When Spring rolls around this April, all the tell-tale signs of renewal after the winter months should start hitting. Flowers will grow out of the cold ground, birds will return to tree branches singing, and the dead will rise from their sleep to feed on the blood of the living.
Okay... maybe that last one won't literally happen, but Dynamite Entertainment is making plans to resurrect a story of such horrific acts - in fact, the story of vampirism - in the form of the five-issue miniseries "The Complete Dracula" by writers Leah Moore & John Reppion and painter Colton Worley.
Based on Bram Stoker's ubiquitous Victorian horror novel, the comics adaptation will include scenes and segments usually left on the cutting room floor when the "Dracula" tale has been reinterpreted by modern creators, including the so-called "lost first chapter" of the book, the "Dracula's Guest" short story.
"Dynamite came to us with the idea of doing a complete version of the story with all the bits that are normally edited out, all the characters and scenes that we're all so used to seeing excised, kept in. It was one of those moments where we realized that, although it was going to be hard, we really couldn't bear to stand by and let anyone else do it," Reppion told CBR News. "We worked out that we could divide the book more or less into five parts (roughly five chapters per issue) but we knew that we were going to need more than just the standard 22 pages of story in each."
As a result, each issue of Dynamite's "Dracula" will feature 32 pages of story underneath its John Cassaday covers, as well as eight pages of back matter from script treatments to reproductions of Stoker's original papers.
"I think the enduring appeal [of the original novel] is the idea that Man doesn't know everything about the world he lives in," explained Leah Moore. "When Dracula was written, we were coming up to a new century, and science and technology were taking over from industry as the big thing which was changing the world. People could send a telegraph to the other side of the world in only a few minutes, people could have electric lights, record sound on phonographs; so many epoch defining inventions that they must have felt much as we do now, that there is no limit to what the human mind can accomplish.
"Count Dracula is that bit of our mind that knows we haven't got all the answers. We are still scared of things that go bump in the night, even with al our rational logical thinking; there is still an older animal part of us that fears the unexplained."
Moore continued, "When Jonathan [Harker] goes to Transylvania, it is like he is stepping back in time. Stoker presents it as a place full of superstitions and simple rural people, but it becomes clear that they know more than Jonathan does. He doesn't believe any of it until it is much too late. 'Dracula' kind of tells us not to become complacent, not to assume that we have seen it all, and that people we consider technologically less advanced than us might actually have an advantage where the unknown is concerned."
Perhaps the most unknown piece of the Dracula tale is "Dracula's Guest." Originally published after Stoker's death, the short story tells the tale of an Englishman's encounter with vampires while in Munich, on his way to Transylvania. While the lead character is never explicitly identified as "Dracula" protagonist Harker, it is generally believed that the story was originally intended to serve as the first chapter of the novel, which is where Moore and Reppion will place it in their adaptation.
"I think the main value of 'Dracula's Guest' for us, is that it gives us a starting point for the character of Jonathan," Moore said. "At the start of the main novel, he travels to the castle and we don't really get much idea of his life before he leaves for Transylvania. 'Dracula's Guest' features an Englishman with very loud outspoken views on the supernatural, on local traditions, superstitions, folklore. The character is not necessarily Jonathan, but if you think of Jonathan as being like that, it seems somehow more fitting, more poetic that he should be plunged into this insane world of Vampires and wolves and the undead. He then becomes the Victorian gent who is not only scientific, but is attracted and repelled by the supernatural. Table rapping and seances were never more popular than at the same time we were discovering new species every day, new medical conditions and procedures, and exploring the world. Maybe we like to think there is always something we haven't found yet, just to give ourselves something else to aim for next."
Moore & Reppion believe much more subtext can be found within the pages Stoker's "Dragula" novel than simply adventurous turns. "Something that I'd totally overlooked previously and that I was really pleasantly surprised by is the 'battle of the sexes' element to the story," Reppion noted. "Mina is undoubtedly the heroine of the novel, but she is ignored, excluded and doubted at every turn simply because of her gender. The interplay between Mina and Van Helsing is particularly telling; outwardly, he patronizes her but, behind closed doors, he seems at times to be working against her. The overriding theme is that of progress and, though there are hiccups here and there, progress is portrayed as an overwhelmingly positive thing. Dracula is a last vestige of the unlighted, pre-industrialized world, and dangerous though he may be, in time he too will be destroyed by Empire and progress.
