Cartoon and Illustration

Defending Dracula (the 1960s comic book superhero)


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.

Cartoon and Illustration

D-Day for Doodle!

So there are some events in one’s life that are discrete–that is, individually standing apart in one’s memory.  My wedding day is one such event.  Although there were events leading up to my marrying Karin, the day itself is etched in my mind (at least the parts that I can recall from the haze of excitement).  All events leading up to and proceeding from that event are bound up in that event.

In the past I have generally had one specific item that stuck in my mind when I recall attending a convention.  “Oh, yes! That would be Heroes Convention 1982, when the whole gang trekked down to Charlotte and ate out together on Friday night.”

This past weekend at Heroes Convention is likely not going to work that way.  There was simply too much going on for it to center around one event outside of the convention itself.

I’m going to do my best to describe some of the events, without going too long and boring everyone who may bother to read this.  To keep it straight in my head, I’d better go day by day.

Thursday, driving in from the mountains Karin and I got caught in a downpour on Billy Graham Parkway and so missed our turn–getting completely lost in the twists and turns of the streets that make up Charlotte.  This isn’t the first time I’ve been lost in Charlotte, but it’s been a lot of years since I was completely lost.  We eventually made it to the convention center and I simply pulled the van into the loading bay (a first for me) and unloaded my items rather than paying for parking and carrying in the goods as in years past.  Set up in record time (in spite of the larger load) and headed to the suburbs.

We found our way out to Joel and Toni’s (my best friend and his wife, who we normally stay with when attending the show in Charlotte) had a nice dinner and watched a dry British comedy called “The Trip”.  (My favorite part was the reference to Doctor Who, but the reference to Madness’ song “My Name Is Michael Caine” comes in second).

Friday morning found us at the convention center bright and early, yet all the inexpensive parking was already taken–so we had to suck it up and park at the Westin Hotel.  (It’s actually Hertz Parking, but you don’t know how much it Hertz until you pull out in the evening).

I will have to say that Friday is a bit of a blur.  I made my first sale sometime in the morning moving a copy of The T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents Companion from Two-Morrows Publishing that had not sold in the years since publication (that is, around the time that DC picked up the series), and so I was glad to move it.  We were then visited by a young friend of ours (one of Karin’s students) who happened to be in town with his older sister–he bought a button (a last minute addition to my offered goods) and then things get blurry.  I got two commissions for sketches within moments of one another.  Then a few more sales of prints and more commissions.  So many commissions, in fact, that after Karin and I had dinner at Steak ‘n’ Shake I had to go home to Joel and Toni’s and work on the final art for the day until 11 pm.

Saturday morning the show opened earlier than on Friday, so I made sure we were up early enough to snag some inexpensive parking (in the lot next to the Westin Hotel).  We went into the convention center and rather than having a busy day of more sketching (as I’d anticipated) I spent a lot of time simply talking to people who came by to visit.  Actually, according to my notes I did do two smaller sketches, but Saturday still seems like mostly visiting.  

Part way through the day, Shane Berryhill arrived.  He’d risen at around 3 am to drive in from Chattanooga and once unpacked began his sales pitch (which included lots of kudos thrown my way) before he ran off to see various panel discussions and chase down potential clients.

I had failed to secure report covers for my sample packages up to the show and all the office supply stores were closed on Friday night by the time Karin and I finished dinner.  So Joel and Toni were kind enough to bring in 5 folders they’d picked up on the way to the show (but had to look at 3 stores before they could find them).  Finally having these covers to put around my previously printed sample pages, I was able to visit the Boom Studios table and hand off a copy of my “book”, just as a group of us were heading out to lunch at Fuel Pizza across the street from the convention center.  

This was a pleasant diversion from the show.  Joel, Toni, Karin and I were joined by Kaysha Siemens and her friend “Ribbit”, for a half hour or so of pizza and more crowds of fans.  The discussion was suitably strange and hopefully we’ll see more of Ribbit in the future.

