The world of Marvel superheroes which Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others had created since its inception in 1961 had revolutionized the comic book medium and quickly became a great success both in artistic and financial terms. It had been a "clean" world in many ways - Spider-Man / Peter Parker had his problems in life (that was part of the success formula), but it would always be clear what exactly the problem was and how it might be solved.

Most importantly, one could always tell the good guys from the bad guys and at the end of the day, good would prevail and crime would never pay. It was a world of primary colours and happy endings, and although the bad guys would usually end up being caught out after a physical clash, blood or even just bruises were never to be seen.


Green Lantern #77
(June 1970)

Green Lantern #85
(August 1971)

  But the real world was changing fast. The continuing rise of inner-city poverty paired with exploding crime rates, the political and social aftermath of the Vietnam War, the hardships of economic recession and the looming shadow of an oil shock were just some of the problems that plagued the US as the decade of the 1970s looked set to become an era of disenchantment and mistrust. Comic books needed to find a way to adapt to these real life changes and renew its appeal to existing as well as new readers. One approach was to make the world of superheroes more gloomy, either by casting a depressing image of "the heart of America" as a slum-torn "war zone" (in DC's Green Lantern (vol. 2) #77, June 1970) or openly depicting both drug issues (in Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, May-July 1971, and DC's Green Lantern (vol. 2) #85-86, August-September 1971) and the deaths of central members of the regular cast (such as Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #121 [June 1973] and the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #122 [July 1973]). Another approach, which had previously stood the test of time in many economic and social crises, was to fall back on escapist themes. Amongst these, the horror genre has always been a popular metaphor - economic recession and vampires both left people at the mercy of something which was very much out of control for most individuals, but at least someone could drive a stake through the latter threat.

In 1971 Stan Lee had been asked by the US Department of Health to do a comic book story which would depict drug abuse as negative and dangerous, but the Comics Code Authority had refused to approve the resulting story arc in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May to July 1971) precisely because of the presence of narcotics. Insisiting on the relevance of the cause, Marvel published the books without CCA approval and seal.


Amazing Spider-Man #96
(May 1971)

Amazing Spider-Man #121
(June 1973)

The books were so successful and well received by critics that they virtually forced the CCA to revise their position - without any real intention to do so, Stan Lee had reformed the comics code (Lee & Thomas, 1998), and as a side result the horror genre was granted more flexibility as vampires, ghouls and werewolves would now be allowed if "handled in the classic tradition of Frankenstein, Dracula and other high caliber literary works by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Conan Doyle" (Nyberg, 1998).
The revision of the code opened up many new possibilities, and only five months after launching a non-CCA-approved issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel's best-selling comic title again made an important contribution to the horror genre when issue #101 (October 1971) featured the debut of "Morbius the Living Vampire" - and the first instance and example of what would become Marvel's principal Bronze Age approach to the horror genre: applying the superhero concept and letting loose, so to say, superheroes from the crypt.

The guiding principles were fairly simple and had mostly been tested previously. The real novelty was, as often, the approach of combining these different threads into one formula - something which Marvel was still virtually unbeatable at even ten years after the inception of the Fantastic Four.

The central idea was to create a character which would feature as the central figure of a continuing saga of individual episodes. As a result, the focus would shift in comparison to most popular culture storytelling, making the source of horror (e.g. Dracula) the main character of the plot and the subject of a continuous storyline.


Amazing Spider-Man #122
(July 1974)

This was very different to what had been presented in colour comic books before, which had focussed on standalone stories of a couple of pages length. Marvel already knew from Dr Doom in Astonishing Tales (which premiered in August 1970) that turning the "bad guy" into the main character of a comic book - its "anti-hero" so to speak - worked and was accepted by the readers (see THOUGHT BALLON #7).

Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971)

  According to Roy Thomas, he and artist Gil Kane actually wanted to introduce Dracula himself, rather than Morbius, into Amazing Spider-Man #101 but were held back by Stan Lee who wanted a "super villain vampire" - and who possibly already had different plans in his mind for Dracula (Cooke, 2001). Eventually - and heavily pushed by Stan Lee (Cooke, 2001) - plans surrounding the famous vampire count were first announced to the general readership in mid-1971:

"SAVAGE TALES (our M-rated mag - for the mature reader) looks like such a howlin' hit that we're following it up with a ghoulish 50c goodie called THE TOMB OF DRACULA (or THE HOUSE OF DRACULA, we haven't decided yet). It's a wholly new concept, starring Dracula himself, as he is - was - and perhaps will be. With art by GENE COLAN, BERNI WRIGHTSON and GRAY MORROW among others, and a team of the world's most titanic scripters, headed by Marvel's merry masters SMILIN' STAN and RASCALLY ROY themselves! May we modestly say - it ain't to be missed!" (Marvel Comics, July 1971 Bullpen Bulletin)

Originally planned as a black & white magazine rather than a colour comic book, this concept was changed as late as after completion of Gene Colan's artwork for the first issue (Cooke, 2001), but in April 1972, Tomb of Dracula #1 was finally published. Unforseeable at the time, the title would turn out to be a huge success, break new grounds and become far more than just an average vampire tale, as it wove an ongoing saga which plotted the vampire count against the group of vampire hunters and others who sought to put an end to his existence.Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman achieved a quality of storytelling which was not only in the best vein of the classic gothic vampire stories but also added its very own stamp of originality and thematic momentum - which remains fresh and vibrant even 30+ years after it was created. Today, Tomb of Dracula is a comic book classic beyond its genre, and the jewel in the crown of Marvel's bronze age horror world (see THOUGHT BALLON #7).
Marvel immediately established a direct link to Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, published in 1897, as the raison d'etre for Tomb of Dracula, and used a multitude of references to the literary source through the use of e.g. names, locations, events, etc.

Stoker (1847 - 1912), who had graduated in mathematics, initially wrote stories and novels (often dealing with horror and supernatural themes) because he enjoyed it and because it supplemented his income (Belford, 2002). In 1889, he started to research European folklore and stories of vampires, and by March 1890 Stoker had decided to write a vampire novel, although the name for his principal character was to be Count Wampyr. He then found the name of Dracula in a book that he borrowed from the Whitby Public Library in the summer of 1890 and recorded in his notes that according to this source “Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil" (Miller, 1998).

A good six years in the making, Dracula is an epistolary novel, i.e. the story is told as a series of diary entries and letters written by several narrators who also serve as the novel's main protagonists. Events not witnessed directly by the story's characters are related through occasional newspaper clippings.


Cover of the first edition of Dracula (1897)

  The tale begins with Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor, travelling to Count Dracula's remote castle in the Carpathian Mountains in order to provide legal support to the count for a number of real estate transactions overseen by Harker's employer, Peter Hawkins.

"I heard a heavy step approaching behind the great door, and saw through the chinks the gleam of a coming light. Then there was the sound of rattling chains and the clanking of massive bolts drawn back. A key was turned with the loud grating noise of long disuse, and the great door swung back. Within, stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere. He held in his hand an antique silver lamp, in which the flame burned without a chimney or globe of any kind, throwing long quivering shadows as it flickered in the draught of the open door. (...) 'I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome, Mr. Harker, to my house.'" [Bram Stoker, Dracula, chapter 2]

Impressed at first by Dracula's gracious manners, he is soon forced to discover that he has actually become a prisoner and that the count is a very strange person who leads a nocturnal life. After a while, Harker manages to escape from the castle. Not long afterward, a Russian ship which left the port of Varna runs aground on the shores of Whitby during a fierce storm. All of the crew are missing and presumed dead, but when the captain's log is recovered it speaks of strange events during the ship's journey which led to the gradual disappearance of the entire crew apparently owing to a malevolent presence on board the ill-fated ship. An animal described as a large dog is seen on the ship leaping ashore, and the ship's cargo consists of boxes of earth from Transylvania. Soon after, Dracula is menacing Harker's fiancťe Wilhelmina "Mina" Murray and her vivacious friend, Lucy Westenra, who attracts the attention of three friends: Dr. John Seward (an asylum psychiatrist), an American named Quincey Morris, and the Hon. Arthur Holmwood (later Lord Godalming). When Lucy begins to waste away suspiciously, Seward calls in his old teacher, Professor Abraham Van Helsing from Amsterdam. Van Helsing immediately determines the cause of Lucy's condition but refuses to disclose it, knowing that Seward's faith in him will be shaken if he starts to speak of vampires. He tries multiple blood transfusions, but all is in vain and the patient dies. Lucy is buried, but very soon the newspapers report children being stalked in the night by a "bloofer lady". Van Helsing, knowing this means that Lucy has become a vampire, confides in Seward, Holmwood and Morris, and together they track her down and stake her heart.

