Monday, July 5, 2010


Screw Twilight. To hell with The Vampire Diaries. Lestat’s a total wuss. And True Blood blows—oh, wait, I actually like True Blood.

Anyway, I’m very pleased to see that one of my all-time favorite treatments of vampires—particularly the most famous vampire of all—is being reprinted as a series of affordable trade paperbacks, the first volume of which went on sale last week. Hopefully, a whole new audience will discover this bona fide classic.

I’m referring to The Tomb of Dracula, published by Marvel Comics from 1972 to 1979 and lasting 70 issues. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest things ever published by that company. (As many of you know, I worked at Marvel throughout the 1990s.) In fact, I’d argue that The Tomb of Dracula is the best finite series in Marvel’s history—a series with a beginning, a middle, and definitive end. And in the case of The Tomb of Dracula, there was a clear beginning and an engrossing, disturbing, chilling, suspenseful, and ever-imaginative middle that led to a powerful and thoroughly satisfying conclusion. In that sense, the whole thing functions as a 70-chapter graphic novel, though it was produced long before the term “graphic novel” was ever coined as an alternative to the less prestigious sounding “comic book.”

The just-released first volume reprints issues 1-12, and I’ll acknowledge that it takes a few issues—in this format, they can be considered chapters—for the saga to find its footing. But it’s worth the wait, and new readers will be rewarded for their patience. The lack of a clear direction at the beginning of the series was unavoidable, really, given the fact that in its first seven issues, The Tomb of Dracula went through four different writers. Fortunately, they were among the very best comic-book writers of that era, so even though there was a lack of consistency in terms of characterizations and overall tone from issue to issue at the start, there was an undeniable craftsmanship and a quality to the writing that established a solid enough foundation for the series and a sense of momentum that kept things moving forward until a permanent writer took up residence.

But the look of the series was never anything but consistent, since one penciler—the amazing Gene Colan—was on board from start to finish. He was paired with a variety of inkers for the first 10 issues, but with #11, he began a partnership with the phenomenal Tom Palmer (also one of the nicest guys in the comic-book business) that would endure to the very end. Colan and Palmer meshed perfectly, complementing each other’s styles and producing some of the moodiest, most dramatic artwork ever produced for the comics medium.

Dracula as rendered by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer.

So… what’s the series about? Well, it’s not exactly a direct sequel to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel—not at first. But as new characters and situations are introduced, the series does start to establish closer ties to the novel, which should please fans of Stoker’s work.

Writer Gerry Conway kicked things off in the first issue with the accidental resurrection of Count Dracula in the bowels of his Transylvanian castle, and the introduction of one of the saga’s key characters: Frank Drake, who is actually a descendant of the legendary vampire. The series as a whole depicts the efforts of Drake and his growing group of allies to stop Dracula from spreading his brand of evil around the world.

Dracula lives again: The Tomb of Dracula #1.

Conway only wrote the first two issues, just long enough to get things rolling. He was replaced by Archie Goodwin, one of the best writers and editors to ever grace the comic-book industry, and a personal hero of mine. Goodwin also wrote only two issues, but during his brief tenure, he added a major new character to the cast: Rachel Van Helsing, granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, who was of course one of the main characters of Stoker’s novel. (It’s important to note that the introduction of Rachel was done long before it became a tired cliché to have the descendants of Stoker’s original characters serve as Dracula’s opponents in the present day.) Goodwin was followed by Gardner Fox, who stayed on just long enough to produce a two-part supernatural adventure that maintained the overall status quo.

It wasn’t until issue #7 that the series really clicked and headed in the direction that would earn it all of its acclaim. It was with that issue that Marv Wolfman came on board as the regular writer. (Yes, it’s true: a guy named “Wolfman” was the integral writer of a series about Dracula.)

The importance of Marv’s arrival on The Tomb of Dracula cannot be emphasized enough. He was bursting with ideas from the very start. With his first issue, he brought in perhaps the most important character of all, with the exception of Dracula himself: the elderly vampire hunter Quincy Harker, who was actually introduced at the very end of Stoker’s novel as the young son of Jonathan and Mina Harker. As developed by Wolfman, Quincy was a complex, three-dimensional, and fully realized character, the likes of which had not really been seen before in mainstream comics.

Soon after, Wolfman introduced one of the most popular characters of the series: Blade the vampire slayer, who would of course get his own movie trilogy (and a short-lived cable television show) several decades later.

Blade makes his memorable debut in
The Tomb of Dracula #10.

Other key players, including Dracula’s hated daughter Lilith and fiction writer Harold H. Harold (a Woody Allen type who served as comic relief), would follow.

