Dracula has been a fixture of our collective consciousness for over a century, since writer Bram Stoker first introduced the vampire to readers in his seminal novel. Stoker’s story has inspired creators for decades, putting their own indelible mark on the character and his world.
One such writer is Kim Newman, acclaimed creator of the Anno Dracula book series, which envisions a world very different from Stoker’s ending for the original Dracula novel. Newman’s count and lord of vampires doesn’t die in Newman’s world, but instead spreads vampirism across the face of Great Britain and, eventually, the world.
Newman has expanded his Anno Dracula world into comics, with this week’s Anno Dracula: 1895—Seven Days of Mayhem #1 from Titan Comics. Mr. Newman spoke with me recently about the conceit of the series, adapting his vampire tale to comics, and what we can expect from the series going forward.
FreakSugar: For folks unfamiliar with the world, how would you describe the universe of Anno Dracula?
Kim Newman: The premise of the original novel, Anno Dracula, is that Dracula wins. As in Bram Stoker’s novel, he moves from Transylvania to England in 1885 – but rather than get distracted by pursuing the wife of a provincial solicitor, which gets him ignominiously chased out of the country and killed in Stoker’s book, he defeats Van Helsing and co. and rises in society, eventually ascending to the throne by marriage to the widowed queen and inspiring the spread of vampirism through all levels of British society. This inspires all sorts of other vampires to come out of the woodwork and try to cash in on Dracula’s regime. That’s about all readers coming to the series through the comic will need to know, and there’s a handy recap flashback within the first issue. The plot of the first novel involves Stoker’s Dr. Seward becoming Jack the Ripper and killing vampire prostitutes in Whitechapel, which brings together a bunch of characters with an interest in these crimes and various agendas to pursue. Later books take place at different times and in different places throughout the 20th century, following the global effects of Dracula’s schemes and what becomes known as the Vampire Ascendency.
FS: Where do we find the characters and the state of the world in Anno Dracula: 1895—Seven Days of Mayhem #1?
KN: It’s ten years into Dracula’s rule of the British Empire – a significant aspect of the series is the terrifying ’what if?’ prospect that the worst person in the world unexpectedly takes command of the most powerful nation on the planet – and there’s a grand Jubilee Celebration afoot. But, of course, there are plenty of anti-Dracula factions out there who’d like to see the back of him. Not all vampires support his regime, and even many of his allies – like Lord Ruthven, his Prime Minister – aren’t exactly comfortable around him. After a prologue set at sea, the whole series takes place in London, so we’ll get to see what the city is like with vampires on every corner. I pick up some of the main (and minor) characters from Anno Dracula, though I hope they all get introductions here – but a few new characters are joining the series, some of whom might stick around for the future … though, things being as they are, there will be casualties too.
FS: What can you tell us about Kate Reed, one of the story’s protagonists? Beyond wanting to bring down Dracula’s reign, does she have any other motivations for joining the Council of Seven Days?
KN: Kate is a character who was named by Bram Stoker. In his notes for Dracula, he intended that Mina Harker, his heroine, have two best friends, Lucy Westenra – who turns into a vampire and gets killed – and Kate. In the event, Kate didn’t make it into the book so I found room for her in Anno Dracula, where she was a supporting character, then elevated her to leading lady for The Bloody Red Baron and later books. She’s the most prominent of the four female characters I decided to foreground in Seven Days in Mayhem. I developed her character by assuming Mina as a center and Lucy to one side, then considering that Kate should balance Lucy, who comes across as flighty, privileged, interested only in marriage and a beauty – so Kate is socially responsible, a career girl (as a journalist – later a revolutionary) and a small bespectacled red-head (gingers were considered hideous in the 19th century). She’s also a vampire. When Lucy turns, she becomes a monster – so Kate is a rare vampire to be exactly the same person she was when alive. I modeled her a bit on Victorian feminists like Annie Besant, Beatrice Webb and Nellie Bly. I also made her a Dublin protestant, like Bram Stoker. In the comic, she’s working underground for the revolution but fed up with some of her comrades. She has a new boyfriend, Paul Muniment (a character I copped from Henry James), and she’s keeping busy as ever.
FS: Novels and comic books are different animals. What was the shift like adapting the world of Anno Dracula to comic form?
KN: The series so far has predominantly used third person viewpoint, though all the novels have narrated stretches – Dr Seward’s phonograph journal in Anno Dracula, Mata Hari’s confession in The Bloody Red Baron, a hardboiled private eye sequence in Johnny Alucard. The comic uses interior monologue narrators for each scene, and much of the detail work that the books are known for can literally be painted on the walls. You can tell a lot about the world from art direction, or a row of advertisements, or clothes worn by background extras. I thought a bit about that and then just tries to write a tight story – I cheated the timescale a bit so more than could really happen in a few days is crammed in just to keep the plot momentum up. I don’t know if it’s directly because of writing the comic, but I’m working on a new Anno Dracula novel at the moment and it’s the first of the series to be predominantly a first person narrative. I’ve also carried over one of the characters introduced in the comic – Christina Light, the Princess Casamassima – who is shaping up as a major player in the Anno Dracula world.
FS: For folks who are already fans of the world of Anno Dracula, are there any Easter eggs you’ve sprinkled in along the way in 1895?
