Based on pure instinct, you’d probably think a world with vampires wouldn’t be too fun, but it seems that modern scribes don’t see it that way. These days, vampires are more likely to be tortured souls than to actually torture someone. They’re sex symbols instead of scary. For those who like their vampires with some teeth, Desperado Publishing & Image’s new comic book “Renfield,” a 192 page graphic novel shipping in November, is the answer. Written by industry legend Gary Reed, the book was originally slated to be published at Caliber, but found a new home at the two aforementioned companies. The title of the graphic novel comes from a crazed inmate in “Bram Stroker’s Dracula,” who you might remember as the guy who ate bugs. To learn more about this ambitious project, CBR News caught up with Reed, who was happy to explain why Renfield is so perfect as the lead in a graphic novel.
“Renfield served a very important role in the novel as he was sort of a barometer of Dracula’s comings and goings and Stoker used Renfield to give us clues about what was going on,” Reed told CBR News. “Renfield served a number of different roles and while Stoker did a good job of using the character, if you read it thoroughly, Renfield really is just a tool that Stoker used, but used effectively, to handle situations. All of the major characters of Stoker’s novel are in the Renfield story. I was very careful about making sure that the characters were true to what Stoker did but of course, I embellished some of them quite a bit. And on others, I reduced them to minor roles. My goal in doing the story was to weave in and out of the original novel and add to it rather than try to re-tell it. It’s rather funny as I have a number of reviewers who say it’s an adaptation of the novel. But it’s not. Very little in the Renfield story appeared in the novel. I mean, sure, there are connecting bridges but essentially everything in Renfield is new. But I actually take that as a compliment as that means I was successful integrating Renfield into the novel. My story is all about Renfield and the novel serves as the background. Renfield is either in every scene of he is witnessing the scenes. Another review mentioned that he felt it was more of a story about Dr. Seward, which I didn’t understand as Renfield is on virtually every page but Seward, for example, is only in a few panels on the last 45 or 50 pages. But maybe he made a connection there. So, that’s good as well. It’s good that people can see different things in the same body of work.”
Tales about Dracula usually don’t come at him from this angle, instead often featuring a hunter chasing after Dracula or focusing on the Big D himself. For Reed, the appeal of Renfield was being able to examine Dracula, and vampires as a whole, from a wider perspective and to really give the titular character in “Renfield” some of that screen time he didn’t get in the novel. “I don’t think the name Dracula is never even mentioned in the actual story, perhaps one or two of the letters,” admitted the scribe. “There are a lot of people who know the Dracula story but haven’t actually read it. It was handed down over generations through pastiches and films. For example, in the Stoker novel, Dracula could go out in the day time. It wasn’t until the film ‘Nosferatu’ came out that sunlight was poison to a vampire. And most movies have Renfield as a lackey for Dracula but until the very end, Dracula and Renfield had never met. So, I used the novel as my version of the Dracula character and built it from there. And that meant I used Stoker’s version of vampires rather than the sexy and alluring ones so commonly portrayed nowadays. I mean, think about it, a vampire is a beast that’ll suck your blood dry and in the ancient legends, tore through your flesh to do it. But the creature has metamorphosed over the years into something entirely different.
At the heart of the story, there’s the issue of sanity, whose definition has been the fodder for many stories over the year. It’s also a very real problem in the real world and one that Reed is approaching maturely, taking into account all the facets of the issue. He’s been interested in the subject since a young age when he snuck into an asylum and saw what is was like in a real sanitarium. Losing a loved one to such issues spurred him to research the subject on his own, which he continues to do to this day. “Contrary to what Tom Cruise says, most mental illness is a chemical imbalance,” contended the author. “Hormones in your body control virtually everything including the brain so if something’s out of whack, it can have deleterious effects. Look at all the diseases because of hormones such as the various thyroid problems and some forms of diabetes. Same principle of a chemical imbalance. It has been pretty well established that insanity, a generalize term for many different mental illnesses, are usually because of some kind of defect in neurotransmitters and those are pretty much the same as hormones. Hormones are dumped into the blood whereas neurotransmitters go directly from cell to cell but they’re the same chemical in many cases although they may have different effects. Just shows you how complicated the human body is.”
“One aspect that I did do with Renfield in the graphic novel that did not appear in the Caliber comics was to utilize journal notes, letters, clippings, and other correspondence. The Dracula novel was narrated in the epistolary style which was using letters and notes. The style was popular in the past but the only recent book I can think of that used the same style was Stephen King’s Carrie. So, I incorporated that by having letters and journals at the end of each chapter.”
