Graphic novels and comic book versions of Bram Stoker’s novel continue to become available. One, however, stand out above all others for the sheer beauty of the artwork.
Dracula: A Symphony of Moonlight & Nightmares emerged from the pen and brush of Jon J. Muth. Published by Marvel Comics in 1986, the written adaptation vaguely resembles that of the Frank Langella feature. However, the narrative remains first and foremost something given via images rather than words. As such, in some ways it seems the most faithful to the medium of the graphic novel. Most such adaptations try to get as much of the original story aspossible amidst the pages. The idea seems to bring to startling life the descriptions of the book. Not a bad thing. Often a quite successful thing. But not really what we see here.
For one thing, this graphic novel very nearly eschews panels. It looks more than anything like a collection of watercolor paintings inspired by a particular retelling of Dracula. Individual illustrations (one is tempted to call them simply paintings and leave it at that) often have no borders per se. Their content fades out. Part of the effect lies in the total absence of dialogue or thought balloons. Another is in the texture of the original artwork. Watercolor paper little resembles the glossy sheets of this or any other graphic novel. Yet we see that very texture.
More, the texture helps mirror that of the subject matter. One obvious example lies in the depiction of stone on the cliffs of Whitby or amid the broken walls of Carfax. Yet Muth manages to get similar results regarding clouds and water, as well as suggesting the flickering of candlelight. And the grain of wood. More the dry paint manages to convey a sense of the liquid.
There’s also a dichotomy explored between detail and suggestion. Faces convey so very much in this work, yet the one face that remains obscured at best is that of the title character! When we do see him, we rarely get a sense of what he looks like. Look at the illustration above. Not really a portrait, is it? Nor a picture capturing movement. Rather, that face with its twin red stars for eyes comes across more as an impression, even a dream.
Remember the title.
More than any other version of Dracula, this one does seem like a nightmare. Not quite real, or at least naturalistic. Something about it remains fundamental subjective, subtly (and deliberately) off. Western horror literature and drama nearly always proceeds from the premise that the world is a place of order. Chaos is an evil seeking to invade our safe world and corrupt it. Other horror traditions (especially in, for example, Japan) view things differently. They have more in common with H.P.Lovecraft, assuming our presumed safety and order an unstable oasis, wonderful perhaps but fleeting. Stoker himself was the more conventional type. Or so he seemed. Muth’s adaptation in both words and images harkens to Lovecraft. The more ordinary, seemingly solid something (or someone) seems in this depiction, the smaller and less impressive they come across. Often literally. Dracula’s victims, even while desecrated, become empowered. They venture into the shadows to partake of them. So gain the power to act. Not that such shadows are home, or desirable, nor that the sunlight fragile world they love isn’t sweet and happy. But it takes sacrifice to keep the shadows from devouring all.
Likewise, this is arguably the most erotic of all Draculas ever. Many notice how the women in this story transform into sexual beings with the vampire’s bite. Visually, Muth explores this in what must be called some luscious nude artwork, explicit enough to easily guarantee an R-rating here in the USA, possibly an NC-17 (because the folks who make those decisions tend to freak out a little at full frontal nudity).
For this among many other reasons I can whole-heartedly recommend this graphic novel as an excellent addition to your library–or to anyone else’s (since the holidays are coming up).