BOOK REVIEW: Dracula, Motherf**ker by Alex de Campi

Dracula, Motherf**ker!Dracula, Motherf**ker! by Alex de Campi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This short story in graphic novelized form imagines a Dracula who has been trapped in his coffin since the post-Bram Stoker story time period coming back into action in 1970’s Los Angeles. (While there is a nod to the Bram Stoker novel in starting the story in late-1890’s Central / Eastern Europe, the book doesn’t present itself as a sequel — and purposefully tries to avoid some of the old [and new] vampire clichés.) The book taps into the feel of 1970’s noir crime drama. The main character, Quincy Harker, is a photographer whose work appeals to a macabre impulse of those who like to see snuff shots of beautiful people. As such, he goes around to scenes reminiscent of the Manson family slaughter of Sharon Tate and friends to snap his pictures. [Note: While in Bram Stoker’s book Quincy Harker was the child of Mina Harker, in this book that’s just an Easter Egg-style reference without any intended continuity to the book’s characters.] Because Harker is always going out at night to capture images of the recently deceased, he his easily drawn into the family feud between Dracula and his brides.

The artwork is interesting. There is not a single color palette used throughout, but rather different scenes are in different palettes. In the back-matter written by the artist, there is a statement about this being meant to influence the reader’s emotional inflection. It’s also pointed out in the back-matter that all scenes are set at night, which might not be otherwise apparent. Some panels are colored brightly and colorfully while others are in black and dark blues.

The story is simple and quick. Between drawing on the vampire mythology and on the noir crime cinema imagery, there’s not much that’s particularly novel about this book. That said, the fact that it puts Dracula’s brides at the fore does give it a bit of niche.

As mentioned, there is a writeup at the back by both the author (de Campi) and the artist (Henderson,) along with some draft drawings and scripts for those intrigued by how the sausage is made.

I enjoyed this enough to get caught up in reading it in a single sitting. (That said, it’s very short — even for the 80-ish pages — given sprawling panels and sparse / terse dialogue.) If you enjoy vampire fiction, it’s worth checking out.

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BOOK REVIEW: Dracula: Son of the Dragon by Mark Sable

Dracula: Son of the Dragon (comiXology Originals)Dracula: Son of the Dragon by Mark Sable
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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There is a vast amount of vampiric fiction available today, and no small amount of it focuses on the character of Dracula. This graphic novel sets itself apart by building the story on real world events (such as they are known, and with dramatic license to make the story exciting and the imagery evocative.) At the risk of turning people off (but not intending to,) I would go as far as to say this book leads with history, and makes the supernatural secondary. I actually liked that about it. When I say the supernatural is secondary, it’s not like its eliminated from existence or that it’s purely garnish. There are dragons and vampires, but a story exists with or without those elements.

A story of war and political intrigue in what is now Romania is bookended by the depiction of a meeting between Vlad Dracula and three clergymen. In the opening, Vlad is telling the priests that he is about to let them in on the truth of his story, which they have no doubt heard in mythologized form. At the end, he asks the clergymen to tell him whether he will be allowed into heaven. The body of the story is a flashback from the meeting with the priests. It splits focus between Vlad’s father, who is working to keep his domain under his control by playing the ends against the middle vis-à-vis his Roman Catholic neighbors (notably Hungary) and the Ottoman Empire, and the story oft Vlad, himself. Vlad is a young man. He and his brother are sent to Scholomance (a kind of Slavic Dark Arts Hogwarts) and later become prisoners of the Ottomans.

I thought the artwork was easy to follow and stylistically appealing enough. Some of the frames in the ancillary material at the back were truly beautiful. I often disregard the back-matter in comics because it usually amounts to little more than discussion of how the drafts changed over time – i.e. offering insight into the sausage-making of the book. However, this book had an extensive Notes section that I found fascinating and useful because it explained how points in the book compared with known history. Some of the points that I assumed were pure fiction had a factual basis. Sable also related points to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” The creators tried to be consistent with Stoker’s book, as well as with history, when they could. The former wasn’t so hard because readers of Bram Stoker’s will recognize that the titular character is kept largely a mystery, particularly with regard to his backstory.

