Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Script by Roy Thomas, art by Mike Mignola
One of the most pleasing reprint editions of the season is new from comic book publisher IDW: a full-color collection of the 4-issue mini-series produced in 1992 as part of a fairly large Columbia Pictures publicity campaign for Francis Ford Coppola’s clunkiest, least-watchable, and most consistently embarrassing movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The title of the movie (itself likewise clunky) is just about the only time Stoker makes an appearance in the proceedings on screen. The actual ensuing celluloid disaster was written by James Hart as a kind of fun-house mirror distortion of Stoker’s immortal novel, where the staccato pacing of the original is shin-kicked until it jumps and stutters, and where the central characteristic of each figure - Jonathan Harker’s epicene heroism, Van Helsing’s comedic dorkiness, and even Dracula’s brute, calculating evil - is hollowed out and reversed; this is a whoopee cushion rendition of a story that had been called director-proof before Coppola got his hands on it.
The movie has gone on to become a punchline, or a series of them: Gary Oldman’s weird dowager-bun hairdo, Anthony Hopkins’ ridiculous scenery-chewing, and especially Keanu Reeves’ intermittent attempt at … whatever the Hell kind of accent that’s supposed to be - all have become shorthands for wretched filmmaking, the kind of bad that sticks in your memory like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth.
By far the best thing to come of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was that comic-book mini-series back in 1992. It was written by comics legend Roy Thomas and drawn by soon-to-be-comics legend Mike Mignola, who would almost immediately after this create Hellboy and thereby achieve creator immortality. True, Thomas was obliged to work with Hart’s at times incomprehensible script, and true, Mignola was obliged to work with the movie’s style book and storyboards - the imagination of any comics fan will fairly strobe-light with picturing a Thomas-Mignola Dracula adaptation done without those obligations - but even so, these issues manage to achieve a moody, low-key glory the movie never approaches.
The folks at IDW have made an excellent production out of it, including the addition of several pages of Mignola’s original pencils that show an astounding artistry at work. An old industry pro like Thomas would be the first to admit that the sales of a new edition like this one will rest almost entirely on Mignola’s status as one of the greatest comics illustrators of all time, and Mignola fans who likely missed this mini-series when it first appeared will find many of his hallmarks already in place: sumptuous use of heavy blacks, a sure hand with tableaux, and the confidence to let major beats of action happen without adornment. Even with Coppola’s tone-deaf scene breakdowns, these pages are unfailingly eye-catching.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula has a cult following, of course (I’m a member in good standing), but it embarrasses any attention given to it that isn’t either distracted or intoxicated. Alternately, its graphic novel adaptation, available in comic shops and bookstores after a quarter of a century, repays all kinds of attention tenfold.
—Steve Donoghue is a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Historical Novel Society, and The American Conservative. He writes regularly for The National, The Washington Post, The Vineyard Gazette, and The Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.