Jonathan Harker arrives back home from Budapest, where Mina had joined and married him after his escape from Dracula's castle, and they both join the coalition who now turn their full attention to dealing with the count. When Dracula learns of this rallying against him, he seeks out Mina and feeds on her blood. Over the next days, she slowly succumbs to the blood of the vampire that flows through her veins, switching back and forth from a state of consciousness to a state of semi-trance during which she is telepathically connected with Dracula. It is this connection, however, which Van Helsing and the group start to use to deduce Dracula's movements. The count flees back to his castle in Transylvania, followed by Van Helsing's group, who track him down just before sundown and destroy him by stabbing him in the heart with a Bowie knife. Dracula crumbles to dust and his spell is lifted from Mina. Quincey Morris is killed in the final battle, stabbed by Gypsies who had been charged with returning Dracula to his castle. Finally, the survivors return to England.

Comic books are a visual medium, and so one of the major tasks Marvel had to settle in launching Tomb of Dracula would be the outward apperance of the vampire count. In his novel, Bram Stoker describes Dracula through the eyes of Jonathan Harker in a precise and detailed way:

"His face was a strong - a very strong - aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips (...) For the rest his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor (...) [The hands] were rather coarse - broad with squat fingers. Strange to say, there were hairs in the centre of the palm. The nails were long and fine, and cut to a sharp point." [Bram Stoker, Dracula, chapter 2]

In terms of visualization and popular culture images, there is little to nothing, however, which can compare to the powerful influence of the motion picture, and for the horror genre, movies proved decisive and definitive in shaping the general public's expectations of what a certain character should look like. However, the first movie to feature the vampire count had virtually no influence on the creation of the iconic imagery of Dracula.

Set in the highly stylized format of the German expressionist silent movies, the portrayal of the vampire count in F. W. Murnau's 1922 movie Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror) differed markedly from Stoker's Dracula.


Max Schreck as Count Orlock in F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922)

  Played by actor Max Schreck (1879-1936), Dracula (who had to be renamed Count Orlock because Murnau was trying to work around the Stoker estate and avoid royalty payments(Bankard, AN)) has a bald head and a rat face, and he moves around in fast scurrying movements (achieved by stop motion photography). He can rise out of his coffin as flat and fast as a board on a catapult, yet he is ghostlike in substance, able to project his gruesome image elsewhere and open doors without touching them. His animal-like appearance is further underlined by his hands which almost take the form of a vulture's claws.

Having thus almost nothing in common with the description Harker gives in Dracula, the physique of Count Orlock as portrayed by Max Schreck (the actor's real name and a true case of nomen est omen, "Schreck" meaning "Fright" in German) has become almost iconic for the German expressionist silent movie - and so out of this world that in E. Elias Merhige's 2000 movie Shadow of the Vampire, a fictional account of Murnau's filming of Nosferatu, Schreck is portrayed to be an actual vampire.

In retrospect, critics have found that Nosferatu not only worked with altered names and different imageries, but actually changed and revised Stoker's storyline quite considerably, and actually appropriated Stoker's novel to the new medium (Skal, 1990). Nevertheless, the ties between Murnau's film and the novel were more than obvious, and in legal terms the film was a completely unauthorized adaptation. Florence Stoker, the widow of Bram Stoker, soon took Murnau to court and eventually won the case - the movie was ordered out of circulation and every existing print was to be destroyed (Skal, 1990), and Nosferatu only survived thanks to a small number of export prints which escaped destruction.
In the United States, the novel had been in the public domain since its first publication in 1899 because Stoker failed to follow proper copyright procedures. However, when Hollywood produced the first sound version of the vampire count's tale in 1931, director Tod Browning’s Dracula was not directly derived from Stoker’s novel but rather based on a theatrical adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John Balderston which had stripped the novel to its core so that the central conflict could be portrayed on a stage. Dracula: The Vampire Play was set in two locales only: Dr. Seward’s parlour and Carfax Abbey. Jonathan Harker’s travel to Transylvania, Dracula's voyage to England by ship, and the pursuit of the Count to Transylvania had all been eliminated. Enjoying continuous success since its opening in New York in 1927, it was this play which prompted Universal to produce a film version. Carl Laemmle Jr., who had taken charge of the studio's operations in 1930 and was himself a great fan of "fright movies", had originally cast classic horror actor Lon Chaney for the title role.

However, within a month of acquiring the film rights to Dracula, Chaney died of cancer and the Great Depression hit Hollywood.

With no star and half a budget, Laemmle fell back completely on the Broadway production and took on two actors who had already portrayed their characters on the stage: Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula and Edward van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing. Shot by veteran cameraman Karl Freund (who had previously worked with Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau in Germany), the film has a theatrical flavour - shot entirely in the studio, many of the scenes appear like tableaux, yet camera and lighting techniques add an enormous amount of depth (Frank, 1974). Dracula was a roaring success for Universal, which had cast the first mould for what would become a trademark: the 1930s Universal horror movie. Creating a thick layer of atmosphere through imposing sets, craning shots and the use of sound was one part of the success formula - iconic actors would become the other agent. Ten months before Boris Karloff shaped the visual concept of the Frankenstein Monster for ever, Bela Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula as a foreign predator in the guise of aristocratic sophistication became the role model for most vampire portrayals to come (Frank, 1974). His outward appearance was very much in line with Stoker's descriptions - a tall figure clad in black (underscored by the use of a cloak) - and Browning's close-ups and low-angles gave Dracula a fearful appearance in addition to underlighting which often created a dramatic horror effect by distorting Lugosi’s facial features. So many people went to see this movie that the public's perception of what Dracula should look like was set.  

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in Tod Browning's Dracula (1931)

Lugosi would only play the role of Dracula once more (in the 1948 spoof Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein), but the visuals set up by Dracula in 1931 would remain unchanged. Thus, when other actors such as Lon Chaney Jr. (Son of Dracula, 1943) or John Carradine (House of Dracula, 1945) were playing Dracula, they were in fact now just as much playing Bela Lugosi - giving an unexpected truth to Lugosi's (now famous) introductory line from the 1931 movie: "I am - Dracula".

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in Hammer Films' Dracula (1958)

  In the mid-1950s, the British Hammer film company reinstated the classic characters of the horror genre for a new generation of moviegoers through their gothic "Hammer Horror" film productions. Starting with Frankenstein, Hammer had introduced colour to this classic tale of horror and went on to do the same with Dracula in their 1958 movie Dracula (released as Horror of Dracula in the US).

Starring Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Dracula (both actors would become stars thanks to their appearances in numerous Hammer movies), the imagery used did not deviate from Universal's 1931 movie and only reinforced the visuals by updating them thanks to the use of colour. Otherwise, the popular culture image of Dracula remained unchanged: a tall, elegant and dark figure shrouded in a cape.

All in all - apart from the moustache - Jonathan Harker's description through the pen of Bram Stoker was not only still valid, but now an established image of popular culture.

In spite of the announcements made in 1971, the first classic horror character to appear as lead character in a Marvel comic book would be the werewolf (dubbed Werewolf by Night), who made his debut in the House of Ideas' tryout title Marvel Spotlight #2 in February 1972. Officially, the launch of the Dracula title was delayed because of restrictions on printing capabilities, but with a cover date of April 1972 Marvel finally published the much heralded first issue of Tomb of Dracula:

"You've waited a long time for it - you've demanded it - and here it is! The most famous, most fearful vampire of all! Yes - Count Dracula lives!" (Marvel Comics, February 1972 Bullpen Bulletin)

It is somewhat unclear who actually made which kind of contribution to the storyline of the first issue. According to the official Marvel statement, Stan Lee plotted the first issue (as per the October 1971 Bullpen Bulletin), whereas Roy Thomas seems to remember plotting that issue himself, working on just a few verbal sentences made to him by Stan Lee (Cooke, 2001).


Tomb of Dracula #1 (April 1972)
Cover by Neal Adams

  Whilst this may well be a case of differing definitions of plotting and scripting, both sources agree on the fact that Gerry Conway (who was only nineteen at the time) - credited with writing the first issue on its splashpage - was brought in almost last minute to, basically, supply the dialogue (as per the October 1971 Bullpen Bulletin). In any case, the kick-off script was cleverly penned and used Bram Stoker's plot from the novel as part of its background storyline, but opened with the reanimation of the vampire in modern times, thus bringing the story and its cast up to date and into a timeframe which Marvel was much more familiar with than would have been the case with the late 19th century.

The link between the original novel Dracula and the first issue of Marvel's new comic book title was forged by introducing the last living descendant of Dracula, an American named Frank Drake.

At the same time, Stoker's book itself becomes a link, as the existence of this literary work is not ignored or denied (as could well have been the case - none of the Universal or Hammer Dracula movies make a direct reference to Stoker's novel within their storylines) but rather portrayed as a grand misconception: the book is not, as everybody thinks, a work of fiction, but rather an account of actual events.