If you are interested at all in the historical and mythological basis of the Dracula vampire, I’d recommend this book. As I said, the notes will give you a good idea of what was known to be true, what is complete fiction, and what is a kernel of truth enveloped in story sensationalism. Obviously, all the supernatural elements are pure fiction, and also there is a lot that remains unknown, but this graphic novel provides an interesting take on the origins of Vlad Dracula.

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BOOK REVIEW: Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

Anno DraculaAnno Dracula by Kim Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Anno Dracula is set in a world subsequent to the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the world of Anno Dracula, Dracula kills Van Helsing (not the other way round) and becomes more powerful than ever. In fact, the Count has married himself into line to become king. Vampires flourish in the open and their numbers are swelling. But a few of them are being gruesomely murdered. In Newman’s work, the vicious Whitechapel murders attributed to Jack the Ripper target young, “turned” working women of Whitechapel. The killings attract attention and become politically charged. The book’s plot revolves around the investigation by an unlikely duo, Charles Beauregard (human) and Geneviève Dieudonné (Vampire elder), into the murders.

Newman creates a fascinating world that blends not only his own characters (e.g. Beauregard and Dieudonné), but also characters from other popular works set in the 19th century as well as from our own history. Some of these borrowed characters are important to the story, others are mere cameos, and still others are references to the departed or imprisoned. Among the book’s fictional pantheon are those from works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and—of course—Bram Stoker. Bram Stoker lends the critical character of Dr. John Seward to the book, although there are references to most of that book’s major characters. (You’ll miss some connections if you haven’t read Dracula, but you’ll still be able to follow the story.) The next biggest contributor of characters is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mycroft Holmes, Inspector Lestrade, and Professor Moriarty are all present in the flesh, though the latter plays a small role, and others—including the great detective, himself—are referenced throughout.

Many of the real world characters are literary greats (poets, playwrights, and novelists) including George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Alfred Tennyson, and Oscar Wilde. However, also included are political figures, royalty, and—of course—the victims of Jack the Ripper. This mixing of the literary and historical worlds lures book-lovers further down the rabbit hole.

If this book seems like a murder mystery, it’s not. One of the interesting elements of Newman’s approach is that he reveals the killer from the outset. While we know who the killer is from the book’s opening, we don’t know whether or how he will be brought to justice—or what precisely justice means in this case. The book is more about the web of intrigue that surrounds the murders than it is about the murders. Ultimately, the book takes in a much bigger picture than a few murders in the seedy side of London.

Anno Dracula is intriguing and readable. If one has read Dracula, the various Sherlock Holmes stories, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and other contemporary literature, it’s all the more enjoyable for the way it artfully places these all in the same universe. I’d highly recommend this book for readers of the classic popular fiction.

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BOOK REVIEW: Dracula by Bram Stoker

DraculaDracula by Bram Stoker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dracula leaves Transylvania to find a new pool of victims, and the only thing standing between him and the people of London is Dr. Van Helsing and his cast of allies.

The novel begins with the arrival in Transylvania of Jonathan Harker, a real estate agent from England. Both Harker and his beloved wife, Mina, play an important role in unraveling the mystery of Dracula. Soon after a ghost ship rams into port, Lucy Westenra (a friend of Mina’s) begins to suffer an unusual illness. A Dr. Seward brings in Dr. Van Helsing who has a rare expertise in her particular ailment. Professor Van Helsing’s knowledge is essential to driving Dracula out of London and back to Transylvania. They pursue the vampire– resulting an a final show down.

Bram Stoker uses a series of journal entries, letters, and memos to convey the story. This is an interesting approach, and popular at that time, but it does have its limitations.

Dracula was written early in the age of science and reason. While it was an age of superstition, there is an attempt to elevate vampirism from a strictly supernatural phenomena to one in which science has something to say.

The 19th century language and approach to tension makes for a less gripping tale than one would likely see today, but it is still a very readable book.

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