REVIEWS OF GRAPHIC CLASSICS: BRAM STOKER
Regular Fanboy visitors know I've reviewed earlier volumes in Tom Pomplun's fine GRAPHIC CLASSICS series, which adapts the works of legendary authors into comics form. While all seven issues have some interest for horror fans, #5, JACK LONDON, fit better in the crime fiction genre, while #6, AMBROSE BIERCE, was heavy on satire. It's good to change things up, but if you were eager for a return to straight horror, it's time to latch your sweaty palms onto a copy of GRAPHIC CLASSICS #7, which turns the spotlight on a demigod of the genre: BRAM STOKER.
Knowing this book was coming, the big question in my mind was how Pomplun would handle the toughest part of any retrospective of this author's work: that's right, the word, Dracula. A comprehensive adaptation of the classic vampire novel that's been in print continuously for over a hundred years would require an entire volume to itself. And yet, one can hardly present an overview of Stoker's career while ignoring his most famous creation. Pomplun wisely compromises with three short Dracula-related pieces.
"Dracula's Voyage" tells the story of the ill-fated ship that brought the Transylvanian nobleman to England. "The Vampire Hunter's Guide" reveals Stoker's original conception of what exactly the Count's powers are (sure, you knew he controls wolves and bats, but did you realize he also commands those other terrifying creatures of the night: moths?). The best of the three is "The Dracula Gallery", a dozen pinups by top independent artists like Maxon Crumb (Robert's brother) and Spain Rodriguez, each depicting a scene from the novel, accompanied by a relevant line of Stoker's prose. So familiar is the story of Dracula that the gallery presents readers with an overview of the original book without taking up too much space repeating a tale we've all heard before.
In fact, while all three Dracula pieces have something to offer, I would have preferred just one (preferably the Gallery), with more space devoted to some of Stoker's lesser known works, like LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, the inspiration for the surreal and sexy cover painting by Film Threat and Mad contributor Glenn Barr. My only previous exposure to WORM was the low-budget horror flick of the same name, both shot and set in the 1980's, known mostly for its early Hugh Grant role plus a heavy dose of overacting and cheap titillation. The GRAPHIC CLASSICS adaptation, illustrated by South African cartoonist Rico Schacherl, is a faithful one, keeping the story in its original 1800's setting, and the result is far more eerie and atmospheric. However, it suffers somewhat from being compressed (the source material is a full-length novel, after all), and I couldn't help but feel that a few more pages would have made it flow even better.
But that's a minor quibble, and any ardent Dracula fan would probably want to impale me for suggesting less face time for Vlad. The more salient point is that I (and, I'll wager, many other horror enthusiasts) didn't realize just how prolific a writer of dark fiction Stoker was. In addition to making the vampire famous, Stoker also drew on other denizens of the supernatural for his villains, like the wrathful ghost in THE JUDGE'S HOUSE. I'd seen this short story adapted before in Warren's classic CREEPY magazine; but this version, by X-MEN and SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT inker Gerry Alanguilan, is even more chilling, and that's high praise indeed considering the Warren version was drawn by the legendary Reed Crandall. And Stoker didn't stop with ghosts; for his novel THE JEWEL OF SEVEN STARS, he created a female counterpart to Dracula: Tera, the mummy of an Egyptian wizard-queen who seems determined to return to life through a beautiful young woman named Margaret. I confess I'd never heard of this particular work before, but as soon as I get the time I intend to read it, because the section adapted in this book was extremely well done; especially the character of the villainess, who (at this point) is seen only in flashbacks and in her influence over Margaret. But that's enough to establish her as a strong, cunning personality, and the part where Margaret takes exception to the other characters poking and prodding Queen Tera's perfectly preserved corpse ("Stop! This is indecent. It's sacrilegious!") is a wonderful character moment. The art, by one of my favorite GRAPHIC CLASSICS regulars, J. B. Bonivert, is perfect for the story, and he does his usual masterful job.
While this isn't my favorite volume in the series (I suspect the H. P. LOVECRAFT edition will hold that title for awhile), it's right up there. It did exactly what Tom Pomplun set out to do: entertained me, and also opened my eyes to some classic works of fiction I'd do well to seek out and read. If, like me, your knowledge of Bram Stoker consists of "DRACULA and . . . uh, some other stuff," you should really pick up GRAPHIC CLASSICS: BRAM STOKER, which has more pages than six regular comics at around half the price. I give it four Rabid Fanboys.
