31 Days of Halloween: Dracula the Unconquered

BY JEN VAUGHN – Comic writer, podcast host and serial blogger at his own website, The Invincible Super Blog, and Comics Alliance, Chris Sims sat down to have a chat with me about his upcoming Dracula comic to be fully released on Monday, October 31st, also known as Halloween. Six delicious pages are up as a preview now.

Chris: What time do you want to do this interview? Tonight or tomorrow? Let’s talk ponies.

Jen: Chris, how about now?

Chris: Continue.

Jen: Tell me about your newest comic, something about Dracula?

Chris: YES, it is called DRACULA THE UNCONQUERED written by myself; pencilled, inked and colored by Steve Downer and lettered by Josh Krach. Steve is pretty amazing, he’s worked in DC Comics and most recently, Boom Studios.

Josh Krach (pronounced Crock) is an incredibly talented guy, creator of Troop Infinity and a great artist. He’s been lettering Awesome Hospital for the last couple years. Steve did the logo (usually I con the letterers to do the logo).

Jen: What prompted you to make a Halloween comic?

Chris: It’s not actually Halloween comic. It’s the most appropriate day for the release of a comic featuring a monster or a cryptid though. Steve’s first drawings dated from February. He was busy coloring the Boom studios comic that Kurt Busiek made so I waited until both our schedules were free.

Jen: Is this the first time you and Steve have collaborated?

Chris: No, first time we’ve done something with him as an artist. We worked together on Woman of Action where he was a colorist (and made apin-up). We talked about doing a webcomic a couple years ago with an immortal character. Every story told would be in a different century to keep it from getting boring. Couldn’t figure out the angle. So Dracula seemed good for Steve, it was a natural fit.

Jen: A modern take on Orlando would have worked, right?

Chris: Yeah, I hate Orlando. I don’t think that would work. It’s sorta an English major . . .necessary.

Jen: Ha! How long is it?

Chris: It’ll be an ongoing series. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue with it as long as I want to. The first seven issues are plotted out; third one scripted. We’d go on as long as we can do it. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do. It IS Dracula in 1901. Dracula meets Houdini, goes to the Wild West, Dracula goes to China. Oh, I definitely want to do that! I really like those Hammer movies and “Dracula and the Seven Golden Vampires” (with Peter Cushing). I’d love to a tribute to that but as a much better story.

Jen: Would you say you have a thing for vampires?

Chris: Do I have a BONER for vampires? Are you putting on fake fangs, Jen? Not really, I like DRACULA, not vampires in general. I’ve thought of them a lot because of the way they work as fictional constructs. They can represent a lot of things depending on what is amplified; cannibalistic vampires, sexy vampires. I went through a common phase of going to the library and checking out books on monsters. They had these hardbound books using stills from Universal movies. I remember reading those over and over and over. I was never super into vampires specifically—I’m way more familiar with pop culture versions. You know I like unicorns, Twilight Sparkle especially.

Jen: You even picked the most Dracula of My Little Ponies.

Chris: That’s a fair assessment. Dracula is an egghead too.

Jen: Is there anyone else we might recognize in this? Anachronistic?

Chris: Varney the Vampire (1838 – published 50 years before Dracula) is the main antagonist in this series. His story created a lot of the vampire tropes: two holes in the neck, hypnotic powers. Varney was actually sympathetic. He was superseded by Dracula in popularity. Varney is much older, with a brutal physique and can’t hide his fangs. Dracula can hide it all. Here is a connection between the man who wanted to be king of the vampires and the young kid who took it all away from him, there’s a history that’s fun to play with.

Carmela shows up in the first story arc. If I could, I would put a lot of fun, famous vampires in there (like BLACKULA would be there from the start) but I don’t want to do the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I want to take characters and provide elements of them to build the story up. The way Dracula is represented in pop culture. The other vampires you see in pop culture can’t be ignored but hopefully, what they add, what we show – it won’t be annoying.

Jen: Do you see the Cuddly Lion dog costume showing up at any point? How about sexy J. Jonah Jameson?

Chris: Ah, no. But you will see at least 4 vampires and a ghost.

Jen: Do we know they are a ghost from the beginning?

Chris: It’s fairly obvious, the character is translucent and blue. I wanna play with magic, as a story telling advice. Dracula is a cryptid himself, making magic pervasive in the story. Vampires are mystical creatures and they redefine the world around them. I like to play around with the idea of places having spirits. You don’t see that too much.

Jen: Piers Anthony might have done something like that. In Castle Roogna, maybe?

Chris: Yeah, possibly.

Jen: So who is the intended audience?

Chris: It’s an All Ages book. And a lot of people think that means FOR KIDS but that is not the case. A big inspiration is Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the most perfect movies ever filmed. There’s action, comedy, violence, you can laugh out loud and be horrified. There is nothing in Raiders of the Lost Ark that is specific to a generation; you can enjoy it at 10, 30 and 60 years of age. We’re aiming for that. A lot of people who have read DRACULA THE UNCONQUERED told me it feels like Bronze Age Marvel Comics, which has a universal feel as well. Tomb of Dracula, Conan, they share that attitude of the era. Written for an audience of teenagers but you can read it younger and older. It’s an adventure story. Our Dracula will have the tagline: adventure in the heart of horror; nothing scary the first few issues but its very much an adventure comic.