Dracula introduces readers to his daughter Lilith in a special issue.

As the series progressed, Marv went in different, unexpected directions: at one point, Dracula had to actually join forces with his pursuers in order to take on a mutual enemy; the Dracula family grew, in a most unusual fashion; and one extended storyline led to a chilling, pivotal confrontation between Dracula and his dark master. Along the way, there were even guest appearances by the sorcerer Doctor Strange and the cosmic-powered alien being known as the Silver Surfer—but rest assured, horror fans, “crossovers” into the Marvel Universe proper were kept to a bare minimum, and when they did happen, they were done in a manner that felt appropriate and organic to The Tomb of Dracula.

The encounter with Dr. Strange began here...

... and ended here. And just a few months later...

... the Silver Surfer showed up. (From The Tomb of Dracula #50).

Marv Wolfman must also be credited with fleshing out the character of Dracula like no other writer in history—including Stoker. In Marv’s hands, Dracula truly came alive (so to speak), with a real personality, clear motivations, and a rich backstory. Marv’s Dracula is loathsome, vile, cruel, arrogant, deceitful, noble, and at times, believe it or not, even the slightest bit sympathetic.

The other vampires we meet throughout the series are, with a few rare exceptions, purely evil, grotesque monsters who view humans as nothing more than prey and as a source of nourishment.

In other words, vampires done right.

After The Tomb of Dracula ended with #70, there were several revivals. A couple of them reunited the classic team of Wolfman and Colan. And one revival was actually written by none other than yours truly! It was a three-issue limited series published in 1998 called Dracula: Lord of the Undead, illustrated by Pat Olliffe and the aforementioned Tom Palmer, and it was a dream project for me. Working with Pat and Tom and editor Tim Tuohy was one of the absolute best experiences I ever had as a comic book professional, and I still have a great fondness for that project.

Greenberg writes Dracula! It took me years to get this project off the ground.

The splash page for #1, with my name in the credits. I now own the original art!

But I have to say that none of the revivals—including the one I wrote—have measured up to the original Tomb of Dracula series. That 70-issue body of work is in a class by itself and still towers over everything that has followed it.

Which is why I’m pleased that it’s being put out again, during a period in which vampires are all the rage, so that audiences can relive, or experience for the first time, the best handling of Dracula since Bram Stoker completed his novel about the sinister vampire count from Transylvania.

If you’re a fan of horror and/or a lover of vampire fiction (and I know some of you are): Don’t let the fact that it’s a “comic book” turn you off to it. This is a serious, respectful treatment of the subject matter.

Volume 2 of the trade paperback series apparently goes on sale September 29, so pick up Volume 1 now, start reading, and you’ll be ready for the next installment by the time it comes out. To quote my favorite TV detective, Adrian Monk: “You’ll thank me later.”


  1. Wow, Glenn, what a wonderful piece. Dracula was the book on which I learned to write and tell the kind of stories I wanted to tell. That it's continued to be reprinted 35 years later, and in two beautiful hard cover volumes as well, is something I never expected but it's something I am so grateful for. Again, thanks for this.

  2. Thanks for posting, Marv! I know I've told you on numerous occasions how much your work on Dracula has meant to me. It continues to be an inspiration.

    You know, at this point, I have all of the black-and-white "Essential" volumes, the two hardcover Omnibus volumes that have come out, and now the first of the new trade paperback series.

    Plus, I own every single issue of the original series.

    I think there may be something very wrong with me. >:-)

  3. Working on Dracula: Lord of The Undead was a personal triumph for me as well. When I was hired at Marvel there were a few properties that I really wanted to work on. The Punisher, Conan, a revival of a '70s science fiction title called Seeker 3000 and Dracula. I was able to accomplish all those things and then some.

    Strangely enough, I also got to work on Batman while at Marvel!

    The Dracula book was a labor of love for all involved. I once again got the honor to work with one of my inking gods, Tom Palmer. I was able to have Pat Oliffe work on a book with my name on it. And, keep Glenn under my thumb one more time!

    I read every issue of Tomb Of Dracula. Every appearance The Count made in another Marvel book. Reread the Stoker novel. I even read Leonard Wolf's "Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide" and J. Gordon Melton's "The Vampire Book"! And if that wasn't enough, I had Glenn to fill me in on any details I may have missed.

    One of the things I always asked myself when I was an editor and someone was pitching a story was a simple question: "Do I buy this idea?"

