Something To Get Your Teeth Into
♦Tripwire’s Contributing Writer OLLY MACNAMEE casts his eye over Titan’s Anno Dracula 1-2 by Kim Newman and Paul McCaffrey…
Writer: Kim Newman
Artist: Paul McCaffrey
FC • 32pp • $3.99
Still available from your LCBS
Okay, I came late to the party on this one, but after a chance meeting with artist Paul McCaffrey at a recent Birmingham comic con, I knew I had to review this book simply based on the covers and the stellar artwork. See, you can judge a book by its cover. I did, and I’m so glad too. But, keen to catch up, I’ve managed to wrangle an exclusive preview of next week’s blood-thirsty third issue, out on May 24th from all good comic book stores and digitally, while also casting my eye over the previous 2 issues. Titan Comics surely are becoming a publishing force to be reckoned with if this title and the talent involved is anything to go by.
As a fan of horror (more the ‘video nasties’ than ploddy novels, sorry) and as someone who has quoted Kim Newman’s writings on horror and horror conventions to my students – a Victorian thinking man’s Mark Kermode – I knew going into this that it would be a good read. And, I was suitably impressed by the story and its central conceit of Dracula having risen to the throne of Old Blighty and thereby control of the British Empire; allowing vampirism to flood Britain and flourish while controlling the masses through his heavy handed police state. So, no parallels to modern politics here then. Move along, move along. This vampirism includes some of our main cast of characters too, who are scattered across London at the start of the first issue and up to their own thing. In this case, revolution of one sort or another. So, first lesson to learn: not all vampires are blood-sucking baddies.
The cast of characters is huge, and growing by the issue too, but it doesn’t feel cluttered. In each issue we have a handy character guide – a score card, if you will – to keep tabs on the central female foursome, who could teach the Suffragettes a thing or two about steely determination and female independence, as well as introduce us to others; many of whom have their origins in existing 19th century novels (and more modern texts too: just check out the rogues gallery of discarded Madam Tussaud waxworks in issue 2). A League of Extraordinary Gentleman of sorts (and, before Moore established this concept in comics, I hasten to add, given Newman’s original novel was published in 1992), and like Moore, these comics are littered with literary references that could make your head spin, should you wish to explore further. I particularly liked the inclusion of a bloodthirsty vampiristic Billy Bunter, but there are a fair few more that may make you smile as well. But then, comics like this one are asking the reader to be more involved and to interact with such references. To go out and explore the rich tapestry from which Newman has built this franchise through his novels and now, thankfully, in comics too. Or not. The story is good enough judged on its own merits and promises to be something of a sprawling, cloak and dagger (and crucifix, surely?) espionage thriller. But, with vampires.
The world Newman recreates from his Anno Dracula novels (and ones I will be looking to read at the soonest possible moment after these first two issues) is quick to pull you in with an all out attempt at assaulting Britain with as much firepower as possible. It would seem a vampire on the throne of Great Britain is not a popular idea with our would-be allies across the oceans. The ensuing battle is immense and well presented on each page by McCaffery, a man of some talent. I could certainly feel flourishes of Bryan Talbot coming to bare, but that may be because of Talbot’s own early work on Nemesis The Warlock and his own Victoriana sensibilities in the pages of Luther Arkwright. It’s a pleasure to soak up and enjoy.
What we have then is a great scene setter in issue one – establishing the tyrannical grip of Dracula, who is absent from these pages but, like Big Brother, not far from people’s thoughts – and a promising romp through late 19th Century society and the rise of alternative thoughts too. We get Edison; a capitalist adventurer and something of a steampunk, as well as revolutionary ideas straight out of Marx’s Das Kapital. Issue 2, quite rightly, moves the story on and by the end of this equally satisfying read (in which, we the reader, are given a quick recap of Dracula’s rise to power and thereby filling in the gaps between his seeming demise at the end of Stoker’s original and Newman’s reimagining) we have the introduction of a familiar face from vampiric lore which I cannot wait to see how he is used in the next issue (out soon, I believe, and certainly this month).
Newman’s script leans heavily on word count, and some exposition at times, to develop this alternative history as well as a lot more than the conventional ‘no more than 200 words per page’ rule, but I’m a Northerner and we love great value for money. I for one would rather be immersed in a book like this one that – thanks to some crafty and cunning lettering from Simon Bowland – creates a beautiful balance on the page of prose and pictures, alongside suitably gothic colours from Kevin Enhart. McCaffrey’s artwork never suffers from the wordage; it never feels too cluttered.
Add in the strong conservatively dressed female leads and the stage is set. Not one, but as mentioned earlier, four central characters are female; journalist, Katherine Reed (vampire), The Daughter of the Dragon, sporting ‘Chinese boxing’ moves that will ensure a swift and definitive defeat of even the gnarliest of vampires as she kicks ass and takes no prisoners, as well as Christina Light and Penelope Churchward, another vampire and all four slowly coming together somehow, someway.
So, onto the next issue of this excellent series, which looks monstrously good based on the preview pages presented, for your consideration, here. And, after the final fifth issue? Well, there’s always the novels while we await another series, maybe? I hunger for it and can only hope it happens.