Writer Kim Newman is a household name in the realms of fiction and non-fiction. In addition to being one of the United Kingdom’s premiere genre film critics, he’s also a critically acclaimed author of several horror, fantasy and science fiction novels. Perhaps his best-known for his Anno Dracula series – a genre-bending, alternate history saga depicting a world where Count Dracula and his fiends rein supreme over Britain – Newman has proven himself to be equally adept at creating original stories as he is at dissecting movies. Anno Dracula isn’t the only impressive title in his literary canon, but it is arguably the one he’s most renowned for.
The first Anno Dracula novel was published in 1992, while the next installment, titled One Thousand Monsters, is slated for release this Fall. However, in the meantime, Titan Comics has just released Seven Days in Mayhem, a brand new story set in Newman’s monstrous universe penned by the author himself. Newman is no stranger to comics, having previously contributed to the Mignolaverse with the excellent Witchfinder: The Mystery of Unland, though this is his first foray into the medium where he gets to contribute to his own ongoing creation.
Recently, Diabolique had the opportunity to interview Newman and discuss his iteration of the Dracula mythos, their relevance to the current political climate and more.
Diabolique: When did you first become interested in the Dracula character?
Newman: I first saw the Bela Lugosi movie in 1971 as an 11-year-old. I stayed up late to watch it on ITV and that’s what turned me into a horror film and monster fan. After that I bought the book – or probably got my parents to buy it for me – and that led me to reading a lot of classic horror and also catching up with the other Universal films and the Hammer films. For some reason the story resonated with me… or maybe it was the character. Later on I saw things in the book and the various films that you don’t pick up on when you’re a kid – back when it’s just this really cool guy with a black cloak who sleeps in a coffin. Now it seems to be a subject that seems to have threaded through my whole career.
At the moment I’m writing a new Anno Dracula novel where the character doesn’t appear at all, but people keep talking about him. I realised that there’s something relevant about the way he’s there forever. My friend Paul McAuley – the science fiction writer – wrote a book in which Elvis featured and he said while he was writing it, he couldn’t go a day without seeing a manifestation of Elvis in his life. With me it’s Dracula – he’s there always. I can’t walk down the street or go into a shop without seeing something that relates – even tangentially – to Dracula. The way he seeps through popular culture is what makes him such an interesting character.
Diabolique: What do think it is about the character that makes him so timeless and inspiring to writers and artists?
Newman: I don’t think it’s one single thing. When you look at the Frankenstein monster, Jekyll and Hyde and the Phantom of the Opera – or even Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, James Bond, and Batman – it’s the fact that they can be reinvented over and over again. I think the archetype is Dr. Who, who, whenever anybody gets fed up of him, they just turn him into someone else. I think Dracula is like that too. There’s a world of difference between Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Christopher Lee’s Dracula, and when you start throwing in Klaus Kinski, Gary Oldman, George Hamilton and Grandpa Munster, it’s one figure that can be seen with so many different faces.
There are so many different interpretations of Dracula; there’s the sexual fantasy, but also the political vision – Karl Marx talks about vampires in Das Kapital as a metaphor for capitalist exploiters. Then there are all kinds of things in Bram Stoker’s book about disease which seem more and more relevant, and now the book seems to resonate with a world where borders are becoming important again, and all the xenophobia with foreigners sneaking in. Dracula is like the ultimate foreigner, isn’t he?
Diabolique: Was the decision to make Dracula a ruler in your story directly inspired by the corrupt nature of politicians?
Newman: When the first book came out in 1992, a close friend of mine read and said to me, “This is about Margaret Thatcher, isn’t it?’’ And I thought, “yeah, it probably is.’’ It was written during the era of Thatcher and Reagan, and there was a sense that the world was slipping away from your control. All these years later it’s even worse. The basic premise of Anno Dracula is that the worst person in the world unexpectedly took control of the most powerful country on Earth. How was I supposed to know that it’d mean something now?
Diabolique: When I re-read the first book recently amid the rise of Trump, it developed a whole new meaning for me…
Newman: Looking at the way Donald Trump acts – and Putin even more so – with the vanity and the pettiness, that’s actually in Dracula. There’s a whole speech Bram Stoker has Dracula give where he’s talking about a battle he ran away from when he was alive, and he’s talks about it in such a sense that you don’t realise until later that he lost the battle. He talks about his victory like his survival was more important than that of the soldiers he left behind to get killed. All through the book there are these little traces that suggest Dracula has a rather inflated vision; Van Helsing says he suffers from having a child’s brain, which is a perfect analogy of Donald Trump. He’s not childish, but he has a child’s brain as he fixates on things the way a child does.
It’s interesting that the book did really well when it was reissued a few years ago, divorced from its original political context. It just seems to be that tyranny – or the threat of it – goes on forever. But there’s also the good stuff, like the way ordinary people won’t put up with it in the end. That’s sort of the plot.
