Comicscape: The Essential Dracula and Frankenstein -

Comicscape: The Essential Dracula and Frankenstein

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Comicscape: The Essential Dracula and Frankenstein

Karloff? Sidekick?

By Joel Rickenbach     October 31, 2012

If someone asked you who the two biggest icons of horror are, I would bet a pillow sack full of Halloween candy that "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" would be the first names to pass through your lips, and rightfully so. Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, are the two most widely known and influential stories to bare the label of "horror". To even mention it seems almost too obvious to type. Almost.  Naturally, these stories have been adapted, re-told and re-imagined in every possible medium, and comic books are no different. From Marvel's 70's run of Tomb of Dracula, to DC's currently running Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., both of these "monsters" have been fertile ground for the funny books. Since it's Halloween, I thought I would boil down all the monster mashing to the essential comic book versions of each tale- Roy Thomas & Dick Giordano's Stoker's Dracula, and Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein


It's only fitting that Thomas and Giordano's Dracula was literally dead, only to rise from the grave thirty years later. Back in the 70's Stan Lee era of Marvel, the excelsior man wanted to keep Dracula in the Marvel fold after Tomb of Dracula ended its run, so, emulating the great horror mags Like Eerie and Creepy, Lee and then Editor In Chief Thomas created Dracula Lives! This new book was an anthology series that had a myriad of tales that took the vampire to all sorts of places, even the Salem witch trials. Eventually, Thomas was able to fulfill a dream he had ever since he got into comics- Adapt Stoker's novel. Things started well, the adaptation ran as 10-12 page chapters in Dracula Lives!, and routinely was at the top of the fan poll for favorite feature. Unfortunately there wasn't enough fans in general, and Dracula Lives! Was cancelled. All was not lost, Marvel decided to try a different approach, and gave it another go with a new title called Legion of Monsters. Would this new book make good on its namesake, and feature a team made up of classic monsters? Who knows, the book only lasted one issue, and featured the last published chapter of Thomas and Giordano's Dracula. The unfinished tale lay in its coffin for decades, until, like an ancient curse, it came back to haunt us from the grave. In 2005 Thomas and Giordano were given the chance to finish their tale, and fortunately for us comic readers, they didn't hesitate to resurrect the Count. That in itself is amazing, but what's even more incredible is that Thomas and Giordano didn't lose a step. Dick Giordano had to forget everything he learned as an artist for the last thirty years to reproduce his style, and he certainly succeeded as the break is nearly seamless.  Giordano's art is as much a classic as the story itself. Black and white pencil and inks with a grey ink wash to add depth to the proceedings. It has that 70's comic art style, yet doesn't feel dated at all, it just feels like a stylistic choice to convey the world Stoker created. Obviously every word of Stoker's novel couldn't make it on to the comic page, but Roy Thomas did a masterful job at distilling what is most important to the story, and keeps the narrative intact. The best thing about it is how Thomas preserved the epistolary structure, fitting in newspaper clippings and journal or diary entries to wave the tale. As a lifelong fan of Stoker's novel, and anything related to Dracula, I couldn't recommend this adaptation more. The book has been collected in a nice hardcover for your reading pleasure, thirty year gap not included.

I became aware of Bernie Wrightson when I was brave enough to pick up a copy of Stephen King's Cycle of the Werewolf from my local bookstore. His illustrations blew me away, they were like sophisticated versions of the comic book art I was so very used to. As I'm sure you can guess, I was pretty jazzed when I found out he was actually a comic book artist. It became a mission of mine to track down anything Wrightson drew or created. Swamp Thing, Old Issues of Creepy, Eerie and House of Mystery, Batman: Cult... the list goes on. Eventually I stumbled across Frankenstein, and I couldn't believe it. One of my favorite artists illustrated one of my favorite stories!? I still love Wrightson's work on Cycle of the Werewolf dearly, but I was unprepared for the majesty that is his work on Frankenstein. His adaptation is not a typical paneled comic book, it's actually just an illustrated version of the story, but each lovingly crafted piece is a work of fine art. It's literally at the zenith of the medium, and if you need any more convincing- Wrightson labored over the illustrations for seven years, and he did it for no pay. The art has the air of antiquity, and that's no accident. Wrightson knew how to visually adapt this tale, saying "I wanted the book to look like an antique; to have the feeling of woodcuts or steel engravings, something of that era". That mentality runs even deeper when you take in the art, and see how he eschewed any modern conventions created by the Universal Karloff movies or otherwise. The text is complete, so if you've never read Mary Shelley's tale this is absolutely the way to do it. Wrightson has also teamed up with writer Steve Niles to bring us a sequel to Shelley's tale. Dubbed Frankenstein Alive, Alive! The first issue was released a few months ago, with future issues hopefully coming out soon. Unfortunately and understandably, Wrightson uses his normal comic book art style instead of the antique look, but don't let that dissuade you- "normal" Bernie Wrightson still is better than 99.9% of  the other artists out there.
Hopefully a scary, or just well told, comic book will make its way into your hands tonight. If you have any horror or Halloween favorites please let us know what they are in the comments below.

Happy Halloween.

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Avenging Spider-Man Annual #1, $4.99

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Fear Itself Uncanny X-Force The Deep TP, $19.99

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Journey Into Mystery New Mutants Exiled TP, $16.99

Marvel Previews #111 (November 2012 For Products On-Sale January 2013), $1.25

Marvel Universe The Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes And Ultimate Spider-Man (Halloween Comicfest 2012), AR

Mighty Thor #22 (Collage Variant Cover)(Final Issue), AR

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Mighty Thor #22 (Pasqual Ferry Regular Cover)(Final Issue), $3.99

New Mutants #50 (Final Issue), $2.99

New Mutants Volume 6 De-Animator TP, $12.99

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Uncanny X-Force Volume 1 Final Execution HC (Premiere Edition), $24.99

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Wolverine And The X-Men #19, $3.99

X-Men Legacy #275 (Mark Brooks Regular Cover)(Final Issue), $2.99

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X-Men The Hidden Years Volume 2 TP, $34.99


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Abelard HC, $22.99


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Shattered The Asian American Comics Anthology TP, $21.95


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Charles Burns' The Hive GN (Bookplate Edition), $21.95


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Doctor Who 100 Scariest Monsters HC, $13.99


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Awkward Silence Volume 2, $12.99


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Mark Millar's CLiNT 2.0 #5, $6.99

Star Trek Magazine #42 (Newsstand Edition), $9.99

Star Wars Insider #137 (November/December 2012)(Previews Exclusive Edition), $6.99


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August Moon GN, $14.95


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Flowers Of Evil Volume 3 GN, $10.95


Der Mond Art Of Neon Genesis Evangelion SC (New Printing)(not verified by Diamond), $29.99

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Drawing Basics And Video Game Art SC, $24.99

Perpective For Comic Book Artists SC, $21.95


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Grimm Fairy Tales Myths And Legends #22 (Cover A Giuseppe Cafaro), $2.99

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Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Wonderland #4 (Cover A Sean Chen), $2.99


Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Wonderland #4 (Cover B Sheldon Goh), $2.99


Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him on Twitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.


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jedibanner 10/31/2012 7:08:42 PM

Those were fun to read in the good old days of comics in the 70's.



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