Exclusive Interview: “Rise Of Dracula” Writer Rich Davis
In the 125 years since Bram Stoker first published Dracula, a great many of his fellow writers have put their own unique spin on the character. But Rich Davis’ graphic novel Cult Of Dracula may be the first that, as he says in the following email interview, is, “…set within the friendly confines of a Manson Family inspired cult.” But this interview isn’t about Cult; it’s about the second installment of this comic book trilogy, Rise Of Dracula (paperback), in which Davis continues the story by veering even further from the Dracula we know and love.
For people who haven’t read it, what was Cult Of Dracula about, and when and where does it take place?
Cult Of Dracula is a re-imagining of Stoker’s original tale of terror, set within the friendly confines of a Manson Family inspired cult. When I set about writing Cult Of Dracula, I knew I didn’t want to tell another story about a creepy Eastern European dude invading Victorian England. That story has been told so many times and so well that there’s nothing I could really add to it. Instead, I decided to offer readers a fresh perspective on not only the story of Dracula, but the character as well. I wanted to look beyond the canon; into Stoker’s influences, intentions, and themes. All of Stoker’s characters and ideas are there, they’re just repackaged in a way that is more relevant to the modern age. I wanted to expand the collective understanding of what the character is and what Dracula represents. That sent me down one of the most enjoyable research rabbit holes of my life.
Vampires aren’t exclusive to Western culture. They appear in almost every culture from every region from any time. I wanted to explore that. In my universe, Dracula is a primordial being. Dracula has existed literally since the beginning of time itself. As something of a metaphor for how we’ve interpreted Dracula thousands of times in every media imaginable, in my story, Dracula herself has been interpreted differently by the different cultures from different times and different places. The Cherokee nation saw the Deer Woman. In feudal Japan, they saw Jorogumo. In the Middle East, it was Lilith. Every dark, outcast woman that inspired us to tell scary stories since we first gathered around campfires was Dracula. Dracula is more of a concept or an idea than a specific individual.
And then what is Rise Of Dracula about, and when and where does it take place in relation to Cult Of Dracula?
Rise Of Dracula is the direct sequel to Cult Of Dracula. It takes place about 10 years after the events in the first book. It’s a story about the power of an idea and the even greater power wielded by those who control it. In the hands of two different people, the same idea can either define or destroy the world.
The press materials for Rise Of Dracula say it, “…explores the rise of fascism and the fragility of democracy in America.” Did you set out to write something with a social and / or political bent, or did you come up with the story and then realize it would work best if it had social / political elements to it?
If we look at Cult Of Dracula as a Tobe Hooper / Texas Chainsaw Massacre / Southern Gothic aesthetic, then Rise Of Dracula would be a John Carpenter / Escape From New York / near future dystopia. I didn’t necessarily set out to write a political story, but that’s the story the characters told me they wanted to tell.
It’s also very true to the urban fantasy and dystopian genres. Rise Of Dracula absolutely fits into those two boxes. Contrary to what many Twitter critics have said, there is no specific ideology or political message in Rise Of Dracula. I think it’s really a harsh critique of politics in general. It’s a critique of extremism. It’s a brutal rebuke of low-information folks who get their news in 144 characters or less and can’t be bothered to read past the headline. Left or Right, I promise you’ll find a reason to hate Rise Of Dracula. Tribalized, irrational, uncompromising extremism is the greatest threat to civilization both in my book and in our world.
Stories about Dracula are usually horror stories. Is Rise Of Dracula one as well, or is it something else?
I write horror stories. How scary those stories are is really up to the reader. I believe Stephen King once said that the secret to writing effective horror is to write about what scares you. I took that to heart. What scares me more than anything are the things that evil people can get ordinary people to do for them. Cult, Rise, and the soon to be published Reign Of Dracula all deal with concepts and ideas that have fueled my nightmares since I was a little kid. Horror crosses genres. It means different things to different people.
Rise Of Dracula is obviously not your first book. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Rise but not on anything else that you’ve written, and especially not Cult Of Dracula? Besides original Dracula writer Bram Stoker, of course.
