roberson, who are acting as a sounding board as well. But since Daryl’s a terrific writer, whose prose writing shows all the craft, impact, character drama, mood and power a series like this needs, I’m sure my feedback will become redundant very early on.”
Rounding out the team is artist Scott Godlewski, whose “Codebreakers” miniseries with Carey Malloy, also published by BOOM! Studios, wraps in July. “Scott did a character design for Dracula early on, to use as reference for the artists who’d be doing covers, working from notes I wrote up, mostly rooted in the descriptions in the Stoker novel and a few details about the historical Dracula. And he just nailed it – there were a couple of revisions, but not many. He just brought Dracula to life on the page really strongly right from the start,” Busiek told CBR.
“So when it turned out that he’d be available right around the time we’d need someone, that’s when ‘Codebreakers’ clinched the deal. He’s a wonderful storyteller with a strong sense of design, page layout, characterization, action and mood, someone who’ll make all his action and horror feel like it’s taking place in the real world, and all the more impressive because of it. Horror feels more real when you believe in the people and the setting, and Scott will deliver that beautifully.”