Review copyright 2003 by E.C.McMullen Jr.
THE TOMB OF DARK DELIGHTS
TombRats who have been paying attention have noticed that the TombKeeper has become mesmerized by Graphic Classics, a series of astounding tales written by great writers, illustrated by great artists. The newest edition of the Graphic Classics series features one of my favorite writers of all time, Bram Stoker, author of the granddaddy of all vampire novels, Dracula. And this is the granddaddy of the Graphic Classics series so far! Not only will you find Count Dracula's story magnificently illustrated, you will find his lesser known stories such as "Lair of the White Worm," "Torture Tower" and more! My particular favorites include the humorously illustrated "Professor Abraham Van Helsing's Vampire Hunter's Guide", and the moody and frightening "Dracula's Voyage" (my favorite part of Stoker's novel). When you click on the cover graphic to purchase your copy, remember I told you to turn to Page 85 of your copy, where Spain Rodriguez has illustrated a page as evocative and terrifying as anything I ever saw in the pages of the late, lamented horror mags, Creepy and Eerie. This volume is a triumph for Graphic Classics and a Halloween gift to horror fans everywhere. TombKeeper's highest recommendation. Rock on, Graphic Classics!
MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
Graphic Classics: Bram Stoker presents illustrated novel adaptations of classic tales of terror by Bram Stoker, best known for his classic novel "Dracula." Stark black-and-white imagery by a variety of different artists (Hunt Emerson, Rico Schacherl, J.B. Bonivert, Evert Geradts) adds a stringent and often visually provocative touch to these spine-chilling narrations which are especially recommended to the attention of Bram Stoker fans and Horror Fiction enthusiasts.
Following recent Graphic Classics books for Ambrose Bierce and Jack London, the series hits its stride with its seventh book, this one adapting the works of Dracula daddy Bram Stoker into comic-book form. The worlds most famous vampire is depicted in a gallery by a dozen artists, as well as in an illustrated excerpt from the novel. But the best pieces come from Stokers lesser-known works, like Rico Schacherls take on Lair of the White Worm, J.B. Boniverts adaptation of the mummy-rific Jewel of Seven Stars and especially Onsmith Jeremis Tower of Terror, a rendering of Stokers most garish (and hilarious) short story, The Squaw. Other artists participating include Hunt Emerson, Maxon Crumb and Mitch OConnell. There hasnt been a bad Graphic Classics title yet; up next in 2004 is Mark Twain.
Dracula is one of the most famous of horror stories, blazing the way in a field that, 100 years later, is still growing in popularity. Despite being his most famous work by far, Bram Stoker wrote a plethora of other short stories and novels. It's mainly from his shorter works that the tales in this anthology of adaptations are plucked.
The collection is a mix of comics, single full page panels and illustrated prose stories. The comics are obviously of most interest to us, especially the adaptation of Lair of the White Worm (perhaps Stoker's second best known work) by Rico Schacherl; the wonderfully atmospheric Dracula's Voyage (an extract from the novel) by John W. Pierard; and The Judge's House by Gerry Alanguilan. There's a great mix of styles throughout the book, offering something for everyone, though purists may find some of the stylised works to be less weighty than the scratchy but more realistic Pierard.
The stories, despite being overshadowed by Dracula, make for a great read. Genuinely disturbing and never lacking in imagination, Stoker's yarns make gripping reading. We initially thought it a shame that the prose stories hadn't been adapted into comics, though the space that would have had to be given over allows more Stoker to be crammed in, which is certainly no bad thing.
Count Dracula himself is present throughout the book despite only having a part of his story adapted, which is probably the law when it comes to making a collection like this. However, the balance of the familiar with stories that most of us won't have read before is a happy one. And if Pierard were to publish a graphic version of Dracula in its entirety, we'd be first in the queue to have a look.
