Over the past couple of decades, Count Dracula has lost some of his power. Between 300 rip-off with the PG-13 rating and the animated kids’ movies starring Adam Sandler, the lord of all vampires has become kind of silly. While the BBC/Netflix retelling of the Count’s story that was released last year did Bram Stoker’s original tale of terror justice in many ways, its glibness and goofy, Shyamalayan twist at the end made it hard to take seriously. Compared to newer terrors like Pennywise and the Untethered, Dracula just doesn’t seem that terrifying anymore.
That’s where Ricardo Delgado comes in. The veteran Hollywood concept artist and acclaimed creator of the comic series Age of Reptiles has now written and illustrated a fresh retelling of Stoker’s classic novel, titled Dracula of Transylvania. The story not only expands the demonic world of the vampire overlord, but also seeks to bring a sense of blasphemy, disgust, and pure horror back to the original gothic tale. Funded via Kickstarter, the project has already more than doubled its initial monetary goal, displaying just how much fans are ready for Count Dracula to reclaim his throne at the head of night’s armies.
We reached out to Ricardo to find out what inspired him to take horror’s greatest icon back into the dark…
What was your first experience of Dracula? Was it reading the book, or watching one of the movies?
Definitely the Lugosi movie was at the forefront. As a kid in the 1970’s, Channel Five used to run the Universal horror films each October, and this was the once-in-a-year moment to watch any and all of these films, and the first week was usually the origin films of the characters: Drac, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon. The second week was usually dedicated to the sequels or team ups, and usually started with Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, a personal favorite. I would also state that the Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula was also important to me as a kid because he was a pretty evil interpretation, and I enjoyed him battling Blade and some of the other characters in the 1970’s Marvel Horror stories.
How did you come up with the concept for Dracula of Transylvania?
Well, I’d seen that the character had started to drift toward the angle of sympathetic romantic and felt that the time had come to flip tonally back to a monster, a true undead creature. Then as I formed the story I found that I wanted to fix my character into actual history as much as possible. That angle had been taken before, but not to the extent that I decided to take. I wanted also from a story structure standpoint to break the story into two halves, having it paced in a modern way, while then in the middle inserting this Victorian Era ghost story in the form of a journal of one of the characters that would explain the central mystery and remaining plot points in the story. That journal would be written first person by the character, yet in the tone of the classic ghost stories by writers like M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft and E.F. Benson. And it worked.
What were some things you definitely wanted to do with this take on Dracula?
Well, from my background in storyboarding, conceptual design and visual effects on some of the biggest films of the last twenty years, I deliberately decided that I wanted to write and design action sequences and VFX-laden characters that would be difficult if not prohibitive on a major motion picture. Even as a kid, for example, I had always had a problem with the transformation scenes. Either the creature was unconvincing or the transformation itself was. So I decided that my Dracula would be this incredible shapeshifter, able to move as he transformed and shapeshifted between the different forms described in the original novel, yet adding a few more for my story. That goes for all the vampires in the story. And I didn’t want a regular-sized bat, I wanted my Dracula in bat form to be the size of a pterodactyl, with the ferocity of a tiger. And again, I think it turned out just fine, but you’ll have to read the book to see for yourself.
Along those lines, what’s something you didn’t want to do?
I did not want the sympathetic character. Definitely wanted the malevolent, powerful, remorseless conqueror. A shadow that cast a mighty silhouette over the European continent for a thousand years. A symbol that even all the great villains of that millennium would tremble at, as well as Popes and Kings. The Lugosi film is actually based on a play, a rather confined stage play at that, so I really wanted to push the adventure, the spectacle as well as the supernatural world around the king of the vampires.
We’ve seen art of many monsters and demons from this book — what about the Count himself? Tell me about your Dracula.
He’s a combination of all the cool things I thought possible about the character: a historical figure, a supernatural being, a royal (though an unholy one), a warmonger, and strangely, an appreciator of the arts. But there’s a reason my Dracula is into the arts: he himself cannot love, so he does not understand the artistic process, so throughout the centuries he’s accumulated rare pieces of art: a lost manuscript from Cervantes here, Mozart’s unfinished requiem there. And there’s a scene between Dracula and Rembrandt in this story that I’m very proud of.
Is there something about Dracula that you feel other artists/filmmakers don’t get quite right?
His motivation for heading over to England in the first place, which is something I addressed in the story. Because the area around Dracula has not run out of necks to bite, so I came up with a stronger motive: revenge. In that sense the motivation worked out well for the story because you think you understand Dracula’s thirst for revenge, but there’s a twist in there that I hope readers will enjoy.
I also feel like historically the Brides of Dracula get short changed in the story, so this time they come along for the ride. Here they are formidable, powerful female characters that are there to be agents of his evil, but also they have their axe to grind with the vampire king themselves and they go toe-to-toe with him. Representative of the three classical cultures of the ancient world, the Brides are ferocious, strong yet complex characters — in a way the most complex characters in the story. Yet they’ll turn into giant bats and rip your head off in one blow with no problem whatsoever.
Finally, in your opinion, what is it about Dracula that has made him such a memorable character for over a century?
His very versatility. At times he’s been played as an elegant living corpse, other times as a bloodshot-eyed monster and even an old, feeble man. To say nothing of the father figure in the Hotel Transylvania animated films. The variety of those incarnations are what makes the count immortal. IMMORTAL. Get it? Get it? Sorry!
Words by Chris Krovatin