impalerBram Stoker’s Dracula is a novel that likes to keep its secrets well-guarded. It’s only after several rereads that certain pieces of the titular vampire’s backstory start becoming more noticeable. It’s like you have to work for these insights. Getting a taste of the dark journey Dracula had to embark on to become a supreme harbinger of death quite simply requires extra effort.

Legendary comics creators Matt Wagner and Kelley Jones are ready to show just how much of that work they put in for their secret history of the Lord of Vampires in Dracula Volume 1: The Impaler. The first of a three-part series of graphic novels, The Impaler takes the tiniest drops of forbidden knowledge that Stoker hides in his 1897 epistolary novel to build upon the rise of Dracula and his legendary thirst for blood.

Book 1 sets the tone for the series by presenting a world in which dark magic creates its own atmosphere, quickly establishing a sense of gruesome violence that is status quo. Wagner and Jones approach their version of Dracula with a classic sense of dark fantasy, not unlike the kind found in the pages of older horror magazines like Creepy and Eerie. It’s apt, and it creates a richly textured stage for Dracula to play in as he seeks Satan’s tutelage in the dark arts. This detail is ripped straight from the original novel, though it’s mentioned only a few times in it and mostly in passing. Goes to show just how deep Wagner and Kelly combed through the text to get their story.

The Impaler is but a day into its Kickstarter campaign (as of the time of this writing) and it has already reached its $666 goal by a margin so ridiculous that it might give pause to the original bloodsucker himself. Prestige-level rewards abound, with beautiful hardcover editions that were surely designed to pull in book lovers and collectors alike on offer.

The Beat corresponded with Wagner and Jones to uncover the process behind unearthing the secrets of one of the most iconic monsters in horror history.


RICARDO SERRANO: Dracula as a character has been explored perhaps more than any other classic monster (maybe tied with Frankenstein’s Monster). What do you hope to bring to this story that we haven’t seen from the original vampire before?

MATT WAGNER: Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel creates and portrays arguably the most famous literary character of all time, but it leaves many aspects of Dracula’s history and persona only hinted at and thus, incredibly intriguing and mysterious. I’ve always been fascinated by his shadowy presence in the narrative and have always wanted more time with Dracula onstage.

This series of graphic novels will fill in the tantalizing gaps of Dracula’s legend and provide a more complete and terrifying portrait of the infamous vampire lord. And I want to make it clear… this isn’t yet another retelling of the novel in comics form. We’re bringing you the never-before told stories behind the story…the sinister tales hidden in the shadows of the original novel. Stoker’s novel was an early example of an epistolary narrative, it’s entirely told in the form of private journals, letters and documents. The one mesmerizing voice left out of the novel…is Dracula himself! In our series, Dracula is the narrator, so we get the real inside story of his life and bloody history. Straight from the monster’s mouth!

SERRANO: Whereas other Dracula stories stick close to the Gothic aspects of the tale, your take leans more freely on Fantasy. In fact, it reminds one of old Eerie magazine covers and other Fantasy comics magazines. What inspired this direction?

WAGNER: Webster’s defines “gothic” as “a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents”…so by that definition, our series fits the bill from the very beginning. Of course, when most people think of all things gothic, they have in mind a certain later time period than when our story begins—the 15th century—and a generally specific location—Victorian England. Our first volume, “The Impaler”, takes place entirely in Eastern Europe amid the vicinity of the Carpathian mountain range, the source of Vlad III and his historical legacy.

We’re exploring the origins of how this monstrous, albeit human, warlord transforms into a literal monster. There is a definite fantasy vibe for this volume, which is spawned—like so much of our take on Dracula—from various references in Stoker’s original novel. In this case, the fact that Dracula attended the notorious Scholomance, a legendary seminary for the dark arts that was hosted by Satan himself. This is a fact of his history that’s mentioned twice in the novel. We learn what led Dracula to seek out Satan’s tutelage and how he became the lord of the undead. We’re taking all the cryptic details Stoker unveils, filtering those through thousands of years of vampiric folklore and, of course, leavening it all with the many different incarnations of Dracula that have appeared on screen over the years. All of which have figured into the creation of our version of the infamous vampire lord.


SERRANO: Jones, you’re no stranger to drawing vampires, having some of the most terrifying bloodsuckers ever put on the comics page (Batman & Dracula: Red Rain). How did you land on the final design for this project?

KELLEY JONES: For Dracula The Impaler I dwelt upon the ferocious and brutal calculating manner of Vlad as just a human. A man who literally used any means necessary to gain his objectives was the guide to my approach. His great intelligence was not a tempering factor to his emotion, in fact quite the opposite. His becoming a vampiric being enhanced but did not make him the formidable Prince of Darkness and Lord of Vampires…the foundation for that was already there. That is all the grist I need for putting him to paper!

SERRANO: Wagner, how did you find Dracula’s voice for this particular take on the character?

WAGNER: Research for Dracula begins with the source, the original novel by Bram Stoker. Like I said, Dracula is such a compelling character but he’s off-stage for a lot of the active narrative. That itself lends proof to how powerful and magnetic his character is portrayed…even from the shadows, he’s captivated audiences for over a hundred years. But Stoker does establish a very specific voice for Dracula…a loneliness combined with cunning, ruthlessness and a thirst for power.

And, as already mentioned, there’s an historic source for Dracula as well…a 15th century eastern European warlord who was renowned for his ambition, his cruelty, and his favorite grisly method of executing his enemies—The Impaler! Of course, we don’t have any written record of Vlad Dracula’s actual speech, but his infamous deeds did a lot to inspire my writing.

There’s an ingrained arrogance to the character and a casual disregard for violence and brutality. But there’s also a courtliness and a manipulative charm. This was an established leader who was not used to getting what he wanted…but in convincing people to help him achieve it. Throughout this entire process, I was scripting these tales and writing to what I saw as Kelley’s strengths and always thinking to myself, “Man…Kelley is gonna draw the HELL outta this!” And then, he’d send me this fucking magnificent art and it always proved to be even more dramatic and visceral than I’d ever dared hope. This really has been a dream project for both of us…the absolute magnum opus of everything we might have dreamed it would be.


SERRANO: What can we expect from Book 2? Is there a particular concept or idea that sets it apart from part one?

WAGNER: The other three books in our Dracula series will reveal other aspects of his life and story that take place in and around the events portrayed in the novel. Our goal here was always to provide readers with the character and story tropes with which they’re familiar, but also to introduce all new stories and concepts to the original legend. We’re bringing our particular take on the character in portraying how he gets to the point in his life when we first meet him at the novel’s beginning and where it goes from there.

I don’t really want to reveal too much more at this point but we recently had a huge mark of success on this front; we sent a digital copy of the book to Leslie Klinger, author of the New Annotated Dracula and widely acknowledged as one of the world’s preeminent Dracula scholars. He gave us a glowing quote of approval that really sealed the deal and let us know that we’re hitting all the right notes and chords on this project…eerie ones, of course!

JONES: Dracula’s ennui and his restless mind begin to bring out of him objectives that were not what he began with. The inward turmoil starts surfacing in ways to which even Dracula himself cannot see all possible ends. And that’s where the brutal march of his new inexistence begins to manifest his greatest malice. The blood will flow.