KN: I love the crowded panels of vintage MAD Magazine, so I’ve done a little of that. A few characters who’ve been in the books show up again – and I prioritized bringing back Graf von Orlok, who I made master of the Tower of London in Anno Dracula, because I know artists love drawing him. He’s the version of Dracula from the 1922 movie Nosferatu, with the bald head, rat-teeth and pointed ears. I made a slight switch for contrast – Anno Dracula was set mostly in Whitechapel, whereas this looks to Soho, Limehouse and the Tower. I’ve brought back one of my favorite characters, vampire social climber Penelope Churchward, and am playing a bit more with some of the famous or infamous Victorians (we meet a conclave of master crooks later on). Oh, and watch out for the mysterious Irma Vep. I love Paul McCaffrey’s design for her – melding the French movie serial look from 1915 with the supervillainess styles the original Irma influenced – that I’d like to do more with her sometime.
FS: The history major in me adores alternate history tales. What kind of research goes into a story like this or your other novels?
KN: It’s pretty intensive – not just reading history books and novels of whatever period I’m exploring and looking stuff up online, but listening to music of the era, looking at design and fashion, reading contemporary news sources, making connections between the high and popular culture of the past with what’s going on now and thinking of ways to look again at familiar characters.
FS: The art is stunning. What was the process with working with Paul McCaffrey to decide on the look of the book?
KN: Unusually, I’d fully scripted the series before an artist was assigned – so my process has mostly been looking at the pages as they come in and being impressed with them. I did provide a document full of art references and links, directing Paul to passages from books or movie sequences.
For instance, here’s what I gave Paul for the sequence which introduces the Council of the Seven Days.
Characters frim The Secret Agent, by Jospeh Conrad: Mr VERLOC, MRS VERLOC, ALEXANDER OSSIPON.
NB: VERLOC’s shop is described in Chapter II of the novel.
The book was filmed by Hitchcock as Sabotage and later more faithfully under the original title – the VERLOCs might look a bit like Oscar Homolka and Sylvia Sidney in the roles (Bob Hoskins and Patricia Arquette in the remake – Toby Jones and Vicky McClure in the recent BBC-TV version).
Here’s Conrad on Ossipon (note the suggestion that he’s mixed-race): ‘Seated in front of the fireplace, Comrade Ossipon, ex-medical student, the principal writer of the F. P. leaflets, stretched out his robust legs, keeping the soles of his boots turned up to the glow in the grate. A bush of crinkly yellow hair topped his red, freckled face, with a flattened nose and prominent mouth cast in the rough mould of the negro type. His almond-shaped eyes leered languidly over the high cheek-bones. He wore a grey flannel shirt, the loose ends of a black silk tie hung down the buttoned breast of his serge coat; and his head resting on the back of his chair, his throat largely exposed, he raised to his lips a cigarette in a long wooden tube, puffing jets of smoke straight up at the ceiling.’ In The Secret Agent film, Gerard Depardieu plays the part; on TV, the more handsome Raphael Aclooque).
Characters from The Princess Casamassima by Henry James
PAUL MUNIMENT, CHRISTINA LIGHT – not much description of them in the book (and it’s never been filmed), so I’ve made some indications of appearance in the script.
Characters from The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton
SYME is a poet/anarchist. Here’s Chesterton’s description: ‘The new poet, who introduced himself by the name of Gabriel Syme was a very mild-looking mortal, with a fair, pointed beard and faint, yellow hair. But an impression grew that he was less meek than he looked.’
SUNDAY should be much stranger. Here’s Chesterton’s description of him: ‘Then, as Syme continued to stare at them, he saw something that he had not seen before. He had not seen it literally because it was too large to see. At the nearest end of the balcony, blocking up a great part of the perspective, was the back of a great mountain of a man. When Syme had seen him, his first thought was that the weight of him must break down the balcony of stone. His vastness did not lie only in the fact that he was abnormally tall and quite incredibly fat. This man was planned enormously in his original proportions, like a statue carved deliberately as colossal. His head, crowned with white hair, as seen from behind looked bigger than a head ought to be. The ears that stood out from it looked larger than human ears. He was enlarged terribly to scale; and this sense of size was so staggering, that when Syme saw him all the other figures seemed quite suddenly to dwindle and become dwarfish. They were still sitting there as before with their flowers and frock-coats, but now it looked as if the big man was entertaining five children to tea.
The Council of the Seven Days is from Chesterton – but I also thought a bit of The Suicide Club (RL Stevenson), the board of SPECTRE in Thunderball and The Assassination Bureau from Jack London’s novel and the film. That’s why they have an underground lair.
PETER THE PAINTER – a historical character (keyword – Siege of Sidney Street), though I’ve fudged the dates a bit since the person usually identified as Peter was only 15 at the time of this story. It’s possible several people used the name, so let’s play up his mythical aspect. He looks rather natty in photographs but I’ve made him a shaggier, Rasputin-ish type. Peter Wyngarde played him in the film The Siege of Sidney Street.
FS: Is there anything you can tease about we can expect going forward in the series?
KN: I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s kung fu in #2 … mysteries of the Tower of London are solved … a detective from Baker Street is horribly treated … William McGonagall writes a poem in celebration of Dracula, ‘The Famous Tin Jubilee’ …
Anno Dracula: 1895—Seven Days of Mayhem #1, written by Kim Newman with Paul McCaffrey on art, is on sale now from Titan Comics.
From the official issue description:
1895. Prince Dracula has ruled Great Britain for ten years, spreading vampirism through every level of society. On the eve of Dracula’s Jubilee, radical forces gather to oppose the tyrant. Kate Reed, vampire journalist and free-thinker, takes a seat on the revolutionary Council of Seven Days, though she learns that the anarchist group harbors a traitor in its midst. The Grey Men, Dracula’s dreaded secret police, have been ordered to quash all resistance to the rule of the arch-vampire. With intrigue on all sides, the scene is set for an explosive addition to the Anno Dracula series. An all-new comic series based on the best-selling Anno Dracula novels by Kim Newman! Comic series written by creator Kim Newman with art by Paul McCaffrey (The Third Doctor).