This - fairly intriguing - approach would become the standard logic of the Marvel Universe: if a well known fictional character appears in a Marvel comic book, then this character is no longer considered to be fictional, but rather a real entity - in which case any fictional work on said character must be a form of factual eye witness report. This way of handling the likes of Dracula or the Frankenstein Monster (see THOUGHT BALLON #7) has its roots in Stan Lee's very early conception that Marvel comic books about superheroes were to be perceived as being published in a New York City which was populated by these very same superheroes. It was therefore only logical for Dr. Doom to pass by the Marvel offices at 665 Madison Avenue and use the Fantastic Four's connection to comic book creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to trick Reed Richards into paying them a visit to help on their latest adaptation of the FF's epics in Fantastic Four #10 (January 1963). There is a similar strand of wry humour in Tomb of Dracula when Dracula, brought back to life, discovers that he actually is the subject of a published novel; after all, he "missed" the publication because Bram Stoker's book ends with the death of Dracula...

One important implication of this approach is, of course, that the other main characters of the novel - and most importantly Dracula's adversary Professor Van Helsing - were just as real as the newly revived Dracula himself. This logic enabled Marvel to set the scene for actors such as Rachel van Helsing (granddaughter of the famous vampirologist) and Quincy Harker (son of Jonathan and Mina Harker) - who is the only protagonist apart from Dracula himself who grew out of Stoker's imagination:

"Seven years ago we all went through the flames. And the happiness of some of us since then is, we think, well worth the pain we endured. It is an added joy to Mina and to me that our boy's birthday is the same day as that on which Quincey Morris died. His mother holds, I know, the secret belief that some of our brave friend's spirit has passed into him. His bundle of names links all our little band of men together. But we call him Quincey. (...) We were talking of the old time (...) [and] I took the papers from the safe where they had been ever since our return so long ago. We were struck with the fact, that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document. Nothing but a mass of typewriting, except the later notebooks of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing's memorandum. We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story. Van Helsing summed it all up as he said, with our boy on his knee. 'We want no proofs. We ask none to believe us! This boy will some day know what a brave and gallant woman his mother is. Already he knows her sweetness and loving care. Later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did dare much for her sake.'" [Bram Stoker, Dracula, chapter 27, final page]

Tomb of Dracula #1 (the extension to the vampire count's name was necessary for Marvel to be able to copyright the title) gave a fast-paced start to the initial storyline by introducing the resurrection of Dracula: Virtually broke, former millionaire Frank Drake ventures to Transylvania together with his fiancee Jeanie and long-time friend Clifton Graves after learning that he is a descendant of the legendary Count Dracula and thus the inheritor of the ancestral castle. Their scheme is to make a fortune by refurbishing the alleged vampire count's estate and opening it as a tourist attraction. However, Graves plans to lure Drake into the castle and then dispose of him, leaving himself in sole possession of the lucrative business of running the castle. But then things start to go quite unlike planned once the trio actually reaches Castle Dracula: Separated from the others, Graves falls through a rotting floorboard and finds himself in an underground chamber, face to face with a coffin containing a dust-covered skeleton with a wooden stake protruding from between its ribs. Graves mocks the superstitious locals who desecrated the grave of their former lord by removing the stake and casting it aside before he leaves in search of his companions - unaware that, in the damp darkness of the tomb, Dracula has risen again...

According to Roy Thomas, Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, Tomb of Dracula had a good start and eventually became a good, solid seller for most of its run (Cooke, 2001). Despite an initial lack of constant authorship (Gerry Conway worked on issues #1-2, Archie Goodwin on issues #3-4, and Gardner Fox on issues #5-6), Marvel's newest horror title found favour with its readership, and the title went from bi-monthly to monthly publication as of Tomb of Dracula #9 in June 1973. Eventually, the book would become the longest running Bronze Age Marvel horror genre title as well as the longest running comic book title of all with a villain as its namegiving hero before it was finally cancelled after a staggering 70 issues in August 1979 - the "superhero from the crypt" par excellence.

The pencilling and inking on Tomb of Dracula #1 was entrusted to Gene Colan, who would continue to pencil the vampire count's adventures and stay on the book right throughout its entire run, after having literally fought for this assignment from Stan Lee:

Gene Colan in 2005, holding his Eisner Award


"The only strip I really begged for was Dracula. He [Stan Lee] promised it to me, but then he changed his mind, he was going to give it to Bill Everett (...) But I didn't take that for an answer. I worked up a page of Dracula, long before Bill did anything. I just sat there, and I inked it, a whole page of the character, just sample drawings of him. (...) and I sent it in. I got an immediate call back. Stan said, "The strip is yours"." (Thomas, 2000)

Tomb of Dracula quickly became the flagship of Marvel's line of horror titles - above all thanks to the artwork of Gene Colan (often superbly inked by Tom Palmer) which was, in a word, definitive. After a long period of work on Daredevil, Colan created an intensely atmospheric visual rendition of the horror saga that was to unfold.

The fact that he remained on the series for the entire length of its run was paramount to its success and is a prime reason for the status of cult classic which Tomb of Dracula has achieved.

"I kind of improved as the series went on. The more you work on something, the better you get at it. I felt that the character became my own (...) It was a monthly book and it was the only monthly book that held up at the time. They had other books like that but they didn’t last. Dracula did though." (Dlugos, 2002)

Colan established a distinctive look for Marvel's vampire count while maintaining many of the features readers would come to expect from the established popular culture imagery (based on the Universal and Hammer movies mould - except that Colan added a thin moustache, which made his Dracula closer to Stoker's literary description), and embedded this in a general visual atmospheric setting which went far beyond the classic horror comic qualities. Issue after issue Colan's style provided a truly captivating visual journey into the dark shadows, often incorporating well-known landmark buildings to set the scene.


Gene Colan's Picadilly Circus sets the scene; Tom Palmer inks and colouring
(Tomb of Dracula #25)

One reason for the density of the art was, no doubt, Gene Colan's own interest in the genre:

"I just love the atmosphere - you know, old castles, cemeteries, fog - all that stuff. I've always been interested in that." (Siuntres, 2005)
"Whatever scary movie was out, I'd see it, and a combination of things, but I always had an affinity for that stuff."
(Thomas, 2000)

Colan's approach to his pencilling - which his wife has called "painting with pencils" (Siuntres, 2005) - is based on a pronounced assumption that comic books and movies share common traits:

"I was mostly influenced by film. Understand film, frame by frame, is very much like panel to panel. The lighting in black and white films taught me a great deal." (Mata, 2007)

This influence is probably also firmly lodged in the fact that Colan encountered the genre and its rendition in the movies at a very tender age:

"[It was] at the age of 5 when I was exposed to my first horror film. It was Frankenstein. My father wanted to see it and he took me along. Boy, did that traumatize me! That was in 1931. From then on, I was intrigued with horror. I didn’t realize it in those years, but it kind of crept up on me. I sort of took what I loved from the screen and put it on paper." (Dlugos, 2002)


Dracula as drawn by Gene Colan, exemplified by a frame from Tomb of Dracula #25

  Colan also drew the inspiration for his visual rendering of the main character, Dracula himself, from film:

"I had seen Jack Palance in a lot of stuff. Artists do a lot of personal thinking, you know. He was in a film called Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. I thought, “If there was ever someone who should be cast as Dracula, it’s this guy.” I figured if I ever had the opportunity to do Dracula, I would model it after Jack Palance." (Dlugos, 2002)
"His bone structure is perfect. Serpentine. It's worked out well." (Mata, 2007)

From here on, and character by character, Colan determined and assembled the facial features and the general appearances:

"I based my interpretation of Rachel [van Helsing] on the 8 year old daughter of a friend. She had the right bone structure and look. I knew I could make her older. People are always guessing at my faces. None but Palance were ever based on actresses or actors. I have a vast reference file and that's where I found Nikki. If I don't find what I want in my files, I'll photograph people I know or I'll go looking." (Mata, 2007)

The visual department was thus in the best possible hands. The frequent change of writers, however, posed a problem, as Marv Wolfman concluded immediately when he was handed Tomb of Dracula #7 as author number four.

"A book that was six issues old - with three different writers and no direction. I realised pretty quickly that in order to do anything I had to decide on the handling of the characters and what the series was about (...) One of the things I did was write up pages upon pages of notes on who the characters were and where I wanted them to go. I was less concerned about the indivdiual plots at this point than I was about the direction of the characters. So I would write almost up to two years ahead, all the different turns of the characters and where they were gonna be, and issue by issue what would happen with the character. Then I went back and worried about the stories to make it work." (Comic Geek Speak, 2005)


Marv Wolfman in 1982

Fighting the newly risen lord of vampires would be a team effort, just as it had been in Stoker's novel, and a direct connection to the literary source was established through the person of Quincy Harker, introduced in Tomb of Dracula #7, Wolfman's first script for the title.

