Dracula, Terrorist. Henderson on The Dracula War

Henderson on The Dracula War

Forget about flesh-eating zombies and man-apes clad in spandex for a moment. As far as writer Jason Henderson and artist Greg Scott are concerned, Christmas will be really bloody this year.

The next chapter of the duo’s “wild vampires-versus-fallen-angels-versus-military-high-tech war” story continues in the form of a new mini-series from Digital Webbing Press entitled Sword of Dracula: The Dracula War this December.

We tracked down Jason Henderson for a chat about his version of Dracula—a globe-trotting "Osama Bin Laden of vampires"—and in the true spirit of Christmas. In that spirit of giving, Henderson also provided Newsarama with an exlcusive six page preview of issue #1.

Remember though, this ain’t your father’s Dracula.

Newsarama: Jason, he last time we spoke, you were telling us about the Sword of Dracula/Vampirella crossover. Is The Dracula War a follow-up to that story?

Jason Henderson: The Dracula War is to Sword of Dracula what the new Casino Royale was to James Bond—Greg, our publisher Digital Webbing and I wanted this to be a story you could plunge into without knowing anything about the world. But if you're a fan and you read Sword of Dracula/Vampirella, then yes, there are payoffs for having read that story.

NRAMA: Back then, you also told us of a follow-up project with Greg under the working title, “Vienna”. Has that evolved into what's known as The Dracula War now?

JH: Exactly. "Vienna" was the working title of the story—which kept getting bigger—that became The Dracula War. (You want to know the geeky truth? I like to write music, and “Vienna,” by Ultravox, was a tune that kept playing while I was working on this. That and a lot of techno James Bond tunes, because we wanted to convey that kind of thumping energy.

NRAMA: Just what is The Dracula War about?

JH: The Dracula War is the story of Dracula, the world's most dangerous terrorist, going to war with the United States after spies destroy one of his most valuable storage facilities. In retaliation, Dracula seizes a major airport—in fact, the Denver International Airport—and suddenly our hero Ronnie Van Helsing and Drac are locked in this game where each tries to decide what the other will do next. And this is Dracula as you only see him in the world of Sword of Dracula—the now long-dead 45-year-old ruler who controls blood and commands armies. This is the guy who can make your blood boil by looking at you, and he's been on the run and at odds with Ronnie Van Helsing and the Polidorium for over a century. So if you've never read Sword of Dracula before, don't go thinking this is a period piece or a creepy castle story, or that Dracula's a guy in a suit looking for thrills. The Dracula War is a story of guns, guts and vampires—or as we call it, "Black Hawk Dracula."

I remember I used to watch Christopher Lee as Dracula and he's always hanging out in drawing rooms and maybe there's a fight or two. It's all budget making that decision. I remember seeing Lee and going, that guy needs an army to match his ego. And giant vehicles. And zeppelins in the stratosphere that hold vast stores of blood. That guy needs to be as big as his eyes tell you he could be if a Hammer movie were, you know, directed by a Bay or a Cameron. I wanted to make something that the Japanese would call Super Hammer Christopher Lee Dracula Bash, but we call it The Dracula War.

NRAMA: It looks like Sword of Dracula has found its home with Digital Webbing Press. Just how many issues are we looking at with The Dracula War?

JH: Three. When we first started working on the story, we were focused on making it a two-parter, but after Greg read the full script, he called me up and said, nah, nah, this needs to be three issues, because it cuts here and here.

I should stop and explain something about how Greg and I work. Our Dracula stories are our chance to do jam sessions on paper, so we start with very little. With TokyoPop, Tony Salvaggio and I write 160-page scripts, and for Marvel I've done scripts so detailed you'd think they were going to be published without art. But The Dracula War went the way we like to do Dracula—I gave Greg a beat sheet of the story and he went off to do designs. Then, I gave him a full, feature-length screenplay. Then we started working back, with Greg as the "director" putting the comic together.

So I can't stand telling Greg that page four needs to have a long panel at the bottom where Ronnie is jumping. Instead he'll have an outline that says Scene 3 runs 4 pages, and here's what happens.

