Attempting to adapt any classic work of literature is an undeniable challenge, especially when attempting to condense a longer novel into a much shorter graphic novel. Attempting to adapt Dracula for younger readers is arguably more challenging than most; taking the sexuality and violence out of Dracula doesn’t leave the author much to work with when retelling the story.
Michael Burgan certainly tries with this adaptation, but Dracula isn’t an adventure story and it doesn’t really work to try to make it one. While Burgan clearly tries to frame the story into a good versus evil quest of heroes and villains, the simplicity of doing so does not fit the story. The rich thematic depth of the original is missing from this work, leaving behind little to engage the reader’s interest or attention. Cuts to the story are necessary to any adaptation, but in addition to the loss of Stoker’s dark sexuality, homoeroticism, and gruesome violence, key figures and events in the telling of the story are missing, and those gaps hinder the narrative flow of the work. The decision to exclude Renfield, who is in no way a minor character, simply adds to the plot difficulties. The exclusion of Quincy Morris and the reduction of Arthur Holmwood to a brief mention also weakens the telling, and those absences make the Lucy/White Lady subplot seem like an odd add-in rather than a key part of the story.
Ruiz’s art is well done, but unfortunately it does not help focus the reader on the horror aspect of the vampire tale, nor does it particularly help establish a sense of adventure. Using black and white or grayscale illustrations rather than color, even subdued colors, would have better captured the dark nature of the work, the starkness of Victorian London, or the mysteriousness of Transylvania. On the positive side, each character is given a distinctive page presence, making it easier for readers to remember who is whom in the story. In an interesting divergence from the text, Dr. Van Helsing is portrayed as a tall, dark, handsome young man, more Seward’s peer than his mentor.
This Capstone adaptation seems intended for the classroom and it is well-designed for that use. The publisher rates Bram Stoker’s Dracula at a 2-3 grade reading level, with an interest level for grades 5-9, making it appropriate both for younger readers and for reluctant or struggling readers. The graphic novel begins with a pictorial introduction to the cast of characters, helping students to match names and faces within the text. Vocabulary terms are bolded in the text and included in a glossary appendix. Finally, classroom use is supported by the inclusion of Common Core aligned reading and writing questions at the end of the story.
While graphic adaptations can be of great value in offering a more approachable introduction to challenging classics for young modern readers, in this case, those readers would be better served by waiting to introduce the original story at a more appropriate level of maturity and reading skill than by offering them this milquetoast adaptation.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
by Michael Burgan, Bram Stoker
Art by Jose Alfonso Ocampo Ruiz
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 5-9