The Dracula File
Gerry Finley-Day, Simon Furman and Ken Noble (writers); Eric Bradbury, Geoff Senior and Keith Page (artists)
Rebellion: 2000 AD
October 16, 2017
(Originally serialized in SCREAM! issues 1-15, 1984 and Holiday Specials 1985-1988)
The Dracula File offers cozy horror nostalgia. Both the art style and the text—“Meanwhile, behind the Iron Curtain, a KGB officer was more than suspicious”—bring a contemporary reader back to the days of the mid-1980s, when heavy, sketchy black-and-white comics had thick panel borders and narrow gutters, and when vampires were not sexy.
In fact, no one in this book is sexy, not even the vampire hunter, who achieves a remarkable lack of sexiness despite looking like Jon Hamm. An un-sexy Jon Hamm. That’s dedication.
In The Dracula File, Dracula disguises himself as a Soviet army defector and gets taken to a safe house in the “English countryside.” Personally, I wish the safe house could have been on a blasted heath or a windswept moor, but I suppose we can’t have everything we want. He immediately gets his MI5 nurse in thrall to him and goes about hunting English people.
Colonel Stakis (yes, Stakis), the more-than-suspicious KGB officer, is warned by his superiors not to be superstitious and not to help the British, but he decides that a blood-sucking fiend is “beyond politics” and follows Dracula to England, where they hunt each other diligently for the rest of the book.
In his introduction to this volume, Ian Rimmer calls The Dracula File “an appealing mix of clever updates to Bram Stoker’s creation interwoven with some classic conventions of vampire mythology.” I think that gets to the heart of what this book has to offer: it successfully gathers bits of ephemera to feel like the documents in a case file. It does not, however, present a complete plot as one would expect from a graphic novel, or even a completed plot arc as one might expect from a volume of an ongoing comic.
Rather, The Dracula File collects five-page stories from the 1984 horror anthology comic SCREAM! and the Holiday Specials that appeared in following years. Five-page installments just aren’t very long. The characters and premise must be constantly reintroduced to readers. It does not seem at any point that we might be moving towards a conclusion. The pace is plodding, but actually, that kind of works out fine, because the ongoing situation itself—legendary vampire versus dedicated hunter against a backdrop of contemporary England—is the appeal.
The international politics are more interesting than they initially appear. Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula arriving in England is often discussed as a metaphor for xenophobia, which comes through in The Dracula File: “the English countryside” is described as “for centuries a land with harmless wildlife. But now a foreign creature had come to Britain.” Spoiler: The foreign creature is Dracula. There are the expected references to the KGB and the Iron Curtain, of course, but the purported heroic vampire hunter is Soviet Stakis rather than the expected plucky team of British amateurs. Also, Dracula himself seems like a holdover from an earlier political time. He is centuries old and persists in calling totally modern people (farmers, bus drivers, etc) “peasant” and it takes old pre-Soviet “peasant tricks” of holy water, silver, garlic and stakes to combat him. It’s cheesy, but it’s also more culturally nuanced than I had expected.