Diabolique: Aside from the political themes, what inspired you to re-envision Stoker’s story when you were originally developing the concept for Anno Dracula?
Newman: This goes back to the late 1970s actually. When I was at university, I did a course that was taught by two people: one was Laurence Lerner, who was a poet, and the other was Norman MacKenzie, who was H.G. Wells’ biographer. Under them I did this thesis about apocalyptic Victorian fiction and a section of that was about invasion narratives – things like The War of the World (1897), The Battle of Dorking (1871) and When William Came (1971). All these stories from before the First World War that predicted it, and a lot of them are about Germany or France invading of Britain. I had little a footnote where I said Bram Stoker’s Dracula started out as an invasion story and it always stuck in the back of my mind.
I wanted to look at Stoker’s Dracula as an invasion narrative and carry it through without Dracula getting distracted by pursuing Mina Harker, which is a strange thing for a supposed world conqueror to do. He gets killed because he falls in love with the wife of a solicitor. So, rather than that, I thought what if he sets out to conquer the country? He doesn’t have an army initially, he has to do it through stealth. And I thought, probably the single most important person in terms of creating what we now think of as the Victorian era was Prince Albert, a German who married the Queen and then did all kinds interesting things socially. He encouraged political progress and engineering and was a really visionary character – but he died young and cut off Britain as a world power. So I thought, what if Dracula replaced him and became really influential in that way? You know when people say that Britain didn’t celebrate Christmas until Prince Albert brought all these traditions over, which Dickens then cemented? I had the idea that Britain didn’t celebrate Halloween until Dracula brought his terrible relatives and hangers on over, and spread his vast shadow over the country.
Diabolique: What inspired you to write a new Anno Dracula story for a different medium?
Newman: The Anno Dracula books went out of print – or two of them did – for quite a long time and it took me awhile to get all the rights back. I had a fourth book nearly completed and I was just looking around for a new publisher for them. My friend put me in touch with Titan Books – who at the time, didn’t do much in the way of non-licensed fiction – and they had a look at them. Titan have done very well by me and treated them as a new franchise, but because they also publish comics, it made sense from their point of view to publish an Anno Dracula comic eventually.
We’ve all seen those comics that are adaptations of popular novels, which are just classics illustrated – with the text subbed down and pretty pictures. I didn’t want to do one of those. If it was going to be a comic then I was going to write it and it was going to be a new story. I wanted something that affected the overall story of the series, even though it was going back and writing something that slotted in between earlier books. I wanted a mix of people we’d met before and themes from earlier books, but also new settings and ideas. That took awhile to get together; these stories are really idea intensive and it takes time to gather up enough ideas even for novella-length stories. Seven Days in Mayhem, in scale, is probably more novella-length than a novel, but I hope it hope it fits into [the story’s] continuity.
Diabolique: This universe lends itself perfectly to a comic with the fantastical horror elements and Victorian settings. How much input did you offer when it came to the artwork?
Newman: Paul McCaffrey is really good at that stuff. I know I’m obliged to say that but I did breathe a huge sigh of relief when the pages came in. Kevin Enhart, the colorist, did an extraordinary job of shading the images and giving them a glow as well. There’s so much little details in there, much of which I had to prompt. I put stuff in the script wondering if it could be fit into the frame, and most of the time it was.
Diabolique: What is the current stance on the Anno Dracula film adaptation?
Newman: I’m not even sure where the rights are at the moment. It’s been auctioned on and off for the better part of 25 years now. Right now, I don’t actually know what’s happening if anything is, but there’s always interest in it, though it’s a big franchise and it would be expensive. Every time it seems likely to happen, something like Penny Dreadful (2014-2016) or League of Extraordinary Gentleman (2002) comes along and people say it’s too much like that, even though I was there first. It would be lovely if it was turned into a film I liked. It would be great if I had the experience that Mike Mignola had with Hellboy (2004), but it’d be horrible if I had the experience Alan Moore had with League of Extraordinary Gentleman. There is a level of quality control where I would rather it was turned into a good film or not happen at all.
Diabolique: Lastly, are there plans to continue with more comics after this series? Do you have any other projects coming up you can talk about?
Newman: We’re talking about doing more comics, but I’m not sure if we’re going to do an immediate follow-up to Anno Dracula or something else related to my other novels – or a standalone based on a new character and world. I have a non-fiction book coming out later this year from Titan based on my Empire Magazine column, Video Dungeon. It’s 200,000 words of reviews of Bigfoot movies, found footage movies, shark pictures and that kind of stuff. I’m hoping that does really well as I’ve only just scratched the surface of the material I have piled up here and would really like to see the other 10 volumes of this work appear eventually,