If you’re familiar with the story of Dracula, you’re probably familiar with Renfield, the fly-collecting, spider-eating, rather insane seeming servant of Dracula who serves his master faithfully until he has a dramatic break from his master. Renfield is a smart man and a loyal man until he realizes that he is, in his soul, a loving man. That love drives a wedge between Renfield and Dracula, forcing the supremely confident master to crush his servant like the bugs that Renfield loves to eat.
Renfield is an amazing character in Bram Stoker’s amazing novel of Dracula, so it’s not surprising to see Gary Reed adapt the character’s story into graphic form. Reed is a very literary comics writer, one with a very sound base in much of the classic literature that inspired comics. That often helps give Reed’s writing a real feeling of depth and power. Here, however, that familiarity makes the story feel a bit distant.
The main problem for me in this book is that though Renfield is the title character and the nominal protagonist of the story, it still feels like he’s a supporting character in his own life. Of course Dracula hangs over this book like the proverbial sword of Damocles, serving to drive and compel Renield’s actions sometimes from across an ocean. Since he is a man whose whole existence is driven by a devotion to his master, Renfield on his own lacks a certain depth of character for most of the book that makes him less than compelling. More importantly for my reading, it feels like the real protagonist of this graphic novel is Jonathan Seward, who runs the Purfleet Asylum for the Insane. Much of the novel is concerned with Seward’s arc, as the doctor changes from a savvy and engaged man full of energy and life to a man who is forced to confront the evil around him. I thought Seward’s reactions were more compelling than Renfield’s. Renfield was pretty much always self-involved in this book, playing little heed to everything around him. Seward, however, was forced to objectively view and deal with the events that surrounded him. His reactions were fascinating and compelling, much more so than Renfield’s.
These frustrations, though, point to a book that is perhaps too ambitious rather than not ambitious enough. Reed does a nice job juggling about a dozen characters in this book, most of whom appear in Stoker’s original and therefore can’t be changed. Reed does a fine job of keeping the reader involved with all the characters, giving an interesting alternative view of the world that Bram Stoker created. One of his most intriguing techniques is taken directly from Stoker, as each chapter features several letters or notes that one of the characters have written. Reed does a nice job of writing each letter in the characters’ voices, and also does a nice job of using the letters as a way to provide deeper characterization to the inhabitants of his story.
Galen Showman’s art is workmanlike and fitting for the story. It is detailed and evocative, with each character having a nice consistency of look and feel from chapter to chapter. I especially enjoyed the subtle ways that Showman conveyed the emotions of his characters.
Renfield will be of special interest for those who love Bram Stoker’s original Dracula novel. Those who know the book well will definitely get the most out of this graphic novel. But there’s enough here that even people who haven’t read the novel will still find a lot to enjoy.