- Michael Rickard II
"Celebrating Marvel Comics' 'The Tomb of Dracula''s 45th anniversary Part Two o
In March 1972, Marvel Comics launched its new book, The Tomb of Dracula, a four-color based on Bram Stoker’s vampiric character. As we saw last time, the comic floundered at first, going from one writer to another. However, new writer Marv Wolfman, along with original artist Gene Colan, helped transform the title into one of Marvel’s best books. With engaging characters, suspenseful stories, and beautiful artwork, The Tomb of Dracula became more than a fan favorite, it was a favorite of comic book creators.
Writer Marv Wolfman had no desire to write The Tomb of Dracula. He’d stumbled through two issues of Captain Marvel and hoped to write Doctor Strange. Instead, he was offered TOD. In an article reprinted in Secrets in the Shadows: The Art and Life of Gene Colan, Wolfman discusses how he came to work on the book:
“I didn’t want to do it,” Wolfman recalls. He wasn’t a horror fan (and in fact was a little squeamish), had never even seen a Dracula movie, and he knew TOD was on shaky ground because of the creative turnaround…”I didn’t want to kill the book completely…I did know that [this assignment] was make-it-or-break-it for me at Marvel” (100-101).
Wolfman seems to have known his position at Marvel was shaky and while TOD was a risky proposition, it also gave him greater creative freedom than he might have on an established superhero title such as Doctor Strange. History has shown that working on low-selling titles can sometimes be a boon to a young talent’s career such as Frank Miller’s revolutionary work on Daredevil. Wolfman discovered he had his own world with its own characters he could explore. Better yet, he found he had a talented artist who he could count on for more than just penciling the book.
Artist Gene Colan was an established star at Marvel when TOD debuted, yet Colan found he had to audition for the penciling duties due to an oversight by Marvel’s Stan Lee. Although Gene Colan’s art became synonymous with TOD, Gene Colan lobbied hard for the book. Colan was drawing Daredevil and was bored (Field). He told Stan Lee he wanted the job and Lee reportedly told him it was his. According to Colan, Lee apparently forgot and gave the art chores to Bill Everett. Colan was ready to abandon hope but his wife encouraged him to press on, thus Colan “auditioned” for the job, putting together a full page sample of how he would illustrate the not-so-good Count. Colan reportedly based his likeness on actor Jack Palance (who’d wowed Colan with his performance in a 1968 TV production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and would later play Dracula in a 1974 made-for-TV movie) rather than classic Dracula actor Bela Lugosi or Hammer Horror’s iconic Christopher Lee. Colan got the job (although he didn’t get to pencil and ink the book as he wanted), creating a look it’s difficult to imagine anyone else achieving.
TOD was about more than Wolfman’s excellent writing and Colan’s beautiful artwork, it was the chemistry they had together. Wolfman and Colan worked closely on the book. “He’d give me a written plot, but he’d also discuss it with me over the phone,” Colan says, “I tended to ask questions, rather than to have him assume, I got the idea” (Field 102). Wolfman was also open to Colan’s ideas, “I did some things on TOD on my own that weren’t in the plot, and then I would call up Marv and say, ‘What do you think of this?’” Colan says. “For instance, Dracula would be floating along the floor and you’d see his face, but the rest of him would be like smoke, floating, and I thought it was a good idea. I kind of needed permission to go ahead and go off-field a little bit” (Field 102). Fans have speculated on the collaboration between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during their epic run on The Fantastic Four, but questions remain about how much each individual contributed to the creative process (Likewise with the seminal work on The Amazing Spider-Man between Stan Lee and Steve Ditko). That’s not the case with TOD, where both men acknowledge the significant collaboration involved in the book and its success.
No discussion of Colan’s pencils would be complete without discussing the man widely regarded as Colan’s best inker; Tom Palmer. Palmer studied under Frank Reily, the same man who had instructed Colan decades earlier. Palmer’s early work at Marvel saw him blessed with inking the work of Neal Adams, John Buscema, Jim Steranko, and Colan, a variety of styles he proved equally adept at embellishing without losing each artist’s signature style. Palmer’s first work with Colan was on Doctor Strange but The Tomb of Dracula is arguably their most remembered pairing. A review of the Colan pencils Palmer inked on TOD issues and those he didn’t are all that’s necessary to show his contributions to TOD’s overall look and atmosphere. Marv Wolfman lobbied hard to keep Palmer on the book, particularly after a short run in which Vince Colletta inked Colan’s work, removing much of Colan’s backgrounds, presumably to speed up the inking process. Wolfman would show copies of Colan’s pencils to Stan Lee and get Colletta removed from future TOD assignments.
Over time, Wolfman and Colan felt they had done everything possible with the characters (at least they felt so at the time). Colan spent more time drawing TOD than other books and while it was a labor of love, it also cut into his ability to earn money drawing other books. With sales beginning to slide, Wolfman and Colan decided to end things on a high note, and devised what they felt was an appropriate end to their collective saga. The Tomb of Dracula ended after a 70 issue run, including five “Giant-Size” issues (technically four along with an issue of Giant-Size Chillers). Its legacy endures and Marvel has reprinted the book in its Omnibus editions and softcover editions. A new reprint edition is scheduled for this fall including reprints of the black-and-white Dracula Lives! magazine.
In the meantime, check out my Tomb of Dracula site for an issue-by-issue synopsis and analysis.
Field, Tom. Secrets in the Shadows: The Art and Life of Gene Colan. Tomorrows Publishing, 2005.