The new graphic novel by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson devours expectations.
“Retire your fog machines, my friends, and think again about what the heart of Gothic horror is, rather than simply what its accessories were 125 years ago.”
Put away the capes, the chiseled features, the dank crypts, and the armadillos. Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson are on a mission to return the king of bloodsuckers to the dimension of shadow and horror. The writer and artist love everything you love about vampires and the trappings they’re usually tangled within, but they also refuse to shackle themselves to the commandments etched in the genre by those who followed Bram Stoker.
Dracula is not Bela Lugosi. He’s not Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, Tom Cruise, or Robert Pattinson. Dracula is a selfish creature who surrounds himself with human meat, whether slaves or cattle. He’s a monster, a demon. He’s Dracula, Motherf**ker.
The above quote comes from de Campi’s afterward in the new graphic novel from Image Comics. It’s a compelling thought that severs the concept from a narrative gone gangrenous. The creatures are not withered; we are.
We’ve spent so much time amassing the rules to go alongside the vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monsters, that we’ve lost sight of what made their stories so utterly creepy and compelling in the first place. Dracula, Motherf**ker does more than dust the cobwebs off the coffin; it flips the lid off the bastard and reveals the paradoxical mesmeric, grotesque wretch within.
The story opens in Vienna, 1889. Three of Dracula’s brides conspire to bind their master to his coffin. They succeed, but nearly a hundred years later, a fading Los Angeles starlet resurrects the beast under the fantasy that his methods trump an endless stream of facelifts.
Crime scene stringer Quincy Harker stumbles into the supernatural side of sunny L.A. when he snaps some sanguineous shots of gnashed necks in a seedy motel. Don’t be fooled by his mug on the cover; he’s a classic film noir chump, ready to meet doom in the gaze of a Femme Fatale. Make that three Fatales in three brides.
Dracula, Motherf**ker is a sumptuous read. Henderson’s art frolics in the artificial, seemingly ruminating in the same headspace as Francis Ford Coppola when he adapted Stoker’s classic work for cinema. Chasing realism is to sidestep sensitivity and heart. Theatricality is where blood is boiled, stomachs are churned, and brains are blown.
How does one adapt a noir aesthetic in a bright, penetrating color? You chase emotion, trading shadow for impossible rainbows. Henderson swirls her environments in reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and blacks. No doubt, this is the real L.A. caught under the spells of bloodsuckers of every ilk.
You drift through the comic like a cartoon dog hooked on the fragrance of a window sill apple pie. The sway of de Campi and Henderson has you, and as you finally meet Dracula’s intoxicating gaze, you wonder if you’re similarly imprisoned by the creators. The comic is methodically staged with spreads purposefully designed to wallop when needed. Henderson sees your jump-scares Hollywood and raises you a turn-the-page-scare.
De Campi firmly weaponizes the charm Dracula holds on his prey. Refusing to provide the villain with delicious physical features, or even an alluring personality, amplifies the dread of the piece. Dracula renders judgment impossible, making your mind his mind, your body his body.
Dracula is indeed a motherf**ker, and he gets it as all motherf**kers should. Besides, why have one film noir chump, when you can have two? The final turns of the story act as both a viciously satisfying solo experience while also stirring a craving for another dish. If de Campi and Henderson are willing, my body certainly is.
Dracula, Motherf**ker reawakens but does not reinvent the most famous creature of the night. This is still Bram Stoker’s monster, with a heavy emphasis on “monster.” He’s not beholden to the myriad of interpretations that came after the original text, and he sure ain’t sexy.
De Campi and Henderson do not deliver on the imagined comic suggested from the title. It’s not the exploitation trash-terpiece some might be expecting, although there is plenty of grindhouse supporting its structure. Instead, Dracula, Motherf**ker confronts its genre by celebrating its founding principles. Through their enthusiastic efforts, de Campi and Henderson generate one of the best comics of 2020.
It’s time to pull ourselves out of our Monster Squad clubhouses, pulverize the rulebook, and acknowledge the broken soul behind the fangs. Smile, you son of a bitch.
Dracula, Motherf**ker hits comic shops on 10/14 and bookstores 10/20.