Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, September 06, 2007
      ( 9/06/2007 01:57:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"IF THE SCENT OF A PRIMEVAL MONSTER CAN REMAIN, CAN THE SAME BE TRUE OF THINGS OF GOOD IMPORT?" Not too long ago, while examining the Eureka Productions Graphic Classics anthology, Gothic Classics, I noted that the collection only occasionally touched on its genre's more sensationalistic tendencies, focusing instead on the milder thrills of the "lady's gothics." With the recent reissuing of an earlier Classics collection devoted to graphic adaptations of Irish writer Bram Stoker, however, this caveat happily doesn't hold: with a few short exceptions, this is a collection of full-bodied gothic material.

This second edition of Eureka Productions' Graphic Classics: Bram Stoker (the original was published in 2003) comes with 48 new pages of material, most of it devoted to a graphic novel adaptation of Dracula. Why the first edition didn't contain a version of Stoker's most famous work is a riddle for the ages, but the current edition is definitely enhanced by it. Adapted by Rich Rainey and illustrated by Joe Ollmann in a style which brings to mind a more big-eyed, less erotically evocative Richard Sala, it opens the collection by asserting that - new painterly cover by Mark A. Nelson aside - each of the artists will be bringing their own eccentric eyes to the material.

Two of Stoker's lesser-known novels, Lair of the White Worm and Jewel of the Seven Stars, also receive adaptations, though the latter proves only an excerpt from Stoker's mummy novel. I found Lair (also the source for a spiffy Ken Russell movie) to be the more successful retelling. J.B. Bonivert's art in the Jewel adaptation "Bridal of Death" struck me as a textbook example of the way that excess stylization can put a wall between readers and the story, whereas artist Rico Schacherl's penwork steadfastly remained connected to the events in Lair. While the ending to Lair is a bit flat, there are still some good moody panels: most particularly a scene where the story's villainess, Arabella March, hungrily waits on a sofa for a unsuspecting victim/sacrifice.

If most horror fans first became acquainted with Stoker's Dracula through one of the myriad movie adaptations of that story, for many budding readers in the sixties, their introduction to Stoker's short stories was through the black-and-white horror comics produced by Warren magazines. Under the editorship of Archie Goodwin and presided over by the EC-influenced horror host, Uncle Creepy, Warren’s Creepy regularly featured comic book versions of classic horror fiction, two of which included Stoker's "The Judge's House" and "The Squaw." As illustrated by comics great Reed Crandall, both comics served to alert young readers to the genuinely creepy fiction Stoker had written beyond his oft-told vampire tale.

Both of these tales show up in Classics, with "Squaw" retitled as "Torture Tower," perhaps out of a desire to downplay the original story's Native American subtext. Neither of the new versions made me forget Goodwin & Crandall's original adaptations, though "House" artist Gerry Alanguilan comes close to matching Crandall's straightforwardly sinister style. Onsmith Jeremi takes a funkier art comics approach to "Tower," and, while it serves to make this version distinct, it doesn't, unfortunately, make it better.

Two text pieces round out the Stoker collection. One, a humorous vampire hunter manual adapted from Abraham Van Helsing's expository lectures from Dracula, benefits from the pure cartoony style of British artist Hunt Emerson (who once assayed a swell graphic novel version of Lady Chatterley's Lover). The second, an illustrated version of the writer's children's fantasy, "The Wondrous Child," would be totally disposable were it not for the tantalizingly dreamlike illustrations by Dutch comic artist Evert Geradts, best know for his European comic book versions of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. Also buried near the back of the book: a Spain Rodriquez graveyard image that makes you wish he'd taken on one of the longer adaptations.

As with the Gothic Classics anthology, there are moments where you can see the scripters lose the battle to fit the original writer's pre-modern writing voice (all that long explanatory dialog!) into word balloons and narrative captions. But, in general Stoker's less artful melodramatic writing voice works better in comics format than Jane Austen, say. Per the back of the book, Graphic Classics is recommended for ages 12 to adult, though I have to wonder just how receptive pre-teen readers will be to Stoker's 19th century voice. Still, the thought of some young would-be horror buff discovering the malevolent judge's house or that revenge-seeking cat for the first time must surely warm the cockles of ol' Uncle Creepy's barely beating heart . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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