Smash Pages Q&A: Kim Newman on ‘Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem’

The prose author discusses his comic book sequel to Anno Dracula, his own comics reading history and much more.

Kim Newman is a beloved and acclaimed cult writer. Comics fans may only know him for his 2015 miniseries Witchfinder: The Mysteries of Unland, but prose fans know him for his dozens of books which include Professor Moriarty – The Hound of the D’Urbervilles, The Night Mayor, and the Diogenes Club series. Perhaps his best known works are the series Anno Dracula. The 1992 novel is something of a what if – what if Dracula defeated Van Helsing. The resulting novel – and the sequels – mixed real life figures and literary characters in a way that is much more common today than it was when the novel first came out.

The new miniseries from Titan Comics, Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem, is written by Newman and illustrated by Paul McCaffrey. The comic, which wraps up this week, is a direct sequel to the novel Anno Dracula – and a prequel to the second book in the series Bloody Red Baron, which takes place in World War I. Like the novels this one mixes real and fictional worlds. Newman was kind enough to talk about the miniseries, his novels, and everything from Philip Jose Farmer to possible comics crossovers he’s eager to write.

First of all I wondered if to start you could say a little about what Anno Dracula and your series of books is for who may not have read them.

Kim Newman: Strangely, it’s easier to explain the premise of Anno Dracula to comics readers than anyone else – it’s in the tradition of DC’s Imaginary Stories (aka Elseworlds) or Marvel’s What If …, set in an alternate world determined not by a historical event of the Nazis-won-the-War or Spanish-Armada-Victorious type (though it is influenced by books in that genre) but by a change in a fictional work on the what-if-Bruce-Wayne’s-parents-lived or what-if-Bruce-Banner’s-Hulk-creating-gamma-bomb-were-dropped-on-a-city mode.

The first novel, Anno Dracula, is set in 1888 in a version of Bram Stoker’s fictional world where Dracula defeats Van Helsing and friends and marries Queen Victoria, taking over the greatest empire on Earth while mainstreaming vampirism to such an extent that vampires become a significant minority population. Subsequent novels and novellas take place in different times and places over the next century or so – The Bloody Red Baron in World War I, Dracula Cha Cha Cha in the 1959 Rome of La Dolce Vita and Johnny Alucard in the entertainment industry from the 1970s to c.1990. Obviously, there’s a satirical streak – the first book was shaped by Thatcherism and Reaganomics as much as Victorian values and there seems to be an ongoing resonance to the premise of the worst person in the world rising to control the dominant political-military power on the planet. But it’s also my chance to play with the toys of things I love – Dracula, all manner of other vampire fiction, other characters from literature and media (from Conan Doyle and Henry James characters to a vampire secret agent called Hamish Bond), gothic horror, hard-boiled crime and political conspiracy drama (one of the models for the book is Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate).

So what is Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem, because this is not an adaptation of any of your novels, this is something original and all new.

When Titan asked if I’d like to do an Anno Dracula comic, my condition was that we don’t do one of those Classics Illustrated things where it’s just the story you’ve already read crammed into narrative captions and lovely, static pictures showing you things you’ve already imagined. So, one reason it’s taken a while to get to the project is that it took me some time to settle on period, setting, story and which characters would appear (and who’d sit this one out). I decided in the end I wanted to do something relatively close to the original novel in setting – 19th century London.

So when the comic opens in 1895, where are we? What has happened and what is about to happen?

It’s ten years since Dracula came to power and his government want to celebrate a recent naval victory and his glorious reign with a jubilee – but there’s an organized underground resistance to the regime and other big players plotting for their own ends. The three women on the cover of #1 are: Kate Reed, a radical vampire journalist; Penelope Churchward, a vampire social climber; and the Daughter of the Dragon, heiress to a criminal empire. They’ve all been in the novels, but get reintroduced here so new readers can catch up. The shadow on them is Graf von Orlok, the Dracula stand-in from Nosferatu, who is Master of the Tower of London in Dracula’s administration – and perhaps the most repulsive vampire of all. He’s also great to draw, which is why I gave him such a showcase in the comic – after a cameo in Anno Dracula.

Obviously you read a lot of Philip Jose Farmer, I’m guessing. Though the fact that this seems obvious to me, may say more about me than you. But you are using literary figures and real life people and referencing real events. Could you talk a little about this approach and what about it you love.

I have over a yard of Farmer books on my shelves, so yes – his approach has been a big influence on me. I was also inspired by those crowded proto-steampunk Victorian romps of the ‘60s (The Wrong Box, The Best House in London, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, etc) and the Universal monster rallies of the 1940s (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, etc). When the first novel came out in 1992, it wasn’t a much-used approach – though it’s since become more commonplace, especially in comics.

Sometimes, I want to highlight famous names – like Dr Jekyll, Oscar Wilde, Baron von Richthofen, Mata Hari or Mycroft Holmes – but often I cast characters who don’t have an immediate recognition factor to fill roles I need. Dracula’s Prime Minister in the series is Lord Ruthven, the villain of John Polidori’s short story “The Vampyre” – who has his own interesting origins, media career and character. For most of the 19th century, Ruthven was literally the vampire but was eclipsed by Stoker’s Dracula – though stage/film versions of Dracula often owe a lot to Ruthven. So, taking this into account, I assumed that Ruthven would feel obliged to support Dracula but would also resent him and sneer at him as an unmannered un-British barbarian.

