Children the world over are in the habit of writing letters to Santa Claus, asking the jolly old man for presents. But what if you're not interested in Santa coming to town, preferring instead to have a more terrifying visitor over for a decidedly spookier holiday? For a young boy named Sam, his own Halloween wish is to have his favorite monster, Dracula, over for a visit and to become a real vampire. Of course, things don't go exactly as planned for Sam or his new monstrous best friend in writer Joshua Williamson and artist Vicente Navarrete's 2008 graphic novel "Dear Dracula" from Image Comics and Shadowline.
While their story began four years ago, Dracula and Sam are making the jump from the printed page to the world of animation courtesy of "Wanted" and "The Amazing Screw-On Head" producers Kickstart Productions. The film was written by Brad Birch ("Johnny Test"), directed by Chad Van De Keere and stars Ray Liotta as Dracula, Nathan Gamble as Sam, and Emilio Estevez as Renfield. Cartoon Network will air the 61-minute CG animated movie as part of their "Spooky Specials" Halloween programming on October 16 at 7pm, or it can be purchased on DVD right now at Wal-Mart with a wider release planned.
Comic Book Resources caught up with Williamson as he was packing for this weekend's New York Comic Con to discuss "Dear Dracula's" road from comic book to animated movie, the initial impetus behind the book, his latest creator-owned title "Masks & Mobsters" as well as what he has coming down the pipe.
CBR News: For those that don't know anything about the original story, give us an idea of what this is all about. Why will fans of animation (and Halloween) want to tune in to the animated "Dear Dracula" movie?
Joshua Williamson: The Hollywood pitch has always been a simple one: A little boy writes to Dracula at Halloween instead of Santa Claus at Christmas.
The star of the book is a young man named Sam, who is a self-proclaimed number one Dracula fan, writes Dracula and asks him to come make him a real vampire for Halloween. Dracula actually shows and takes Sam on an adventure. Really, if you're an animation fan you'll get to see a really cute, family friendly cartoon -- but if you're a Halloween fan, this one is for you. It's a nice treat for my favorite holiday.
I know it was optioned several years ago, but how did the movie actually come about? And as someone who has published several creator-owned books, but this marking your first work that's actually been adapted outside of comics, what was the process like to actually see the option become something real? Were you involved or did the producers and the network pretty much do what they wanted?
We met Kickstart at the San Diego Comic Con the summer before the book came out. They immediately took an interest in the property, and we started talking. Almost all of my creator-owned stuff has been optioned at some time or another. At one point Cartoon Network optioned one of my early creator-owned books "Necessary Evil" for their live-action initiative. And that was an interesting process with a lot of ups and downs, that resulted in the show not getting past the scripting stage, so ever since then I've been hesitant with getting my hopes up. For a bit there was a lot of back and forth about what kind of movie it was going to be. Lots of producers and studios were interested and then eventually it was decided to create a made-for-TV movie that would help build a franchise.
Now seeing it... it's surreal. We've seen this from every step, the script, the designs, the storyboards, voice recordings, to the final product in our hands. Holding the DVD in my hands feels really... small. Not just that it isn't real, but that this idea that Vinny and I came up with has become this bigger thing that a lot of people worked hard on. To me it's just the beginning of a lot of good things for Vinny and I.
We were more involved in the beginning than in the later stages. Helping them with the story and trying to transform it into a new media. Working on the script, consulting and giving notes, but after that it was all Kickstart.
Is there anything you would change if you could?
Mostly story elements and few design things, and some animation stuff. [Laughs It sounds like a lot, but there are just a few small things here and there. I've become really critical of anything with my name on it in recent years. Looking back I wish it had been traditional animation and not CG.
When I first heard Ray Liotta was doing the voice -- I was like "HUNH?" but then I was excited because I love when actors are challenged to do the unexpected and work outside their normal zone. We always heard Bela Lugosi or The Count from "Sesame Street" as the voice of Dracula -- with a hint of Vincent Price. It's funny, Liotta is pretty much doing a Bela impersonation, but you can hear hear his voice and his attitude throughout.
Yeah, my fears were pretty quickly put aside when I heard him speak in the trailer. It's definitely not him doing "Goodfellas" minus the language. On the story side, how closely did writer Brad Birch stick to the original book? Did you work with him at all during the process or did he adapt it according to his own needs and preferences?
Brad sticks pretty close to the book for the first half and started to fill in here and there. The book is a really simple story for kids, so there was a lot of room to add more. We did a lot of notes in the script, and tried to guide it the best we could, but there were certain things that we were just inexperienced at so Brad worked on that and got it across the finish line.
Has the story been expanded from the book, or does the scope remain largely unchanged?
Because we wanted to go with a bit of a wider appeal a few new characters are added, but for fans of the book you'll see it stays really close for the beginning of the movie. The movie starts to deviate in that we expand on Dracula and Sam's trick or treating adventure and they eventually go to a Halloween party together that's being held by a girl that Sam has a crush on. I'm happy with a lot of the directions they took to build the story for an hour-long feature.
Was Vinny involved on the art side, or did they just take his original work on the graphic novel and run with it in this CG world?
They took our designs and ran with them. A lot of design changes were made to take it into the world of CG because not everything translated well, but like I said earlier, I wish it had stayed 2D. But that's mostly just a personal opinion. You can see a lot of the same charm in the cartoon that Vinny put into the original art.
Regardless of how high-concept the hook of your stories are, one of the things I consistently enjoy about your work is this emotional honesty your characters have. So while a number of your books may feature easily-digestible, high-concept setups, the stories themselves are anything but fluff. How do you find that anchor as a writer to prevent a story with a strong hook from becoming, say, "Snakes on a Plane?"
Thanks! I'm glad to hear you say that. It's sort of how my bran works. I went to school for graphic design and worked in Hollywood for a while. A lot of what I learned was how ideas and concepts need to be able to be absorbed at 60 miles per hour. We only have a few pages to sell and hook a reader. But yeah, it can't be all big ideas. Once you grab the reader you need to make sure you can hold on. Something that keeps them hanging around. So for me I try to write stuff that I'd enjoy. I love big character moments. Once I get the idea I start building the world and its characters, so that they seem interesting to me. It's the hardest part and where I think a lot of Hollywood goes wrong.