It being the week of Halloween and all, all the blogs are going to have a special focus on horror comics and no doubt, you'll get that here as well, but I wanted to kick-off a loosely Halloween-themed week by talking about a horror comic that isn't really a horror comic at all: Tomb of Dracula.
Whie Tomb's always been talked about by comics fans as one of those "Yo, this comic's way better than you'd ever expect" type comic, the relatively recent wave of interest is a pretty fascinating exercise in canonization and how canonization happens. First, Marvel releases the "Essential" collections in 2004, making these super-rare comics really easily available and pretty affordable. And then, last year Douglas Wolk releases his Reading Comics a really fascinating book that also comes right in the middle of a kind of intellectual-type interest/renaissance in "the graphic novel" and contains an entire chapter on Tomb.
Wolk's knowledge is incredible, so I doubt the "essential" collection introduced him to Tomb but it certainly made it fresher in his mind and justified his appreciation as he wouldn't be writing about some hard-to-find series but something that a good Barnes & Noble would have right next to like Teen Titans or something.
Wolk's book never sweeps Tomb's goofy flaws under the rug, but it also never condescends to it either, mainly focusing on Gene Colan's incredible artwork and the odd balancing act of a narrative based around a villain and one that should die but needs to not die for the comic to survive. There's very little about horror comics and certainly nothing about the comic itself being scary or even creepy because well, it isn't.
What makes Tomb so great is how it isn't a horror comic at all but a kind of weird adventure story merged with some interesting and brave risks in terms of characters' psychology and stuff. Drake being a descendant of Dracula sort of bubbles underneath the whole series and adds an awkward tension to it, the same way the series starts-off with Drake being this prick who swiped his best friend's girl. And there's also the downplayed aspect that really early in the series Drake's seen his best friend and fiancee killed. Parallels between Drake and Dracula go towards their fundamental unsympathetic-ness too: Dracula's essentially a rapist and Drake's a dumb rich kid who blew all his money and wants to cash-in on his family's odd connection to the Count.
The team of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan were smart to avoid scary tales because horror type stuff isn't only not scary but was never really about scares in the first place. Dracula's an absurd character--like absurd in the dictionary definition use of the word--because he's defined and utterly dominated by his desires. And not in a like "we're all animals basically" way but in a "Woah this dude's fundamentally flawed and kinda pathetic" way. At the same time of course, he's insanely powerful and as a result, really full of himself and so, he's constantly making big dramatic speeches about how awesome he is and yes, he constantly avoids Drake and company, but there's always that pervasive dependence on blood and avoidance of sunlight that dominates his every action and makes him silly.
It's cool because you expect a horror comic and don't get it at all. The comic's never scary and never gives you a definitive villain or hero and just sort of moves temporally from point to point, giving you lots of time to obsessive on minor details of characters and events because there's just no way you can predict the plot. Throwing the audience for a loop like that doesn't always work and certainly isn't the best thing for sales, but it often makes a really adventurous read.