It’s no secret that I love me some vampires. I’ve even written two vampire novels of my own, Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood. Their combination of danger coupled with intelligence, of being able to pass as one of us until the fangs finally come out, makes them the perfect monster. They can be used to represent literally everything from repressed minorities to disease victims to the devil himself. They can literally become anything we need them to be.
That’s why this 26th volume of the Graphic Classics series, Vampire Classics, was right up my dark, gaslit alley. From the silent film Nosferatu to Ray Bradbury’s “The Man Upstairs,” the stories chosen for adaptation rescue some of the best vamp lit from their dusty mausoleums and put the blood back in their veins.
For those unfamiliar with it, Nosferatu is a 1922 German silent film adapted (without permission) from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Even today, many critics consider it the best vampire film ever, and if you catch me on the right day, I’ll agree with them. Its depiction of Count Orlock (aka Dracula) as a pale, bald fiend with two rat-like fangs is such a seminal image, it was used in both the first adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and the recent New Zealand comedy What We Do in the Shadows. Here the artist (Craig Wilson) finds a middle ground between the film’s indelible black and white images and the full-color palette available to comics. The adapter (Tim Lasiuta) also finds a good meeting point between the film’s decidedly European feel and a more typically urgent American one. It strikes me as a good compromise between marketing necessity (anything called Vampire Classics must deal with Dracula, after all) and the chance to give lesser-known stories their space.
Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, sets “The Horror from the Mound” in his native Texas, with a virile cowboy hero who is the very antithesis of Stoker’s fainting Victorian dandies. It ends, naturally for that most manly of pulp authors, in a fistfight between rancher and vampire, and the art (by Timothy Truman) is done entirely in sepia, capturing the tone of the wide, dry prairie.
Ray Bradbury’s “The Man Upstairs” is illustrated (by Rick Geary and colored by Benjamin Wright) in a fittingly bright, childlike way, reflecting both the young boy protagonist and the story’s metaphor of bright panes of colored glass. Editor Mort Castle adapts his own story, “What Is,” illustrated in a semi-sepia way to reflect not just the past, but the lives of those trapped in poverty and despair. “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” by H.G. Welles is not strictly a vampire story, but the illustrations by Shepherd Hendrix perfectly capture its Edwardian setting.
“Dracula’s Guest” is popularly considered the original opening chapter of Stoker’s novel, although the differences in the final version make that hard to reconcile. It’s also the story I know best, and Ronn Sutton’s artwork depicts it pretty close to the way I’d always imagined it. He gets the atmosphere, and the sense of an otherworldly European location, exactly right (I love the details on the soldiers’ uniforms).
Finally, “Olalla” by the great Robert Louis Stevenson is, like the Welles tale, only tangentially a vampire story, but the page illustrating (courtesy of Reno Maniquis) the single vampiric attack might be the strongest in the whole book. It also made me look up the word, “tatterdemalion.” It ends the volume on an appropriately melancholy note.
The Graphic Classics series is produced by Tom Pomplun in Wisconsin close to where I live, and has amassed an international reputation for its variety, matching story and artwork in unexpected and often startling ways. This latest edition is no exception, and suitably for the Halloween season, it’s a delightful visit with those children of the night.