DRAWING DRACULA - South African Artists Team on "Harker"

More than a century ago, Bram Stoker's novel Dracula became a standard for vampire stories told to generations.

Telling the story of the blood-sucking horrors following Jonathan Harker's visit to Count Dracula, the novel has been adapted and referred to into multiple plays, books and movies, eventually making the count and his castle a staple of the vampire mythos. The visual interpretations of the characters from Dracula have been just as varied as the adaptations, from illustrations and cartoons to cereal boxes and Muppets.

Now author Tony Lee is writing the sequel to the famed novel in From the Pages of Bram Stoker's Dracula: Harker, a graphic novel coming out in November that picks up a few months after the original ends. And tasked with the visuals of Dracula this time around is a team of two South African artists, Neil Van Antwerpen on pencils and Peter-David Douglas on inks and colors.

"Being a child of the '80s, I grew up on a solid diet of vampire movies – Fright Night, The Lost Boys and, of course, variations on Bram Stoker’s original classic," Van Antwerpen said. "I was, however, not that familiar with all of the characters from the classic, so it was a bit of a learning experience.

"Fright Night scared the living daylights out of me as a child," Douglas laughed. "I’m a big fan of vampire stories, but not the sparkly Twilight kind. I was very familiar with the characters, especially Renfield, who in our book makes a stunning villain that would translate well in movies."

The two artists have "day jobs" – Van Antwerpen as a web designer and Douglas a graphic designer – but they recently got involved in comics, working together on their first comic with the Starship Troopers one-shot. When they heard Lee was looking for artists to collaborate on his 112-page graphic novel sequel to Dracula, they jumped at the chance.

"We were looking for a project after we finished Starship Troopers, and when I chatted to Tony Lee, he was busy working on Harker but had problems in finding an artist," Douglas said. "So we got an opportunity to pitch by coming up with character sketches. And we were lucky enough that Tony liked it! I thought the sequel was a brilliant idea, something that we could sink our teeth into."

With such a barrage of existing material on Dracula, Van Antwerpen said it was difficult to remain true to his own interpretations, but he definitely wanted to put his own stamp on the characters and the novel's settings.

 "I literally avoided vampire books and movies during the design period, afraid that even the smallest thing might influence me. Tony also did a great job in describing the characters," Van Antwerpen said. "The design of Dracula gave me sweaty palms because he’s been interpreted so many times before and to create yet another unique design was a challenge. I ended up basing him on what I thought the historical figure of Vlad 'The Impaler' might have looked like; brutal yet noble. And if you don’t totally believe that then, yes, he’s based in part on Tony Lee."

Douglas said he did a lot of research on what colors would be appropriate for the setting and time period, but tried to make the pages featuring Dracula a little different because of the character's presence.

"I basically tried to go for a dreamlike atmosphere wherever he appeared by using red and grey tones," he said. "I did a lot of research on Dracula in terms of its setting. I had to make sure that the coloring reflect the era and studied Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula movie along with Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd to get an idea of what the mood would be in and around London. I had to make sure that we had consistency going through the whole book but giving it a hand painted look. In order to achieve that I painted sepia tones to create depth and atmosphere. The painted pages were scanned and colored in Photoshop. I then desaturated the colors a bit and what we came up with reflects the era and tone of Bram Stoker’s original novel beautifully."

Other characters that are familiar to Dracula fans include Renfield, Van Helsing and Mina, some of whom were a challenge to the artists.

"Renfield’s design was the most fun but also caused the biggest headache," Van Antwerpen said. "He wears a neck brace for obvious reasons, and I could not make the design work until Peter suggested the use of a neck corset. This did the trick and we ended up with an iconic villain. With most of the other characters I merely tried to make their personalities shine through, because the book is so character driven. Van Helsing almost ended up being a paint by numbers design as he is described in great detail in the original Bram Stoker book. I have a soft spot for Mina. She is the classic leading lady, vulnerable yet no push over. I guess she would remind me of my mom."

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