Universal Monsters: Dracula’s Martin Simmonds Reveals The Inspiration Behind His Take On The “Iconic” Monster

universal monsters dracula 1 cover

Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is a certified hit. Released in stores last Wednesday (October 25), written by James Tynion IV with art by Martin Simmonds, the new story weaves between the scenes of the classic movie to tell a new tale of cinema’s most famous monster.

Dracula needed to feel all-powerful, an overpowering supernatural force, and we show that through the introduction of intense colour,” Simmonds told Comic Book Club in an email interview about the new series. “There’s A LOT of red, but also in his most intense displays of supernatural power, we use as much colour as we can to represent this.”

In the Skybound book, Renfield is telling tales of his master, Dracula. Meanwhile, the lord of the vampires stalks the streets of London. While the plot is vintage monster movie, the look and feel are — naturally — a lot like Simmonds and Tynion’s previous collaboration, The Department of Truth. As Simmonds told us, the pair feel that this new book is a “continuation” of their work on the prior one, which is currently on hiatus as the team works on future issues of the conspiracy thriller. So if you’re missing DoT? Take a break and check out Universal Monsters: Dracula.

Or, just check out our interview with Simmonds, as we talked about what inspiration he took from the movies, what is purely his own, and if it wasn’t for the siren call of more DoT, what other classic monster he would want to take on next.

You and James have worked together before on The Department of Truth… What was different about the partnership this time, if anything; other than the subject matter?

I think we’re now in a position where our working relationship is very much in the groove! It can take a few issues to truly hit your stride as a creative team, and although the chemistry has always been there, James and I tend to agree that issue three of Department of Truth is where we reached that point. It’s an organic process, from script to artwork, back to script edits and so on – the script influences the art, and in turn, the art influences the script, and it’s that reaction and understanding between collaborators, that can create incredible work.

James and I were talking about this the other day, and how it feels as if Dracula is a continuation of our work together on DoT. Obviously the subject matter is different, but it still feels as though the process and collaboration is the same, and equally as exciting.

Here you’re drawing monsters and characters from the Universal monster movies… How much studying did you of the films, or at least the first Dracula? And how much did you ditch?

One of the exciting parts of working on an official Universal Monsters book, in this case Dracula, is that we are able to take visual elements from the film, not only in reference for the painted art, but also stills from the movie to incorporate into the artwork. For example, we were able to take a still shot of the Vesta captain tied to the ship’s wheel and collage it into the artwork. There are also panels where I’ve directly referenced a shot from the film, whether that is an actor’s pose, or architectural aspects from the film set. There’s a panel in issue two that directly references Lucy as she opens the window of her bedroom to allow Dracula in. Being able to incorporate those kind of elements adds another dimension that isn’t always possible. 

Was there anything from the visual iconography of the films – angles, lighting, all of that – you felt was important to put in the book?

Yes, very much so. The movie is black and white, and so we wanted to adhere to that for the more grounded scenes, but equally, we wanted to incorporate colour in some way. That’s something the film was unable to do. 

universal monsters dracula renfield

Renfield is particularly striking here, his face a white wash, almost. What led to this choice?

Well it’s partly influenced by Dwight Frye’s portrayal of the character, but ramped up to a more intense degree. There are several other influences at play too – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and The Man Who Laughs – and more specifically, the characters in those movies played by Conrad Veidt.  There are also some more up to date influences – particularly several notable figures from the 1980s goth subculture; Pete Murphy, Robert Smith, and Nik Fiend.  Also, Pazuzu as he is depicted in The Exorcist. That one split second where you see his face instantly left a deep impression on me, it’s so unsettling!

I wanted Renfield to look only partly human, as if he’s been worn down, his soul stretched to the point he’s living some kind of torturous half-life, almost entirely under the influence of his master, Count Dracula. I think Renfield as he appears in our version is how I’ve always imagined him, so it’s nice to get the chance to put paint to paper and see it in print. 

Contrast that with Dracula, who is a panel-filling, almost completely black-and-red force of nature. Talk through that choice, as well.

Dracula needed to feel all-powerful, an overpowering supernatural force, and we show that through the introduction of intense colour. There’s A LOT of red, but also in his most intense displays of supernatural power, we use as much colour as we can to represent this.

universal monsters dracula 1

Similar to earlier, what do you think it is about Bela Lugosi that is so iconic? And what was important in capturing his look in particular?

The most prominent element would be his eyes, and how the filmmakers used lighting to highlight them when they wanted to show his influential powers. It’s also interesting that there isn’t a single moment in the movie when Dracula shows his fangs, something which has since become synonymous with the character. The costume design, the widows peak, and as I mentioned earlier, his claw-like hands all make for such an iconic image.

This story adds new bits to the classic movie… If given the chance, would you want to continue to work through between-the-scenes stories in the other Universal Dracula series? Or is there another classic monster you’d want to take on?

I’d love to do more, but The Department of Truth is calling me back! if I could work on another classic monster, it would have to be Jekyll & Hyde

Are there any Department of Truth Easter eggs in future issues? I’d love to see how Cole Turner might react to Dracula being real.

Now that could be fun! The Fictional Woman as a vampire! Maybe…

Universal Monsters: Dracula #1 is now in comic book stores. Issue #2 will hit stores on November 22, 2023.

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