Soap Vampire Barnabas Collins Returns in DARK SHADOWS Comic

Soap Vampire Barnabas Collins Returns

On May 11, 2012, Dark Shadows will be revived, going to theaters courtesy of the frequent team-up of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. The soap opera from the late sixties is famous for its supernatural leanings; its cult status is due largely to it being the first exposure of ghosts and vampires to a daytime audience.


Before its revival in moving pictures, however, it is coming to comic books in October 2011 courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment. The story will revolve primarily around “reluctant vampire” Barnabas, the character Depp will play in the film, and will be in-continuity with the show that came before it. Writer Stuart Manning, who has a history with the property, teams with artist Aaron Campbell to bring a new generation into the world of Collinwood.

For more on the new comic book and how it will be both influenced by, and influence, the existing history of the property, we chatted with writer Manning.

Newsarama: Okay Stuart, I have to start by playing Devil's Advocate here. Isn't the Vampire craze over? Why jump into the market with a new vampire book?

Stuart Manning: Is it over? At the risk of sounding contrary, that's news to me. The current profile of True Blood, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries don't exactly indicate we're dealing with a dying fad. Yes, vampires are big business right now, and there will be an inevitable cooling eventually, but I think that's going to happen any time soon.

As for why we're launching a Dark Shadows comic right now, well, it's simply a great time to do it. Johnny Depp's new feature film remake is out next May, and at a time when vampires are riding high generally, Barnabas Collins absolutely should be a part of that. You can trace all the current vampire properties back to Dark Shadows in some respect – all roads lead to Barnabas. He's the original reluctant vampire, the first enduring vampire character created for television, and it's going to be great introducing him to a new audience. He's a classic – pure and simple. 

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Nrama: Many (if not most) readers today don't know the name "Barnabas Collins" or "Dark Shadows" in general. How does the link to the TV show help you and how might it hinder you?

Manning: Dark Shadows is bigger than just Barnabas Collins, but obviously he's the show's most iconic character, so he will be the focus of many of our stories. And we have an entire town of brilliant characters who we'll be reintroducing as we go along, so this series can go pretty much anywhere -- time travel, werewolves, parallel universes, you name it...

The first issue is just that -- a first issue. Long-term fans will enjoy that it's a continuation from where the original show left off, but for new readers, they'll learn everything that they need to know as we go along. That's just good storytelling practice -- yes, Dark Shadows has a big fandom of its own, but you can't assume that they'll have necessarily seen all 1,200 episodes, let alone remembered them. So we need to always make things inclusive. I don't think it's a question of the show hindering us -- if you're asking yourself questions like that, then you shouldn't be doing Dark Shadows. Above all else, you have to trust in the power of the original property and get behind it. 

Nrama: Many people have called superhero stories "soap opera" in nature; how far with the show's slightly cheesy or overly melodramatic tone will you go in  the comic? 

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Manning: Will be cheesy? No, I hope not. Melodramatic? Absolutely! One thing that does help us is that television drama has moved more and more towards a serial drama format. People say soaps are dying... rubbish, they're not -- every single show nowadays is a soap to some extent. Standalone television has all but died out because program makers have realized that television's single biggest advantage over film is that you can tell longer stories. If the audience likes your stories and characters, they'll be with you for the long haul, and that's irresistible. To my mind, comic strips are melodramatic in the way Dark Shadows was -- shock reveals, crashing close ups into agonized expressions... The grammar and storytelling energy of the two really aren't that far apart. The characters and situations are overwrought, but I don't think we should be intimidated by it. This is an operatic, emotionally-charged series and we will be embracing that.

Nrama: Is anyone from the series involved in this in any way? Or if not, have you gone back and watched some episodes to get the feel down?

Manning: Jim Pierson of Dan Curtis Productions is vetting the comic from a licensing perspective, and everyone involved wants this to be an authentic, faithful continuation. I'm very familiar with the old episodes and will usually have a DVD or music from the series on in the background when I'm writing. My approach to this has been to try and keep what we do parallel with the resources of the original series. Yes, we can bigger more exciting pictures, without the constraints of a 1970s TV studio, but I think it's important that what we do somehow relates to the scope of the original show.

For instance, I can write someone falling from a cliff in and we can make it a big, striking image... The original show would play out the same thing, but they'd have to make do with some dry ice and a bit of foliage in the corner of the studio. The important part is that both approaches tell exactly the same story. So we're not suddenly going to be drawing armies of flying bat demons or anything like that... it has to still feel like part of that established world.   


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Nrama: What makes these characters and this story ideal for comic books, compared to the other mediums?

Manning: Good characters and stories really transcend medium. Our community of characters are all vivid, distinct personalities and I think pretty much all of them could take the lead at any moment and hold up a story. I'm really enjoying writing the Collins family and their interplay... this troubled, dysfunctional bunch, stooping under the weight of their collected heritage. The fun of this series is going to be the collision of characters -- getting under their skin and letting them spark off in interesting combinations. 

Nrama: You've actually written Dark Shadows stories in another medium for the last few years- tell our readers about that and how, if at all, those stories will connect to this one.

Manning: Yes indeed. Since 2006, I've been writing and producing Big Finish's series of original Dark Shadows audio dramas, including The Night Whispers, which featured Jonathan Frid returning as Barnabas after 39years. All those CDs fit into the original continuity -- all 200-plus years of it -- and I don't intend to do anything that contradicts them. The fun of a soap opera is the huge sprawling histories and connections, so opting out of that would be like cheating. I doubt we'll dwell on it too much, but absolutely, they're all part of the same bigger story. 

Nrama: Can you leave us with a tease? Perhaps a scene from the first issue that you feel will win hesitant readers over?

Manning: Oh, the first issue has plenty going on... A shocking premonition, Barnabas struggling to overcome his vampire urges, a nightmarish dream sequence, something dangerous lurking in the woods, and a great big shocking cliffhanger to round things off. I really hope people get a kick out of it.

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