Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Dracula Adaptations | All-Action Classics: Dracula (2008)
Adapting classic literature for a younger audience - and keeping it faithful to the literature - is tricky business. Any kind of adaptation has its challenges, but taking a novel intended for adults of a century or two ago and making it exciting for modern kids is super daunting. Especially when that novel has a difficult narrative style and spends a lot of time building dread by prolonging events. And then there's the blood and violence.
Not that younger readers don't also appreciate lots of blood, but I imagine that some of their parents aren't quite as excited about their being exposed to it. Michael Mucci and Ben Caldwell had some hard choices to make. Fortunately, they made all the right decisions on All-Action Classics: Dracula and created an adaptation that's perfect for their audience - including grown-ups in the mood for a fast-paced, exciting version of Bram Stoker's story.
Caldwell's animation-inspired characters and settings look like concept art for what could be Disney's Dracula, though Mucci's script does anything but dumb the story down. The combined result isn't much like a Disney film, but the art has the same level of quality. Jonathan Harker and Mina actually have more of a Rankin-Bass look to their designs. They're fresher-faced and less exaggerated than the other characters, which is appropriate since they're the readers' entry to the story. They seem the most normal of the cast.
Renfield is fully convincing as both a kind, pitiful, old man and a violently energetic lunatic. Van Helsing is a comical old scientist with professorial facial hair and enormously bushy eyebrows. Dr. Seward is a thin, fragile-looking man. You can tell just by looking at him that when he moves he's very careful and measured.
Caldwell draws aristocratic Arthur Holmwood with classical, almost effeminate features. He looks like he's stepped off the side of an ancient Greek vase. Quincey Morris is a big-jawed Western hero with long, Wild Bill Hickok hair and a mustache to match. I want to read a whole series of stories about Caldwell's Morris. Lucy has dark, exotic features that make me believe all of these men would fall in love with her. Her looks also turn her into a hauntingly seductive vampire once Dracula's done with her.
And as for Dracula himself: Caldwell's version is probably my favorite representation of all time. He strikes just the right balance between seductive and menacing. A couple of the film versions have gotten that right, but so often Dracula is either horrendous and disfigured or dapper and handsome. Caldwell's design with its switch-thin frame and terrible, crooked teeth leans toward the horrendous, but Dracula's body language conveys a confident, powerful, compelling presence. This Dracula can seduce, but it's a seduction based on the vampire's awful will rather than romance. It's perfect.
The lettering helps with this image too. The tails on Dracula's word balloons don't point straight at him like everyone else's in the book. They curl and wind, suggesting a silky, hypnotic voice. And this is the book's greatest strength. Not just the lettering, but the ability that the lettering and the character design and the colors and everything else has to quickly tell you what you need to know about each of these characters. There's no need for long, tension-building scenes. The tension and the horror is all visual. That frees the script to just hit the action parts of the plot.
All-Action Dracula lives up to its name. Not that there aren't scenes of people talking, but Caldwell juices those up too with interesting details and animated facial expressions. Mucci uses very few captions - mostly at the beginning and end as the story ramps up and finally settles down again - and even then he's sparing about how much text he allows into a panel. There's nothing in comics I hate more than having to spend a lot of time reading captions on a page. Mucci doesn't make me do that, which is pretty impressive in a Dracula adaptation.
Since I first read All-Action Dracula and reviewed it for Comic Book Resources several years ago (a lot of this post is based on that review), Ben Caldwell and I have become pals. He was nice enough to send me some behind-the-scenes designs and other miscellany a while ago for me to post on the site. It's really cool stuff, so just click that link if you want to see it.
Rating: Five out of five Minas.
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