A new born baby introduced on the final page of the novel, he is now an elderly man bound to a wheelchair who uses scientific means and sophisticated machinery to hunt down vampires - something he has done, as he himself explains, for the past sixty years after having been trained by Abraham van Helsing himself. He is the driving force behind the group of vampire hunters, carrying on a lifelong crusade to fight and destroy vampires. Being old and paralyzed, he is seen as a kind of mastermind behind the group effort





Quincy Harker's name and background are first mentioned on page 6 of Tomb of Dracula #7, Marv Wolfman's first script for the series. Left: Original art for The Tomb of Dracula #7 (March 1973) pencilled by Gene Colan, inked by Tom Palmer and lettered by John Costanza (scanned from the original in my personal collection). Right: the same page as it appeared in print (colours by Tom Palmer). [click for larger images]

Previosuly introduced members of this group were Frank Drake, Rachel van Helsing, and her mute Indian servant Taj, and the concept of having a group of "vampire killers" as opponents to Dracula's actions and scheme of world domination was presented and worked on so well that it became an important element of the ongoing saga and contributed in a very essential way to the success of Tomb of Dracula.

Writers Gerry Conway (issues #1 and #2), Archie Goodwin (issues #3 and #4) and Gardner Fox (issues #5 and #6) set up the basic parameters of Marvel's tale of Dracula, but not surprisingly, there was an excessive amount of jumping about in terms of storytelling consistency, and a number of characters were introduced during the first six issues which often made their demise in the very next issue and added to a sometimes hasty narrative. On the other hand, the difficult task of introducing the vampire count to modern times was accomplished very well, not the least because Dracula's need to adapt to these new, unknown surroundings quickly if he is to survive is weaved into the storytelling - simple items such as flashlights or car headlights can be turned into deadly weapons against Dracula if the shape of a cross is masked onto them, throwing powerful cross-shaped beams of light which will destroy a vampire who finds himself in such a spotlight.

Eleven months, six issues and three writers after the launch of Tomb of Dracula Marv Wolfman took command of the script, and with him, Marvel's tale of Dracula would become a cleverly conceived and extremely balanced piece of fiction - one of the best ever seen in a comic book.

Like artist Gene Colan, Marv Wolfman would stay on the book from here on right up until the series' demise in August 1979, although his source of inspiration came entirely from Stoker's novel and completely bypassed the movies - perhaps surprisingly at first sight in view of the strength and presence of the popular culture image of Dracula, but quite logical at second thought for a wordsmith rather than a visual artist.

"I was not a big fan of that sort of stuff, and in terms of movies I'd never seen a Dracula movie at that point, but I'd read the novel, and I loved the novel, and that was my only influence." (Siuntres, 2006)

Right from the start, Wolfman realised that by way of the concept of the title he was onto something fairly unique:

"This was the very first continuing horror series, and because there was no template I was making it up, and that allowed me to create what was inside me rather than following somebody else's template." (Comic Zone Radio, 2005)

Taking his verbal approach from the original novel (Comic Zone Radio, 2005), Marv Wolfman immediately went to work and set up a general plot framework which centered on two main elements: characterization and realistic storytelling.

"I wanted to center on characters. And once you did that, that was the subtle difference [to previous writers], because everything was about people, that is about the kind of stuff which I thought Gene [Colan] drew best, which were people - real people." (Comic Zone Radio, 2005)

"I was trying to do a more realistic comic, because that's what I liked, and maybe there was a little bit of influence from the EC comics, but most of it came from the novel (...) and the original Dracula novel was very very realistically handled, and Dracula himself was really a force more than a presence because he's only in 80 or something pages of a 500 pages novel, so the attitude of the original book was more on the people who are hunting him and the effects of evil on them and how they saw the world than it was dealing with Dracula. Using that as the template for the entire series it seemed to me that this was an ideal concept to try and do more realistic comics, to try and break out of the comics for 11 year olds (...) I really wanted to try to write something that was starting to appeal to my age." (Siuntres, 2006)

Within this framework, the pairing of Marv Wolfman's conceptual ideas for breaking out of established comic book routines together with Gene Colan's enthusiasm for the genre and his dynamic and atmospheric artwork proved to be truly perfect.

"Comics are a synthesis of writing and art. If you just have [a comic book with] art nobody's gonna buy it no matter how beautiful it is because it's an art book, and if it's all text, it's a novel. (...) Gene and I did very good work together because we were very sympathetic to each other." (Comic Zone Radio, 2005)

"Gene's artwork certainly is the reason why we could do a lot of that stuff." (Siuntres, 2006)

"His graphic was perfect, Gene [Colan] is a brilliant artist, I knew his art, I was a big fan of his." (Comic Zone radio, 2005)

Very soon, Wolfman and Colan found themselves outside of the commonly defined and charted corners of the Marvel Universe. This, however, was not just terra incognita for Marvel, but for the entire comic publishing business and the medium itself.

"This was the first time anything like this had been done. I was fighting the Comics Code every single month. We were just stretching - for the first time - out of standard comics." (Comic Geek Speak, 2005)

One key element which Wolfman brought to the series and which made Tomb of Dracula stand out amongst mainstream comic book titles was the depth and complexity of the plot. Right from the outset of his first script assignment on the title, Wolfman started to build up multiple underlying themes and sub-plots in the overall storyline by placing certain "props" here and there which would only become fully meaningful at a later stage; this way, even stand-alone single issue stories were embedded in an arc of overall continuity and suspense. In addition, Wolfman also increased the complexity of the themes which the storytelling dealt with by introducing undertones of moral philosophy and portraying all characters involved - Dracula as well as the group of vampire hunters - as self-conflicting and sometimes even outright self-contradicting personalities.

The group of vampire hunters was set up and established step by step over the first few issues and under the pen of various writers: Frank Drake in Tomb of Dracula #1 (Stan Lee/Roy Thomas/Gerry Conway), Rachel van Helsing and Taj in Tomb of Dracula #3 (Archie Goodwin), and Quincy Harker in Tomb of Dracula #7 (Marv Wolfman). Although from a storyline perspective Quincy Harker is the truly pivotal figure, another character introduced to the gang of vampire hunters by Wolfman in July 1973 in Tomb of Dracula #10 today stands taller than all others: Blade the Vampire Killer.

Details of the origin of this African-American character are spread out by Wolfman over several issues of Tomb of Dracula, but quintessentially Blade is characterized by having certain vampire characteristics (such as a greatly prolonged lifespan, above average strength, and the ability to sense supernatural creatures) whilst at the same time being virtually immune to their attacks. The reasons for this physical disposition are to be found in the circumstances of his birth, as his mother was attacked and killed by a vampire whilst in labour. As a result, Blade's blood had been contaminated by vampiric enzymes - not enough to turn him into a vampire, but in sufficient quantity to change him.

Blade was, in terms of the Marvel Universe, a highly unusual character, and his impact on an already unusual Marvel comic book series was instantaneous.

One of the earliest African-American comic book heroes, he came to Wolfman's mind in a flash, although his move from Warren to Marvel delayed the first handling of the character and eventually made him become part of Tomb of Dracula rather than a miniseries which Wolfman had planned for his previous employer (Wolfman, AN).

"It just came... it came within like walking one step and I knew the character, I knew what he looked like, I knew the background, I knew everything about him. (...) I knew exactly what he was wearing. What was revolutionary - though I didn't know that at the time - was that at Marvel all the superhero-type characters of course had costumes, superhero costumes, and Blade was essentially - despite a unique wardrobe - he was dressed like a person who could walk on the street, and nobody was doing that back then." (Comic Zone Radio, 2005)


Tomb of Dracula #10 (July 1973)
Cover by Gil Kane


"Since Tomb of Dracula took place in a "semi-real world" I wanted Blade dressed in somewhat realistic clothes: leather bomber jacket, pants, boots and his special goggles which, because he had vampire blood running through his veins, would let him see in daylight. Yes, he wore a bandolier complete with wooden knives (the better to kill vampires with, my dear), but they were only a fashion accessory." (Wolfman, AN)

Unlike a fair number of other Marvel characters - including horror genre figures such as e.g. the Ghost Rider (see THOUGHT BALLON #7) - there is no dispute between writer and artist as to who actually created the character.