Upon returning to the table I finally got to meet a young artist, Clint Keffer, who I’ve been corresponding with since early this year.  He and his girlfriend Amanda dropped by the table and spent a lot of time just talking about the similarities and differences of working in comics and the music industry.  Anyone passing by might have thought it was a pretty interesting panel discussion taking place right there.

My contribution to the show auction (see previous post) was creating a buzz, and I heard from a number of people concerning it.  But while I really wanted to stay for the auction itself, I realized that I was fading fast as the day continued.  There was no way I would be able to go to the auction and still be at the show on Sunday.  (As an added incentive, the parking lot we were in wanted us out by 9pm–the lot is attached to a disco and that’s around the time their patrons want the spaces).

So we headed back to Joel and Toni’s.  The four of us went out to dinner at a local hot dog and burger restaurant with aspirations–D-Moe’s.  Pretty good Carolina dog there (I’ll rank it around 3rd in my national taste test) but great service and nice decompression time too, sitting out at a picnic table with good friends, away from the hustle and bustle.  Then we had to go out to a local retaining pond to hear frogs saying, “Baby-baby-baby, hey baby!”  (No, seriously, it sounded like a Beavis and Butthead mix tape).  Then we were able to go back to Joel and Toni’s to introduce them to Svengoulie on MeTV.  We watched the first half of House of Dracula before we all realized just how tired we were.

Sunday morning came very early, in spite of the show opening at 11 am, we were scheduled for “second breakfast” with Shane Berryhill at the convention center at 9:30.  He and I took some time to go over our lines for the Kickstarter video we were supposed to shoot during the day, and then go over some notes on which publishers were there actually looking for submissions.

The morning was occupied by Shane and I visiting publisher booths.  Sometimes splitting up, then regrouping when our paths crossed.  I was able to drop samples off with PaperCutz, Valiant, and a couple of others that unfortunately I didn’t write down.  Also got to visit some with the guys from Zenescope–part of the time I spent thanking them for publishing my work in the past several years.  This is because many of the publishers I visited looked at my samples and actually knew the work I’d been doing.  A real break-through for me–not having to explain what the projects were was a real pleasure.

Then Shane got a call from Karin.  Michael McCoy was at our tables waiting for us.

Michael was my art director briefly when we both worked for Quest Comics back around 2000.  He’s since moved on into carpentry and movie direction and kindly offered to help Shane and I tape a Kickstarter video for “Game of Horror” (which we’re still trying to get financed so we can finish).  Shane and I were both feeling a little camera shy, but managed to get through the filming the video with Michael’s low-key direction to guide us.

Be looking for more on that subject in the near future–because we really have to crank up the publicity on that.

The day brought another convention sketch commission.  This one of DC Comics’ Doctor Midnite–which I adored drawing!  When a fan comes to me with a Golden Age DC character I simply love it.  I’d almost rather draw those characters than just about anything else.  (Just for future reference, if you’re interested in getting a sketch from me).

The day ended, we had to get back to the mountains and see our kitty cats.  This was probably more an issue for Karin–but I’m pretty fond of them in spite of my allergies.  But we had to pack up the car and give a ride back to Nebo to our friends, Clay and Christine (uncle and niece, not a couple).  We also had to deliver a piece of commissioned art to Kaysha in Black Mountain (she’d purchased it on Saturday, but it wasn’t done before she and Ribbit had to leave).

Our trip home took a while longer than it might have.  We stopped uptown Charlotte at a place called Yoforia for frozen yogurt before actually getting on the road.  But we got home okay, and before 10:30 pm.  The cats were very affectionate and let us know they missed us.

Today I’m in the studio trying to get all my follow up emails done and then get files to Michael McCoy to finish up that Game of Horror Kickstarter.  But now it’s time for lunch.


reeveSupes6613I’ll be donating this to the Heroes Convention auction this weekend. Another of my color pencil pieces (yes, it’s color pencil–but done both sides of a sheet of polyester drafting media). If you’re going to be there, be sure to bid!

Cartoon and Illustration

Chris Reeve Superman (with X-Ray vision)