NRAMA: So, yeah, Ronnie van Helsing makes a comeback?

JH: Absolutely. Veronica Van Helsing is so near and dear to my heart that she has to come back. Ever since we began the series, Ronnie has appealed to people because, as much as she's not a sexpot, I think we've also avoided making her a camouflaged male. She's a real person to me—she struggles with compulsions, has a complicated family, and mother hens her team. She's tough and reliable and in the end a truly competent woman, which is what Greg and I love—in fact, we talk all the time that what we really want to convey with Ronnie's team is the joy of competence, between Ronnie and her teammates Abe, Badi and Marcus.

By the way, there's more I wish I could show about Ronnie, but it's too early. I'm working with another artist on a story called The Young Van Helsings, about Ronnie's bunch of brothers and sisters as teens-- it's intended to be more of a soapy, huge, almost shojo story. But that's still to come.

NRAMA: Care to explain the kind of a world that your characters live in? It’s not 15th or 19th century and it’s not “Buffy vs. Dracula”…

JH: The world of The Dracula War is one where since the turn of the last century with Dracula's first voyage to England, western governments have been actively acting against the vampire organizations. And now there's a full set of protocols—there are prosecutions of vampire criminal organizations, vampire witnesses being stolen from one another, and warring factions within the vampire world. Does the average human being know vampires are there? Yes, but not seriously—they'd generally regard vampire threats as akin to urban legends, the way most people assume serial killers are rare. And Dracula is the most powerful vampire of all, controlling criminal organizations, occasionally terrorizing whole cities for his own means, and always working to consolidate power.

That describes the makeup of the world, but the mechanics of the world is that this isn't [Elizabeth Kostova’s] The Historian. We have one rule with [b]Sword of Dracula—make it big. So in The Dracula War, if at all possible, the story has to be told with big, chunky weaponry—it's not Sword of Dracula if there aren't tanks rolling, missiles flying, and choppers buzzing trains!

NRAMA: After having co-created SoD with Greg and re-teaming with him again and again, visually, what does he bring to the project this time around?

JH: Greg Scott was the original artist for the first Sword of Dracula mini-series and he's the one that gave the world its visual voice, that dark, "Black Hawk Dracula" look. He has a lot of input—in fact we're partners in the story. We fight and claw at one another until the story is going where we want it to go, and I completely trust Greg—so if he can find a cooler way to do a scene and it still gets us dramatically to the same place, I'll generally agree to the change.

NRAMA: Wrapping things up now, I remember you said before that the prospects of any vampire film projects got put on hold because the Van Helsing film under-performed. Where do you see the Sword of Dracula franchise heading next (comics, games, etc)? After all, there's the third Underworld film coming next year and Blade has made a comeback in the comics...

JH: It's funny. Here you have Sword of Dracula, a movie where the war on terror is an urban war of humvees and rocket launchers against vampires, but when the Van Helsing movie—a period piece—tanked, anything with Dracula in it slowed down. Hey, we're still here. We want to show the coolest version of Dracula ever. It's not my job to produce films. It's my job to tell a kick-a## story—to get our unique vision of Dracula out there for people to see a movie in their heads. That's what we have control over, and this Christmas we're gonna put the hammer down.

NRAMA: Finally, what are we seeing in this preview?

JH: Well, this is a sneak preview of the preview—these are the first black and white images of the opener, in which Ronnie Van Helsing and Abe have to land on and detonate a giant zeppelin of blood, which is guarded by zombies and creatures. This is the James Bond opener that kicks off the whole story—much of the story will stem from Dracula getting revenge for what Ronnie does here. It also gives you a feel for the world we're living in.

I've also included cover B, or at least the front of it, for Sword of Dracula: The Dracula War #1—the actual cover by Michael DiPiscale is a wrap-around, so this is really just the first half—although if you want to see the whole poster, we do have it on a mug at www.cafepress.com/swordofdracula.

So keep your eyes peeled! Soon we'll be posting more previews, with colors so you'll get to see these night time scenes at night, and we'll also have some events coming up soon to announce - we have to have events!

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