(P) Mike Mignola (I) John Nyberg (S) Roy Thomas
Recommended Noise: Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet ~ Dracula
Before the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees there was a different breed of terror that reigned over the night — an ancient and subtle force from the darkest recesses of our wildest natural impulses, stalking the dreams of youthful fool and elder alike. When I was a kid, the bloody hack and slash movies my friends screamed and wet the bed over were no comparison to the terror that lay just beyond sight, darting in the shadows. I watched Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula on a flickering TV in the basement family room and wondered if I would ever sleep again. It was visceral and sexual and chillingly playful, with the kind of cheesiness that crosses the line over into a raw, existential horror only a misunderstood kid could understand. The film feels dated now, to be plain, but there are still charges of powerful energy echoing from that tragically nostalgic place in the void. The creature goes on living in the candlelit passageways of your mind, waiting for night to fall yet again. IDW’s hardcover rerelease of Mike Mignola’s comic adaptation of the Coppola cinematic feature captures that same darkly energized spirit — maybe even more so.
Mignola’s adaption of Coppola’s work is masterful in its pacing and technical ability. As a comic adaptation this book is seamless, both in its narrative handiwork and the stark retooling of the film’s iconic imagery. The material lends itself so easily to comic form that it feels like a natural extension of the Dracula mythos. Here the melodrama plays so much better on the illustrated page that I cringe deeply thinking of teenage me swooning over Winona Ryder’s goofy mid-Atlantic accent. Mignola’s artwork helps us see beyond Coppola’s unfortunate adherence to 90’s filmmaking tropes and into the heart of why this story has persisted for so long in human cultural psychology in the first place. But damn it’s hard to replace Gary Oldman’s magnetism. The adaptation’s strength owes a great deal to Gary Oldman’s dual portrayal of the Count — the swirling melancholy of his eyes as the younger, seductive Dracula, and the sharply maleficent image of the elder vampire — both are the stuff of nightmares.
There’s no sense in directly comparing the film and the comic adaptation to find a winner, really, as many will surely want to do. The imagery is the same familiar gothic triumph that haunted my strange 90’s childhood, but this comic adaptation stands remarkably well on its own with the way it uses that imagery to tell a story that feels far more mature than the screen adaptation. All of the same dark concepts that struck fear into my teenage heart reappear here, the same dreamy realizations about death and lust and the romantic draw to empty eternity. The two can exist in harmony, and if you’re a recovering weirdo like me you’ll want to keep both close to the chest for a dark and stormy evening.