The following is an interview with legendary comic book creators Matt Wagner and Kelley Jones regarding the Kickstarter campaign launch for the first book in their graphic novel series, Dracula – Volume 1: The Impaler, through their newly launched publishing company, Orlok Press. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Wagner and Jones about their shared creative process in bringing the series and the new representation of Dracula to life, what they are excited to share with readers through Orlok Press, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: You recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the first book in your graphic novel series, Dracula – Volume 1: The Impaler. What can you share with us about your reimagining of the Prince of Darkness?
Matt Wagner: Bram Stoker’s classic novel creates and portrays arguably the most famous literary character of all time, but it leaves many aspects of Dracula’s history and persona only hinted at and thus, incredibly intriguing and mysterious. Dracula is such a compelling character, but he’s off-stage for a lot of the active narrative. That in itself lends proof to how powerful and magnetic his character is portrayed…even from the shadows, he’s captivated audiences for over a hundred years. We’re taking all the cryptic details Stoker unveils and using those to create our version of this iconic character’s history. And I want to make it clear… this isn’t yet another retelling of the novel in comics form. We’re bringing you the never-before-told stories behind the story…the sinister tales hidden in and around the narrative of the original novel. One of the things I find compelling about the character of Dracula is that he started out as a man…a man who becomes a literal monster. And our version of him is definitely monstrous…not the more romantic version that has been so popular in a lot of the screen depictions. Our first graphic novel explores Dracula’s bloody history and his tenure at Satan’s legendary seminary of the dark arts, the Scholomance, a fact of his history that’s mentioned twice in the novel. We learn what led Dracula to seek out Satan’s tutelage and how he became the lord of the undead. I’ve been fascinated with Stoker’s novel and his immortal vampire lord since I was a kid, and these are the stories that have literally haunted my imagination for decades.
BD: Kelley, this all-new series of graphic novels will be published through your and Matt’s new company, Orlok Press. What can you tell us about the impetus behind this new publishing endeavor, and what do you feel defines an “Orlok” title?
Kelley Jones: Matt and I both started out in the golden age of the indy comics movement. So, launching this project via Kickstarter seemed like the perfect fit for maintaining that mutual spirit of independence. We knew we’d have to create our own corporate entity to handle the actual business of this process, and that’s how Orlok Press arose; it was a name that Matt kind of casually tossed around at the beginning things and which I absolutely adored. At this point, we’ve only got our sights set on Orlok Press handling our series of Dracula graphic novels, but, eventually, we might see us expanding our goals to include some other projects, as well. When and if that does eventually happen, I think you’ll see books that appeal to our mutual love of horror and that invigorate us creatively. Matt and I share a common belief that any project we’re involved with has to first be artistically and narratively thrilling to us if that excitement is going to translate to our readers.
BD: Your body of illustrative work has been prolific and groundbreaking. How would you describe your shared creative process in bringing a more monstrous and sexy Dracula to life?
MW: Kelley and I have been friends for many years, and we’d always intended to collaborate on something significant…not just a short story or one-shot. Finally, we both realized that the time was right and, luckily, I had something in mind that perfectly fit our mutual energy and styles. Kelley’s an absolute master of the macabre, so when I felt like it was finally time to bring my Dracula obsession into narrative reality, there was just no better choice of collaborator. And our collaboration here just couldn’t have been any smoother…it literally feels like we’ve been working together like this for decades—an incredible synthesis of our two lengthy and accomplished careers in comics. Throughout this entire process, I was scripting these tales and writing to what I saw as Kelley’s strengths and always thinking to myself, “Man…Kelley is gonna draw the HELL outta this!” And then, he’d send me this fucking magnificent art and it always proved to be even more dramatic and visceral than I’d ever dared hope. This really has been a dream project for both of us.
KJ: Creating something with a great talent is what every artist wants. Someone who you have to work up to and be on your best game to reflect. When it’s a dear friend, that makes it even better…and the fact that it’s drawing a story about Dracula means something incredibly special can happen. And it has. When Matt gave me a script, it was like I could see and understand everything he wrote. I had no hesitation putting it to paper. The only problem I have is his scripts are so inspiring they wake me up in the middle of the night and I have to write down the ideas I get from his words rattling in my head for the next day’s drawing!
BD: Crowdfunding has proven to be a phenomenal resource for comic book creators who want to bring their projects directly to readers. What encouraged you to utilize Kickstarter for this project, and how would you describe your experience with the process?
MW: As Kelley said, we’ve both been at the vanguard of the indy comics scene for over forty years. Those of us involved in the early days of that rebellious movement wanted to do things our own way, to more fairly participate in the success of our own creations and to not have to sacrifice our intellectual property rights to any corporate entity. I see crowdfunding projects and venues such as Kickstarter as the next logical step in that revolution. Back in the fledgling days of my career and creator’s rights, we saw the rise of the independent direct sales market…where comic book stores were able to sell comics directly to a dedicated and devoted audience as opposed to the sort of haphazard display our same efforts had always received at standard mainstream newsstands. In a sense, crowdfunding is just taking that same aesthetic one step farther, by enabling buyers to very directly support the projects and the creators they love…without anyone having to deal with a middleman. Certainly, I don’t want to see crowdfunding utterly supplant comic book stores, and I don’t think it will. Not everyone enjoys the same sort of retail experience, and there are plenty of buyers who prefer the cornucopia of products available in a mercantile space as opposed to a specified online campaign. But I think both venues can exist side-by-side quite nicely and that will make for a stronger industry, happier creators and readers, and, as a result…just better comics all around. I’d also like to add that we’ve worked through this entire project with the incredible aid and advice of Superfan Promotions. We really couldn’t have pulled this off without their invaluable input.
BD: In light of the Kickstarter campaign, are there any particular backer rewards that you would like to highlight for our readers?
KJ: The book will be hardcover and in the same format as European graphic albums…8.5″x11” as opposed to standard comic book size. And, since the book’s writer is an artist, we’ve got two cover versions available. The main cover is by me and colored by our incredible interior colorist, the amazing José Villarrubia! And the variant cover is by Matt and colored by his son and frequent collaborator, Brennan Wagner. Both covers are eye-catching and iconic portrayals of our title character in all his fang-baring glory! We also have a signed and numbered edition…limited to 666 copies! That one’s signed by both Matt and myself and features a different approach to the cover and includes red foil stamping. And we’ve also got a limited edition folio that features seven full-size B&W offset prints of some of the most dramatic pages from the book’s interior art. Each print also bears a captioned inscription that’s taken from Matt’s script for that particular page. The folios also come with a certificate that’s signed by both of us, as well. We’re talking about adding a few other rewards as the campaign rolls out, but those remain to be seen. Both Matt and I are insanely proud of this project and can’t wait for our readers to see it. Oh, I also want to stress that production on this first volume…BOOK I—THE IMPALER…is completely finished. We are, in fact, halfway finished with the second volume in the series, as well!