    Dracula: Lord of The Undead was not only one of those times but it made me fight to get the character back from the depths of inanity, long hair and flouncy sleeves that he was made to sink to. It was a rough time that even caused a shouting match to ensue in the ever peaceful Marvel Bullpen when Dracula was being used incorrectly in another book!

    Good times.

    Yes, Glenn, there is something wrong with the both of us!

  4. Based on your recommendation, I started reading TOD at Marvel Comics Digital. You're right, it's great stuff (and I'm only at issue 3). Gene Colan is a master.

    The first omnibus is really expensive right now, but I might have to pick up the second and see if the first ever turns up for a decent price.

  5. To David Walton--

    First, welcome to the blog!

    If price is a concern, you can just get the Tomb of Dracula series as Marvel publishes it in trade paperback form. $24.99 for 12 issues is pretty reasonable. Certainly cheaper than buying the actual back issues! (I did that in the 1980s, when the prices for those original issues were a lot cheaper than they are now.)

    The only danger I can see with regard to the new trade paperback collections is the possibility that sales would decline to the point where Marvel would decide not to publish the series in its entirety--in which case, the Omnibus format would be the way to go. All 70 issues (plus tie-ins) have already been collected in the Omnibus format. But I can certainly understand why you'd be hesitant about that--the price is somewhat off-putting. (Didn't stop ME, but I'm a NUT when it comes to this.)

  6. I have considered that Marvel might not collect the entire run in TPB. I'm not sure about the dynamics of it, but maybe it's more likely since they've already done the remaster work for the hardcover editions. You'd know more about that than me. I'd feel better about the prospects if they'd titled it "The Complete Tomb of Dracula," because that's when you know they're committed to going the distance.

    I feel like I'm under pressure of time. I've considered buying the second omnibus because it's still affordable. Problem is, I'm kind of obsessive about these things, if by "kind of" we mean bordering on Adrian Monk levels. I feel weird having half a run in TPB and the other in hardback. Looks weird on the shelf. It's unnatural. Buuuuut...there's no guarantee I'll ever find Vol. 1 at a price I can afford.

    Anyway, it's nice chatting with you. Stop by my blog if you're ever so inclined:

  7. Great piece of writing, Glenn. Your post is insightful both in terms of textual analysis and putting into the series into its comics historical context. So, thanks for an interesting read.
    (And also, if he's still following this thread, I would like to offer a huge thank you to Marv Wolfman as well, for writing these comics in the first place.)

    And David, I would actually really recommend the Essential editions, i.e. the big b/w edition (4 volumes in total), collecting ToD. While I definitely read the comic in colour (and in Swedish translation, I might add) as a kid, I've reconnected with it more recently in this format, I honestly think I like it even more in b/w. Colan's art stands out even more, and it is absolutely gorgeous.

  8. I went the Omnibus route with this series. It's worth the money. I'm a big fan of the original novel and this works as a great sequel.

  9. Mad Swede,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I love the Essentials for their affordability and portability, but find them hit or miss. Some things translate better than others to the black and white format, and as you've pointed out, some things work even better in that format.

    David Ferguson,

    Thanks also for your recommendation. Do you think color bring something to the series that B&W doesn't?

  10. "Do you think color bring something to the series that B&W doesn't?"

    I can answer that: Absolutely, positively, YES. Especially the issues that were colored by Tom Palmer. GORGEOUS stuff.

  11. Well, okay then. I ordered the second ominibus. If anyone spots the first one at a decent price, please let me know!

    I might try to pick up the first two essentials also.

  12. Dear Mr. Greenberg,

    a couple of years ago, actually it was in 2007, I have created a page on Wikipedia about the Marvel Cybercomics.

    There I have collected all the information about the Cybercomics that could be found on the net. Now the online development advanced: most of the writers and artists have their own WebPages and blogs. Some of them even remember their work on the Cybercomics and putting them online.

    Now I would like to update the Wikipedia page and would like to ask you for some help.

    1) Do you have any Cybercomics in digital form that you can send to me?

    2) Do you have specifically Spider-Man Storyline 11 – “The Venom Saga” or “The Colour of Hate”. Can you send me some information about this Cybercomic? Or do you even have it in digital form and can send the Cybercomic to me? I am a passionate Venom collector and this is the only comic with his appearance that escaped my collection, yet!

    I hope you can help me here and thank you very much in advance!



  13. All right. I've got the second omnibus, and I bought the first TPB. I read the TPB all the way through, and I must say, it's great storytelling by any standard. This isn't nostalgia for me, since I wasn't even alive when the series ran. Even the first few issues that alternate between writers are great.

  14. To Martinitlove:

    Sorry, I can't help you on that.

    To David Walton:

    I told ya so! :-)