"Marv thought of him. We discussed what he should look like, a good looking black guy (...) he [Marv Wolfman] would describe how he wanted him to look, with a leather jacket, and a bandolier around both sides of his chest and little knives in it, and one big sword behind him, and then I did that. I put boots on him, to give him a rugged adventurer's look. I didn't work all that hard on him, I mean that was the impression that I got of him as he [Marv Wolfman] spoke. You know comic book artists never sit down at a convention table to discuss how they're gonna do this and how they're gonna do that - it was always over the phone, very quickly, or in passing each other you'd spend a few minutes talking about it, maybe fifteen or so, and that would be it. It's all that was required." (Siuntres, 2005)

In time, however, there would be a fundamental dispute over the creation of Blade - not so much in terms of who created him, but who owned the character. This perspective arose because, decades after his original creation, Blade had become far more than a Marvel comic book character - he had turned into an asset when New Line Cinema produced a movie version in 1998 (called Blade and starring Wesley Snipes) which not only grossed $70 million at the US box office and a subsequent $130 million worldwide, but also opened the door for further Marvel comic book movie adaptations. Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan received a "based on characters created by" credit, but nothing more, and Wolfman subsequently registered a formal copyright for the character and sued Marvel and New Line for $35 million in a US district court in California after the release of the film, but due to Marvel's fledgling financial state at the time the issue finally came to trial a year later in a Delaware bankruptcy court. A three-day nonjury trial was held, but because of the complexities of the case and Marvel's shifting financial status, the ruling was not issued until 6 November 2000. The court's verdict argued that Marvel's later use of the characters was sufficiently different from Wolfman's initial creations (at Warren) to protect it from his claim of copyright ownership, and thus Wolfman lost his bid.

"I did create the characters. Marvel did not deny that. (...) So that's not the point. Marvel never once questioned that I was at Warren when I did it. Their question was, and the logical question they had to ask, was "Does it matter?" And the judge believed it didn't matter that I was there. The "instance and expense," which is what I lost on in terms of Blade, was that they still provided the ability to put it in that book and then paid for it." (Dean, 2001)

Marvel's entry into the movie business market would become a highly profitable one. Films such as X-Men or Spider-Man not only fetched huge profits at the box office, they also introduced a new generation of popular culture consumers to the Marvel Universe and sparked a tidal wave of nostalgia with baby boomers who were suddenly faced with neatly polished versions of the comic book heroes of their youth. In short: Marvel and superheroes became highly fashionable.


Adventure Into Fear #24
(October 1974)

  The fact that all of this was started by a character introduced as a supporting cast member in a non-mainstream Marvel title may be an anecdotal surprise to most, but probably less so to its creator.

"I always thought Blade should be a movie more than a comic book character from day one. That's one of the reasons why I didn't use him every month in Tomb of Dracula. There would be times when I would drop him for a year or two. I knew there was something special about the character. I didn't want to overuse him so he wouldn't just become another character and remain someone special." (Epstein, AN)

Blade had a crossover appearance with Marvel's "supervillain vampire" Morbius in Adventure into Fear #24 in October 1974 and was also the only character from Tomb of Dracula to feature in his own solo spin-off stories, starting in Marvel's black & white magazine format Vampire Tales #8 in December 1974, written by Wolfman and drawn by De Zuniga. He even had his own 56-page solo story in the black & white showcase magazine Marvel Preview #3 (September 1975), and in the autumn of 1976 appeared in a six-page backup story by the original creative team of Wolfman and Colan in Marvel Preview #8.

More often than not, a good main character requires a well balanced supporting cast to fully live up to its potential, but in the case of Tomb of Dracula, the word "supporting" does not really do justice to the cast of characters which Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan set up as equals at the side of Dracula. As the success of Blade illustrates, characterization was not only essential but an integral part of the success formula for the series. Arriving at this was not, however, a product of coincidence, but the result of a dedicated analysis and approach by Wolfman:

"If you were doing a comic book at Marvel, you were essentially looking at what Stan Lee did, no matter who the artist was (...) with horror [ I had to] create the field as I was going along, but I was mostly concerned with the characters because to me that's the thing that made the Dracula novel, which was the characters in it - not Dracula, but the characters who were his opponents." (Comic Geek Speak, 2005)

The importance Bram Stoker's original novel attributed to the cast of characters involved who endured, faced and eventually banished the evil of Dracula, is evident from the structure of the narrative, which is mostly conveyed through diary entries, memos and letters, i.e. forms of written communication which involves a maximum degree of personal attachment (diaries, letters) or mirrors a high degree of personal opinion (memos), something which is highlighted even further by the occasional use of newspaper clippings, which act as occasional "factual" counterfuges. In essence, the events in Dracula are relayed almost exclusively through the eyes of the beholders, not through a neutral "off scene" narrative, and are thus often firmly set in the present even if the events described are a part of the past.

"25 October.--How I miss my phonograph! To write a diary with a pen is irksome to me! But Van Helsing says I must. We were all wild with excitement yesterday when Godalming got his telegram from Lloyd's. I know now what men feel in battle when the call to action is heard." [Bram Stoker, Dracula, chapter 25, Dr Seward's Diary]

This entry from Dr Seward's diary illustrates this narrative technique well, and even if Wolfman did not follow Stoker's epistolary style except on a few occasions (such as in Tomb of Dracula #15 (December 1973), in which the storyline is mostly based on Dracula's own diary. Just like Dr Seward in Stoker's text, this technqiue adds added depth to the character of Dracula in Wolfman's narrative:

"There is no place for lies here in my personal ledger, and though the very precepts of truth-telling sickens me, still it must be written as the facts themselves were presented. These notes must speak with no need of interpretation . They show at times my innate greatness, and also the still-human frailities that must course forever through my blood." [Marv Wolfman, Tomb of Dracula #15, Dracula's Diary]

Inserted sentences such as "to write a diary with a pen is irksome to me" or "the very precepts of truth-telling sickens me" are direct, first hand (and thus very personal) statements made by the characters and serve to convey added characterization: the characters are just as much described by how they feel about what they are doing rather than by their actions alone.

Wolfman followed Stoker's general lead on this approach, but added ample content and flavour of his own. In his portrayal of Dracula, for instance, he was far more concerned with the possibly remaining human traits in the vampire count's personality than the novel had been - not the least, of course, because Wolfman was not writing a single publication, but a serialized narrative.

"[Dracula] was the protagonist, but he was never the hero (...) that was the trick. If you just saw this guy as a (...) one-dimensional villain - as was the standard at the time [in comic books] - there would be no way to keep the series going. This book was called "Tomb of Dracula", it wasn't called "Tomb of Rachel van Helsing" or "The Vampire Hunters" or something like that, so Dracula had to become a real character (...) [there had to be] some features about him, some things that still reached back to when he was human." (Comic Geek Speak, 2005)

Throughout the course of Tomb of Dracula, these remnants of Dracula's past as a human being - not a vampire - would float (or sometimes even erupt) to the surface of his twisted personality. He would at times prove to be far from completely free and devoid of typically humane feelings such as pity, love or even nostalgia - quite unlike what one would come to expect from the overlord of the undead. And when the series finally came to an end, Quincy Harker admonishes the readers in the last phrase of issue #70 - after having destroyed Dracula - not to be forgetful to the fact that after all and foremost, Dracula was - a man.

This personal complexity grew even more with regard to Dracula's opponents. Bram Stoker had, in his novel, united a group of people who only gradually moved together under the banner of a common cause - the destruction of Dracula - but who initially came together through personal acquaintance. This is most apparent in the case of Professor Abraham van Helsing - now the established vampire expert and antipode of Dracula - who is summoned in the novel by Dr Seward, his former student, simply because Lucy's affliction has him baffled and he is reminded of his former Dutch teacher who "knows as much about obscure diseases as any one in the world". Van Helsing's knowledge about vampires is, in fact, completely unknown to Seward and only reveals itself as the plot progresses. As the events start to unfold, the group is drawn closer by individual and common negative experiences or even traumatization: Jonathan Harker goes through the ordeal of being a prisoner in Castle Dracula, Dr Seward, Quincy Morris and Arthur Holmwood are forced to helplessly watch their beloved Lucy Westenra waste away and ultimately die from an unknown cause, van Helsing is reminded of his own personal turmoil with a wife who went insane after the death of their son, Seward, Morris and Holmwood are then forced to face the staking of Lucy, and Mina Harker falls under the evil spell of Dracula. The group dynamics thus increasingly follow a pattern of common suffering, and the quest to put an end to Dracula in order to save the world is just as much a quest to end the personal suffering.

The initial plotters and writers of Tomb of Dracula had already followed this pattern. The first character introduced in Tomb of Dracula #1, Frank Drake - a millionaire playboy who has gambled away his inheritance and now owns nothing more than a mysterious ancestral castle in Transylvania - intially has two important aspects. Firstly, by being an American, he connects the plot with Marvel's home base readership, even though the events of the first 30+ issues will mostly take place in Europe. And secondly, as his name and the castle in Transylvania indicate with little room for surprises, he is in fact a descendant of Count Dracula (in whose legendary existence he never truly believed in).

With the connections to the Dracula theme thus in place through the character of Drake, the now ensuing events quickly start to engulf him as his (false) friend Clifton Graves revives Dracula and his fiance Jeanie falls victim to the vampire. Almost helplessly following Dracula to London, Drake is forced to watch his fiance destroyed by sunlight in Tomb of Dracula #2 - the pattern from Stoker's novel is obvious.