I discovered Stephen King and Anne Rice at far too young of an age. I didn’t understand half of what I was reading or why I loved it so much, but those two legends had a profound impact on me as a budding writer. Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Sheridan Le Fanu, Jane Austen — those Victorian masters truly understood horror.
What about non-literary influences; was Rise Of Dracula influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Hammer films had a huge influence on me. There was a TV station out of Nashville, Tennessee that used to do kind of an Elvira knock off show on Saturday nights. They showed mostly Hammer films, at least that’s how I remember it. I had this little 13 inch black and white TV in my room. I have vivid memories of watching those movies on that TV at the foot of my bed, hidden under a blanket tent so my parents wouldn’t know I was up past my bedtime.
Speaking of which, are you as surprised as I am that Hammer Pictures never made a movie called Rise Of Dracula? Or Cult Of Dracula?
As a huge fan of Hammer horror, I was absolutely surprised that they never took advantage of these oh so perfect titles.
Moving on to the art, while Cult Of Dracula was drawn by Henry Martinez, Rise Of Dracula was drawn by Puis Calzada. Why the change?
Covid. Working with Henry was an absolute privilege. Not only did he provide wonderfully moody art for Cult Of Dracula, he was also kind enough to mentor me as I transitioned into writing comic books. But Henry was hit hard by Covid, and was unable to continue with the project. Thankfully, Puis was able to take up the mantle. Puis’ art style is similar enough to Henry’s that the change wasn’t overly jarring to the reader. I thought that was important. I’ve read comics in the past that were absolutely killed by an artist change. I’m grateful that we were able to avoid that.
As you mentioned, Cult Of Dracula and Rise Of Dracula are the first two volumes in what will eventually be a three-volume saga, with the final book being called Reign Of Dracula.
That’s correct. I’ve always envisioned my Dracula saga as a trilogy, and Reign is a full on, George Miller / Mad Max / apocalyptic nightmare. It’s metal A.F. Puis and the entire creative team are back. We’ve been together for the better part of 12 issues now. We’re all thrilled to get the band back together for one more ride.
We talked a moment ago about how movies influenced Cult Of Dracula and Rise Of Dracula. But it may have a chance to return that favor, thanks to Sure Pictures, who want to turn your comics into a TV show. Aside from the deal being signed, is there anything you can tell us about this adaptation?
The Cult Of Dracula series will be a prequel to the comics. It will follow Special Agent Malcolm Bram (an original character from the comic) as he investigates strange crimes. Bram is something of a Scully. He’s skeptical but open to the idea that the truth is out there. The bureau assigns him to any cases with unexplained or occult circumstances. He’ll slowly uncover the secrets of the cult of Dracula. In my mind, season three would end where the Cult Of Dracula begins.
This won’t happen, but if the good people at Sure Pictures asked who you think they should get to play Dracula and the other main characters, who would you suggest and why that person?
If I were allowed to dream cast the TV series, Paula Nunez [The Purge] would play Mother Dracula. Tony Todd [Candyman] has to be Agent Bram! Mina and Lucy would be played by Sarah Shahi [Sex / Life] and Lili Simmons [Ray Donovan], respectively. Lee Tergesen [Oz] is the perfect Van Helsing. Mackenzie Crook [Britannia] would mesmerize as Renfield. I’ve been very impressed by Jacob Elordi in Euphoria. He’d make a nice Jonathan Harker. Damson Idris [Snowfall] is the embodiment of Arthur Holmwood in my mind.
Finally, if someone enjoys Rise Of Dracula, and they’ve already read Cult Of Dracula, what comic book or graphic novel of someone else’s about Dracula would you suggest they check out while waiting for Reign Of Dracula to come out?
There are so many great choices here. Dark Red by Tim Seeley, American Vampire and Wytches by Scott Snyder, Redlands by Jordie Bellaire, 30 Days Of Night by Steve Niles, Infidel by Pornsak Pichetshote, Black Magick by Greg Rucka, Clean Room by Gail Simone, and Coffin Hill by Caitlin Kittrege are great places to start. They all influenced me in one way or another.