James Tynion IV, Martin Simmonds, and Dracula Make Sweet Music
Updated: Oct 25
We chat with the creative team about their new horror title and why Renfield is their gateway character.
Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds about Dracula, the new Skybound series. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.
"Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!" Is Bram Stoker describing the dark critters who roam around the count's castle or James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds? When these two come together, it should be an event for any comics reader. Their collaboration on The Department of Truth unleashed uncanny sequential pleasures. Watching them collide again for Dracula, the new Skybound series done in partnership with Universal Pictures is a ridiculously tantalizing seduction.
The Stoker story has been retold and reinvented nearly countless times. We all have our favorite versions, and some of us were probably not anticipating a new one. However, when you hear Tynion and Simmonds are eager to supply their interpretation, you gotta take notice. Some creators you'd follow no matter where they want to go, and even if you were not hankering for a new Dracula, you suddenly become ravenous for it when you hear they're doing it.
Dracula is a four-issue series hopefully designed to launch various Skybound/Universal Monsters tie-ins. The first issue drops this Wednesday(10/25), just in time for Halloween. To celebrate, we spoke with both James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds about their passion for Dracula. We discuss what delineates their version from past interpretations and why Renfield became their in for the story.
Brad: I'm honestly a little surprised that this comic even exists. Can you talk a little bit about how this collaboration came into being?
James Tynion IV: Honestly, it was a meeting I had with Alex Antone at San Diego, two San Diego's ago. At that point I was done doing superhero work. I thought I was done with anything licensed, but I knew Martin and I were about to hit a breakpoint in Department of Truth. And then Alex Antone asked the magical question of, "Do you like the Universal Monsters?" And literally within two hours I was texting Martin like, "Would you want to do Dracula?" And it turned out that yes, he did.
Martin Simmonds: Yes, I did.
Brad: And Martin, talk about getting that call and the desire to do Dracula.
Martin Simmonds: Oh, amazing. I mean, I love working with James anyway, and obviously we've got quite a long track record now, but the opportunity just to do some out-and-out horror was too good to pass up, to be honest with you. So yeah, it was "Yes" straight away, obviously. We were on a bit of a hiatus with Department of Truth by then, so it's absolutely perfect timing. But yeah, couldn't wait to get started.
Brad: Just having read the first issue of Dracula, it's definitely, to say it's a little bit of a departure from Department of Truth is probably an understatement. Getting into that head space for both of you, what is required?
James Tynion IV: It came down to something very, very simple. I was excited to see how Martin would draw this. The central driving idea behind every page is, would it make me excited to see Martin draw this? It's like, I'm going to make Dracula turn into a bunch of different things. I'm going to just have lots of blood. We're going to have a lot of creepy weirdness. And that's the joy of making comics: working with a collaborator you trust so immensely. I've done entire issues of Department of Truth where I basically just write a dialogue flow and then Martin decided how everything looks, and those are some of the most beautiful issues of Department of Truth. This was throwing him a bunch of bloody curve balls and seeing him hit each of them out of the park.
Martin Simmonds: It was exciting because you said in the very first introduction to it, on the first script, it was like, we are going to use color heavily in this. It's going to be used as a really interesting tool in the book and use it as a way to show Dracula's influence and see natural powers. So, it goes from black and white into bold color pages and back. All of that is music to my ears. The chance to use color in those kinds of interesting ways is very, very exciting.
Brad: And obviously this character has been interpreted and reinterpreted hundreds of times. Which Dracula are you two chasing?
James Tynion IV: It's a very good question. I mean, one of the big things that we talked a lot about at the start of this whole process is specifically we are coming from the Universal iteration of the character, which just so happens to be the most visually iconic version of Dracula ever to exist. So being able to lean directly into that image is a tremendously powerful gift. But beyond that, I think one of the big things that Martin and I really bonded over was our connection to the Renfield character. In the Universal iteration of Dracula, Renfield's role is is much more substantial than in any other iteration. He's the one who goes to Transylvania instead of Jonathan Harker.
