You think you've seen hostile takeovers before? Think you know what a real bloodsucker is?
Think again -- because in the upcoming series from BOOM! Studios, Dracula: The Company of Monsters, one powerful group taps into the legendary force that is the Lord of the Vampires. But with Dracula being brought back to the present day as a tool for a powerful CEO, is this vampire looking for a stake in the company, or are these businessmen about to get a lesson in what real power looks like? With the series due out this August, we caught up with writers Kurt Busiek and Daryl Gregory to talk about their influences on vampires, working with artist Scott Godlewski, and how exactly a creature of the night could be a powerful pawn.
Newsarama: Kurt, Daryl, we've seen Dracula before -- but pitting him against a corporation makes this a very different kind of vampire story. How'd this idea come about, and what made these two great tastes that had to come together?
Kurt Busiek: The idea itself came about because I'm fascinated by Dracula -- not just by the legend, but by the historical Vlad the Impaler, on whom the vampiric Dracula is based. Vlad is a bundle of contradictions, not coincidentally because a lot of what we know about him comes to us through his enemies, who make him out to be a horrible, brutal, murderous guy. But at the same time, to the people he ruled over, he was seen as a protector, and is still viewed as a folk hero in the region.
So he's literature's greatest villain, but in real life a monster or a hero, depending on where you stand. I really like that, particularly the idea that Dracula's villainy is a "well, it depends" sort of thing. He was a feudal lord, brutal to his enemies, protective of his people, fierce in combat, someone who reined in the excesses of the boyars (the next level of aristocracy) under his rule, protecting the peasantry from them. And he impaled his enemies, to boot!
Daryl Gregory: He was definitely an innovator in the field of impalement. The Jeff Beck of killing people on sticks.
Busiek: Thinking about how to do Dracula in the modern day, it occurred to me that the modern-day equivalent of feudalism is corporatism -- a similar top-down pyramid structure, where the workers at the bottom are directed by the power-holders at the top, and there's competition between the structures and so on. But there are also big differences, particularly in the mobility of the people in the corporate structure, both within the structure and from company to company. So there's a parallel, but not a perfect one.
Gregory: It's pretty apt, though. I think people are feeling a lot less mobile these days. People can't afford to quit an awful job and expect to find a better one. Their home values are plummeting, retirement accounts are evaporating, health care benefits are being slashed -- and that's just in my house. Corporations definitely seem to be taking advantage of the situation. Modern American workers aren't exactly serfs, but they're feeling that way.
Busiek: Dracula, if he could see modern corporations, wouldn't like them much. He took care of his people, at least as he saw it. They had very little freedom, but they had a protector. Corporate workers today get much less loyalty from the top of the pyramid than Dracula showed to his workers -- and that's a pretty cool idea too, that Dracula would see a corporation as failing in its responsibilities, so a guy who, again, we see as literature's greatest villain sees himself as morally superior to these modern fatcats.
And then again, who says Dracula's right? He think he's morally superior, but he lives off the lifeblood of his people, literally. And as far as he's concerned, he pretty much owns them. That's not exactly an unassailable position.
Gregory: Then again, even at his worst, Vlad never wiped out an entire eco-system with a single oil well. He never impaled a pelican. A lot of people forget that.
But he was a major badass. One aspect of this I'm enjoying as I get into the writing of the series is how Conrad Barrington, our "captain of industry" in the story, thinks of himself as a warlord, but Vlad Tepes was the real thing. When the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire was chasing him across his own kingdom, Vlad burned his own fields, sent his people and livestock into the mountains, poisoned the wells, set traps, sent plague victims into the Ottoman camps... a full-on scorched earth policy, with guerrilla tactics and biological warfare thrown in for good measure. How does a modern CEO match that kind of ruthlessness? (We'll answer that.)
Busiek: It's Dracula versus modern business -- feudalism versus corporatism, vampire versus capitalist -- that's a conflict where there's plenty to explore, wouldn't you say?
From that point, it was a matter of fleshing it out with interesting characters and relationships that built on those underlying ideas, and making a story out of the conflict. But that, to my mind, is why the two great tastes had to come together. They clash so interestingly, in a way that creates a rich environment for adventure and conflict and drama. And, of course, blood.
