Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hippolyte's Dracula, Book I

European artist, Hippolyte, or Frank Meynet, was published in America for the first time by Heavy Metal this past year with his adaptation of that beloved Bram Stoker novel Dracula. I was extremely happy that The Comics Journal gave a mini-review of this book in issue #275, complete with a beautifully haunting panel, because it sparked my interest in this creator I'd never heard of. And he seems to have a wealth of this material that's just waiting to be tapped into past Dracula, as far as I can gather from his official site. He uses a "scratch card" approach that lends itself perfectly to the type of dark storytelling he adapts in Dracula, and it indeed assists in creating that feeling of creeping dread that permeates from each page and settles into the atmosphere. I couldn't imagine another adaptation of this work being as effective now that I've seen it through Hippolyte's unique, disturbingly cartoony style. Basically, the story is as Bram Stoker related it. Nothing new was really added to the tale, as far as I can tell. Scenes were certainly scaled back so as not to spell out every image from the novel, but the main story is laid out in all its splender. One thing that wasn't done as much justice as I think it deserved were of the three sisters in Dracula's castle. They were barely touched on in the narrative and seemed to be a real concern to the protagonist, Mister Harker, for something that wasn't really established clearly, but through a sort of lurid half-dream. And for that matter, Mina's role isn't as pronounced as I remember it being, let alone any strong feelings toward her from the males of the story (Harker or Dracula). But those small qualms aside, it follows the story quite accurately. The story isn't what's interesting here, of course, because if we wanted to read the story, we could do so by picking up any two dozen editions available of the Bram Stoker novel, several of which would be at a considerably cheaper price. This book is, after all, the first of Hippolyte's Dracula books, with at the very least one more on the way, though I suspect the tale may extend beyond that as well. No, what we're paying for here is Hippolyte's craft at creating this dreadful atmosphere and the beautiful pictures he can summon with his elegant craft. The rocky landscapes, the snow-trodden paths and the haunting castle beneath moonlight are the arenas the characters traverse between the dark pages. Shadows move of their own volition beyond evil figures and men crawl down the sides of buildings. The dark figures of wolves grace the pages beside a cart that carries Harker to the castle where he will meet the dread count face-to-face. But really what I loved the best about the book were the good old-fashioned horror moments, like toward the end of this first book, where Mina's friend Lucy is haunted by things outside of her window, or even the two narratives that Hippolyte presents in the form of newspaper articles, giving brief accounts of, for instance, the passage of a ship overseas where the crewmen are disappearing one at a time and a strange figure is seen in corners. Those are the type of things that send shivers down my back and make me love being frightened. And while those sorts of scenes are few in this particular volume of the series, there are plenty of good things yet to come, and the art alone is enough to keep one occupied until the next book.

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