Moore & Reppion on 'The Complete Dracula'

The Complete Dracula #1, cover by John Cassaday

It’s the story that will not die.

As we reported earlier this week, Bram Stoker’s most famous creation will rise again beginning in April with Dynamite Entertainment’s The Complete Dracula. The five part miniseries, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion, with painted art by Colton Worley will adapt Stoker’s original novel and return Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest” into its rightful spot in the story, as well as return other original materials to the story.

According to Dynamite President Nick Barrucci, when Dynamite decided that they wanted to move into literary adaptations, Dracula was selected with very little internal debate.

Dracula’s been in print for 112 years and countless interpretations have been made, but none have attempted to fully tell Bram Stoker’s story in the manner in which he wrote and intended it,” Barrucci says. “Most graphic adaptations are abridged, conveying the overall events but losing the nuance of it. Our adaptation will be full-on, restructuring it back to the original structure Stoker intended. By restoring the elements that had been removed prior to publication we felt we could bring a new experience to this classic tale of horror.”

Moore and Reppion were selected to adapt it, Barrucci says, due to their particular talents as writers. “Leah and John have an incredible gift for research as well as an eye for detail,” Barrucci says. “Their scripts are so dense and alive that this material seemed like a perfect fit to begin discussions. From those discussions, we now have this project.”

Barrucci’s confidence in the writing team was one-sided at first, Moore explains. “To be honest at first we were a bit unsure. Partly we felt it was a no-brainer, a golden opportunity that we didn’t want to pass up, but also we didn’t want to have a go at doing it, and then find it was too dense, too difficult, and ultimately mess it up by attempting something too big. The crunch came when we had to submit a pitch for how we would adapt the story, how we would fit the novel into five issues, and how we would tackle the dramatizing of what is essentially a big heap of diaries and letters. We spent ages and ages reading the novel, separately, and then aloud to one another, to find the natural breaks where the story seemed to rest, not exactly cliffhanger moments, but points at which you would have a natural ad break and rush off to grab another beer. We took the synopsis of each of the chapters and tried to visualize how it would work in comic form but to be honest at this point it was very much a guessing game. It is impossible to tell whether you can fit six chapters into thirty two pages, so we had to just have faith in own abilities. We sent off the pitch, and the guys at Dynamite set us onto issue one immediately. We never looked back!”

As the writers see it, The Complete Dracula is something of a companion piece to Stoker’s novel, something that can be read side by side with the original. “While both are relating the very same story, and never contradict one another, they each offer something different,” Reppion says. “The way we approached the series was to imagine that we, like Stoker, had access to the actual documents, diaries and so on written by Jonathan Harker and the others. Stoker constructed his novel out of that material but he didn’t put everything in. We constructed our version of the tale based upon the same manuscripts but we also didn’t put everything in. As a consequence there will be parts of The Complete Dracula where the reader might see or "hear" things in slightly more (or less) detail than in Stoker’s novel but it is the same story running on exactly the same timeline. We’ve tried to make it more accessible to a modern audience without dumbing anything down.”

For those unfamiliar with “Dracula’s Guest,” some believe that the story was originally intended by Stoker to be the first chapter of the novel, but was pulled before publication and later released as a short story.

“’Dracula’s Guest’ is a fascinating little tableaux about an Englishman abroad in a strange land,” Moore says. “It has been disputed as to whether the Englishman is Jonathan Harker, or whether the story is more of a dry run for Dracula rather than a missing chapter. The Englishman finds himself way outside his comfort zone really quickly, and the action derives from that. When we read it we loved the imagery so much, and the strange abruptness of the action, and the overriding feeling of being out of one’s depth. Jonathan (if it is he) gets a very real a rude awakening to the kind of world he is travelling through, and at the end of the chapter we see him flung into the beginning of the main narrative of Dracula.”