Gregory: And impalements. Did we mention impalements?
Nrama: Without giving too much away -- it's obvious that corporations would view things like money and physical resources as assets to them... but a bloodthirsty vampire, not so much. What can you tell us about the members of this corporation, and why would they want Dracula of all things?
Busiek: Imagine how useful a vampire could be to a corporation. Vampires can sneak around anywhere, they can mesmerize, enslave and control -- if you're in a tough merger negotiation and you want concessions made, wouldn't it be helpful to be able to Renfield the people on the other side of the conference table, make them your slaves unbeknownst to their bosses? If there's a battle between two companies going on, wouldn't it be helpful to take out or subvert the best and brightest on the other side?
Feudalism and corporatism aren't the only power structures here. Vampires create a whole different kind of power pyramid, one that can be built secretly, and without niceties like convincing the other guy to work for you. Vampiric domination, and the ability to create subservient vampires -- that's a pretty powerful tool.
Gregory: A lot more effective than offering a 401K and a dental plan. Conrad, our CEO, knows that he's been handed the biggest gun in the rack, and it's inconceivable to him that he wouldn't use Dracula. He's fighting for the survival of his company, right?
Well, that may be just a rationalization on Conrad's part. One of the things we'll be playing with in the story is the line between leadership and personal power. Anybody's who's watched a Senate hearing lately knows that CEOs cross that line way too often. The guy watching that line most closely is Evan, Conrad's nephew and our main POV character. Evan's in his late 20's, and while's he's a smart guy, he's at a loss for what to do with his life. He's flattered that his uncle recruited for the resurrection scheme. But when he gets to know Dracula, Evan can't help but be seduced by his worldview. Who is going to be Evan's model? How's he going to become his own person? And how's he going to hide all this vampire stuff from his mom?
Nrama: Considering Dracula is one of those iconic kinds of characters, there have been lot of different interpretations to how the Lord of the Vampires has been portrayed. For you two, what are some important characteristics to your iteration of the character?
Busiek: I covered that a little bit above -- I'm more interested in the warrior Dracula, the feudal lord, the guy who stood against the Turks and said, "No way. You don't get my lands, my people." What we saw in the Stoker novel was a guy who'd gone on to other things, who'd lost himself in dissipation after the Turks were more or less shoved back to Asia after centuries of battle. But this Dracula's got a new fight, a new cause to motivate him. One that the corporation that wants to use him as an asset really isn't expecting.
Nrama: Kurt, something that interested me in the press release for this book was that you likened it to "the early days of working on Conan." Could you elaborate a bit, and tell us what you feel the similarities are?
Busiek: With Conan, what we did was strip away everything that had been done with Conan except for the core stuff, the Robert E. Howard canon, and build up from there, reinvigorating and rebuilding the character in what we hope was a pure and visceral form. That wasn't a value judgment -- there was a lot of good stuff that had been done with Conan by other people -- but we wanted to get at the heart of the character by going back to his roots.
With Dracula, it's a similar things -- forget all the movies, the comics, the treatments by other people, and go back to the core, which for us is two things: The life of Vlad III, prince of Wallachia, and the Stoker novel. That gives us a really strong focus, but it also brings back things that were lost or never used. How often, since the Stoker novel, has it come up that Dracula was a sorcerer, that he attended the Scholomance, a school of dark wizardry in the Carpathian Mountains, and made himself into a vampire? We're using that. And how often is it used in Dracula stories that Vlad was killed and beheaded, his head preserved in a cask of honey and shipped off to the Sultan in Turkey as proof of his death? We're using that, too.
Going back to the roots can strip away a lot of barnacles, but it can also open up new discoveries. And the same kind of "Oh, this is cool" energy that was happening when we started on Conan feels like it's happening again here.
Nrama: While filling out things like TPS reports can be deadly dull, on the face of it, Dracula seems to have a bit of an inherent edge against a bunch of fat cats in Armani suits. What does the company have in its corner to help battle back this vampire legend?
Busiek: Well, the story's not about throwing Dracula and a bunch of executives in an arena and expecting them to fight it out.
