If you’re looking for a pulpy romp full of bloodsuckers and dripping in style to kick off October, look no further than Dracula, Motherf**ker! Releasing October 7th from Image Comics, Dracula, Motherf**ker! brings Stoker’s haunting horror icon to 1974 Los Angeles, where crime scene photographer Quincy Harker gets tangled up in a century-spanning conflict between Dracula and some of his numerous wives. Writer Alex de Campi and artist Erica Henderson start with their feet pressed firmly on the gas and never slow down in this bloody, beautiful original graphic novel.
Despite how long I spent pouring over Erica Henderson’s stunning artwork, Dracula, Motherf**ker! makes for a very quick read. In plotting out the action, de Campi doesn’t let the story slow down for long before more supernatural happenings plague Quincy in his quest to pay his bills and make it home in one piece. The dialogue is comparably sparse with de Campi sometimes excluding lines of dialogue in conversations between characters if the line would be obvious enough to just fill space on the page rather than convey useful information. This makes for an exciting read that never allows time for the reader to grow bored or disconnect with the story. While this fast pace also doesn’t allow much time to get to know the characters, the book is more invested in its mood and action than its characters anyway.
Though I understand the book’s point of view, the lesser focus on character made it hard to care about the book’s protagonist, Quincy Harker. Following the tradition of Stoker, a lot of the action happens to and around Quincy. His role as a crime-scene photographer makes for clever means to progress the story, but beyond the morbid opportunities for plot progression, I wasn’t invested in him at all as a character because of how passive his role is in the narrative. Dracula’s wives are about as one dimensional as Quincy, but their more active role in the narrative made them much more compelling. The plot and conflict are similarly one dimensional, until things take a wild turn near the end that morphs the conflict even further away from human drama into fantasy and folklore.
With her line art, Erica Henderson effortlessly adapts to these shifting modes like a chameleon. Her trademark charm readers may remember from Squirrel Girl or Assassin Nation comes through in the characters’ faces, even in a story as macabre as this. With only a few lines of ink here or there, she expresses a diverse variety of bone structure and expression. I’ve always been drawn to her renderings of teeth and the subtle work they do to sell a character’s expression. Whether letting a character’s front teeth peek out from behind their lips or Dracula’s menacing fangs gleaming like daggers from Hell, it’s all too fitting that Henderson’s trademark teeth work particularly well in a tale about vampires.
Though teeth and vampires are an obvious pair, what’s less obvious is the book’s presentation of Dracula as a creature and character. In an introductory note included with my review copy, de Campi cites Fullmetal Alchemist and Hellsing as inspirations behind Dracula, Motherf**ker!’s titular ghouly, particularly pulling from how those works play with non-coporeal entities. Henderson takes this premise and runs, sprints, flies with it, rendering Dracula as a being peeking from panels’ shadows or spilling out across multiple pages and overwhelming the book in his malice. I’d give more specific examples, but Dracula’s appearances in the book were some of the most exciting moments for me and I’d rather not spoil them.
What really sells everything from the mood of the book to Dracula’s renderings is Erica Henderson’s masterful use of color. At one moment, purple is used to give the page a moody feel as twilight sinks into night. On another, it’s used to electrify a fiery explosion into psychedelic delight. Muted blues and yellows sell the crime drama without relying on a conventional, high-contrast black and white monotone, but that doesn’t mean Henderson holds back on soaking the pages in inky darkness. This liberal use of ink lets the colors pop, but Henderson’s restrained tinting never lets them yell too loudly. Of course, what Dracula book would be complete without the color red? You’ll find buckets (or should I say pints?) of it here, and the way it contrasts with the moody blues is an aesthetic delight while also highlighting the contrast between the worlds of grounded reality and high concept fantasy in which Harker finds himself.
Overall, Dracula, Motherf**ker! takes an age-old story (Dracula), performs an age-old practice (modern retellings) and makes it all feel fresh. A shallow plot and flat protagonist feel like minor flaws in a book that so thoroughly makes up for them in mood and artwork. Readers looking for a fun read to kick off a horror-filled October or a nice collection of some of Henderson’s best work to date should absolutely consider picking up this book.
Dracula, Motherf**ker is out in comic shops on October 7th and wherever books are sold on October 13th.
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