Reppion: “It’s a matter of some debate amongst Dracula scholars as to whether ‘Dracula’s Guest’ is a literal ‘lost’ first chapter of the novel, a preliminary run up at the larger story or merely a story set within the same general universe and fictional landscape. It’s been argued that the character named Jonathan in ‘Dracula’s Guest’ has quite a different temperament and demeanor to Jonathan Harker but, the way we see it, there’s nothing to say that Harker didn’t think and act a certain way prior to the events of Dracula. He’s a bit more brash and self assured when we first meet him in our story but the things that happen to him in ‘Dracula’s Guest’ would certainly be enough to knock some of the wind out of his sails. It’s a great little prologue to the main story and, as it’s less well known, it’s a way for readers to enter into the story and leave their preconceptions about Dracula behind. It shows a cocksure 19th century Englishman abroad in a world where magic and superstition are things which only matter to the foreign, the poor and the uneducated. He is a man with a lot to learn and he is taught his first lesson soon enough.”

As for ad adapting the dense novel to an admittedly less-wordy version, Moore says that it was important for them to get as much of the novel onto the comic book page as possible, giving readers a sense of familiarity while presenting the story in a new light.

“The only other consideration we had was space, and the reality of fitting it into five thirty-two page issues was that when a character decides to really wax lyrical about a subject, or when someone spends several days working up to one action, but speaks a lot about it in the days beforehand, we have had to make cuts,” Moore says. “We had no real rules, but had to feel our way through it, trying to decide if a scene had enough merit to stay in, or if a speech should be included, or if a whole diary entry actually gave something to the narrative as a whole. This was often really hard, especially where one of the characters will say something in beautiful language which we so want to leave in the story, but then what the words actually say is not something that is of any real importance to the plot, or in filling out the character. It has been a really difficult and frustrating and wonderful experience which we would love to repeat. By the end of the book the feeling of starting a fresh issue was like meeting an old friend. We miss writing it now, which I hadn’t anticipated.”

And yes, by immersing themselves so deeply in Dracula, both Moore and Reppion came away with a new appreciation for the work.

“There is so much about gender and gender politics in the story and that really surprised me,” Reppion says. “Everyone is always going on about the sexual undercurrents in the book but I think that’s really overstating it (and, to some extent, rather wishful thinking). The battle of the sexes on the other hand, is a massive feature of the narrative. Mina is really the heroine of the entire story and things would go a hell of a lot better were it not for the fact that she is a young Victorian woman and therefore not afforded the same respect as her male counterparts. The interplay between her and Van Helsing is truly fascinating and you really don’t need to read between the lines at all to see how threatened by her intellect he is. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there are some problems and inconsistencies within the book especially where dates are concerned. These might not immediately jump out at you as a casual reader but when you are trying to adapt the novel they do present certain challenges. The pacing is very different to what we are used to nowadays which is certainly partly because of the book being in an epistolary format but also due to Stoker’s meticulous attention to detail. Where a modern author would have something happen once, Stoker often has things happen two or three times; there are many more near misses in Dracula than you would expect to find in a contemporary work. All of that said these are just ‘mechanical’ things really; mere parts of the machine. The story works brilliantly anyway but it’s just that we had to get right down to the nuts and bolts and some of them were a little bit rusty.”

As for Moore, she says that she was struck by the fact that Dracula is a series of documents, rather than a long narrative, or a formal “novel.”

“The format of Dracula makes it a detective story which the characters all have to get together in order to solve,” Moore says. “They each know part of the whole story, but their reserve and unwillingness to believe their own eyes stops them from sharing their information. Much of the drama comes when we can see the characters are almost at the real solution, but they willfully wander off on a false trail. The fact that all of it is written down by the characters in the form of letters and diaries not to mention all the telegrams, the Memorandums, Seward’s recordings on the wax cylinders of his phonograph, the receipts and shipping dockets, the train timetables, the property deeds, solicitors letters, letters of credit, ships logs, and many, many other scraps of paper, means that Dracula is essentially a scrap book, a mountain of paperwork sifted into order and typed up.”

And of course with that last part, she shares her love for a heroine her father, Alan, has used now and again in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mina Harker.

“This is the part of the novel which fascinated me, and which makes Mina the heroine. Mina turns this mountain of papers and notebooks into a cohesive typed document, and ultimately, this is what kills Dracula, not men with stakes and crosses, but a very efficient woman with a typewriter.”

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