A comic book that started off in print and then moved online? Isn’t it usually the other way around? Typically yes, but there’s very little that’s typical about legendary comic writer Kurt Busiek’s Dracula: The Company of Monsters, a modern day story that brings the world’s most notorious vampire into a most unsavoury place – the corporate world. After completing its print run, BOOM! Studios has now transformed the series, created by Busiek, scripted by Daryl Gregory and illustrated by Scott Godlewski, into a free web comic, updated daily here. I was lucky enough to be able to ask Kurt some questions about the series, its roots and inspirations, his thoughts on digital comics and much more via email, which I now present for your perusal.
Kurt Busiek: It started with me being fascinated with the historical Dracula, who was, let’s face it, a serious badass. He was a patriot, fighting the Turks most of his life to try to keep his country free, but he wasn’t a traditional nobleman — he kept his nobles in line by brutal and uncompromising methods, too. They didn’t call him Vlad the Impaler for fun.
But the common people of Wallachia considered him a hero, and he’s still a folk hero in Romania. Part of that is because a lot of what we know about him came from his enemies, and part came from the fact that he took pretty good care of the peasants. So he’s a monster to some and a hero to others, and that’s interesting right there. On top of that, he got turned into literature’s greatest villain by Bram Stoker, which makes him even more interesting — a villain, a monster, a hero, all at once.
In thinking about how to bring him to the present day, I started thinking about corporations, and the feudal system, and how they’re similar and how they’re not. In some ways, there’s a lot more freedom, but in others there’s a lot more insecurity. So what would happen if Dracula was revived today, in the belly of a large corporation that perhaps wasn’t as nice to its rank and file as they might be — and it pissed Dracula off?
The monster side, the vampire side, the folk hero side — it brings it all together and pits Dracula against corporate greed and callousness. It gives him a modern monster to fight, so that all of his facets can come out.
That’s how it started — the rest was just figuring out how to play that out.
Andy Burns: So much of your most beloved and best known work has come from the world of super heroes – what’s the appeal of working on a horror title for you?
Kurt Busiek: Well, I’ve worked on horror before — I wrote the series that revived Vampirella, back in the 90s, for instance. But mainly, I like variety. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again — there’s too many different kinds of stories to tell, and it’s fun to tell them all.
Superheroes are fascinating, in their way, but horror has different rules, different rhythms, different conventions to play with. There are no full-on heroes in this series; even the most idealistic of them are also acting out of self-interest — and that’s a lot of fun to work with, too.
But mostly, it’s a matter of going where the story takes you. I didn’t set out to write a horror story. I started with an idea — Dracula as a feudal lord in a corporate world — and the way that developed was horror, and it was a good story. So why not go with it?
Andy Burns: Could you explain the collaborative process between yourself and Daryl Gregory? How does it start? Where does it end?
Kurt Busiek: It is actually pretty simple and straightforward. We weren’t co-writing, in the sense of collaborating on every page — it was more like, I wrote the treatment and he wrote the screenplay. With a little overlap.
What we did was, I wrote what for lack of a better term we’ll call a series bible, outlining who the characters are and what the backstory is and what the tone is, all that kind of stuff, and outlined the first 12 issues of the series. From there, we talked things over and made revisions and fleshed stuff out, and then Daryl took it from there, breaking it into pages and panels and writing up the script, and in general making it his own. So I was doing the idea and structure stuff, he was doing the actual choreography and scripting.
It wasn’t as simple as that, of course, since he added some ideas and came up with a lot of stuff — I wrote in that there’d be a team of Romanian vampire hunters, for instance, led by an attractive young woman, and he figured out virtually everything else about them. And he had an enormous amount of input into Evan. And once he’d written a script, and then again once it had been drawn, I’d read over it and make suggestions — cut this line, maybe add a caption here, stuff like that.
It was remarkably little work for me, once it got into Daryl’s hands — he doesn’t write like I do, but he writes so well that if I had five notes on a script, that was a heavy month. He brought it all out on the page very, very well.
Andy Burns: There have been many iterations of Dracula, not just in the comic book world, but in film, televisions and novels? Were there any particular takes on Dracula that inspired your vision for your story?
Kurt Busiek: Not consciously, at least. We started with the historical Vlad and the Stoker novel, and decided to take that as our “truth” — as much as we could use from those two sources was true, and any other treatment of Dracula was fiction. We wanted to get back to Dracula’s roots, not the various additions that have built up over the decades.
I’m sure I was influenced by Dracula stories I’ve read — Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula, for one — but mostly, I had a sense of the historical Vlad that worked for me, so I stuck with that.
Andy Burns: The story is grounded in the world of today, but also has links to both Bram Stoker’s story and the legends of Vlad The Impaler. Why was it important for you as a storyteller to utilize those roots?
Kurt Busiek: Much like when I did Conan, and went back to the Robert E. Howard stories, discarding everything else, I wanted to present a Dracula based on the core ideas — not our version of someone else’s version of Dracula, but our version of a Dracula as close to the root as possible. The basic idea started out with the historical Dracula, so we used that, and it was Stoker who made him into a vampire, so we used that. But we didn’t need anything else. Use the roots and build as best and as faithfully as you can from that, instead of filtering it through other writers’ additions. That’s an approach that works for me, and I think it served us well here.
Kurt Busiek: I think “excited about” I can cop to, but I haven’t had the time to embrace it, as a writer or as a reader, not yet.
I’ve been interested in the possibilities of online distribution for a long time, and even pitched an idea for an online strip a decade or more ago, but my collaborators and I couldn’t afford to do it on our own back then, and we didn’t find any takers who wanted to back it. And there are stories I’d love to do online, and ways I’d like to try taking advantage of the online interface, instead of print, that I’m eager to try — but between deadlines on existing projects and my health issues, I haven’t been able to launch an online series yet.
As a reader, I read a bunch of online comics, but I don’t buy much — I’m on enough publishers’ comp lists that I get almost everything I want to read that comes out in print form that way, because it works out to be easier and cheaper for me. I’ve read a bunch of older comics on my iPad, for research, and I love reading ’em that way — I just don’t yet consume comics that way as much as some others do.
But I love the idea of it, I’m just in the odd position of having so much access to print for free. That makes me an unusual case — and I see the value in reaching out to millions and millions of readers through the internet as a great way to reach people who aren’t so easy to entice into comics stores. The internet is a huge influence on what prose I read, thanks to the ease of getting and sampling books via e-book samples, and I’d love to see it do that for comics, too.
But like I said, excitement I’ll confess to, but I just haven’t gotten to the embrace yet. Looking forward to it!
Andy Burns: What are you currently working on?
Kurt Busiek: I’m doing Kirby: Genesis for Dynamite, and working on new Astro City for DC, plus Batman: Creature of the Night, a follow-up to my Superman: Secret Identity mini-series. Beyond that, I have an Arrowsmith novel to write, a new series called The Witchlands to work on, and this and that else, here and there…
Andy Burns: And finally, is there anything you’re reading these days that you would recommend to Biff Bam Pop’s readers?
Kurt Busiek: Favourite books these days include Fables, Usagi Yojimbo, Savage Dragon, Locke & Key, the whole Hellboy universe, Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, Roger Langridge’s Snarked, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books and classic comic strip reprints like On Stage and Walt & Skeezix. And a whole mess of other stuff, but that’s what leaps to mind at present…
Thanks to Kurt Busiek for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop! As well, major thanks to Emily McGuiness at BOOM! Studios for making it all possible. You can check out Dracula: The Company of Monsters online here.