Gregory: Not at first. That's in issue 3. Each exec is issued a red stapler dipped in holy water.
And yes, my main job in this interview is to say stupid things while Kurt explains the story.
Busiek: Consecrated red stapler or not, I think Vlad would make short work of them. But these are the people who resurrected Dracula. They've studied him, history and (often contradictory) legend. They have fragments of the secrets of the Scholomance. They know, or think they know, how to keep a vampire penned up. So they've got knowledge, strategy, mystic lore and modern technology on their side -- wait'll you see the customized Dracula-harness they build to keep him under control. And they've also got numbers.
Dracula's just got himself, his powers, his knowledge and his drive. Which makes it all more or less a fair fight.
Nrama: How about research? What books, films, media, anything did you guys consume in order to get into to inform your take on Dracula?
Busiek: Since Daryl's doing most of the heavy lifting, I'll mostly let him address this -- my Dracula knowledge has been built up over years of learning various bits and pieces here and there, poking around at the history of the Order of the Dragon, pulling interesting stuff from the Stoker, reconciling it with what we know of Vlad the Impaler's life. But he's been cracking books, to get the stuff I babble about right, and add new wrinkles to it.
Gregory: Like Kurt said -- this is all about stripping Dracula down to his essence. I love what some people have done with the character, like Paul Cornell's recent Captain Britain and MI-13 storyline with Dracula! In! Space!
But for me, this is not about the Dracula of Bela Lugosi or Gary Oldman or God help us, George Hamilton. This is about Vlad Tepes, the prince of Wallachia. I did go back and read Stoker, but most of my research has been about Vlad III, the wars with the Ottoman empire, and about 15th-century politics. 99% this research will never be mentioned in the page, but I hope that people will _sense_ that there's some historical weight to the book. I'm struck by the fact that Vlad, despite all the political games he was playing with the Hungarians and the Ottomans just to stay alive, despite his over-the-top behavior impaling of Saxons and Gypsies and anyone else who crossed him, was vested by the Pope to become one of the defenders of Christendom. In this post-9/11 environment, there's something disturbing and familiar about that.
Nrama: Let's talk a bit about working with artist Scott Godlewski for a second. He's been working with some badass geeks over with Codebreakers -- what sorts of visual challenges are you giving him for this book? And what do you feel he adds to the equation for Dracula's latest adventure?
Gregory: I love Scott's work.
Busiek: Scott wowed us all before he was even on the book. Boom wanted to get some covers going right away, but for that they needed a character design for artists to work from. I wrote up a bunch of visual notes, working from Stoker's descriptions of Dracula and the one major portrait of Vlad III that exists, and sent them in. They asked Scott to do up a character design, and he practically nailed it right from the start. It was just, bang (or should I say boom?), that rocks.
So when it turned out Scott would be available at the time we'd need someone, the question of him doing the series was floated, and his work on Codebreakers shows that he can handle it, from the modern setting to real-world feeling characters, to the action and suspense and mood we'll need. Plus, his sense of design, of page layout, of where to go dynamic, where to stay reserved -- it's just terrific. He'll establish a look for the book that will really help deliver the story we're telling.
As for what visual challenges we're throwing at him, I'd describe some, but a description of a cool visual is never as strong as the cool visual itself, so I'd rather wait and let you just look at it...
Nrama: Finally, for those who still aren't convinced -- what would you tell prospective readers to get them invested in this book? Are there any moments you can tease about Dracula: The Company of Monsters?
Busiek: Ross Richie needs new shoes?
Mostly, I'd say just pick up #1 and flip through it, if you're not convinced. Give it a look, let the book itself win you over. But if that's not enough, I'd say to keep an eye out for what lies within the caves in the Aegean, for the firefight in the Carpathians, the resurrection scene itself, for Dracula in the Sultan's harem, for Conrad Barrington's offer to Dracula and its results, the arrival of the Romanian vampire hunters in Pittsburgh, what happens between them and Conrad's great-nephew, the choices that have to be made, and, of course, what happens to the dog.
Gregory: And the impaling. Don't forget the impaling.
Busiek: And the impaling. If those things don't win you over, well, maybe it's not the book for you...