Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Illustrated Dracula

The Penguin Group is obviously getting on board with "comics as art" in a big way. Their "Graphic Classics" have received much-deserved blogosphere buzz, and today's release of The Illustrated Dracula goes even farther. While fans await Jae Lee's take on a certain other horror prose classic, he's been busy contributing 40 illustrations to this sumptuous edition of Bram Stoker's vampire classic.

It's hard to write about the novel itself. Like Lord of The Rings or the works of Raymond Chandler, it can be an odd experience reading a book that seems so packed with cliche because it's what all the cliche was based on. Stoker's novel is certainly a bit creaky, and almost exists more as historical artifact than a stellar example of the genre. I expect, however, you're either interested in a new edition of Dracula or you're not. With plentiful cheaper (or free) editions available, the question becomes this: what does Jae Lee bring to the table?

The answer is "a lot".

Whether it's simply publishing chic, or a real commitment to reaching out to comic artists, this edition of Dracula is a rousing success. It's one thing to slap the latest trend on a classic, but another entirely when the synergy created breathes new life into an old work.

Stoker's Dracula is so trapped in Victoriana that it often fails to connect and to horrify. Lee's masterful illustrations rip the tale from it's time, and let it inhabit a world all its own. There's a contemporary edge to the illustrations, yet it easily inhabits across time with nods to 19th Century England, Murnau's Nosferatu, and the decadent elegance of Anne Rice's Goth bloodsuckers. They are stunning and horrific and they make Dracula itself leap across the centuries.