With that mature, grounded approach in mind, don’t expect the horror in “Renfield” to be similar to that of your typical Hollywood horror film. “There’s no massive blood-letting, no slashing of flesh, or anything like that,” Reed said, “The horror is subtle and based mainly around a normal man, Renfield, who is well educated, seemingly set in life, who becomes plagued with visions. He knows he’s going insane but at the same time, he has discovered the purpose in his life. He is to be one with the “Master” and he moves from receiving vision to receiving understanding. We all know that Dracula gets life from blood but Renfield gets just an inkling of that…he is trying to correlate how life can be consumed to lead one to immortality. That’s why he eats the bugs. By eating their life, he adds it to his own. It’s a twisted way of looking at it but he’s trying to piece it all together. I wouldn’t say the book is heavy in philosophy but these are all intelligent people here. We have doctors with a patient who is well read so they would talk in a more sophisticated manner.”
Aiming to keep the book sophisticated, don’t be surprised to see some subtle philosophical debate in “Renfield,” along with very honest discussion about religion. Anyone paying attention to the mainstream news knows that religion is a lightning rod for conflict these days, so the well-educated Reed is making sure to deal with the subject objectively, pointing to the original “Dracula” novel as an example of religious debate. “Dracula represents the pagan past, steeped in superstition, whereas Seward, Van Helsing, and the others represent Christianity with their crucifixes and communion wafers,” explained Reed. “I think the trigger for me was when Renfield was willing to eat the animals to get life but he didn’t want their souls. He was in the middle, fighting to obtain immortality but not at that price. Renfield was sort of in the role of John the Baptist, the messenger of the one that is coming. It made sense to me. That’s what I built the story around — a man ‘given’ the gift of prophecy and the promise of immortality but it was balanced. When he begins to realize that in order to live this immortal life, others must die, Renfield faces the dilemma that will define him.
“I’m sure some people might be offended on connecting Dracula with a Christ like figure but I would hope readers would realize that’s what Renfield feels. I’m not making a theological statement here, but interpreting a fictional character. I don’t know how many people remember when Mel Gibson was called a homophobe as he had the King in Braveheart throw a homosexual out of the window. Some people took that as Gibson resenting homosexuals. It was a character, the King, who wanted to eliminate a guy who was influencing his son– that’s all. So, I’m not really worried about anybody taking offense at the religious views of Renfield. If they do, they can take it up with him or Stoker, not me.”
Providing the beautiful art for the book is Galen Showman, who worked with Reed in the past at Caliber and earned acclaim for his work on “JLA: Age Of Wonder.” Once his schedule opened up, Reed quickly snapped him up for the project, knowing that the talented artist would bring his vision to life. “Galen instantly understood that this was a book about a man in a horrifying situation, but was not a surface appeal horror book,” said the scribe. “He liked working from my full script which gave him a chance of how I was developing things and like most good artists, he offered suggestions. Many were absorbed into the script and the final version. He just had a good sensibility, about things, subtle things that good artists will do. For example, in the scenes where Renfield is in his cell, we would have crowded panels and lots of panels on the page with very little movement of the characters to give the sense of confinement. Outside the asylum, the art would open up a lot, conveying the freedom that was present there. And of course, he had to capture the Victorian feel of the times. Not just the architecture but we wanted that Victorian era sensibility– that was the time when the world was changing from one of superstition and ignorance to one of science and technology.
“Galen is a bit of a perfectionist, and by that, I don’t mean anal retentive, but he never sacrifices one panel for another. When we were getting this book ready for Image to send to the printer, Galen went through and did some re-lettering that he wasn’t happy with and fixed up a lot of panels and redrew some characters and even added a page that he thought would make a scene better. Galen is a writer’s dream artist. I guess the best way to put it is that I have some projects that I’d like to do and if I had the opportunity to work with Galen on those, I’d jump right on them.”
With the release of “Renfield” only a couple of months away, you can be sure that Gary Reed is anxious to see what fans think of the finished product, but don’t expect to be getting a sequel out of him ” It’s a complete story. It has a beginning and an ending. As much as I loved doing it and how happy I am with it, I can’t see going back to it. There just wouldn’t be any justifiable reason to do so. It was funny when Penguin had me do some graphic novels. One of them was ‘Dracula’ and I did that one with Becky Cloonan. I think it was 170 pages or so but it was probably the easiest graphic novel I had done as I knew the story so well. Of course, having the chance to work with Becky made it even better. Overall, I have to say that I’ve had some great artists to work with– Galen, Becky, Guy Davis on ‘Baker Street,’ Vince Locke on ‘Saint Germaine,’ and many others. I have to tell you, it makes writing so much easier when you work with artists who are gifted at telling stories and not just doing pinups.”
However, fans of Reed need not worry that they won’t get their fix of his work, as he’s got a number of projects coming out in the next year. “After ‘Renfield’ comes out, I have more ‘Deadworld’ to do and I have ‘Doctor Syn’ with Tom Mandrake which I’m really geeked about,” he revealed. “I have a couple projects in the works, one about an interrogator which will be drawn by Mark Bloodworth and a book about Charles Darwin with Chuck Bordell. As always, there’s a lot more just not the time to do them all.”
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