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“It was the first mash-up of literature, history and
vampires, and now, in a world in which vampires are everywhere, it’s still the
best, and its bite is just as sharp. Compulsory reading, commentary and mindgame:
That tasty quote from one of fantasy’s greatest names refers
to the celebrated 1992 epic “what if?” novel by another heavy-hitting horror
scribbler (and mainstream movie critic), Mr. Kim Newman: ANNO DRACULA. The
multiple-award-winning postmodern novel (just reissued by Titan Books} takes
place in a Victorian England where Count Dracula did not in fact die, but
rather has married into royalty and spat a plague of vampirism across the land.
A fanciful companion to Stoker’s novel and the Dracula legacy, ANNO DRACULA is
crawling out of the crypt to show these young, flashy romantic-vamp hustlers
how to do irreverence right. Fango spoke with Newman about the return of his
magnum opus to shelves.
FANG: How old were you when you first understood what/who
DRACULA was/is? Can you recall that first encounter?
NEWMAN: A changing point in my life was watching the 1931
DRACULA on television when I was 11 in 1970. Staying up late was part of it,
but the film fascinated me, and I became almost instantly obsessed with horror
and monsters in all media. I now realize that the first time I saw a
representation of Dracula on television was probably earlier, in a 1960s
episode of DOCTOR WHO [“Journey Into Terror,” episode four of “The Chase,” 1965]—though
that Dracula turns out to be a robot.
FANG: When you finally caught up to Stoker’s book, was it a
letdown? Did you expect more?
NEWMAN: Actually, no. I read the book very soon after seeing
the Lugosi film, and zipped through it very swiftly. It didn’t seem to me to be
difficult at all. Back then, the starter horror fan didn’t have the wealth of
material now available—so the first logical step after getting interested was
to read the source novels. When I was 11 or 12, I went through Wells, Shelley, Stevenson,
Wilde and co. I still love all these books, in different ways; I now think
JEKYLL AND HYDE is the best of this lot, but I’m still wrestling with DRACULA.
FANG: Was the idea to sequelize DRACULA a pet project? Was
it intended to ride the commercial tide of the Francis Ford Coppola film?
NEWMAN: I’d been working on it long before Coppola’s film
was announced, though the first edition did come out about the time that was
released. And, of course, it’s not a proper sequel—which had been done before and
has been done a lot more since. It’s the Dracula equivalent of those old DC
Comics imaginary stories in which Superman reveals his secret identity or
Batman marries Catwoman—taking the established premise, but giving it a
different ending and then examining the consequences. If anyone’s paying
attention, I’d love to write one of those. I’ve mixed feelings about BRAM
STOKER’S DRACULA; though it has good things in it, I think it’s minor Coppola.
A section of the fourth book, JOHNNY ALUCARD [coming in 2012], envisions
Coppola making DRACULA as one of his major films. In the world of the ANNO
DRACULA books, Dracula’s reign is a historical event like Vietnam, so there
Coppola’s DRACULA is an equivalent to APOCALYPSE NOW, shot in Romania during
the Ceausescu era, with Martin Sheen as Harker, Playboy bunnies as Dracula’s
wives, Dennis Hopper as Renfield and Brando as the Count. Structurally, ANNO
DRACULA is slightly influenced by APOCALYPSE NOW; the finale in Buckingham
Palace owes something to Kurtz’s compound.
FANG: Do you empathize with Drac’s plight?
NEWMAN: Not really. I always find Dracula works best as a
monster. I’ve tended to portray him as he used to be—the incarnation of
everything bad—though my definition of “bad” may not be Bram Stoker’s. I like
Fred Saberhagen’s THE DRACULA TAPE, which sets out his side of the story—but
one of the things I like about it is the possibility that the narrator is
spinning his version, and is really the monster people say he is. The whiny,
self-pitying vampire has his place—I think Barnabas Collins started that trend,
though Anne Rice monetized it—but I believe Dracula ought to be above all that.
FANG: ANNO DRACULA almost immediately found its cult, and
presumably has been through many misadventures as a Hollywood property. Care to
share? Will we ever see ANNO DRACULA on screen?
NEWMAN: There’s always been interest, but it has obvious
problems: It’s a big, complex story with a historical setting, larger-than-life
characters—i.e., you need stars—lots of effects, some ratings-busting
gore—rereading it, I’d forgotten how gruesome it is—and a world that needs some
explanation. I’d hate it to turn into a VAN HELSING or LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY
GENTLEMEN-style mess. However, over the years, enough smart people have been
interested in the property, so I assume eventually it’ll get done. I’ve turned
down more offers than I’ve accepted on it.
FANG: Why rerelease the book now?
NEWMAN: A big thing was people telling me how difficult it
was to get ahold of. It’s been out of print for a while, and fetching silly
prices second-hand. There was a delay in sorting out the rights to the sequels,
which I needed as part of the package, and then finding a publisher that was
enthusiastic about bringing out the series in a uniform edition. In the meantime,
every other vampire book seemed to be going through a dozen editions. I hope a
whole new generation of readers will find the books now, but I’ve put in extra
material to give something to longtime followers—a surprising number of folks
have told me they had copies which got lent and never returned or fell apart
after rereadings, so it’s nice that they can get added-value replacements.
FANG: What’s Mr. Kim Newman working on these days?
NEWMAN: Also out just now is NIGHTMARE MOVIES, from
Bloomsbury, my history of the modern horror film: It’s another expanded
reissue, the original book from 1988 plus an entirely new section of equal
length covering the years since then. And forthcoming this autumn is THE HOUND
OF THE D’URBERVILLES, which looks at another Victorian dastard, Professor
Moriarty, in a new light. Then, I’ve stuff to do on the ANNO DRACULA sequels,
including finishing the long-delayed fourth volume, JOHNNY ALUCARD.
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