Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula absolutely deserves the respect it gets as the granddaddy of all vampire novels, but it’s well over 100 years old and may be somewhat inaccessible to modern readers. I know the last time I tried to read it I only got about halfway through before I got distracted by something quicker and flashier. Bearing that in mind, a graphic novel adaptation of Dracula is a great idea. Trimming the novel down a bit and highlighting the more dynamic scenes makes it more palatable for teen readers who are wrapped up in the current vampire craze and want to get a better grasp on their vampire history.
Authors Leah Moore and John Reppion do a really admirable job with Dynamite’s The Complete Dracula. They could have reworked the basic story into an action/adventure story, a gorefest, or a psychosexual thriller; all these elements are present in the novel and have been emphasized in various past adaptations. Instead, Moore and Reppion stick closely to the source material. They speed the story along and modernize the language, but don’t lose the spirit and tone of the novel.
The general plot of Dracula has been retained across most adaptations and is probably familiar to most readers. The ancient vampire count decides to leave his castle in the backwoods of Transylvania and move to the modern bustle of Victorian England, where human targets are more plentiful. After he kills young beauty Lucy Westenra and turns her into a vampire her fiance and friends band together to find and kill the count.
This graphic novel retains two very enjoyable aspects of the original book that are often lost in adaptation. First, Dracula doesn’t appear at all through long stretches of the book. He’s a mysterious presence lurking just off the page. When Dracula first begins to gain power over Lucy we see her declining health and growing unease but aren’t shown a cause. Like the characters, we can only examine the evidence and events we’re shown and draw our own conclusions. The air of mystery is intriguing and unsettling. This tone is furthered by the epistolary form Moore and Reppion have wisely maintained. All of the narration comes from journals or letters written by the characters, which are realistically incomplete and often quite emotional. This very effectively ties us to the characters as we see the world through their eyes.
Unfortunately, Colton Worley’s art fails to live up to the writing. It’s proficient but uninspiring and tends to look flat and dull on the page. It rarely achieves the nuanced menace the story deserves. Most panels seem like posed images of bad actors, as if someone said “Stand there, hold your arms like this, and look scared.” There’s no sense that these are real people captured in the midst of doing something. Van Helsing, in particular, tends to look somewhat ridiculous, like a young man wearing a false goatee and sloppy old age makeup, which unfortunately undercuts one of the book’s best characters.
The text makes up for any disappointment with the art, however, and makes for an enjoyable read. The collected edition includes the author’s notes from each of the five individual issues, which provide an interesting glimpse into the adaptation process, including their controversial choice to use Stoker’s short story “Dracula’s Guest” as a prologue. The publisher suggests The Complete Dracula for teens and up, which seems fairly appropriate. Any vampire story will involve some blood and sensuality, so parents or educators who are particularly concerned about such things may want to have a look before giving the book to younger teens.