A few months back, SCREAM magazine was granted early access to horror writer Rich Davis’ graphic novel reimagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Cult of Dracula. The horror comic franchise moves the gothic to the grindhouse and is finding an ever-growing fanbase. I recently talked with Davis at the Wilmington Geek Expo, and we agreed to chat again when the second chapter of his Dracula trilogy, Rise of Dracula, was released.
Now, with the release of Rise of Dracula, Davis talks with us about making a sequel, where the story is heading, and what frightened him at the start of his comic book journey.
SCREAM: I got to read your first book, Cult of Dracula, and loved it, as you saw in the review. Thanks for talking with me again about Rise of Dracula.
Rich Davis: Yeah, man, thanks for having me. I loved your take on the first chapter. Happy to sit down with you and chat about the new one.
SCREAM: So, all six issues of Rise of Dracula have been released, correct?
RD: Yes, all six issues are out in comic book stories, and just like Cult of Dracula, all six issues are sold out on the distributor level. The trade paperback for Rise of Dracula comes out in two weeks [It is now released and can be found anywhere comic books are sold], and, in really awesome news, that is sold out at a distributor level. We are rushing that back to print, so we’ll be getting more copies to stores.
If you’re reading this, go to your local comic bookstore and ask them to order it and support local comics. I would not be here talking to you if it were not for the support of some amazing local comic book shop owners. They are the backbone of the comics industry. The industry would be nothing but Spider-Guy and Bat-Dude without local comic shops promoting and spreading the word of the smaller
SCREAM: That’s awesome, man. All six issues of Rise are out, and Cult was six issues as well. I know you’re working on a third chapter now; I imagine that will be six issues too?
RD: Correct, each chapter is six issues a piece.
SCREAM: As the creator, is that your call?
RD: Yes, when I first pitched Cult of Dracula to Source Point Press, I told them the way the story is structured, it has to be three volumes of six issues. It cannot be two, it can’t be four. It’s gotta be this unholy trilogy.
SCREAM: That was nicely put. You had a vision.
RD: Yes, you read it, you get it. Cult of Dracula and Rise of Dracula, this whole Dracula Saga, it’s a vampire book, it’s a cult book, it’s an occult book. All of those things just seemed fitting for it to be three volumes of six. You know, six, six, six. Mark of the Beast.
SCREAM: What are the stresses of a sequel? Did you have that thought of can I recapture lightning in the bottle?
RD: Well yeah, your first reaction is, holy shit, I gotta write another book. People actually want to read this; you have expectations now. People want something from you. When I was doing Cult, I was completely free, but now with Rise, the thought of delivering was heavier.
It’s still odd to say I have fans, but the fans wanted more, and I have to give them more of what they wanted, but I also had to surprise them.
SCREAM: And this is the middle chapter which is a notorious spot to be in story-wise.
RD: Yeah, I’m writing a trilogy which is really ****ing hard. If I was just doing a sequel, then all I have to do is finish the story I started in Cult and drop some new elements in but nothing too drastic. But no, I had to go and write a trilogy. Now I look at trilogies from a different perspective.
Like when Empire Strikes Back first came out, it wasn’t well received. Now it’s the best of the bunch, but back then, everyone looked at it like the bad guys just won. Two Towers is another example. The middle chapter is hard to nail down, and I never really understood why. Well, now I do. What you are doing is having to tell a story that’s only telling a third of the whole story but wrapping up things from the last story to make room for the new things in the new story. You see how it can be a challenge. It limits a lot of the choices you can make.
I’m just now done writing the scripts for the final chapter of Reign of Dracula, and I found writing Cult and Reign way easier than writing Rise. It took me almost a full year to get the final version of those scripts done. I felt bound at times by the choices of the past and the future. It’s a lot of pressure to balance where you’re coming from and where you’ve gone and be compelling in and of itself. I am very happy that Rise has been well received by the fans. The sales are great for an indie book.
SCREAM: What legacy do you think your middle chapter will leave?
RD: From the feedback from fans, I get the sense that Rise is going to be much more appreciated once the entire trilogy is out. Rise is such a different story, it’s a different vibe, and that southern gothic thing really worked in the first one. How much do I want to force my readers to embrace a not different but expanded world? But I know where I’m going with this. I want to go Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, and George Miller. That’s the escalation roadmap I want to go on.
SCREAM: So that leads to my next question, which characters have evolved the most?
RD: There is one character whose name I’m not going to say just because while they play a small role in Rise, what they bring to Reign will be game-changing, and I don’t need to give too much away.
When test readers and other higher-ups in the company got to that page, jaws hit the floors. But really, everything in this whole Saga comes down to Mina and Lucy. Even if they’re not on the page, it’s a story of their evolution and how they change. The way Mina goes from being the determined hero type in Cult who wants to save the world, so she takes this unholy power. Now with Rise, she has this power, but what does she do with it. Where she’s going in Rise… gotta catch myself can’t give too much away, but it’s gonna be amazing.
