Kim Newman is at it again.
His superb, genre defying Anno Dracula books have crashed their way into graphic novels, and it’s a wild, frenzied shake up. The characters have been brought to beautiful life (or death, as the case may be) by Paul McCaffrey, and they thrive in their new medium. Old favorites mix with bright new characters to make Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem essential for fans of the series, and it has drawn praise from comic titans the likes of Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Neil Gaiman (The Sandman).
For those not in the know, Anno Dracula is an inventive alternative history series that envisions a world full of vampires. Dracula dispatches with the pesky Scooby gang that defeated him in Bram Stolker’s original and becomes the consort of Queen Victoria instead, beginning a bloody rule that reshapes history. The books, known for their creative use of characters from literature and historical figures, series started in Victorian England but have by now been everywhere from turn of the century Japan to 1950s America. Newman, a master of horror, stuffs them full of clever characters, sharp turns of phrase, and shocking terror.
After laying dormant for several years, the Anno Dracula series has come back from the, er, dead. A new publisher brought the original book back into print, and now Newman is ready to conquer new mediums.
The graphic novel brings us back to Victorian England. Kate Reed, a whip smart journalist and vampire, is dragged into a game of cat and mouse as she tries to discover who is trying to kill her band of anti-Dracula revolutionaries. It’s a fun way to sink back into this world, and an excellent starting point for those who haven’t read the books (in which Kate Reed is a fan favorite.)
Paul McCaffrey’s artwork is lush, moody, and perfectly suited for the time period depicted. The story is a gory thrill ride full of surprises and betrayals. I usually try to take my time reading graphic novels to really take in the art, but I couldn’t help speeding through this one, desperate to find out what happened next. When I finished, I went back to the first page and read it again, more slowly.
In honor of the rebirth of Anno Dracula, I recently talked with Kim Newman, who answered some of my burning questions about the series.
Kate has shown up in the novels, so I was very excited to see her in the cmic. Will any of the new characters from the graphic novel show up in any future books?
I don’t want to give away what happens to the characters—as usual, there’s a pretty high body count, though death doesn’t automatically preclude seeing any of these people again. However, one character introduced in the comic has gone on to be a major player in Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters, the novel I’ve also got out at the moment. And I’ve certainly got plans for several of the others… most especially, I like the way Paul McCaffrey draws Irma Vep, a character who derives from a French silent film serial, and have a notion that she’ll be more central to the next comic book miniseries.
What was your favorite part of seeing your characters drawn by the talented Paul McCaffrey?
Just having faces to go with the people… whether they were new to the series, like Christina Light or Simon Molinar, or long-established, like Kate Reed and Penelope Churchward. In the books, I’m often a bit vague about what people look like, because I like to leave the reader space to imagine their own versions, so it’s refreshing to have the art come back and see expressions and features. I did put Graf von Orlok, the vampire from Nosferatu, in the comic mostly because I know that artists love drawing him – and Paul’s Orlok is splendidly hideous.
Was it very different writing for a graphic novel rather than a novel?
Yes. In terms of plot and character, there’s room in a comic book miniseries for about as much as there is in a novella. But you don’t need to take plot detours to explore the world so much, because a great deal of cool material can just be put in the background. I love the street scenes in the book, where Paul gives a sense of all the other storylines that might be going on while the main characters are about their urgent business. And things like posters on walls or figures in a waxwork can suggest an awful lot.
Was it fun to come back to the Victorian England era of the series, after the most recent volumes were set in the 80s America and 19th century Japan?
