Few powers are as terrifying as Dracula, history’s most famous vampire-unless, of course, one considers the clandestine lords of the earth, the ones operating out of huge towers and fancy offices, the business moguls who wield incomparable power and not always with the keenest regard for the human consequences of raising the bottom line. “Dracula: The Company of Monsters,” the ongoing BOOM! Studios series co-written by Kurt Busiek and Daryl Gregory with art by Scott Godliewski and Damian Couceiro, sees the Lord of Vampires resurrected in the modern day to do the bidding of a dubious multinational corporation; Dracula, of course has other plans.
The first trade paperback arrives in stores January 26, and CBR is pleased to present former BOOM! Studios Chief Creative Officer and veteran writer Mark Waid interviewing Busiek about the first arc of “Company of Monsters” and what’s coming up next.
Mark Waid: So tell us about the arc past the elevator pitch part. How’s Dracula coping with the 21st century?
Kurt Busiek: He doesn’t think much of it.
But he’s not overwhelmed or intimidated by it a bit – he just thinks we screwed everything up, we don’t understand the obligations of power, and all we really need is a strong hand to set everything right. That strong hand being his, of course.
So he’s going to show us how it’s done. By force, if necessary. If he has to take over the world and enslave everyone in it to restore the proper balance – where nobles take care of the people beneath them, because it’s those people’s labor that brings the nobility power – that’s just fine with him. He wouldn’t trust anyone less than himself to run things.
Although he may see some possibilities in young Evan…
What is it about this story that really appealed to you and made you want to tell it? How long have you been carrying it around in your head?
I’ve been carrying around the root idea of vampirism versus corporatism for probably about twenty years now, figuring out different ways to play it.
What it hooks me with is the way it allows Dracula to be Dracula – full-on, bad-ass Dracula – but leaves the question open of whether he’s the hero or the villain. As an autocratic, power-seeking monarch who kills anyone who gets in his way, he’s certainly a villain, but Conrad Barrington isn’t all that different, except that he feels no responsibility whatsoever to his employees. Dracula may be harsh, and he may see people as property, but at least he protects his property. On the other hand, well, he sees people as property, so…
It’s an interesting dichotomy. Dracula’s not a good guy, but is Barrington Industries worse?
That’s what puts the juice into the story, making it more than a straight adventure. And that’s what keeps me coming back to the idea, and glad we’ve gotten it in print. It’s a different angle on Dracula, but at the same time, one that lets him flourish as the character he’s meant to be.
How much of a social commentary is it on the nature of big business in modern day, and how much is just cool horror?
I don’t think it’s “commentary” so much as “exploration.” But that said, I don’t think it’s a balance between one and the other, The big business stuff is the context, and the horror-adventure is the substance – they work together simultaneously. We never stop the adventure to preach at the reader – and indeed, we don’t have a sermon to preach in the first place. It’s an interesting situation in which to tell a story, not a speech or an essay, so we don’t have a conclusion to draw. Corporatism versus feudalism versus vampirism – which is better? That’s not where we’re going. It’s more a case of playing with the similarities, and seeing what it does to the characters caught up in it.
So the cool horror is what happens, it’s our story, from beginning to end. The social exploration is what makes it go, what makes it interesting in today’s world. You need both of them, working together, to give the whole thing resonance.
What’s it been working in collaboration with your co-writer, Daryl Gregory?
It’s been a dream. Daryl doesn’t write the way I would, but he writes beautifully, with confidence and a lot more restraint than I have. Everything I put in the outline – and I mean everything – is making it onto the page, but through Daryl’s approach far more than mine. It’s a blast to see it.
When I get a script in from Daryl, going over it is a treat – I’m not reading it like an editor, but more like a reader, just rolling through it with pleasure. And when I have comments, suggestions, they’re little things, along the lines of “You could use an extra caption here,” or “‘Scholomance’ gets a definite article, ‘The Scholomance,'” or “You might want to break that into two balloons.” Really minor stuff. And if I have three comments like that, that’s a lot, for this book. One or two is more like it.
Simply put, Daryl is either just a really natural comics writer, or he’s making it look easy. I’m glad to be working with him on “Company of Monsters,” but he doesn’t need me — I think he’s an A-list writer in the making, and BOOM! should snap him up for other series before Karen Berger or Scott Allie or Tom Brevoort does.
One last question, at the end of this first arc where do Dracula and the rest of the cast go from here?
Well, spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read #4 – and if you’re considering buying the first book collection, don’t read any of this portion of the interview, because you’ll want it to be a surprise – but at the end of volume One, Dracula’s free, Conrad’s dead (or…is he?), Evan’s caught in the middle of the whole disaster, there are vampire hunters in town, angry at him, his fiancee is pulling him in one direction, Dracula in another, Barrington Industries is teetering on the brink, and drastic action has to be taken. But Evan’s not exactly a drastic action guy. He’s more of a huddle-in-the-corner-and-fret kinda guy.
But that’s not going to work any more. If it ever did – look at where it’s gotten him.
The whole “Company of Monsters” storyline I outlined is three books long, so volume one is, essentially, Act One. Now we’ve got all the players on the board, we’ve got things moving, with disaster on the way – it’s time to make things worse. Dracula’s setting his agenda in motion, striking back at the modern world with a modernized take on his feudal beliefs, Conrad’s set stuff in motion that may be even worse, and the vampire hunters want nothing less than scorched earth, and who cares who goes down as long as Dracula goes down with them? And in the middle of this all is Evan. He can’t Hamlet around much longer, but in a three-way fight, any step he takes in any direction brings the other two sides down on him.
So it’s time for mystic palaces, vampires in the streets, impalements, blood, family ties, blood, magical secrets, guilty sex, blood, family ties, Chinese food, blood and puppies. All building toward a blowout finale in which no one’s sure who’s on what side, and Evan holds the key to victory.
Does he step up? Does he make the right choice? Is there a right choice? Will he survive it? Will anyone?
These are “wait and see” questions, of course. But I will say that Evan takes some pretty decisive action. And it amounts to lighting a fuse. Maybe more than one.
Should be a lot of fun.