I'd heard of this series but hadn't seen it before. It's a great idea, having some really talented people interpret stories from various literary figures. They also have Jack London, Ambrose Bierce and H.P. Lovecraft (I'd love to see that one), which all begs the obvious question: where's Edgar Allan Poe? Just curious. Here are the names in this that you might recognize: Onsmith Jeremi, Hunt Emerson, Spain Rodriguez, and Richard Sala. Various stories from Bram Stoker are interpreted here, some as pictures accompanying text and others just as illustrated versions of stories. Certain artists would take chunks of stories too, as a few different people did parts of Dracula (with the Hunt Emerson illustrated "strengths and weaknesses of vampires" being my favorite. Basically if you like the Big Book series from DC or like the work of the author in question, they've done a great job with this book. Well worth a look, especially considering that it's only $9.95 for a fat book. Check out the website, why don't you?
Volume 7 in the ongoing Graphic Classics series is a marvelous adaptation of Stoker's body of work, including many of his lesser-known pieces, such as "The Funeral Party" and "Lair of the White Worm." Because most readers picking this up will look for stories about Dracula, three short works to satisfy vampire fans are included. The format is varied: some stories have only a few illustrations; others are told largely in pictures. Twenty-five different artists are represented; their styles vary greafly, but their art always reflects the dark, heavy tone expected from a classic horror anthology. Gerry Alanguilan's rendering of "The Judge's House" is particularly good, using subtle lines to convey the tension and overall mood. Put this in the hands of a student looking for an accessible entry to Stoker's body of work, or give it to fans of gothic or horror stories as a change of pace.
AMAZON TOP 100 REVIEWS
"Graphic Classics: Bram Stoker" serves up an excellent collection of illustrated stories by horror Grandmaster Bram Stoker. Each tale is either fully illustrated, comic book style, or text and page combined. All of the illustrations are in black and white, and feature a wide variety of styles and flair. This is definitely not the typical art you would find in a DC or Marvel comic, but is much more "arty."There is plenty of "Dracula," Stoker's number one claim to fame, but there is also enough of his other works to let us know that he wrote more than one novel."Lair of the White Worm" is a great tale of jolly, haunted England and the monsters that haunt its green and pleasant land. A comic book style tale, with a Victorian flair in style."Torture Tower" shows the danger of being a loud-mouthed American tourist in Nuremberg. Comic book style."The Wondrous Child" is illustrated text, with a flight of fancy and a trip to fairy land."The Funeral Party" is a one-page illustrated text. Excellent dark humor." Dracula's Voyage" is a scratchy rendition of the first few chapters of "Dracula." Very well done."The Dracula Gallery" has artists taking a snatch of text as inspiration, then creating a page."Vampire's Hunter Guide" is a combination of Van Helsing's text and semi-humorous drawings."The Dualists" is an illustrated text piece of two friends and their passion. By far the most gruesome of the lot."The Judge's House" is comic book style, a haunted house story."The Bridal of Death" is adapted from "The Jewel of Seven Stars." A mummy tale.
Dracula has remained in print since its original publication in 1897 and is by far Stoker's most well-known work. This story collection does an excellent job of introducing the reader to the full spectrum of horrific creatures invented by Stoker. Two of the pieces are sure to send some readers searching out the original texts for further reading. "Lair of the White Worm," based on the novel of the same title, introduces the beautiful but deadly Lady Arabella who may be possessed by an ancient and evil white worm. "The Bridal of Death," excerpted from The Jewel of the Seven Stars, is the story of the mummy of Ancient Egyptian Queen Tera, who has laid the groundwork for her own reincarnation. Other stories feature a torture chamber and a vengeful cat, young boys who literally get away with murder, and a classic house-haunting ghost.
Three of the pieces are based on Dracula. "Dracula's Voyage" retells the story of the Count's arrival with darkly detailed illustrations in the traditional comic format. "Professor Abraham Van Helsing's Vampire Hunter's Guide" is a whimsically illustrated listing of the strengths and weaknesses of vampires. The best of the three is "The Dracula Gallery," in which twelve artists each contributed a full-page black-and-white illustration illuminating a short quote from the book. In addition to providing an amazing contrast of talented artistic styles, the panels actually convey a basic sense of the plot of the novel.
This collection based on Bram Stoker's writing succeeds on two levels. It provides an overview of his body of work that the average person will not encounter anywhere else, and it introduces its audience to the styles of close to thirty different graphic artists. While a bibliography of Stoker's works is not included, short biographies and contact information or websites are provided so that readers can seek out the artists who appeal to them. This volume, like the others in the Graphic Classics series, will be enjoyed by fans of horror and gothic fiction as well as those looking for an introduction to the graphic novel experience.