In the books, I’d made a conscious decision that each novel would have a different location or time period… but when branching out into comics I thought it made sense to stick relatively close to the period and locale of the first book, just so new readers could catch up on the premise. I’ve done other stories with Victorian settings, some overlapping a bit with Anno Dracula (my novels Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles and Angels of Music, for instance) and it’s a favourite of mine. I wrote Seven Days in Mayhem before starting on One Thousand Monsters, which is why some threads carry over between the stories – but, as you say, my idea in OTM was to get back to the world of the first Anno Dracula novel but show a different part of it. I’d quite like to do Anno Dracula comics with other settings and styles eventually – Paul and I have talked about doing a Hamish Bond—Vampire Spy strip in the style of the James Bond newspaper comics of the 1960s – but for the moment I’ll probably take the 1890s and London as the stage for the AD comics. There are still a lot more stories left to tell in that milieu—even if the next Anno Dracula novel (the book I was planning on writing before its prologue mushroomed into a book all of its own, One Thousand Monsters) will be set in Tokyo in 1999 and so be set in a more nearly contemporary, if fantastical, world.
Anno Dracula is a wild ride of a series, a witty alternative history full of amazing characters and chocked full of references. Where did the initial idea for the series come from and how does the graphic novel slot into the series’ timeline?
The high concept, which came to me while I was reading and researching Victorian science fiction, was ‘what if Dracula won?’ I had that on my to-do list for ten years before getting on with the novel, and I knew from the outset that it would be a series – it’s obviously a universe rather than a single story, and the real world keeps providing me with spurs to go back to the Anno Dracula world to address certain things. Vampirism is such a handy metaphor for all sorts of things. And Dracula casts such a huge cultural shadow. Considering internal chronology, and making sure you have the Titan editions with the extra novellas, the reading order should be: 1) Anno Dracula, 2) Seven Days in Mayhem, 3) One Thousand Monsters, 4) The Bloody Red Baron/Vampire Romance, 5) Dracula Cha Cha Cha/Aquarius, and 6) Johnny Alucard. Reading the books in publication order works fine too.
I loved the story and art in the graphic novel. Are there plans to do more stories in that medium?
Oh yes. Titan, Paul and I are all keen on more Anno Dracula comics… and I’d like to do comics with some of my other characters and premises too. I’m working at the moment on The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School, a follow-up to my The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School… and I’d love to do a tie-in for that, especially since the books are already sort of a mash-up of British girls’ school and American superhero comics (ie: Bunty’s the Four Marys crossed with Marvel’s X-Men). I’ve even got an original comics project that slots into some of the stories I’ve been doing that I hope gets underway soon.
Finally, I’ve always wanted to know, are there characters from literature or history you have been wanting to add to the series but haven’t had the chance yet?
I don’t tend to have a hit list like that. The Anno Dracula stories tend to start out as premises—I hit on a time/place and genre/genres I’d like to visit and play with, and then I see who’s available from fiction or history and often it’s a case of finding someone to fit a slot. For Seven Days in Mayhem, I knew I wanted to write about 1890s anarchist conspirators, so I went out and read or reread the major relevant novels (Henry James’ The Princess Casamassima, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday) and looked at real people before picking up the seven key members of my anarchist cabal. In some cases, this meant discovering characters I didn’t know much about before I started. When I started on One Thousand Monsters—a title that more or less demands press-ganging characters on a large scale—I knew a handful of Japanese monster characters were essential, but I did a lot of research and came across many more wonderful creatures—and then the way the plot was panning out meant I needed several more vivid personalities who I had a great deal of pleasure bringing into the mix.
I do have a few scribbled notes on people I want to include in future stories—I think I’ve found a place for one of my favourite one-scene characters in cinema, the other cat woman (Elizabeth Russell) encountered briefly in Cat People (though she’ll be an Angel of Music, not an AD figure). Someone else I’ve not yet brought on stage but who is a key figure in the strand of my work that includes Professor Moriarty, Drearcliff Grange School, Angels of Music and the Diogenes Club is Colonel Clay, a character from a little-known but terrific Victorian fix-up novel by Grant Allen called An African Millionaire. A big influence on AD and my work in general was Sir Hugh Greene’s series of Rivals of Sherlock Holmes anthologies—also a very cool early 1970s TV series now available from Network—featuring lesser-known Victorian/Edwardian sleuths and scoundrels. Allen’s work was excerpted in those.