In a time when finding comics for young children has been said to be difficult, writer Josh Williamson and artist Vicente "Vinny" Navarrete have come to the rescue with a unique all-ages, 48-page hardcover graphic novel. Add to that the fact "Dear Dracula" is hitting the stands just two weeks before the spookiest holiday of all, and you have the makings of success. Williamson spoke with CBR News about his high-concept hybrid, the inspiration for the book and more.
"Dear Dracula" is an all-ages graphic novel from Shadowline that follows a young boy named Sam who writes to Dracula at Halloween instead of writing to Santa Clause at Christmas. "Sam wants to be a real vampire for Halloween this year," Williamson told CBR. "Sam is surprised to see that Dracula actually answers his letter and pays Sam a surprise visit.
"It's a Halloween adventure which is definitely geared toward a younger audience with adults still in mind, and I think captures that magic of a kid's imagination and just being a kid."
While the custom of writing to Santa Claus might be the obvious inspiration for a project like "Dear Dracula," Williamson says it actually started with the scary side of things. "Dracula himself was the beginning inspiration. I'd always wanted to do a book with him and started doing a lot of research on the legend," the writer explained. "After awhile, I started looking into his impact on our culture and how he was this pop icon. A few weeks ago I was talking to [Shadowline head] Jim Valentino about how Dracula has transcended the vampire mythos and struck out on his own so much so that this isn't a vampire book, but just a Dracula book.
"While I was doing all that," Williamson continued, "I started thinking about how much I loved Dracula when I was a kid, how much I thought vampires were cool, and the original novel. A lot of people don't know that most of Bram Stroker's 'Dracula' novel is actually a series of letters written by the book's main characters. I was thinking of all this when the title, 'Dear Dracula' popped into my head and it went from there."
A former comics retail employee, Williamson took inspiration for "Dear Dracula's" young hero, Sam, from a boy who visited his store with his grandmother every Saturday several years ago. "[They would] buy horror movie toys, and I'm talking slasher flicks here," Williamson said. "I guess his Grandma would take him to see scary flicks on the weekends and he just loved the guts and gore. I'll never forget the look in that kid's eyes as I handed him a bag with the latest Jason toy. I think we captured that same look in Sam's eye."
Josh Williamson and Vicente Navarrete have chosen a unique form for their graphic novel that makes it instantly clear that "Dear Dracula" will be more than just your typical kid-friendly comic. "The book is going to be a 48 page square hardcover," Williamson confirmed. "Its exact dimensions are eight inches by eight inches. A lot of work was put into the overall look of the book to make sure it was very visually appealing. I've seen an advanced copy and the format just sings."
While the concept of "Dear Dracula" would make for a fine children's novel, it was in deference to Williamson and Navarrete's creative roots that lead them to the unique form of comics. "We went with the hybrid of comic and children's book because we knew we wanted to appeal to kids and we were both fans of a lot of kids' books, but at the end of the day Vinny and I are comic book guys. That's what we know and how we saw it."
Despite the children's book approach, the creators make it clear there is no upper age limit on "Dear Dracula." "The book itself reads ages 6 and up, and it means it," Williamson said. "Everybody should be able to read this book and enjoy it. It's truly an all-ages book. I just love watching people read it and seeing little smiles crack on their faces. This is a book that can be read by kids, to kids, and by adults looking for a fun quick read."
The creators took pains to make sure "Dear Dracula" would touch all age ranges with some in-house product testing. "Every step of the way, this was shown to kids," Williamson said. "Vinny has a young niece who he showed the book to while he was working on it. She would ask questions and we'd take her thoughts into account. Whenever he had his younger cousins around or her friends he would show them pages to see what they'd say. Pretty much, if they liked something or laughed at something, we knew we were on the right track. After the book was done, we showed it to a bunch of people we knew and got some great responses from people with kids, and just people in general. Kids really seemed to enjoy the book."
Williamson also had one other target audience in mind as he wrote the book. "I wrote 'Dear Dracula' for the artist, Vicente Navarrete, and no one else could have drawn it. He is for sure an all-ages creator, that's where his passion is and it worked out really well for this book.
"I met Vinny while in college many years ago and have worked with him on and off since. We've only done a few short stories together, but never a full-on book. In the past, we'd help each other out with our independent comics, just a lot of behind-the-scenes type of stuff, but we always knew we'd do a book together. A few years ago we started talking about the 'Dear Dracula' story and we started brainstorming back and forth about the story, tone and overall design of the book. Once we both had an outline we liked we got to work on it. It took some time for us to finalize everything, and we were really patient each step of the way to make sure we'd get it exactly how we both wanted it."
"The art is great," Williamson said of his collaborator, "and he did some amazing things here, exceeding my expectations every time. Vinny busted his ass on this book. His work ethic is amazing; he just puts so much into each page. I sometimes can be just happy to see a cool page and settle on things, but Vinny kept us honest. He made sure that we did our best. It was really important that we both gave our all. It's funny, we'd argue over little things, like for example moving one word balloon or caption one tenth of an inch. But in the end it was all worth it. "
Williamson and Navarrete brought "Dear Dracula" to Shadowline for two reasons: "Jim Valentino and [editor] Kris Simon," the writer said. "I wanted to work with them for a really long time and tried pitching to them with no luck in the past. I'll never forget Jim's first email after I sent him "Dear Dracula," the first line he wrote was 'Ding Ding Ding, we have a winner!' The books Jim and Kris do are just amazing and I wanted to be a part of that. Also, having an editor like Kris and a comic veteran like Jim was very appealing; knowing that someone was going to be watching our backs, with our best interests in mind the whole time was very helpful. Also, I've been a big fan of Image since its inception, I've gotten at least five Image books a month, every month, from the beginning, and working with one of the founders was a dream come true."
If "Dear Dracula" finds its audience, there's an excellent change that Sam will be breaking out his pen and stationary once again. "We've been talking about doing another book to follow up on this one pretty much since we started," Williamson confirmed. "At the San Diego Con last year, it came up a lot in our conversations with people, so while everyone was out getting drunk at the Hyatt, Vinny and I stayed in our room brainstorming ideas for sequels and future books with Sam and this tone. Now, we have a few planned out and our taking our time in developing them, so the quality is the same."
In the meantime, Williamson and Navarrete are working on new projects, namely a couple of new kids books. "We both have new books with Shadowline that they might be announcing soon and a few other things we can't talk about just yet," he said. "Right now we just hope people love 'Dear Dracula' as much as we do, and have great Halloweens this year."
"Dear Dracula" is available now from Shadowline and Image Comics.