For Seven Days in Mayhem, I looked at novels (Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, Henry James’ The Princess Casamassima) about Victorian-Edwardian anarchist conspiracies and found a crowd of characters there (and from real life) who fill out my revolutionary Council of the Seven Days. Of course, importing pre-existing characters – fictional or historical – into the alternate world of Anno Dracula means changing them so they fit. #1 includes a cameo by a truly iconic British fictional character transformed into a vampire, for instance.

What has it been like working with artist Paul McCaffrey?

At the moment, I’ve only seen #1 fully – and I’m delighted with it. Paul is a long-time fan of the series and brings a lot to the project. Of course, he draws great big-scale action (giant vampire squid! Ultra-violence in Downing Street!) but the series depends a lot on the little details too (his Soho and Mayfair scenes are worth looking at for hours) and I like the expressive, appealing faces he gives even the minor characters. I’ve lived with Kate and Penny for decades but not given much thought to what they look like – now they have faces. I scripted the series fully before an artist was attached – and also compiled a dossier of visual references and pointers as a guide – so there hasn’t been much back-and-forth. Colorist Kevin Enhart has also done a stellar job – look at things like eyeshadow and skies. And I like all the alternate covers, too.

Have you been a big comics fan and reader over the years?

Yes, obviously. I was born in 1959 and comics were part of my cultural landscape as a child – first British stuff like Dandy, Dan Dare, TV21 and the Spider, then DC during the Adam West Batmania boom.

I made a conscious decision to switch from DC to Marvel because, circa 1967, I thought the writing (most especially the characterization) was better at Marvel (the art was more mind-expanding too, though I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the classic style of Silver Age DC). The example I remember is that both companies had bad guys who reformed. At DC, Catwoman recovered from knock-on-the-head amnesia and was cured of kleptomania (briefly), which led to an all-is-forgiven happy ending which retired her as an active antagonist because she remembered she was really a boring woman who ran a pet-shop. At Marvel, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch defected from Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and joined the Avengers but still had to cope with the general public distrusting them and remained the same people they always were. The witch was a passive-aggressive near-schizoid doormat, but dressed provocatively as if trying to prove something sexually (this is still an fascinating take on the traditional superheroine bathing suit outfit); and her brother was an arrogant, short-tempered creep who was understandably impatient with anything less than super-speed and no one really liked him (it was a Marvel revelation that a hero could be fundamentally unsympathetic and still interesting).

I tuned out of comics in my student years, but came back in the 1980s and have been a big reader/collector since. My corridor is piled high with collected editions. I have a lot of friends in the comics industry, but have only recently started working in the medium. I co-wrote a Witchfinder miniseries (The Mysteries of Unland) with Maura McHugh for Dark Horse, but Seven Days in Mayhem is my first solo comics writing credit. And, of course, it’s set in a universe I created and own.

I don’t want to spoil anything, especially for people who haven’t read the books, but could you tease a little of what can people can find in the miniseries?

Well, there’s a scene where Penny and Kate have a vampire high tea with the poet laureate that’s pretty special … William McGonagall, the worst poet in the world, is drafted to write something to commemorate Dracula’s jubilee … the Daughter of the Dragon does kung fu … Graf von Orlok makes a friend … we get appearances by the mysterious Irma Vep (I’ve seen Paul’s character designs and they make me want to write her a series) and some major Victorian criminals … and there’s plenty of treachery, intrigue and action. Plus a Doctor Who reference for Titan Comics obsessives.

If this becomes a success, is there a chance we might see another – or many – more Anno Dracula comics over the years? There are plenty of gaps that could be filled in.

I certainly have many more ideas – and I’d like to do comics with characters from some of my other ongoing series (especially Angels of Music and Secrets of Drearcliff Grange). I’d like to do some comics-specific Anno Dracula one-shots or series, playing with comics genres the way the books play with literary or film genres – a newspaper strip collection about Hamish Bond, an Edwardian multi-character comic called 1900AD, a 1950s gruesome crime-horror comic in the EC tradition, a girls’ school mystery-romance, a Weird Western (I’ve been teasing this in the novels since the beginning), etc. I know inter-company crossovers are out of fashion right now, but I’d happily script Anno Dracula/Justice League (in the Anno Dracula timeline, DC had vampire hero the Monk kill crook Bruce Wayne in 1938 and go on to become their biggest multi-media franchise all the way down to this year’s Lego Monk Movie) or Anno Dracula/Avengers (the character I’d most like to revive is Vincent Strange, Dr Strange’s vampire brother). At the moment, though, I’m busy with the next novel.

So what are you working on? More Dracula? More Diogenes Club? Something else?

I’m writing an Anno Dracula novel set in Japan, called Daikaiju. I’m enjoying the opportunity to play with Japanese monsters (some of their vampires are wonderfully horrid) and cyberpunk trappings. I’ve also got a big film book, tying in with my Empire Video Dungeon column, due out from Titan, and I’ve written a play, Magic Circle, which is being produced this year. So, all in all, very busy.

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