From the paneled pictures of your darkest dreams, this is Graphic. Every month, I’ll be telling you about the best horror in comic books, from the early days of EC Comics to the resurgence of the genre in today’s mainstream and indie publishers. So pull up your blanket, dear reader, switch on your flashlight, and turn the page…
Maybe it’s an unpopular opinion, but I will never get sick of Dracula. Yes, the Lord of Vampires has been around for over one-hundred and thirty years, but to me, he never gets old. That’s because, whether Bram Stoker intended this or not, there are endless extrapolations an artist can make from his framework; countless tweaks and changes of perspective that can cast a new light on the Count. And for the most part, I think every one of those extrapolations is at least decent. However, there are some that are way more than that. Some that take the Draculalore, characters, or story to places yet undreamed. Some, like the topic of this month’s Graphic, that grab you by the shoulders, shake you up and down, and tell you to forget everything you think you know about… DRACULA, MOTHERFUCKER!
In 1889, Dracula’s Brides rebelled against their dark suitor, staking him and burying his coffin deep in the ground. Nearly a hundred years later, aging Hollywood starlet Bebe Beauland has found his coffin, releasing him in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Now, Dracula is free to roam the dark streets of Los Angeles, with Bebe as his newest bride and bloodsucking accomplice. Fortunately, they’re opposed by the original Brides, plus relentless photojournalist Quincy Harker, but just because Dracula‘s been defeated once doesn’t mean he will be again. It’s the seventies, after all; anything could happen.
If you’re a regular to this column, you’ve already heard me praise Alex de Campi, author of pulpy horror-fests such as Archie Vs. Predator II and Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight. Though I loved both those titles, I gained a whole new respect for de Campi after reading this book. De Campi’s genius lies in how she uses familiar Dracula tropes to tell a different story. For example, instead of being sexy zombies that mindlessly obey Dracula, these Brides have real agency. It was their choice to accept the cursed beauty of vampirism. By trying to destroy the one who cursed them, it’s their choice to seek redemption for their actions. Then there’s Quincy Harker, our human vampire hunter. By reworking all of Stoker’s anti-Dracula squad into one character and making him a Black, freelance photojournalist, de Campi creates a protagonist that’s much more relevant to today. She’s essentially used Stoker’s novel as a sample track to create an original song.
Of course, the most Dracula of Dracula tropes is the titular villain himself, and the villain of Dracula Motherf**ker is a complete reimagining of that trope. According to an afterward by de Campi, these creators did not want to create a Count who is at all “beautiful.” This is a huge swing for the book to take, considering Dracula‘s suave nature, ethereal beauty, and general hotness are huge parts of his character for many fans. But that swing hits anyway. This Dracula is an ancient, evil thing, not once appearing in human form. Instead, he’s all teeth, eyes, and shadow, often taking up full splash pages for a maximum creep factor. The only time we see him as anything but fangs and glaring eyes is a brief shot in the beginning, when he appears as a cloak made of crosses. Stylistically, it’s evocative of Gustav Klimt. Thematically, it’s a reminder that Dracula is an embodiment of death and dying, a walking graveyard.
Artist Erica Henderson produces several great character designs besides Dracula, especially for the Brides. But what really shines in this art is her miraculous use of color. Forgoing realistic coloring schemes, Henderson uses the vibrant, pulpy colors of 70’s grindhouse posters to grip the reader’s senses. You can feel the nighttime humidity of her neon-purple-lit LA streets, smell the acrid blood red that surrounds the Count, hear the orange of a violent explosion from one of the book’s most dramatic scenes. Because of Henderson’s colors, opening the pages Dracula Motherf**ker is a hypnotic experience. You’ll feel what it wants you to until you close them.
But the uniqueness of what Henderson has done doesn’t stop with the colors. According to her afterword, Henderson composed this book’s art in a way uncommon to comic-making. Instead of drawing it page by page, Henderson drew two pages at a time. This means that, instead of looking at a right and left page, you’re looking at one complete piece of art every time you open the book. Of course, this makes for some great splash pages (that explosion I mentioned earlier is the best I’ve ever seen in comics), but it also does wonders for pacing the comic. It can make you linger on a small moment or fly through moments of action. Time works differently when you’re reading this comic, and the page structure is a huge reason for that.
I’m not going to lie; reading this comic moved me. Perhaps that’s because, as I mentioned, I’ll always love Dracula. In my head, there will always be some genius who can take the familiar tropes, mix them up in a style that’s all their own, and create something new and amazing. Or, it could be because the same exact thing is true of this medium. I wrote this review to show that nobody does Dracula like Dracula, Motherf**ker. But as I finish it, I’m realizing that nobody does comics like it either.
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