Dracula is back, but he’s not in Transylvania anymore. The year is 1974. The place: L.A., and a young photographer named Quincy Harker is about to find out what happens when vampires rise from the grave. Dracula Motherf**ker isn’t just a pretty title: it’s a new OGN coming out from Image Comics and here to talk about it are writer, Alex de Campi, and artist, Erica Henderson.
Rachel Bellwoar: Dracula Motherf**ker isn’t the first graphic novel to use the f-word in its title (I’m thinking of Chuck Forsman’s The End of the F***ing World), but it still feels like a rockstar move. Was there any pushback or alternative titles you considered, and how has it been watching people try to navigate how to say it? Were the ‘u’ and the ‘c’ always censored on the cover or did that come about later?
Alex de Campi: I’m like an accidental rockstar. I don’t deliberately try to be edgy or whatever. My process is like “oh, that would be fun / amuses me,” and then only later people perceive it as daring or different. I think the thing about growing up as a comics writer almost entirely outside the mainstream process is you realize there aren’t actually as many boundaries as the industry wants you to think there are. I feel like we also proved this with TWISTED ROMANCE. You can do wild things; it’s okay. Just don’t be an asshole about the way you do them.
I designed the cover logo from the beginning with the splatters. Much as I just thought the title was a bit of fun, I knew that it might be difficult for some shops and some libraries to order books with swears in the title. Plus, I think the blood splatters work really well. It’s almost more fun that way. Image was always super supportive of the title; nobody was like “great book can you give it a more boring name,” which makes me think I hang around the right sort of people.
(I do the graphic and logo design on almost all my creator-owned works, as well as the lettering. It was because I came out of a DIY/‘zine scene, and I never had enough cash to hire a letterer or designer, and now it’s just part of my process.)
The secret history of the title is that it came about years ago, when me and the artist Coop were arsing about on the internet (he’s a good friend, and we have a lot of similar influences.) He asked something like “if your vagina was named after a classic literary character what would it be (don’t say Miss Havisham)” and I responded “DRACULA, MOTHERFUCKER” and then we made a comic. You have to know that at any given time, whenever my brain is idling, I’m basically thinking up concepts for trashy exploitation-horror films.
There hasn’t been any pushback on the title that I’ve heard; quite the contrary. I’ve had anecdotal accounts of people having a blast calling up their local comic store to order it. Look, 2020 sucks, and giving people a joyful way to shout “motherfucker” at each other is self-care.
RB: Quincy Harker is a fairly unknown quantity, but he still has ties to Bram Stoker’s novel. What made you want to write this story about him instead of a new character?
AdC: Part of the joy of the book is directly referencing Dracula, and bringing in that element of overheated Gothic horror (which is really helped by Erica’s colours) and transferring it to Los Angeles in the 1970s. Plus, I wanted to use Harker because he has the most accidentally black name in white literature since Percy Jackson.
RB: Dracula exploiting the dead is pretty typical, but Quincy’s job is pretty sleazy, too — taking photos of crime scene victims so he can sell them to magazines. Without that job, Quincy wouldn’t have a reason to be at those crime scenes and it’s also how you learn a lot about who Quincy is, from watching him with his camera. How early in the process did you know that would be his career?
AdC: I always knew that was what I wanted him to do. He had to be a creature of the night too, and very solitary/isolated, in order for this to work. I’ve worked some night shift jobs, and I remember that weird sort of floating life when your existence is opposite to nearly everyone else’s. The original refs I was throwing around were Weegee and the Dan Gillroy film, Nightcrawler, but with vampires — though to be honest we only took the most tangential influence from Nightcrawler as I’m not a fan of Gilroy as a filmmaker. You can tell he secretly despises all his characters and enjoys making fun of them, which means no viewer is ever going to love any of his characters, because he doesn’t. (Contrast him with someone like my fave Paolo Sorrentino, who’s one of the great humanists among currently working directors, or the Coen Brothers, who are able to mock characters, but love them at the same time.) There was also a bit of Count Yorga in there, of course, and the rootlessness and constant searching of a Thomas Pynchon California story — let’s say Lot 49.
RB: Speaking of Dracula, while he’s developed a signature look over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an interpretation quite like Erica’s! From the cross blanket to the human arms… what was it like reimagining such an iconic, horror monster and which part of the redesign are you most proud of?
AdC: Oh, I have a whole essay in the back about the pettiest hill I will die on: that Dracula should not be handsome. And our interpretation may be new-ish in a Western sense, but manga and anime has been doing this for ages. I was deliberately referencing things like Alucard becoming incorporeal in Hellsing, or Pride in FMA: Brotherhood, or the Superflat art witch sequences in Madoka Magica. The monster is more terrifying if it isn’t contained within a man; if it could be any shadow. People think too small with Dracula; that’s always my criticism. People are always reproducing the tradiitional trappings of the story when they remake it, rather than the real heart of what makes it terrifying.
