My Favorite Vampire
With Halloween just around the corner, I've revived the annual tradition of watching some scary movies and reading some classic horror. In recent years, I've rewatched movies like The Thing and Little Shop of Horrors and read Shirley Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft and Mary Shelley, though I confess to having more affection for Bernie Wrightson and Boris Karloff's portrayals of the Frankenstein monster than Shelley's. I generally like to watch at least one classic Universal monster movie every year, and/or read the source material that inspired it.
This year, one of the things I've been reading is Marvel Comics' classic Tomb of Dracula run from the 1970s by the creative team of Marv Wolfman (words), Gene Colan (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks). All three did an amazing job for an extended period of time and created an amazing synergy working together. Three different writers for the first six issues got the book off to an admittedly rocky start, held together mostly by the art of Gene Colan. At a Gene Colan tribute panel held at Comic-Con International a few years ago, it was discussed how George Tuska was the artist originally assigned to the book. Gene Colan really wanted the book, and so did something unheard of for an artist of his stature; he tried out for it. Now, Gene had a long and distinguished career with lots of highpoints held as favorites by fans; Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Daredevil are all considered by some as Colan's best work. For my money, though, the best work Colan ever did was the 70 issue run of tomb of Dracula (plus some magazines and bonus issues). That was a book largely about, not Dracula (though he made enough appearances for readers to feel like they got their money's worth), but those whose lives were ruined by Dracula and chose to spend the their lives going forward in his pursuit. Marv Wolfman has credited Gene's portrayals of the facial expressions, particularly the eyes of these characters as enabling him to write them so well. There was a consistent believability in Colan's art that strongly overpowered the occasional deficiencies in anatomy or perspective. One could almost believe that, like a court reporter documenting a trial, Colan had actually witnessed the events portrayed in the book and was conveying how they had actually occurred. Unlike many comic book artists, he didn't give us idealized fashion models, but rather what appeared to be people who you might encounter in the downtown of your home city.
Colan generally worked a few issues ahead on the title and ,by doing so, avoided the scheduling problems and fill-ins that plagued so many of the 1970s Marvel books. What came out every month was exactly what was supposed to come out every month with no excuses about dreaded deadline dooms. The net result is that the series has aged incredibly well, particularly visually.
Marv Wolfman kept the stories on the title enthralling, and Tom Palmer created the perfect mood for the book. Together, Wolfman, Colan and Palmer worked as in sync with each other as any comic book creative team ever.
In literature, cinema, illustration and even comics, there are horror classics. I put Tomb of Dracula up there with the work of Bram Stoker, Bela Legosi and Christopher Lee. The Dracula stories in those issues are good and memorable enough to stand aside any other portrayal of the Transylvanian Count.
Tomb of Dracula is available to read in back issues of the original issues (time-consuming and relatively expensive to track down, but most readers consider it the best way to read the series), or in Omnibus reprint editions, color reprint editions, black and white Essential reprint editions (the most affordable), or digitally through Comixology or Marvel Unlimited. Unlike many classic comic book runs, these are easily accessible!