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August 30, 2014

Ye Olde School Café: Stoker’s Dracula #1

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Written by: Billy
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Hello and welcome to another edition of Ye Olde School Café! This time around I’ll be focusing in on an issue that really set the bar for adaptations as far as I’m concerned, and what better story to check out than Bram Stoker’s Dracula!

Back in the 1970s, during the horror comics explosion, a plethora of black and white magazines hit the shelves. Marvel, like all the other companies, knew that they could put out these “magazines” which didn’t fall under the blanket of the Comics Code Authority, so the material could be more adult oriented. Scantily clad ladies, more explicit killings, and so on, adorned the pages of books like Vampire Tales, Tales of the Zombie, and of course Dracula Lives! In the pages of the latter, Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano (RIP) were tasked to put the classic Bram Stoker story of Dracula into our minds visually. This was no easy task, but these two icons were up for it, and then some.

Thomas was at the top of his game, and Giordano was no slouch either. Both men had already contributed great work to the industry. With Giordano being around since the early 1950s, you knew he was going to bring his “A” game to this project, and could be counted on to be a consummate professional. Thomas was more of the new kid on the block, but in the short time he was in the industry, he had written such titles as the X-Men (his great collaboration with Neal Adams), The Avengers (another excellent partnership, this time with ‘Big’ John Buscema), and many other great books.

Most readers know the story that Bram Stoker gave us, so I won’t get too  heavy with the story itself, but rather show the fantastic work by these two gentlemen, and let it speak for itself. The magazine Dracula Lives did get cancelled before Thomas and Giordano could finish their adaptation, but in 2004 Marvel had both men return and finish it, and it was collected in a hardcover, and later (2010) released in a colorized version, in hardcover once again.

 

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The story begins just as the novel does, with Jonathan Harker heading out from Munich on a train to Transylvania. Once there, he is to be taken by carriage to the castle of Count Dracula. He’s warned off by the locals about going to this area of the countryside, but he initially thinks the people are just full of superstition. On the carriage ride, he seems to be wavering a bit about the villagers’ superstitions, as an ominous storm is following them, and then they reach the destination where Count Dracula is to meet Harker. At first, no one appears to be there, but then suddenly, out of thin air Dracula and his carriage arrive!

After nearly being devoured by wolves, Harker is beginning to think this was a bad idea. Dracula orders the wolves back into the forest, and to Harker’s amazement they obey the Count! A quick trip to the castle, where Harker finds that Dracula is very cordial, but sinister at the same time. It doesn’t take Harker long to realize that he’s in over his head, so he attempts to contact someone outside of the castle, but Dracula’s minions stop the letter from getting to its destination.

 

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Later one evening, Harker is nearly asleep in his bedroom when he sees three beautiful women enter. One of them approaches him, and appears to try and engage him in somewhat of a sexual manner. He’s frozen by their beauty, or is it something else? As the woman nears his throat, a hand grabs her and tosses her aside like a child. It is Count Dracula, and he scolds the women for attempting to make Harker their own.

Days pass, and Harker has numerous nightmares, but one evening in particular has him feeling ill. He awakens to the screams of one of the villagers, a woman, screaming outside the castle walls. She begs for this “monster to give her back her child.” As she does, a pack of wolves suddenly surrounds her, and then there is silence. As Harker looks around to the other side of the castle walls, he sees Count Dracula, scaling the wall like some kind of lizard. He also notices he’s carrying a sack with something living inside of it, wrestling around.

 

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Harker then decides to try and escape this madhouse by crawling down the side of the building. He only gets slightly lower than his window, and to the bedroom of Count Dracula. As he enters, he sees a pile of gold and jewelry lying on the floor. He then creeps quietly around the castle, looking for a way out. He descends into the basement, and discovers a row of coffins. He opens one, and lying inside is Count Dracula! He seems to be in some kind of trance, so Harker picks up a shovel and smacks him over the head with it, cutting him open slightly. A blow that would’ve killed a normal man, but barely scratched the Count. Harker then returns to his room, and cries to himself in the corner, admitting defeat.

Well, that’s all for issue one, and believe me, the collection is well worth it for any fan of Dracula or horror comics. Giordano did a great job rendering this story, and you can definitely see he drew the characters with certain people in mind. For instance, Count Dracula looks very similar to the character as played by John Carradine (House of Dracula, 1945), and one of the vampire women (Dracula’s brides) clearly looks like Ingrid Pitt (Countess Dracula, 1971, and The Vampire Lovers, 1970). Nice homage to the film industry, or just a good use of reference material! See you next time!

 

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Billy Dunleavy
billy@comicattack.net

 

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