I recently drew a cover to the collected “Dracula” comic book series (some of you may have seen it by now) which is being released by Mini-Comix a small publisher that tends to do mostly reprints of public domain material (that’s not all publisher, Jer Alford, does–it’s probably a good 90% of his output thus far).
Anyway, this particular iteration of “Dracula” was put out by DELL Comics back in the 1960s as part of everyone hopping on the Batman TV series bandwagon–but also attempted to cash in on the then current Monster Movie craze. The folks at DELL probably thought they could get away with this because they were not subject to the Comics Code Authority, which was very down on the type of monsters so popular at the movies (and on TV shows like the original Svengoolie, Shock Theater, Vampira, etc.)
They really didn’t get any grief (as far as I know) for doing the monster thing. They DID however get threatened by Universal Studios–who has been known to do a lot of that when it comes to classic monsters they are so identified with. It’s not that they actually own Dracula, Wolfman, the Frankenstein monster, etc. But their releases of movies featuring those name monsters are so identified with the characters they can throw their weight around and say, “If anything you do in your project looks like any of the stuff WE did, we’ll sue!” Most people faced with such a threat will cave in.
In the case of DELL they quickly changed the name of their Wolfman comic to simply “Werewolf” and were done with it.
But getting back to Dracula the superhero. The only thing that was similar to was Batman (and a few dozen other imitators that all popped up about that time). I’ve been told this series is “goofy”–and that perhaps is true enough. But goofy in comparison to what? Goofy is kind of relative term.
Compared to Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams on Batman after the TV show was off the air? Sure! Dracula is way goofy compared to that. Compared to John Broome and Carmine Infantino on Batman during the craze years? Much less goofy. Compared to Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff on Batman of a few years before the TV show? Now the comparison gets fuzzy.
It’s like watching the best Lost in Space episode back to back with the worst Star Trek! If that’s all one had to make a choice based on…well, you try it sometime and see.
So think about this, the guy that DELL hired to draw Dracula (Tony Tallarico according to Wikipedia) was probably told, “can you make him look sort of like Batman–but not so close we’ll get sued?” And Tony, having been drawing comics since the early 50s, probably thought, “sure, I can do that!” All the time thinking of what Batman had been like for the past 20 years–not what he was becoming at that time.
So, Tony wasn’t thinking of ripping off Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, or Gil Kane, or Neal Adams–he was thinking of ripping off all the guys that had been working as Bob Kane’s “assistants” for the past 20 years.
I agree with the assessment currently being passed around the internet, that the job was doubtless done in a rush. I know what rushed out comics work looks like, and this series has all the earmarks of that sort of thing. Big panels, few backgrounds, all sorts of time saving tricks (like “bats” that look more like a zig-zag brush stroke than any mammal). In short, the three issue run was probably a hack-job, banged out over a few weekends when he wasn’t working on some other job for an ad agency or something like that.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the book actually reads pretty well for all of that. All the familiar beats are there. It would not have taken too much to make this book into an icon, if it had not been just another attempt to cash in on a craze. If DELL had stuck to their guns. If they’d given them a little more time.
The ironic twist is that in a year or so Warren Comics would take much the same approach of combining Batman type iconography mixed with monster movie (and add a little bit of Playboy to the mix) to create Vampirella. Guess who was one of the artists on that?
So, goofy it may be but Dracula is actually one of the better rip-offs of that period. So I”m proud to be associated with the reprint–even if it is just a cover on a reprint of a public-domain character.
Go buy one.