Dracula, Motherf*ker! – 72 pages of the very best Dracula book you’ll have read for decades. Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson deliver a book that’s fast and smart, a horror from the darkness of LA’s ’70s underbelly, drenched in colour and a masterpiece of art as mood.
Getting the nuts and bolts out of the way first, as Malissa already gave you an advance review – but I wanted to talk about the comic again as advance reviews have to be, by their unspoilery nature, image light. Here, we’re going to show you just how beautiful and impressive this book is.
So, this is a Dracula tale from the alt-point of view, focusing on the Brides he takes, first those from Vienna, 1889, and then with a new set of Brides turned in Los Angeles, 1974.
Long story short, the 1974 era Brides have wised-up and realised what a manipulative, abusive asshole their ‘husband’ truly is and they’re rebelling against him, ending up with him buried and nailed to the bottom of his coffin. Okay, there’s your first moment to suspend your disbelief, get over the classic thought of ‘but why not just kill him?’ and accept that they simply don’t. It might be they can’t, it might be there’s still some control over them means they can’t even if they want to.
But trust me on this. Suspend that disbelief, strap yourself in and get ready for one of the books of the year.
So, back to the plot and a jump to Los Angeles, 1974, where the lights of both LA and the movie set have taken their toll on Bebe Beauland, fading film star, in the process of losing both her fame and her looks.
But, in another of those little ‘hmmm’ moments, she just happens to have Drac’s coffin in her back room. Again, another moment of suspending disbelief, and again, easily done, because this is something that, aside from those two little moments, simply wonderfully done.
As far as Drac MF goes, what you have here is a simple retelling of a familiar tale. We’ve met the monster, we’ve met the old, vengeful Brides, we meet the first of the new LA Brides. All we need now is a Harker – and he pops up as a somewhat sleazy photographer selling dirt on the stars in a very James Elroy-ish fashion. So, with everything in place, we have old Brides versus Drac and the new Brides, Harker dragged into it all, as we race towards a breathtaking finale.
So, Drac MF is fast and furious and easily summarised for sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything less than a superb read, nor is it something without depth. Not at all, it’s simply that this is a comic that’s not so much about the plot as it is about tone, theme, and the sheer incredible execution of the plot. And of course, as good a job as Alex de Campi does, the star of this show has to be Erica Henderson‘s artwork and colouring, which is absolutely marvellous.
As far as the themes and tones that dominate the book, in her notes in the back of this book, de Campi talks of the way that Dracula, Motherf*ker was put together, how it concentrates on the Brides, the way that she wanted to bring a modern sensibility to the classic Dracula accessories, mentioning Melania Trump and Georgina Chapman Weinstein along the way, how they fascinate her, that idea of the what-if, the women who trade themselves for a life of wealth and beauty.
She also talks of not wanting a beautiful monster here, which is why this Prince of Darkness is as far from the suave, tempting vampire of the movies as you can get. This is an ancient, decrepit, mass of shadows, all ethereal nightmare, a vile thing, but a vile thing that can give you what you think you desire.
The way de Campi couches things leads us down the path of coercive control, the powerful man abusing the younger woman, albeit taken to the nth degree. But you can see it and hear it all the way through, as the old brides come back in, revenge in mind of course, but also wanting to bring an end to the nightmare and the continued control of a new set of woman.
The Brides of old are looking to free the new brides from the fate that they suffered so many years, even as those new Brides come out with the language of the controlled and the self-deluded…
“That’s not how he is. Not anymore, not with me.”
Words heard all too often, yet never in this way, de Campi’s anger rising as the action takes off as the book reaches its finale.
So, story over, now for Erica Henderson’s incredible artwork and colours. Again, de Campi talks of this being something taking elements of Japanese superflat art, late ’60s psychedelic art shows, Op Art abstractions, and the imagery of artists such as Klimt. And you can see all that at various points in the book. And no, it’s certainly not too many different styles, as Henderson takes it all and melds it seamlessly, beautifully, vibrant, fresh, fast, amazing work.