Erica Henderson: Some of the look was suggested by Alex. She had made reference to certain anime and Klimt, to get across the ethereal sense of the character. The crosses you’re referring to is a direct reference to Klimt’s “Death and Life”. The part that I’m proudest of is using design elements to imply a non-human shape while having desiccated limbs poking out. It was important to show him as something beyond human (the amorphous shapes) but also that he’s vulnerable, revealed by the flesh. Hands, eyes and mouths are also just the most expressive parts of a person and to have a character who is only those things just makes him more fun to draw.
RB: One of the features that makes your Dracula so menacing are his eyes. What was the inspiration for that? I especially love the scene when Quincy meets Dracula for the first time and all you see are these giant, red, optical illusion eyes.
EH: When we were first talking, my thoughts for the eyes were more focused around 70’s patterns. You know those swoopy but very uniform wallpaper designs? I wound up keeping a little bit of that, especially in the part that you mentioned, but as I was drawing it made more sense to make the eyes more chaotic. Like I said before, there’s so much potential for expression in eyes, it was more fun to just have MORE EYES! For MORE EXPRESSION!
AdC: Eyes are an absolutely primal visual cue. We as prey beasts are hardwired to look for eyes in our environments, as a way of looking out for predators, so to see a bunch of eyes on a page in a way that doesn’t quite fit or make sense sends the lizard parts of our brain into a bit of a spiral and that drives an unusual response to the drawing. (And, as discussed above, I settled on the idea of a shadow / eyes and mouths Dracula, a monster reduced to his absolutely essential elements, because I watch way too much goddamn anime.)
RB: The lettering for Dracula’s dialogue is quite different from the other characters. Christopher Lee’s Dracula famously didn’t talk much in his movies. How did you decide your Dracula would speak?
AdC: A lot of my lettering choices are just spontaneous, once the art is in front of me. I knew I wanted his voice to be different, and almost to feel like it was echoing in your mind rather than in the air, and I just played around with fonts until I found one that fit.
The way I work is very jazz-band, improvisational — the script is a full, detailed script, but artists are welcome to disregard whatever parts of it they want. And then once I have the art back I do a lot of redialoguing and rethinking when I have the page open in Illustrator and I’m fitting the letters to the page.
RB: Usually Dracula’s brides aren’t allowed to demonstrate much free will or are under compulsion most of the time. Why was that an aspect of the Dracula mythology you wanted to rebuke?
AdC: Dracula as a story habitually written by men takes self-determination away from the brides because they don’t understand the complicated nature of female victimhood and rather than interrogate it they create the brides as blameless and thoughtless (female characters are hard/virgin-whore complex) whereas here, I’m much more interested in the choices that some women make to achieve money and power through sexual and/or marital relationships with utterly horrible, unappealing men. That does not excuse them from being victims but it does excuse them from being the perfect, snow-white sort of victims that only exist in fictional abuse narratives, not real ones.
Also: “they married Dracula because they were in looooove with him”: bless.
RB: Did you have any rules for how you wanted to approach color in this story? So much of the action takes place at night yet it’s propelled by all this color, and then when the sun comes up it’s startling, because L.A. looks so different in the daytime.
EH: I know that Alex wanted to keep the book entirely at night, not just because of Dracula, but the nature of Harker’s work also makes him a creature of the night. For color theory- there’s a few things. First, I felt no need most of the time to rely on realistic color, and honestly, I think there’s many 3 panels altogether that have it. If it’s all going to take place at night, why confine ourselves to a lack of color? I’m also a fan of the look of Giallo horror. It’s period accurate, which is a nice bonus, but the use of colored gel lights in Giallo is just fantastic. Color is used for mood and story and that’s what I wanted. Like you said, there are instances where the light changes and I wanted to reflect that as well. In a vampire story, the time of day is a major plot point.
RB: Since Dracula Motherf**ker is coming out close to Halloween, which vampire movies do you consider the essentials?
EH: OH. Okay. Let’s see how much Alex and I overlap here. I’ll try to list different styles of movies to keep my list shorter: Near Dark, Cronos, Lifeforce, Fright Night, Let the Right One In. Ok, I’ll stop there.
AdC: Oh jeez, my mind just went completely blank. Near Dark. Nosferatu. Vampyros Lesbos. Only Lovers Left Alive.
Thanks to Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson for taking the time to discuss Dracula Motherf**ker with us!
Dracula Motherf**ker goes on sale October 7th from Image Comics.