BASICALLY the audience is anyone with an internet connection. If we can get HALF the people with an internet connection, I’d consider myself a success.

Jen: There is a six page preview and full twenty-four page issue on Monday IN color and it costs?

Chris: ONE DOLLAR.  I grew up reading single issues, I like graphic novels and eight page backups but that SINGLE ISSUE format is what I latched onto growing up. The twenty-four page format gives you a structure that is fun to work with. A three act story with a defined place to work. It’s totally cheating in some way, shifting every eight pages makes it much fun. That’s how I’d write Solomon Stone. It’s a fine style to work with and no room taken up by ads.

First of all, it’s digital so I can do that, not paying for print but that little extra room helps build to a better conclusion in each issue. While putting our seven issues together will have a larger arc, they will each feel like an individual adventure. My article on Stan Lee/Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four in 1964 had interconnected story arcs.  Steve Englehart’s Detective Comics with Hugo Strange built on the longer stories. That’s the format that I like! It’s easier to sell a complete issue for $1 vs a digit-GN for $4.

Jen: How can I possibly purchase this comic, Chris?

Chris: Dracula will be available on our website in PDF and CBR format set up with a service via Paypal for a MERE dollar.

Jen: Depending on the success of #1, when would #2 come out?

Chris: The second issue is written. Theoretically, Steve could work on it NOVEMBER 1st but he’s busy with BOOM studios and others. Myself, I find it difficult to write for my own projects in addition to Comics Alliance and Awesome Hospital. The best we can hope for is quarterly. Obviously if 200,000 people buy it I’ll quit my day job and write Dracula comics FULL TIME. Hahaha, Steve too.

Quarterly, gosh. Steve is one of the best colorists today and that takes up a lot of his time he could be pencilng and inking. BUT when you’ve got one of the best colorists in the business, you want him to work.

Jen: Quarterlyish…1, 2, 3 – VALENTINES? Could I buy it for my valentine?

Chris: Actually issue 2 is a tale of love gone wrong… That would work, not in the way you think. I’m telling Steve that’s what we’re doing now that you’ve suggested it.

Jen: Looking at the cover art, I have to ask…Did you read a lot of Ruse before you made this? That sidekick looks familiar.

Chris: YES, that is true. She is a slight homage to Emma Bishop. I talked to Mark Waid after interviewing him for War Rocket Ajax. He was very helpful in discussing his work on Emma in Ruse who wasn’t exploitative AND wasn’t just a prop to have things explained to her. How do you do it, I had to ask him. He gave me the advice ANYONE can benefit from:

“You never have one character tell another something that they already know.”

That way you avoid reducing a character to a plot device or dumb them down. Thalia, Dracula’s sidekick, has her own motivations and reasons for being with Dracula, which you’ll see in the first issue. Obviously, the eyes will all be on Dracula. You don’t want to spend a lot of time on the sidekick but she is very much a part of the story and how she relates to Dracula, well, she changes the story by being there. It’s a completely different thing if it’s Dracula on his own, it would be Tomb of Dracula where he’s unrepentant. A side kick can see him at his lowest point and act as his conscious (for lack of a better term). Thalia’s contributing to the story in a completely different way than if it was just Dracula by himself. She’s fun to write too. She’s one of the reasons I wanted to set it back in 1901. I wanted him to have a smart sidekick, that is not genre-deep smart, not steeped in vampire knowldege like we are today.

Jen: Does she have any knowledge of vampires?

Chris: Well, she has READ Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it comes out in the 4th or 5th issue.

Jen: Is that a jaunty little hat I see on the that crow on the cover?

Chris: It is a crown…If I tell you anymore it will ruin the story. “But WHO or WHAT is it?”

Jen: Will you be sitting in your chair dressed as Dracula on Monday to watch the money roll in?

Chris: If enough money rolls in that I can run out and buy a Dracula costume, I might.

Jen: What is a must-have in your bowl for Trick-or-Treater’s?

Chris: Full size Reese’s. No need for those minis, the full are already ‘fun.’ Although it is fun to shove a handful of those minis in your maw.

Jen: Do you purposefully keep the light off to get Reese’s at the end of the night?

Chris: My porch light burned out so I HAVE to put out a jack-o-lantern. Every three years we get KILLED with kids. The other two years I’ll end up with a whole bowl of Heath bars. I don’t believe in people who get angry about giving away candy to kids without costumes or old trick-or-treaters. Are we really gonna put rules on the night where we hand out candy to masked strangers? If they say the magic phrase, they get candy. Take your rules and shove it. If you can trick or treating to my door, Jen, I’d give you candy and no matter what you dress up as I’ll say “Oh, what a lovely princess.”

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Thank you to Chris Sims for his kind interview and I look forward, as do you, to Monday when I can download DRACULA THE UNCONQUERED for $1.

Jen Vaughn will no doubt read DRACULA THE UNCONQUERED while eating candy she ‘earned’ for creating a TARDIS costume and knocking on other adults doors. She is also a cartoonist, journalist, teacher and writes for the Schulz Library Blog.

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