By the time the opening page of Tomb of Dracula #3 rolls around, Frank Drake is so completely worn out and alone that he is about to commit suicide by jumping into the River Thames from a bridge. The two individuals who save him - Rachel van Helsing and her trusty Indian companion Taj Nadal - would eventually be depicted by Marv Wolfman as being even more traumatized by Dracula's wrongdoings: As a child, Rachel was witness to the murders of her parents at the hands of Dracula in revenge for his defeat by her great-grandfather Abraham Van Helsing, and Taj was deprived of his voice and his family when an attack by Dracula on his village turned his son into a vampire and left his wife paralyzed.

Marv Wolfman, taking the novel as source and inspiration for his handling of Tomb of Dracula, picked up the fil rouge of having the main characters live and act in "mind-numbing situations" (Comic Geek Speak, 2005), and the characters created by Wolfman display even more of this tragic momentum. Quincy Harker was flung from a balcony at an opera house thirty years prior to the timframe of Tomb of Dracula and had since been confined to a wheelchair. The event, however, also deprived him of his wife, who never got over the encounter with Dracula and eventually committed suicide.

Early into the series, Harker suffered another personal blow when his daughter Edith falls victim to Dracula, and he himself has to destroy her in order to free her from a vampiric existence - the parallel lines to Stoker's novel and the situation of Seward, Morris and Holmwood who are required to do the same with Lucy Westenra are obvious.

But even Wolfman's completely original character Blade, who has no connections with the novel, is depicted as starting out from an initial trauma (the killing of his mother). Eventually, all the major characters involved in hunting down Dracula in Tomb of Dracula have their own, highly personal motives for doing so, and traumatization mingles with personal revenge.

In terms of group dynamics, this results in a group which operates as such but where the individual remains a strong factor. This would eventually become a key element of Wolfman's handling of the plot, and a major reason for the sustained interest and long-standing success of Tomb of Dracula.

"What you have is a story which is actually about the characters, which gave it the novel form. While you still had one issue, maybe two issues of storyline in terms of the plot, but I was really concerned about the characters first and foremost." (Comic Geek Speak, 2005)

Cover appearances are an established indicator for the importance of comic book characters, and it is therefore not surprising that all of the general cast characters were spotlighted this way throughout the series. This even applied to "regulars" who were not part of the vampire hunters but who helped to anchor the plot and provide added identification points for the reader, such as Inspector Chelm of Scotland Yard or hard-boiled private eye Hannibal King.

But in spite of the central role and the importance to the plot which the "supporting characters" had, Wolfman was aware of the danger of overusing them. His principle of having this cast of individuals appear sparingly not only applied to Blade, and thus some characters were at times absent from the storyline for several issues, including such cornerstone personae as Quincy Harker.


The entire group of vampire hunters features on the cover of Tomb of Dracula #28 (January 1975) by Gil Kane

Quincy Harker on Kane's Tomb of Dracula #32 cover (May 1975)

Taj on Gil Kane's cover for Tomb of Dracula #31 (April 1975)

Marv Wolfman injected additional interest into the series by setting up Dracula not just against the group of vampire hunters under the lead of Quincy Harker but other opponents in addition. Some of these adversaries were merely one-issue "plot interludes" and often harked back at the classic themes of "B" horror movies, such as a "living skeleton" which stalks the streets of London in Tomb of Dracula #16.

Tomb of Dracula #16 (January 1974)

  Others, however, were formidable adversaries which posed a sustained threath to Dracula (and, possibly, mankind as a whole). Of these, the mysterious Doctor Sun must rank as a classic almost in its own right, not the least because of the way Wolfman introduced and developed the character over a lengthy period.

First hints of his existence appeared in Tomb of Dracula #14, when a group of Chinese scientists are briefly shown performing tests on the body of a certain Brand (a motorcycle gang leader introduced in Tomb of Dracula #9) in a laboratory somewhere on the Irish coast; the tests show that Brand is a vampire, a fact which the scientists comment on as "pleasing news for Dr Sun" - whoever that may be. Over the course of the next five issues Wolfman injected further snippŁets of information about Dr Sun before actually featuring his appearance in Tomb of Dracula #20 - an incredible build-up (by comic book standards) over a period of six months.


Tomb of Dracula #16 (June 1974) - half of Dr Sun is just visible on the right hand edge of the cover

When the denouement finally takes place in the laboratory on the Irish coast, Dr Sun reveals himself to be - a human brain sheathed in a life-supporting containment device. Once a prominent Chinese scientist, his brain was removed by a team of surgeons and transferred into an anti-matter receptacle connected to a vast computer bank as a form of government punishment - not realizing that rather than making the computers more powerful this actually gave Dr Sun control over the computers. However, he requires vast quanities of blood to survive, and using a kind of mind-transfer machine, Dr Sun plans to copy Dracula's knowledge and memories into Brand, whom he intends to make the new lord of vampires under his control.

Dr Sun was a fantastic creation, who could have come straight from one of those delightfully obscure yet atmospheric horror movies of the 1930s to 1950s period, but Wolfman's clever set-up and handling of what would become the ongoing saga of Dr Sun was, quite simply, a stroke of genius. The conflict between Dracula and Dr Sun would eventually carry on until Tomb of Dracula #42, making this a plot arc - on and off - over a period of 29 issues and thus almost two and a half years. It is a showpiece of Marv Wolfman's intention - and ability - to provide a fast-paced story which brings together several layers of diligently set up and weaved together plot which presents the reader with a rich tapestry of interlocking events and characters.

When Marvel launched Tomb of Dracula in April 1972, it was fair to assume that most readers would have a basic knowledge in "vampirology", mostly based on the popular culture perception of vampires in movies. However, the uninitiated reader had to be catered for as well, and thus the editorial team made sure that certain rules governing the existence of vampires and, more specifically, Dracula were made clear throughout the first few issues of the series. Most of these came directly from the source, i.e. through the instructions of Professor Abraham van Helsing in Bram Stoker's novel:

The usage of a stake to (temporarily) destroy a vampire (in this case Dracula himself) is illustrated in Tomb of Dracula #1 (April 1972)


"The vampire live on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time, he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living. Even more, we have seen amongst us that he can even grow younger, that his vital faculties grow strenuous,and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty. But he cannot flourish without this diet, he eat not as others. (...) He throws no shadow, he make in the mirror no reflect (...) He has the strength of many of his hand (...) he can transform himself to wolf (...) he can be as bat (...) he can come in mist which he create (...) He can see in the dark, no small power this, in a world which is one half shut from the light. Ah, but hear me through. He can do all these things, yet he is not free (...) He may not enter anywhere at the first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come, though afterwards he can come as he please. His power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day. (...) Thus, whereas he can do as he will within his limit,when he have his earth-home, his coffin-home (...) still at other time he can only change when the time come. It is said, too, that he can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide." [Bram Stoker, Dracula, chapter 18, Mina Harker's Diary]


"Then there are things which so afflict him that he has no power, as the garlic that we know of, and as for things sacred,as this symbol, my crucifix, that was amongst us even now when we resolve, to them he is nothing, but in their presence he take his place far off and silent with respect. There are others,too, which I shall tell you of, lest in our seeking we may need them. The branch of wild rose on his coffin keep him that he move not from it, a sacred bullet fired into the coffin kill him so that he be true dead, and as for the stake through him, we know already of its peace, or the cut off head that giveth rest. (...) But he is clever. I have asked my friend Arminius, of Buda-Pesth University, to make his record, and from all the means that are, he tell me of what he has been. He must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land. If it be so, then was he no common man, for in that time, and for centuries after,he was spoken of as the cleverest and the most cunning, as well as the bravest of the sons of the `land beyond the forest.' That mighty brain and that iron resolution went with him to his grave, and are even now arrayed against us." [Bram Stoker, Dracula, chapter 18, Mina Harker's Diary]

The destructive effect of the exposure to sunlight - illustrated by the death of Frank Drake's fiance in Tomb of Dracula #2 - was first introdcued in Murnau's 1922 movie Nosferatu and really is the only important storytelling element not set up by Stoker himself. Overall, Marvel tried to run Tomb of Dracula along established lines of popular culture vampire lore. Once the series was established, Marv Wolfman did introduce new aspects, but these were tied in with plots which were rather specific to the Marvel Universe. The one big Marvel addendum - the so-called Montesi Formula which put an end to all vampires on earth in one go - would not surface until much later than the Tomb of Dracula series, i.e. in 1983 (Doctor Strange Vol. 2 #59-62).
The innovative and compelling way in which Wolfman and Colan handled Tomb of Dracula could easily make readers forget that this was, in fact, a Marvel character. By the mid-1970s, the logic of the Marvel Universe created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko since the early 1960s had become so stringent that it was virtually unconceivable that a character of a Marvel comic book could live in his or her own little world. Only a very small handful managed to stay clear of the current timeframe and NYC locality - which basically meant that you could expect a different superhero around every other corner - and these were mostly Marvel's Western characters such as Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt or Rawhide Kid, who were stuck in their wild west corner of the 19th century for obvious reasons. It was nevertheless the same world which would later on see the likes of Reed Richards or Peter Parker, only that it wasn't populated by superheroes yet. However, the force of the inner logic of the Marvel Universe was so strong that other characters who started out in a different timeframe, such as the Frankenstein Monster (which spent the first few issues of its own book's run in the late 19th century), were eventually sucked in and transported in time to "the present" (see THOUGHT BALLON #7). Interaction with other Marvel characters had by now become a conditio sine qua non for virtually any of the House of Ideas' characters.