But Lucy! Oh, Lucy goes from being the sweet innocent flower child who loved killing people in Cult, but now in Rise, her arc changes. Lucy always started as the most complex character, and she’s stayed that way.
SCREAM: I like that you push the tortuous bore of immortality with some of your vampires.
RD: I’m glad you brought that up. It’s a troupe in American vampire lore, that somber sad sack vampire. So, I didn’t want to do that with Lucy. I still wanted that frustration to get across, the idea meets the reality. By the end, Lucy hates humanity, but she knows that even as a vampire, she has the destiny to help them. She has this speech towards the end of the story… God, I loved writing that.
SCREAM: The book is very political, taking the idea of the cult and expanding it to the form of a political party — the Party Dracul.
RD: Well, it was the Cult of Dracula. Now it’s the Party of Dracula. That’s just how that goes. It comes down to what Renfield says at the very end of Cult of Dracula issue one, “It’s all about point of view and perspective.” Where you are when you see something is just as important as what you see. That’s a very important theme throughout the whole Dracula Saga. It’s an important idea hammered into theatre students; every villain believes they are the hero of the story. Everyone believes they are doing the right thing.
SCREAM: At the start of the first issue, you reintroduce Van Helsing, and, in a way, he’s taken on the Renfield role from Cult. Van Helsing has a great moment at the re-education centre, saying, “We’ve already mentioned dum-dums.” I was surprised that wasn’t a splash page.
RD: It almost was. I love to use splashes and two-page spreads, and now Puis [Puis Calzada, artist] and I have a great relationship. The shit we are gonna do layout-wise with Reign of Dracula is gonna be insane. I’m telling you, we are pushing it. It’s experimental. Puis and I talked, and it’s a little off subject, but neither one of us has seen a two-page spread that goes into a two-page spread that goes into a splash. Well, in Reign, we have one. Cause we vibe so well, because we love horror like we do, we’re able to combine our imaginations to create these spreads.
SCREAM: Cult of Dracula was based on a play you wrote in 2013. Did you find it more freeing or challenging not to have that source material to pull from?
RD: Both. Yes, it was challenging but freeing because when you adapt something, you’re dealing with legacy. Well, now, with Cult, I had a double legacy. Not only was there my play, but there is also Bram Stroker’s Dracula, and that’s a huge legacy. By the time I get to Rise, I’ve already proven that I know the world I’m entering. I’ve shown the fans yes, I’ve read Stoker, yes, I have studied Stoker. I’ve put in the work and earned the goodwill, but here comes the challenge. Now I have to build off what I used to continue to honour Stoker’s legacy.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the seeds from which this story grew but what you are seeing is very far removed from that tale. Are these the same characters? Sure. Are they doing the same things? Hell no! Just consider this the Stoker Multiverse?
SCREAM: What does chapter three hold? What’s reigning over the world when readers crack that first issue of Reign of Dracula?
RD: (Laughing to himself) It’s the end of the world as we know it.
SCREAM: Got it, an R.E.M. song.
RD: Yes, exactly! Every culture has an idea about the end of the world. This one just happens to be all of those rolled into one, right there on the page. It is Fury Road on cocaine. Reign of Dracula is gonna be the most action-packed violent journey through literal Heaven and Hell people have ever seen. I promise.
SCREAM: I cannot wait to read that. Now for the biggest question, what does the future hold for Rich Davis and the title?
RD: Lots of things! Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a person with small ambitions. I wasn’t satisfied with one book; I had to write three. I wasn’t satisfied with three books telling a story; I have to create a universe. So, whether this is all gonna line up in a sequential shared universe or more a Stephen King thing where everything is all slightly nobs but always ties back to the Dark Tower. Every horror story I write from here on out will have roots in the Dracula universe.
I’m currently writing Prometheus in Chains, which is my reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We introduce Victor in Rise of Dracula issue 3. This series will show how Victor ends up where he does in Rise. For me, Dracula and Frankenstein are the yin and yang of horror, the push and pull, so they need to be at the crux of my budding universe.
I’m very excited about what I’m doing. For anyone polite enough to have read this far, it’s safe to assume I’m a bit obsessed with the Victorian era of horror. It’s the greatest time of the genre, challenged only by the late ’70s to early ’80s American slasher film renaissance. As far as horror goes, those two eras stand a head above everything else to me.
SCREAM: We discussed last time how Stoker’s novel was really about the fear of the outsider; it’s the fear of the other. With Cult, you have a fear of intruders. In Rise, though, you have characters realising they’re not as evil as they thought or finding out they are, in fact, worse than that even thought possible. It’s still that fear of the other, but this time it’s our own personal other self we fear.
RD: Exactly, spot on! As I was writing Rise at a time when America was and still is in conflict with itself. We’ve been led to believe we gotta be scared of everyone else, all the while forgetting that we’re the scary ones. Very spot-on to pick that up in reading. It’s all about the other, and oh my god, what if the other is us?
SCREAM: Well, with that awesome line, thank you so much for your time. I look forward to doing this again for Reign of Dracula, hopefully?
Text courtesy of Chase Harrison and used by permission of https://www.horrorgeeklife.