So it changes the entire dynamic of the story and elevates him, and Dwight Frye's performance as Renfield is so perfect. He's both manic and dangerous, but also very soft. And he seems very vulnerable and he's a character that you want to take care of in a certain way. And there's an essential quality there. There's a reason we start on page one with Renfield, and then as the story continues, and especially once I saw the phenomenal way that Martin approached that character visually, that became, I think - as much as the horror phantasmagoria of Dracula is a key visual element in the series, I think the Renfield here, that's probably going to be the image that a lot of people take away from this book, and I hope they do.
Brad: And Martin, talk a little bit about bringing your own aesthetic to the Universal Monsters. I can see the classic Universal Monsters in your work, but you're also doing something that is also just very you.
Martin Simmonds: Yeah. I don't think I can help but it to be something me really. I mean, it's just the way it's done. It's never going to be a straightforward kind of representation of the film in that regard. I mean, actually what's turned out to be an advantage is that we can't use Bela Lugosi's likeness. That's a really good thing in the end because we're not slaves to that reference from the start. I don't have to reference that character so he, Dracula stands out in that respect. I mean, he still wears the same costume and all those kinds of things, but we're also playing with the animalistic elements of it. Somebody says it's the bat, and the wolf and so forth. They're really exciting parts to play with. But yeah, I mean, it still needs to look like it's the Lugosi Dracula, but it needs to look different as well at the same time.
I think that's a natural thing. I think it's just the natural progression, the way it's developed, the way we played around with the development of the character in the first place before we started even doing the book, where we were just doing the concepts. And it's the same, again, as James talked about Renfield. It's the same thing. He is kind of based on Dwight Frye's version of Renfield, but it's just pushed much further to a more extreme version of him. Even there's certain really visceral moments with that character where he becomes the monster as well. And a lot of that true horror comes from his character. What's happened to him. He's just been worn into this half-life essentially. And that's the horror for me.
Brad: You two obviously have a strong working relationship. You know each other so well and what works for the other, but are you always on the same page on a project like this, especially when it is starting out?
James Tynion IV: Actually kind of, yeah.
Martin Simmonds: Yeah.
James Tynion IV: I think in this and in Department of Truth, I think we started on a very similar page. Then there are moments where something happens in a way that one or the other doesn't expect it, but then we tend to lean in rather than lean away.
Martin Simmonds: Yeah. We kind of roll with things, don't we? But that's kind of the beauty of a working collaboration in comics, just like, it evolves, doesn't it? There's a back and forth, but they're back and forth, we're not butting heads over anything, they just move from one thing to the other, and then I take whatever you've given, then I give it back to you with this imagery, and then you roll with it and it just develops from there. That's the beauty of collaboration. When you find people that you can work with well, that's where the sort of poetry comes with it.
Brad: And for both of you, what does Dracula feed you creatively that the Department of Truth does not?
James Tynion IV: Blood.
Martin Simmonds: For me, it's out-and-out horror.
James Tynion IV: Yeah.
Martin Simmonds: I mean, there's obviously horror elements in Department of Truth, but I just love the fact this is a nice four-issue horror story, and that's essential. There is more, deeper than that, but for me, that's what I love about it. Good versus evil.
James Tynion IV: Yeah, and I think that there's something in that where in Department of Truth, it's just like, we find many... I say we, Martin finds very many dynamic ways to show a bunch of people in a room talking, and there's plenty of people in a room talking in Dracula, just to be fair. But there are also these fantastic moments that need a story of this kind of fantastic quality to tell. And we're not grounded in any way. Even in the limited ways that Department of Truth can get pretty ungrounded from time to time, but it's just like the heart of the story is a human thriller that exists in a world that allows for the stretch of the imagination and a stretch of imagery. But this is just leaning right in.
Brad: And I think what was so delighting to me is that it also feels like a very relevant comic. It feels like a comic of the now, even if it is inspired by the Universal Monsters iteration.
James Tynion IV: Yeah. I think that was the goal, to try to capture that timeless quality that I think that the original Universal film had. But what timeless means is different in 2023 than it was in the 1930s. We're hitting a similar nerve but we're hitting it from our place in time, and we want it to feel as vibrant and contemporary as any other work we do while also respecting the era in which the story takes place. We didn't want to do Dracula comes to London in 2023, but we wanted to do a story that you can read in 2023 and it doesn't feel dated.
Dracula hits shops on 10/25. Find your local comic store.