This week, Image Comics’ Desperado line of comics released a new graphic novel version of the Renfield series that writer Gary Reed and artist Galen Showman first did in the early 90s for Caliber Comics. It stars Renfield, from Bram Stokar’s Dracula novel. Renfield is an intriguing character to choose, because as Reed points out, he is a highly misunderstood character, as later versions of the story have changed Renfield to basically being Dracula’s lackey, which wasn’t the case in the novel. The series uses the classic literary tradition of showing us the scenes we didn’t see in the novel (while working in parts of the original work, as well). I always get a kick out of stories that try that trick, but more so when it is done well. Luckily, it is done well in Renfield, and the result is a creepy story that is still filled with a good deal of class.
A concern with the series it the fact that Renfield spends the entire time of it inside an insane asylum, so there’s not exactly a lot of variety for Reed and Showman, but they handle the confines of the asylum well, and exploit the creepiness of it all (especially Renfield’s bug obsession, which Reed nicely transforms from the sheer gross out effect of Stokar’s work to an integral part of Renfield’s persona – nicely done there).
Besides these creepy scenes, Showman’s art is effective, but not exactly stylized. He gives the story a clean, crisp feel. It reminds me a bit of the artwork on Y The Last Man, less because of an actual distinct similarity between his work and Pia Guerra and Goran Sudzuka, but more from the perspective of how the Y artists generally do not draw the reader’s attention to the artwork, serving instead to let the writer take control. Just be professional and let the story take precedence over the artwork. That’s how it appears in this story.
Since he is paying such close attention to the framework of the novel, there are a number of story constraints that Reed is working under, but he manages to do a nice job of escaping the boundaries of the story when he can – particularly dream sequences, which play a major role in this series.
Each chapter opens with two pages of letters/journals/etc. to tell the larger story. It’s an effective exposition device, and it lets Reed avoid taking time away from Renfield.
All together, this is a nice study in a man tormented by his (literal) inner demons, and trying to do his best to break free from the madness – knowing that even if he did, the result would be poor for him.
I would recommend this graphic novel.
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