Author Bram Stoker’s charming yet sinister creature known as Dracula has fascinated fans for more than a century. And it’s no wonder as to why: Stoker constructed a character who is equal parts mesmerizing and mysterious, which is why his story has been told and retold since his inception. Yet, there are swaths of the Count’s past that’s not explicitly spelled out for the readers, letting their minds to fill in the gaps.
It’s those gaps that draw in legendary comic creators Matt Wagner (creator of Grendel) and Kelley Jones (Sandman: Season of Mists; Batman & Dracula: Red Rain), who are tackling the crevices of the vampire’s history in their new comic Dracula Volume 1: The Impaler, just launched on Kickstarter via their company Orlok Press. Impaler will examine the Count’s time under Satan’s thumb and rise to his status of the dark lord. Wagner and Jones promise a Dracula who’s “bloody, sexy, and monstrous,” in a tale unlike any we’ve seen told before.
Mr. Wagner and Mr. Jones spoke with me recently about the impetus behind the Kickstarter, working together on the project, the draw to working on the famous vampire, and why Dracula is “the OG badass.”
FreakSugar: What can you tell us about the Dracula Volume 1 Kickstarter?
Matt Wagner: Kelley Jones and I have been friends for many years and we’d always intended to collaborate on something significant…not just a short story or one-shot. Finally, we both realized that the time was right and, luckily, I had something in mind that perfectly fit our mutual energy and styles. Bram Stoker’s classic novel creates and portrays arguably the most famous literary characters of all time, but it leaves many aspects of Dracula’s history and persona only hinted at and thus, incredibly intriguing and mysterious. His series of books will fill in these tantalizing gaps and provide a more complete and terrifying portrait of the infamous vampire lord.
And I want to make it clear… this isn’t yet another retelling of the novel in comics form. We’re bringing you the never-before told stories behind the story…the sinister tales hidden in the shadows of the original novel. Our first graphic novel explores Dracula’s bloody history and his tenure at Satan’s legendary seminary of the dark arts, the Scholomance, a fact of his history that’s mentioned twice in the novel. We learn what led Dracula to seek out Satan’s tutelage and how he became the lord of the undead. The other three books in our Dracula series will reveal other aspects of his life and story that take place in and around the events portrayed in the novel. I’ve been at the vanguard of the indie comics scene for over forty years. And Kelley has carved a popular mainstream niche with his uniquely individual style. So launching this project via Kickstarter seemed like the perfect fit for maintaining that mutual spirit of independence.
Kelley Jones: Creating something with a great talent is what every artist wants. Someone who you have to work up to and be on your best game to reflect. When it’s a dear friend that makes it even better…and the fact that it’s drawing a story about Dracula means something incredibly special can happen. And it has. This is the type of book that has to be independent and its own thing, which is how I’d describe Matt‘s career as well as my own.
FS: What kind of research and past Dracula tales impacted your particular story?
MW: Research for Dracula begins with the source, the original novel by Bram Stoker. Like I said, Dracula is such a compelling character but he off-stage for a lot of the active narrative. That itself lends proof to how powerful and magnetic his character is portrayed…even from the shadows, he’s captivated audiences for over a hundred years. We’re taking all the cryptic details Stoker unveils, filtering those through thousands of years of vampiric folklore and, of course, leavening it all with the many different incarnations of Dracula that have appeared on screen over the years. In addition to the fact that the original novel has never been out of print since its original publication, the character himself is of the top three or four literary personas ever portrayed onscreen. But then, of course, there’s a historic source for Dracula as well…a 15th century eastern European warlord who was renowned for his ambition, his cruelty and his favorite grisly method of executing his enemies—The Impaler! All of these factors have figured into the creation of our version of the infamous vampire lord.
KJ: From the visual end, I took a lot of photos of actual medieval castles while I was visiting Europe recently. I delved into finding out all the different styles of dress as well as spent a lot of time reading as much as I could on life and customs in 15th century in eastern Europe. Characters live and breathe when you draw them that way.
FS: Why Dracula? What draws you both to the character?
MW: Anyone familiar with my work knows that I’ve had some experience portraying a magnetic and unrepentant villain over the course of an epic saga. And I’ve also long had a fascination with vampires. And, let’s face it… Dracula is the OG badass vampire of them all! He’s a villain who has the vestiges of having once been a man… a man who became a literal monster. And, like all the best super-villains, he has a grand scheme to use his preternatural powers to spread his power and influence over an unsuspecting kingdom. Like I said, so much of Dracula’s history and persona are only hinted at in the original novel and thus are such ripe and tantalizing terrain for any storyteller. These are stories that have haunted me for years… and now I finally get the chance to bring them to fruition with an artist who was absolutely born to draw them!
KJ: Dracula was a story to me as a kid, a movie monster and a Halloween costume. When I found out that he was real I was captivated by the actual history of it all. That Dracula was as terrifying, if not the more so, because he was a human was a resonating image that’s lingered with me ever since. When your nickname is ‘the Impaler’ you gotta be bad. That alone made me want to draw him.
FS: What has the collaboration process on the book been like?
KJ: When Matt gave me a script, it was like I could see and understand everything he wrote. I had no hesitation putting it to paper. The only problem I have is his scripts are so inspiring they wake me up in the middle of the night and I have to write down the ideas I get from his words rattling in my head for the next day’s drawing!
MW: Kelley and I have been chums for years. We first met during the promotional signings for our mutual contributions to Neil Gaiman’s Season of Mists story arc for his phenomenal Sandman series. We hit it off immediately with our mutual love of horror and a common sense of humor. And our collaboration here just couldn’t have been any smoother…it literally feels like we’ve been working together like this for decades—an incredible synthesis of our two lengthy and accomplished careers in comics. Throughout this entire process, I was scripted these tales and writing to what I saw as Kelley’s strengths and always thinking to myself, “Man… Kelley is gonna draw the HELL outta this!” And then, he’d send me this fucking magnificent art and it always proved to be even more dramatic and visceral than I’d ever dared hope. This really has been a dream project for both of us…the absolute magnum opus of everything we might have dreamed it would be.
As of press time, the Kickstarter for Dracula Volume 1: The Impaler has hit its initial goal over 130 times over! Check out the campaign for this gorgeous book by creators who are consistently at the top of their game. The full press release for the book can be found below: