Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula

LugosiMost biographies, though classified as nonfiction, still have a narrative. Going beyond simply listing facts in chronological order, biographies will portray their subjects as protagonists in their own stories, having readers cheer for them as they overcome adversity or dread watching them succumb to the tragic flaws in their character. As promised by the title, Koren Shadmi’s Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula beautifully shows both the highs and lows of Lugosi’s life.

Shadmi begins his story with an older Lugosi checking himself into a clinic to treat his drug addiction. In the throes of withdrawal, Lugosi recalls his childhood in Hungary and how his ambition to be an actor was a disappointment to his family. After making his way to America while speaking little English, he eventually lands the part of the captivating vampire Count Dracula, first in the stage production and then in the movie. His portrayal of Dracula not only shapes the image of vampires for the American movie audience, but the role catapults him into the public consciousness. However, Dracula’s cape creates a long shadow that Lugosi could not escape. And soon, the money would run out, the women in his life would come and go, and he would align himself with the man many call the worst director of all time, Ed Wood. Lugosi died still trying to pursue a comeback that was always out of his reach.

Shadmi’s portrayal of Lugosi reveals a deeply flawed but very charismatic person. Readers can see, through Shadmi’s dialogue and how he develops Lugosi as a character, why the actor was so well regarded in his performance as Dracula. This creates a likability in Lugosi even as readers observe his self-destructive behavior, from his addiction to morphine and methadone, to how he treated the many women in his life, to how he mismanaged his own finances. There are even some shocking scenes of drug use showing the tight grip Lugosi’s addiction had on him, but it does so in a way that highlights the very unglamorous side of drug addiction. Overall, Shadmi has depicted Lugosi as someone the reader will root for: a man determined to get back the fame he once had and to extricate himself from his addictions, even as door after door in Hollywood is slammed in his face.

The art style that Shadmi uses is black and white, much like the movies Lugosi is famous for, while making the characters seem vibrant and expressive. Shadmi’s skill for drawing faces means that readers will easily be able to tell the difference between Lugosi as a boy, a man, and an old man. Through Shadmi’s artwork, readers will also recognize many other famous faces Lugosi interacted with, including Boris Karloff, known to classic horror fans as the actor that brought Frankenstein’s monster to life and in many ways Lugosi’s rival. Shadmi is also not afraid to get surreal when, during Lugosi’s withdrawal, hallucinations of the people in his life appear to confront the actor with his failures. Shadmi also gives an understated but powerful visual representation of Lugosi indulging in his drug of choice.

Those librarians looking for something different for their biographies section should look at Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula. Even some teen librarians should check out this title because it serves as an excellent anti-drug message, as well as telling a sweet yet tragic tale. It stands out not just because it’s a graphic novel, but through images, dialogue, and a flawed-but-sympathetic protagonist, Shadmi creates a bittersweet tale of what happens when someone gets a taste of fame early in their career and spends the rest of their life trying to recapture it.

Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula
By Koren Shadmi
Humanoids, 2021
ISBN: 9781643376615

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Israeli-American