The creative team behind Tomb of Dracula was able to uphold the uniqueness of Dracula for a surprisingly long time, adding to the possibility that this ongoing tale just might take place in a world which had only one supernatural element: plenty of vampires but not a single costumed superhero.


Frankenstein Monster #8 (January 1974)

Tomb of Dracula #18 (March 1974)

  The way the title was steadily weaving the rims of its own world and purporting independence from the rest of Marvel's range of characters escaped the attention of the editors in charge for a long time, but not for ever, and one day Marv Wolfman finally received clear orders from the inner sanctum of the House of Ideas:

"There was a point where all of us were told to make sure that people knew that this was in the Marvel Universe (...) [but] I turned down every appearance of Dracula in like Spider-Man or anywhere else - because my feeling was Dracula's world was unique. I brought in Dr Strange because he could fit. I brought in Brother Voodoo because - as strange as the name is - the character could fit (...) Silver Surfer was the biggest push, but even he in many ways - he's the epitomy of good, he was sort of the Christ figure at Marvel, and I was dealing with the devil - so he fits. It was the hardest fit, but he did fit. I just absolutely turned down though every possible use of writing the character with any other standard Marvel heroes.I let other people do those (..) once you fight Spider-Man it sort of diminishes everything (...) that was a very conscious move on my part." (Comic Zone Radio, 2005)

In March 1974, after almost two years and 17 issues, Dracula was finally made to catch up on the Marvel Universe crossovers he had missed so far by having him meet the Werewolf by Night in Tomb of Dracula #18.


Tomb of Dracula #44 (May 1976)

Tomb of Dracula #50 (November 1976)

Actually, Dracula had his first taste of a guest appearance from January to March 1974, when he appeared in Monster of Frankenstein # 7-9, but as this story took place in 1898, it was in itself somewhat removed from the Marvel mainstream.
The vampire count was propelled further into the Marvel Universe by encounters with Brother Voodoo (Tomb of Dracula #34, although Brother Voodoo only meets Frank Drake, not Dracula himself), Doctor Strange (Tomb of Dracula #44) and the Silver Surfer (Tomb of Dracula #50).

Whilst the latter two guest appearances were highly entertaining and, to some extent, became classic Marvel Comics issues, they didn't help the book at all, which had always been at its peak in terms of plot and storytelling when converying the uniqueness of Dracula which Wolfman had always clearly prefered. In the end, the somewhat enforced opening of Tomb of Dracula would reveal itself as a substantial weakening of the overall plot and therefore, ultimately, an important part for the faltering of the title.

After having taken over Tomb of Dracula with issue #7, Marv Wolfman (together with Gene Colan) had managed to establish a coherent setting and atmosphere for almost 30 issues, making the title hugely popular amongst readers and giving the book almost instant cult status with such memorable and classic story arcs as the tales involving Dr Sun or the Chimera. However, Wolfman was aware of the fact that the plot needed constant development in order to avoid falling into the trap of mere repetition [54], and so Wolfman introduced a major change in plot direction by moving the focal point in terms of location from London to Boston in September 1975 with Tomb of Dracula #36.

The arrival of Dracula in the United States could not be labelled a big surprise, as many readers in Marvel's home market would be able to relate better to Tomb of Dracula this way. The problem with this decision, however, was that some stories quite simply draw their lifeblood from the fact that they do not happen anywhere, but only within specific geographical settings (which is why cowboys never show up in late 19th century New York City, for example). Wolfman tried to avoid an all too harsh change in overall atmosphere by choosing Boston rather than New York City for Dracula's arrival on America's shore (after all, New England has its fair share of spooky traditions), but in spite of this awareness and Gene Colan's authentic rendition of the "old time" Boston architecture (which he researched on location (Siuntres, 2005), the move didn't really turn out to be a winner for Tomb of Dracula and traded in what had always felt like an authentic European backdrop for a setting which seemed almost irrelevant for most of the plot. As a result, the density of the overall atmosphere - one of the main winning points of the book - dropped almost immediately.

Another unfortunate decision by Marv Wolfman was to open up the book to comedy in Tomb of Dracula #37, only one issue after the switch from Europe to the United States. Unlike this latter decision, this was a move far more difficult - if not near impossible - to understand, as it felt awkwardly out of place even in the way it was brought into the plot: Quite unlike his usual storytelling and characterization technique, Wolfman is almost unrecognisably transparent and simplistic as he introduces would-be horror writer Harold H. Harold and his publisher's secretary Aurora Rabinowitz. As the names suggest beyond even the faintest shadow of a doubt, Harold is intended as comic relief, and Aurora is there to feed the naive punchlines ("Witz", incidentally, meaning "joke" in German).

It is a matter of both taste and opinion whether or not Tomb of Dracula needed the Abbott and Costello type of fly-in-your-face comic relief that Harold and Aurora were to provide, but even those who felt the answer was yes found that both wore out pretty fast. Wolfman had injected subtle doses of wry humour ever since he took over the scripting, mostly uttered by Blade and with ironic undertones, but it never interrupted the eerie tone of the plot - this was, after all, a story about vampires. The characters of Harold H. Harold and Aurora Rabinowitz, however, were irritating from the moment they were introduced.

Despite some single issue plots which came very close to the lesser examples of "B" horror movies, Tomb of Dracula had never felt cheesy. Now, however, some of the plot dropped to downright ludicrous, as Tomb of Dracula #38 saw Harold H. Harold breaking into a medical school and stealing bottles from the blood bank so he and Aurora Rabinowitz can revive Dracula, who then consents to an interview with Harold... - it really felt more like an issue of Mad Magazine doing a parody of the series, as the following piece of dialogue shows:

HAROLD: Er, Dracula, sir? Could I speak with you, just for a moment or so? You see, I promised the publisher of this magazine I work for, to interview a real vampire. And you may be the only one who can save my job.
DRACULA: What care have I of your problems, human? I gave you thanks, and that is more than you should expect. Be thankful I do not slay you for blood. For I may have need of you shortly, and therefore you will be spared.
HAROLD: Gosh, thanks, Dracula-- sir! Really, thanks!

In the established tradition of Tomb of Dracula, Harold H. Harold and the story woven around him was just plain silly - a character better suited for the whacky world of Marvel's Howard the Duck (where, sure enough, he did appear). Tomb of Dracula #38 was a turning point as the comedy element introduced by Marv Wolfman backfired completely and basically killed an overall atmosphere which was already thinning out a bit and was in need, if anything, of reinforcement. Instead, Wolfman placed a character at center stage who was nothing else than a completely neurotic fool. A few of his lines were funny, most of them weren't, but they all resulted in the same: it was getting increasingly hard to take events seriously when you were constantly confronted with oneliners which could have come straight from a Woody Allen spoof on vampire movies. Or was Wolfman thinking about Polanski's Fearless Vampirekillers in the back of his mind? Whatever it was, it didn't work - an opinion shared by Gene Colan:

"Marv also put in Harold H. Harold - that was a good character! But he would dominate the Dracula book to the point where it wasn't Dracula! And although I enjoyed drawing him - it was a comical break from the seriousness of it, and Dracula came in at the end or the middle a little bit - you didn't see much of Dracula." (Field, 2001)


Earlier on, Dracula mocks any attempts (in this case by Hannibal King) asking him to reveal his knowledge. In later issues, Dracula would accept such demands to almost no end. (Tomb of Dracula #25)

  It wasn't a case of Wolfman's storytelling becoming uninteresting - for most of the time, there was always something there to keep it all from falling apart completely.

But Pandora had seemingly slipped Wolfman a few boxes which he had opened and which went on to plague the series to no end. Harold was one such box, another one was overdoing Dracula's weakness induced by Dr Sun, because it led to Dracula becoming one of the cast of actors rather than being the central and paramount threat to everyone.