"The message is rather a frightening one really: join us or die. I suppose that was what a lot of British people felt like in the late 1800s; like they were on the verge of something huge and masters of a brave new world."
Leah Moore and John Reppion come to "Dracula" with eyes new and old, as each writer holds their own unique personal history with the Dracula story. "I was given an abridged audio version of 'Dracula' for my tenth birthday by my uncle Martyn (the same uncle who lent me 'The Dark Knight Returns' and 'The Killing Joke' soon afterwards)," recalled Reppion. "I used to try to listen to it in bed at night but I'd always fall asleep and lose my place (it was a lot harder to skip through the chapters when things were still on tape). I'm sure I had read the novel in the intervening years but when we came to start work on [Dynamite's 'The Complete Dracula,'] I was amazed to find that I could remember some parts of the book almost word for word. I think I must have adsorbed it subliminally as a sleeping ten-year-old."
"Despite English lit school exams, an English lit degree and reading all books I could get my hands on, I hadn't actually read 'Dracula' until starting this project," Moore added. "I had seen Murnau's 'Nosferatu' film (1922) and Bela Lugosi's 'Dracula' (1931), and of course loved 'Lost Boys' ('they're only noodles Michael...') and later 'Interview with a Vampire,' but I hadn't read 'Dracula.' I think unless I had been forced to read it really carefully I would have missed half the nuances in it. It has so many throwaway lines, or scenes that don't seem important, but that would have resonated so much with their audience. You can't read it as a modern novel, it's a period piece, but once you're in that mindset it really comes to life."
Bringing life and style to Dynamite's adaptation of the novel falls upon Colton Worley, a newcomer who's done some comics work including pin-ups for Ben Templesmith's "Wormword" series. Drawing on traditional pulp trappings to present an eerie, memorable version of the Dracula story could only come in painted, form according to Leah Moore. "We knew it had to be painted, right off the bat. When you see the classic film posters with the beautifully painted under lit characters, the rich colours, it brings the story to life in a very lush way. Even the edition we read for the adaptation had a painting on the cover by Edvard Munch called 'The Vampire' which has very lush colours and great atmosphere.
"We wanted all that but in a comic, which to be honest is a tall order. Ask any artist how long it takes to do pencils or pencils and inks and they will check their calendar, not their watch. Colton's work got sent over to us and it was obvious he was perfect for the job. He paints digitally, and his work has all the richness and depth we were hoping for and more. He is also really fast, and great with communication, so we can really work together to make the book all it can possibly be. What we asked for is drama atmosphere and depth, and Colton has delivered way past our expectations."
As for what readers can expect in terms of the look of the classic vampire count, the artist's interpretations of Dracula will be drawn directly from Stoker's descriptions and their many variations throughout the original text. "Dracula starts off with white hair and a white moustache, but then gets younger and stronger and his hair darkens again, once he has started feeding in London," Moore explained.
Of the other cast members, she said, "Jonathan begins as a smart young solicitor's clerk, sent off on a mission which he hopes to make his mark with, and returns a broken husk of a man. His appearance changes drastically later in the book as his experiences affect him more and more. We made Mina brunette because she is a solid sensible girl, and we made Lucy a blonde even though it says she has black hair in the book. We figures that having a raven haired beauty would make her look too gothic to begin with, and she needs to be a total innocent at the start to contrast with later on when things go horribly wrong. She is a typical bubbly blonde, with lots of suitors a sunny disposition, and a wealthy family. She is not as practical as Mina, and seems to have an easier life than her overall. They are stereotypes, but they kind of make it easy for the reader to get a grasp of the characters, that's what stereotypes are for, I guess."
On the story end, the Dynamite miniseries broke evenly into five issues as the pair of scribes took the epistolary format of the novel to heart in more ways than one. "The thing is, we decided early on that the way we were going to think about the story was to imagine that the collection of documents typed by Mina, telegrams, memorandums, etc which Stoker wrote about, were actually collected in a real dossier," Reppion said. "Stoker had access to them and created his novel based upon them. We had access to them and based our comic book on them. Neither narrative contradicts the other in any way - indeed we hope that they compliment each other very well - but you might see or 'hear' some things in slightly more (or less) detail in one or the other."
"The Complete Dracula" #1 goes on sale in April from Dynamite Entertainment.