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First look: Stoker and Lugosi become one in new throwback Dracula graphic novel

By Matthew Jackson

Few performances in the history of cinema have ever proven as lasting and iconic as Bela Lugosi's work in 1931's Dracula. The commanding presence, dramatic voice, and instantly identifiable costume are so ingrained in popular culture that, after nearly a century, we still associate Lugosi with Dracula more than any of the dozens of other actors who've since inhabited the role. Even if you've never seen Dracula, you can picture him, and hear his voice. Now, a new graphic novel is taking Lugosi's legendary presence and showing us a version of his Dracula that we've never seen before: one that combines Lugosi's performance with a faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's landmark novel.

That's the idea behind Bram Stoker's Dracula, Starring Bela Lugosi, a new book from Legendary Comics that seeks to seamlessly merge the interpretations of Dracula's original creator and the actor who made him a screen legend. Created in consultation with Lugosi's estate and featuring stunning black and white art that recreates the actor's look, the book hopes to reinvigorate Lugosi's legacy as Dracula, while also more directly tying his work to Bram Stoker's book. Ahead of its release, SYFY WIRE is pleased to debut an exclusive preview of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Starring Bela Lugosi, along with commentary from adapter and editor Robert Napton on how the book came together.

According to Napton, who adapted Stoker's novel alongside artist El Garing, art director and co-editor Kerry Gammill, and letterers Richard Starkings (who also provided design work) and Tyler Smith, the idea to create a faithful Dracula comic with Lugosi cast in the leading role originated with his estate, managed by his granddaughter Lynne Lugosi Sparks and his son, Bela G. Lugosi, aka "Bela Lugosi Junior."

"I think the thing we all felt, and we didn’t even really need to talk about, is this would be a very respectful adaptation of both the novel and Bela Lugosi as an actor," Napton explained. "Being a fan and student of the classic horror films, I know how seriously Lugosi took the role, even later in life. If you watch Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein, Lugosi is playing Dracula straight even though it’s a comedy. He never deviated from his commitment to the role, even as he got older and toured on stage. So our approach was, what if we were making a Dracula movie, staying faithful to the book, and it starred Bela Lugosi, how would that be? We wanted to remind people how powerful, magnetic, and iconic Lugosi is in the role of Dracula. He took it seriously, and we took recreating it seriously."

Of course, merging the worlds of the film and the book was perhaps not as easy as it sounds. The original 1931 Dracula film is a rather loose adaptation of Stoker's novel, and it ignores many of the key traits and behaviors of the title character to instead cast Lugosi as a suave gentleman whose full vampiric might is sometimes only perceptible offscreen. That meant Napton and the art team had to expand the scope of the story, and show us more sides of Lugosi's Dracula than the film ever could.

"Our version of Lugosi’s Dracula has fangs, which has never been done before, if you can believe that. We see him as a physically powerful, panther-like creature, as the book describes. We see him in the past as a warrior in his native land. All those moments that Stoker wrote about, that the film couldn’t create, we have been able to create in our version. And that’s been exciting – to re-invent the wheel, so to speak," Napton said. "The novel is a beast. There is a reason so many versions, plays, and films are loosely based on the novel – it’s massive. Even Coppola condensed certain aspects. But I think the complexity of Stoker’s novel is what has kept it relevant. So many characters and points of view. It’s a work of genius, in my opinion. So I really tried to honor it but be true to Lugosi’s performance. Certain challenges were fun. The novel has a sprawling geography. I guess the purists will note that I put Carfax Abbey in Whitby, not Purfleet, as it is in the novel, things like that. That was a conscious choice – I wanted the action to be in Whitby and streamline the geography. Stoker could jump around, but by condensing locations I could actually give the story more room to breathe visually, with bigger shots and scope, which was intentional."

Lugosi only played Count Dracula on the big screen twice, once in 1931 and again in 1948 for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but his work as the character was so distinctive and universally seen that the ripples are still felt today in everything from the classic version of the "Dracula" Halloween costume to Count von Count on Sesame Street. Lugosi himself famously struggled with typecasting throughout his post-Dracula career, which meant roles in other horror classics like The Black Cat and Son of Frankenstein but also meant numerous professional and personal struggles. In crafting a graphic novel with such a close relationship to Lugosi himself, and working with Lugosi's family as executive consultants, Napton said he saw a chance to make the legendary star proud.

"To me, Lugosi was born to play Dracula. He was from the area of the world that inspired Stoker to write the novel. His face, voice, and mystique were perfectly suited to play the role. It might be forgotten, but Lugosi was a Rudolph Valentino-type Romantic lead as well from a 1930s perspective. There was an allure and charisma that Lugosi had that jumped off the screen. The combination of all the elements made him iconic. Also, the “horror film” was being invented on the spot, with Dracula and Frankenstein being released in 1931. The stars aligned where you had this actor perfectly suited for a role in a genre that was new and fresh not long after the advent of sound cinema. It was a perfect storm in Hollywood history," Napton said. "I know Lugosi called the role a 'blessing and a curse,' but I have asked Bela Junior how his father would feel about this book coming out in 2020 – about us using his likeness in this role yet again. Bela told me his dad would be thrilled to be remembered in this way. Some actors deliver a performance that transcends a moment and becomes iconic. Bela Lugosi is Dracula. There is no separating the two. It was magical in the late '20s and '30s; it’s magical now."

Bram Stoker's Dracula, Starring Bela Lugosi is available for pre-order now, and in stores November 3.