Written by Bram Stoker
Adapted by Robert Napton
Art by El Garing and Kerry Gammill
Published by Legendary Comics
Booksteve’s Journal, October, 22nd, 2020
I fear that once again, the horror has returned. Curse this dreadful year! Once again, the fever dreams of thick scarlet rivulets of gore fill all my senses. But this time, something is far different. Different, and yet nightmarishly familiar. Eyes like those of the devil himself stare daggers at me through Autumn’s evening fog. I hear his chilling voice in my mind. His NAME! It is…Dracula!!! And more! It is…Bela…LUGOSI!!!
Actually, my first Dracula was Christopher Lee. I was seven years old and my babysitter took me to see Adam West’s Batman movie in 1966, bizarrely double-featured with Hammer’s Dracula, Prince of Darkness, a movie my parents would probably have preferred I not see at that age.
But that lit the fire.
I was absolutely fascinated by this well-dressed monster. It was a few years later when I finally encountered Bela Lugosi’s Dracula on Saturday night’s Scream-In, hosted by Cincinnati’s Cool Ghoul.
By that point, like so many young people of the day, I had been reading about Lugosi in Famous Monsters of Filmland and all the atmospheric photos of him as the aristocratic Count Dracula had captured my imagination so I sat glued to the screen all evening. After that, I couldn’t wait to see all of Lugosi’s many other appearances as Dracula…except there weren’t any.
Nearly 20 years after the Universal classic, he reprised the role in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but that was it.
But I watched as many of his other movies as I could find, and read all the books about his diverse career and his tragic drug addiction and his sad decline, none of which affected by one whit the iconic image that his uniquely aristocratic portrayal of the Transylvanian Count had left in my mind.
I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1971, at age 12, a thick Scholastic Book Club edition with Bela on the cover.
Far from a traditional novel, it is, for those who haven’t read it, a collection of letters, telegrams, journal entries, diary pages, and other notes, all coalescing to tell the story of the bloodthirsty (in the truest sense of the word) nobleman we’ve all come to know.
In 1972 Marvel Comics, thanks to the relaxing of 17 year old Comics Code restrictions, began its long-running Tomb of Dracula title, with a Count who resembled no version before him (although reportedly inspired by actor Jack Palance). Being a character in the public domain, Dracula has popped up in many comic books from many publishers since, a number of them, like Marvel’s, quite well-done, but every single one of them missing the one thing that made the character so popular in the first place: Bela Lugosi.
As of today, that has changed. At long last, Bela Lugosi is finally back in the cape and he’s in a much more faithfully accurate adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
With the participation and blessing of members of both the Lugosi and Stoker families, Legendary Comics presents Robert Napton’s adaptation of Dracula with art by El Garing. I had never heard of either of those two folks but they both do an exemplary job. I had heard of Kerry Gammill, credited with additional art as well as being the book’s Art Director and Co-Editor.
I first discovered Gammill’s art in his fanzine days of the 1970s and followed him through one of the best Superman periods in the 1990s. It looks as though he worked here to maintain the Lugosi likeness, occasionally adding to some of the other figures as well.
The art is impressive! From the Steranko-esque cover to the nearly 200 pages of powerful storytelling, we are treated to just beautiful black and white sequential illustrations. I honestly can’t tell if this was done in wash or by computer, or perhaps a combination of both.
An aging fanboy like me might detect echoes of everyone from Alex Raymond, Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala, Gene Colan, and John Buscema, but even with no knowledge of comic book history, every page offers treats you’ll want to linger over, from the ornate detail on castle doors to the photo-realistic night skies where you can almost see the clouds actually rolling past the full moon.
The original Universal Dracula film is, in fact, an adaptation of a hit stage play rather than the classic itself. To simplify the plot, it combines or eliminates characters, and changes the book’s ending completely to something within the studio’s budget.
The clear intention of this new book, then, is to make you feel as though you are watching a black and white Dracula movie, starring Bela Lugosi, but returning the original plot and characters to the proceedings, as well as some of the creepier scenes Universal chose to leave out. I have to say that they succeed admirably, as that’s exactly how I felt.
Like many movies, though, there are some editing issues and I did spot a continuity problem for the blooper reel. We see Dracula put the bite on Lucy, on the right side of her neck. We later see Mina point out the two red marks on the right side of Lucy’s neck. When Professor Van Helsing sees them, though, they are on the left side, and when Mina spots them again, they are also on the left side, and she comments that they “still haven’t healed.”
There’s also a confusing transition of one character’s death. I had to go back and re-read and it still wasn’t entirely clear.
That said, though, nearly all movies have little issues like that. Those who analyze too closely may lose the enjoyment of the story.
If it feels like I’m gushing a bit much here, let me assure you I have no stake in this (pun intended). With an Intro from Bela’s descendants and backmatter from Stoker’s, this version of Dracula has no doubt been dreamt of by many of us so-called Monster Kids for decades. I rewatched the movie after I read the graphic novel and I even compared certain of the book’s scenes to Stoker’s original. Until they perfect a CGI Bela and do a Netflix adaptation, this gorgeous retelling may well be the definitive version of the oft-told tale of Count Dracula!