Dracula is one of the biggest blockbuster shockers of all time, a story we know like our own flesh and blood. Every decade raises its own re-imaginings, but the 1970s was a particularly fecund decade for Dracula and his children, from Hammer Studios’ final stake-thrusts at Christopher Lee’s Count to works like The Tomb of Dracula, Blacula, The Poe Clan, and Interview with the Vampire. Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson pay tribute to the sanguine seventies with Dracula, Motherf**ker!, an original graphic novel as explosive as its title.
Alex de Campi (writer), Erica Henderson (artist)
October 7, 2020
Dracula, Motherf**ker! (god, I love typing that) begins in 1889 Vienna, with Dracula’s three rebellious brides nailing him to the bottom of his golden coffin. In 1974 Los Angeles, Quincy Harker is a more capitalistic sort of vampire, making his living off dead bodies as a crime scene photographer. When an aging starlet seeking eternal youth frees Dracula, Harker takes pictures of the ensuing bloodbath–and plunges into the shadowy world of the undead.
This book is pure pulp, red and juicy. Feverishly paced, it’s easy to imagine Dracula, Motherf**ker! as the A-picture on an old 42nd Street double bill, maybe alongside The Velvet Vampire or Twins of Evil. The Los Angeles setting helps—actress Bebe Beauland releases Dracula at a party straight out of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and the text later invokes the black specter of the Manson murders. What is Los Angeles, after all, but a city that feeds off dreams and youth? It would be a mistake, however, to reduce this to a simple grindhouse homage, as this is an artistically spectacular comic that embraces the medium to do what those films could not. Don’t look for any rubber bats hanging on strings; they aren’t here.
Artist Erica Henderson creates a haunting, atmospheric Los Angeles, filled with thick, inky shadows that threaten to swallow Harker whole. There are arterial splashes of color, too—imperial red, of course, but also acidic lime, radium white, and deep, oceanic blue. An unholy hideaway explodes, releasing a psychedelic inferno in pink, orange, and red, like a Jerry Garcia poster swirling to life. When Dracula speaks, his words are red gothic letters that can’t be contained by balloons; they look like silent movie intertitles, emphasizing that the elder vampire is a creature out of his own time.
And how do you make a monster like Dracula? Henderson does something rare: she draws a Dracula you’ve never seen before. Here, the vampire is a cloud of foul black smoke with dozens of eyes, grasping claws, and a mouth of terrifying teeth. This is Dracula completely stripped of nobility, sexuality, or ambiguity, without even Nosferatu’s corpselike shell to make him recognizably human. His most human trait is, alas, his raging misogyny, which manifests not only in his victimization of women but also his continued manipulation of them after they drift out of the morgue. He twists their loyalty into a brutal competition, pitting his new wives against each other (“My other bride has failed. No matter. You were always my favorite”) even as he tries to destroy his original wives, who have found strength in unity against him.
Dracula’s three brides are a compelling presence; often portrayed as pallid, identical seductresses in diaphanous robes, the comic restores their individuality, depicting them as a hip, modern trio. (One can imagine the stories they’d tell us, if they didn’t rip out our throats first.) Our POV character, Quincy Harker, is introduced with great hook—as a photographer who sells gruesome snaps to tabloids, he already lives in the underworld, even if he doesn’t know it yet. Also note the name he shares with the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker, the heroes from Bram Stoker’s original novel. With a Black protagonist, there’s an opportunity to challenge the default whiteness of most Dracula retellings, but Harker’s name has no larger significance; it only adds a touch of garlic to the plot.
This leads to the weakness of Dracula, Motherf**ker!, which is its thin story. At 72 pages, this a lean and mean hardcover, without a single unnecessary scene. The fast pace makes the book feel rushed, with a sudden stop of an ending, and the characters have potential that is mostly unrealized. Dracula needs no introduction, being one of the greatest monsters in our cultural imagination; we can project any meaning onto him that we want. That’s significantly less true for the brides, who still remain nameless, let alone original characters like Harker and Beauland. The book touches on themes that are rich and relevant, like the fact that Dracula and Hollywood both share an all-consuming hunger for vulnerable young women. But I wish it could have delved deeper. It’s the difference between a trickle of blood, and a gush.
Nevertheless, Dracula, Motherf**ker! is a bloody good bash that harkens back to an earlier era of Drive-In delirium in all its lurid, lip-curling glory. Submerging the lost souls of Los Angeles into intense, Technicolor horror, Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson have given Dracula a revival worthy of the deathless Count. Dracula, Motherf**ker!, in a word, fucks.