Setting it in LA is a perfect thing, this city of modern fantasy, of neon wonder and night-time life isolation and despair, there’s nothing so miserable as being afraid and alone in a city of bright lights. With everything here taking place in the night time hours, this is still allowed to be a bright, bold statement of a comic – the darkness filled with colour, Henderson deliberately ditching any sense of realism in her colouring, instead perfectly adopting a set of colours to evoke mood and tone.
Similarly, Henderson talks of the reasons for the colours as well as the deliberate design of the book as a series of spreads. Not double-page spreads in the double splash page sense, oh no, this is far more clever and well-done than that. Henderson took a view that the book was designed first as spreads, then individual pages, then as panel layouts. And not only does it make sense but it adds a real consistency of style to a book that bursts with artistic boundary-pushing. What it ends up as , thanks to Henderson’s skill, is a read where everything, every element, spread, page, and panel, absolutely pops off the page.
And so much of that pop is through her colours. Oh, the things Henderson does with colour throughout DMF is, frankly, amazing, the sort of thing that will be mentioned in the best colourist category in various end of year lists – yes, it’s that good.
There’s colours as mood and tone, there’s colour as an abstract, with Henderson eschewing realistic colours for DMF in favour of expressive, vibrant schemes that can gently lull you into the horror and/or leap off the page, right for your jugular.
There’s everything here, absolutely everything, and all done with a storyline that exists exclusively at night. You have black and white noir, you have darkroom plot-point reds, you have the cool blue noir scenes, you have everything that makes up any of the great pulp noir crime novel covers. I could go on and on and on about Henderson’s contribution to one of the books of the year, but hey, you can see that just from the few selections of the comic here in this review.
I’ll end just with a few moments of Henderson’s artwork that burned themselves onto my brain.
First, this, as Harker races through the LA night…
It’s the wonderful way Henderson ditches speed lines and just breaks up the line of the car to show the movement, that’s the beautiful, innovative technique here, something that she uses, as she does with all the various techniques here, sparingly, which makes seeing it each time another thrill.
Or this, again showing speed, again luxuriating in the LA night…
A more traditional way to show speeding traffic for sure, but it’s the contrast between the headlights flashing by in a solid speed blur and the details of the backdrop that mark it out, again and again and again, as glorious. And her use of colour is so expressive, adding a warmth to the night, very abstract, absolutely ignoring realism, but making the overall effect so good to linger on.
Or this, a pop-art explosion from the comic…
Totally ignoring realism, the shapes of the explosive blast as pop-art bubbles, abstracting things with that vivid, unrealistic pinks and reds and oranges and yellows – all of them set against the building and the trees, bathed so well in that pink light.
Now, I’m a sucker for architecture, and it’s a panel I absolutely love because of that. Now, the building is so well done, but it’s the lighting that makes this one, all bathed in moonglow and streetlights, again with Henderson choosing a palette that just works, regardless of whether it’s realistic or not.
Oh, and while we’re on that panel, a mention of de Campi’s lettering through the book. It’s rare for a writer to also letter their work, but de Campi obviously knows just what she’s doing. The standard lettering through captions and speech bubbles is unobtrusive for the most part and perfectly done, but it’s the effects lettering and the special lettering given to Dracula or moments in the finale that need mentioning. Look again at the panel above and notice the little ‘creaaak’ of the gates. Simple but so effective.
And as for that Dracula lettering…
See how that works? The words just sitting there on the page, the font chosen for impact, the effect of it all making you, the reader, give weight and menace to the words, playing them over in your head, adding to the menace. And that’s not even getting into the stunning fashion that Henderson completely reworks how shadows work with her colouring.
Okay, enough. I reckon you know by now just how incredible and enjoyable I thought Dracula, Motherf**cker! was. It’s going to be up there on my books of the year, a perfect example of two creators working in synergy to produce work that deserves a far wider audience.
Dracula, Motherf**cker!, taking the old and tired ideas of the mythos surrounding the character, turning things on their head and then really going for it. The result is an electrifying read and one that sees an artist truly come into their own.
Dracula, Motherf**ker! by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson. Written by de Campi, art and colours, oh the colours, by Henderson, letters by de Campi. Published by Image Comics.