Thus he is brought back to life by Harker and the gang of vampire hunters in Tomb of Dracula #41 as an ally to defeat Dr Sun (which he does), and the mould is cast, for in the final panel of that issue it is Blade's turn to do his version of the "you owe me a favour" game when he virtually commands Dracula to help him track down the vampire who killed his mother. Marv Wolfman had unleashed the taming of the lord of vampires.

The need for Wolfman to take the book's general plot into new directions had thus turned from a simple option for improvement to a looming necessity for saving the title in an akwardly short span of time, and the now introduced American setting didn't exactly make things easier. Perhaps an almost logical move was to introduce Anton Lupeski and his Boston based satanic sect - clearly modelled on real-life satanist Anton LaVey - but even though this kept the story moving and produced a number of new subplots and characters, the wedding of Dracula to one of the sect's female members and ultimately the birth of Dracula's son really only diluted things even further as additional characters made the round, from Robin Hood to Satan himself, before going back to Harold H. Harold. Marv Wolfman had gotten himself and the book into a very tight spot, and it never again matched up to his first 30 issues of Tomb of Dracula, simply because it all got so entangled and complicated, so far removed from the essence of a vampire story, that the comic started to falter at the newsagents.

As of Tomb of Dracula #61 (November 1977), the comic went back to bi-monthly publication, and when Tomb of Dracula #68 (February 1979) was published three months after its preceding issue, all was clear. Tomb of Dracula #69 followed the bi-monthly publication sequence again but contained the announcement that the series would be cancelled. Just to what extent Tomb of Dracula had lost favours with a readership which previously had been extremely loyal could be seen from Wolfman's statement that despite plans to wrap up the series over another three books (which would have been Tomb of Dracula # 72) the end would now be compressed into one, double-size issue, making issue #70 the final one. This appeared on the newsagents stands in August 1979, four months after the penultimate issue #69 had been published. But at least, the series bowed out in style, with Wolfman finding back to the roots of the success of Tomb of Dracula with an intensive and atmospheric storyline which ends when Harker puts an end to Dracula by blowing himself up and burying the count underneath the rubble of Castle Dracula. Real-life suicide-bombers were still few and far between in those days, so this ending had a heroic undertone it would not have today.

Marvel's reasoning for the downfall of Tomb of Dracula was that the material was contained in the wrong kind of packaging. Instead of a code-approved colour comic, they felt that a black and white magazine-format publication (without code-approval and hence marketed as being for "mature readers") would prove right. Readers who had followed the colour comic book, of course, knew better, and were hardly surprised by the fact that the magazine-format Tomb of Dracula which was launched in October 1979 and published bi-monthly only lasted for six issues, bowing out in August 1980. It contained stories by Wolfman and Colan which were fairly good (but which essentially made readers yearn for the "old Tomb of Dracula"), and stories by others who went from mediocre to awful. In the end, Marvel had to acknowledge that the days for Tomb of Dracula were over. Exitus.
In 2008 - almost 30 years after its cancellation - Marvel released the first 31 issues of Tomb of Dracula in its high-end production value Omnibus edition series. Not surprisingly, this was the first Marvel horror title to receive such a publication platform, and the first volume was followed by two more, collecting the entire Tomb of Dracula comic books and magazines. But whilst this is an indication of its status as a classic comic book title (and also its continuing selling potential), the true importance of Tomb of Dracula lies elsewhere: in the way it shaped and influenced comic book history.

First off, Tomb of Dracula was the first continuing comic book title which featured a horror genre character both as its leading role and, consequently, as part of its title. From a purely chronological point of view, Marvel's Werewolf by Night preceded Tomb of Dracula #1 by two months; however, the first appearance of the House of Ideas' version of the Wolf-Man took place in February 1972 in Marvel Spotlight #2, one of Marvel's tryout magazines, and the character only gained his own title in September 1972 after appearing in Marvel Spotlight for three issues (see THOUGHT BALLON #7). At that point, Dracula had started out right from the beginning in his own comic book and already starred in four issues of Tomb of Dracula.

Secondly, the launching of Tomb of Dracula took place in the context of Marvel's outing into the world of ghouls, monsters and vampires, which had been kicked off in 1970/71 but really only gathered speed and became one of the most innovative moves in the company's history when Tomb of Dracula appeared on the scene. Having built its success on the newly revived superhero genre since 1961, the House of Ideas was once more bold and clever enough to turn a necessity into virtue when, after almost ten years, the superhero success formula began to show first signs of faltering. Adapting to the new world into which Marvel's comic books were published, the creative teams at work managed to take in as much novelty as needed whilst sticking to certain formulas which seemed essential in order to keep alive Stan Lee's "Marvel Mystique". Eventually covering the genre from wall to wall, Marvel's innovative approach was to infuse it with the underlying principles of the superhero comic book. The "superhero from the crypt" (see THOUGHT BALLON #7) is one of Marvel's milestone contributions not just to the Bronze Age period of the 1970s, but to comic book history as a whole, and the basics of this concept were all tried out and then refined foremost in Tomb of Dracula.

Thirdly, whilst Marvel's range of horror characters and comic book titles played a very substantial and important role in the diversification the House of Ideas underwent as it progressed from the 1960's Silver Age to the 1970's Bronze Age period, the horror genre was not, as publication figures clearly show, an overall Bronze Age period phenomenon: It almost exploded onto the Marvel comic book scene in 1972/73, peaked in 1973/74, was just as swiftly reduced in output quantity by 1975/76 and only played a very minor part in Marvel's output of comic book titles for the remaining years of the 1970s. A mere six years after virtually exploding onto Marvel's production list, the horror genre had completely outlived its market value. But despite such adverse circumstances, Tomb of Dracula continued to soldier own (together with Ghost Rider) as a title which remained popular even though its actual genre had completely fallen from favour, because readers valued it for it was: Marvel's very own and very unique superhero from the crypt - almost a genre of its own. When Tomb of Dracula was finally cancelled after 70 issues in August 1979, the market for comic books had shrunk to an all-time low (Marvel's overall annual sales figures of approximately 5,8 million copies hadn't been as low since 1965 (Tolworthy, AN)), and when the longest running Bronze Age Marvel horror genre title and the "superhero from the crypt" par excellence bowed out, Marvel itself had, in some ways, reached the end of a familiar road: the company's passed from the hands of owner Martin Goodman into those of a series of faceless corporations, Stan Lee departed from the company's NYC offices in order to be closer to the Hollywood "in people", Roy Thomas resigned as Editor-in-Chief, and a new philosophy instigated by Jim Shooter ended the days of free-wheeling experimentation. The end of Tomb of Dracula thus coincided with nothing less than the end of an era in comic book history - an era for which the title had been a highly influential key element.

And fourthly, the new momentum and 21st century revival of Marvel Comics which was triggered by the series of big budget movie adaptations based on the House of Ideas' characters was not started by one of the now newly popular superheroes, but rather by a character from Tomb of Dracula as Blade broke the Hollywood ice for Marvel in 1998.

Tomb of Dracula gained this key importance both for Marvel as a company as well as for the comic book history of the 1970s by being both a creative masterpiece and a revolutionary concept. The title broke new grounds and was far more than just an average vampire tale, as it weaved an ongoing saga which plotted the vampire count against a group of vampire hunters and others who sought to put an end to his existence. Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman achieved a quality of storytelling which was not only in the very best vein of the classic gothic vampire stories but also added their very own stamp of original atmosphere and thematic momentum - which remains fresh and vibrant even 40+ years after it was created and has provided sustained innovation to its medium, the comic book. Tomb of Dracula is a comic book classic beyond its genre, and the jewel in the crown of Marvel's bronze age horror world.

And finally, Tomb of Dracula owes its uniqueness and success to an important shift in focus which Marv Wolfman brought to the title:

"A lot of us back then were trying to break out of comics just for kids, and it was very possible for us to do those things on the non-superhero books, because no one was paying attention. So Roy Thomas could do that on Conan, Steve [Englehart] could do that on Doc Strange and Master of Kung-Fu, [Steve] Gerber could do it on Man-Thing or Howard the Duck, and I could do it on Dracula - and those were the books that I think made the Seventies at Marvel something more than just more of the same type material that Stan had done - which we loved, absolutely loved [...] The idea was for Dracula [...] to try and push comics into other things, other areas, that they had not explored." (Siuntres, 2006)

Together with the intense and atmospheric pencilling of Gene Colan and inking by Tom Palmer, Marv Wolfman's non-conformist comic book approach to Bram Stoker's classic genre character produced yet another classic: The Tomb of Dracula. As is the case with classics, the title has aged very well, and the appeal especially of the first 35 or so issues is, by comic book standards at least, seemingly timeless as both seasoned readers and newcomers revisit them and thrill to the terrors which await them in the Tomb of Dracula.



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Text is (c) 2009-2014 Adrian Wymann
page originally published on the web 15 February 2009
revised and last updated 18 March 2014