By Bram Stoker & Fernando Fernández (Catalan Communications/Del Rey Books)
DLB: 18118-1984 (Catalan) ISBN: 978-0-34548-312-6 (Del Rey)
Multi-disciplinary Spanish artist Fernando Fernández began working to help support his family at age 13 whilst still at High School. He graduated in 1956 and immediately began working for British and French comics publishers. In 1958 his family relocated to Argentina and whilst there he added strips for El Gorrión, Tótem and Puño Fuerte to his ongoing European and British assignments for Valentina, Roxy and Marilyn.
In 1959 he returned to Spain and began a long association with Fleetway Publications in London, producing mostly war and girls’ romance stories.
During the mid-1960’s he began to experiment with painting and began selling book covers and illustrations to a number of clients, before again taking up comics work in 1970, creating a variety of strips (many of which found their way into US horror magazine Vampirella), the successful comedy feature ‘Mosca’ for Diario de Barcelona and educational strips for the publishing house Afha.
Becoming increasingly experimental as the decade passed, Fernández produced ‘Cuba, 1898’ and ‘Círculos’ before in 1980 beginning his science fiction spectacular ‘Zora y los Hibernautas’ for the Spanish iteration of fantasy magazine 1984 which was eventually seen in English in Heavy Metal magazine as ‘Zora and the Hibernauts’.
He then adapted this moody, Hammer Films-influenced version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the Spanish iteration of Creepy, before (working with Carlos Trillo) moving on to mediaeval fantasy thriller ‘La Leyenda de las Cuatro Sombras’, after which he created ‘Argón, el Salvaje’ and a number of adaptations of Isaac Asimov tales in ‘Firmado por: Isaac Asimov’ and ‘Lucky Starr – Los Océanos de Venus’.
His last comics work was ‘Zodíaco’ begun in 1989, but his increasing heart problems soon curtailed the series and he returned to painting and illustration. He passed away in August 2010, aged 70.
For his interpretation of the gothic masterpiece under review here, Fernández sidelined the expansive, experimental layouts and lavish page design that worked so effectively in Zora and the Hibernauts for a moodily classical and oppressively claustrophobic, traditional page construction, trusting to his staggering mastery of colour and form to carry his luxuriously mesmeric message of mystery, seduction and terror.
The story is undoubtedly a familiar one and the set pieces are all executed with astounding skill and confident aplomb as in May 1897 English lawyer Jonathan Harker was lured to the wilds of Transylvania and horror beyond imagining as an ancient bloodsucking horror prepared to move to the pulsing heart of the modern world.
Leaving Harker to the tender mercies of his vampiric harem, Dracula travelled by schooner to England, slaughtering every seaman aboard the S.S. Demeter and unleashing a reign of terror on the sedate and complacent British countryside…
Meanwhile, in the seat of Empire, Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray found her flighty friend Lucy Westenra fading from troublesome dreams and an uncanny lethargy which none of her determined suitors, Dr. Jack Seward, Texan Quincy P. Morris and Arthur Holmwood, the future Lord Godalming, seemed capable of dispelling…
As Harker strove to survive lost in the Carpathians, in Britain, Seward’s deranged but impotent patient Renfield began to claim horrifying visions and became greatly agitated…
Dracula, although only freshly arrived in England, was already causing chaos and disaster, as well as constantly returning to the rapidly declining Lucy. His bestial bloodletting prompted her three beaux to summon famed Dutch physician Abraham Van Helsing to save her life and cure her increasing mania.
Harker survived his Transylvanian ordeal, and when nuns summoned Mina she rushed to Romania where she married him in a hasty ceremony to save his health and wits….
In London, Dracula renewed his assaults and Lucy died, only to be reborn as a predatory child-killing monster. After dispatching her to eternal rest, Van Helsing, Holmwood, Seward and Morris, joined by the recently returned and much altered Harker and his new bride, determined to hunt down and destroy the ancient evil in their midst after a chance encounter in a London street between the newlyweds and the astoundingly rejuvenated Count…
Dracula however, had incredible forces and centuries of experience on his side and tainted Mina with his blood-drinking curse, before fleeing back to his ancestral lands. Frantically the mortal champions gave chase, battling the elements, Dracula’s enslaved gypsy army and the monster’s horrific eldritch power in a race against time lest Mina finally succumb forever to his unholy influence…
Although the translation to English in the Catalan version is a little slapdash in places – a fact happily addressed in the 2005 re-release from Del Rey – the original does have the subtly enhanced benefit of richer colours, sturdier paper stock and a slightly larger page size (285 x 219mm as opposed to 274 x 211mm) which somehow makes the 1984 edition feel more substantial.
This breathtaking oft-retold yarn delivers fast paced, action-packed, staggeringly beautiful and astoundingly exciting thrills and chills in a most beguiling manner. Being Spanish, however, there’s perhaps the slightest hint of brooding machismo, if not subverted sexism, on display and – of course – there’s plenty of heaving, gauze-filtered female nudity which might challenge modern sensibilities, but what predominates in this Dracula is an overwhelming impression of unstoppable evil and impending doom.
There’s no sympathy for the devil here – this is a monster from Hell that all good men must oppose to their last breath and final drop of blood and sweat…
With an emphatic introduction (‘Dracula Lives!’) from noted comics historian Maurice Horn, this is a sublime treatment by a master craftsman that all dark-fearing, red- blooded fans will want to track down and savour.
© 1984, 2005 Fernando Fernández. All rights reserved.