Kickstart From The Heart: Dracula Son Of The Dragon

Bleeding Cool’s Kickstarter Correspondent, Shawn Demumbrum has lead three Kickstarter campaigns to launch comic books, two successfully funded and one that wasn’t.  Each week he will point out some of the unique Kickstarter projects that wouldn’t normally be published by the big comic book companies, but deserve your attention.  Shawn is the Manager of Comic Book Programming for the Phoenix Comicon.  He is currently working on the Nothing Can Stop Me Now: Stories Inspired by the Songs of Nine Inch Nails.

dracula1 Kickstarter has attracted a lot of established creators over the past few years.  Some are successful from the start meeting their goal within a few days.  Others require the full campaign time in order meet their goal.  Dracula: Son of the Dragon is one of those slow and steady Kickstarter campaigns.  The campaign is run by Mark Sable (Graveyard of Empires) and Salgood Sam (Sea of Red, Therefore Repent) who have had their work published by the Big Two as well as independent comic book publishers.  Their plan is to publish four 60-page books that cover their story.  The Kickstarter is to fund the first of these books.  They have some great editions planned including a B&W supersize ashcan, a standard trade paperback, and hand bound soft leatherette cover, and leather bound hardcover.  There are some great rewards for aspiring comic book creators including script consultation, scripts written by Mark Sable of your story idea and cover art for your comic book by Sam Salgood.  Dracula: Son of the Dragon is currently $5000 away from his modest goal of $14,000 with only a few days left.

Mark, why Kickstarter?  Had you approached publishers before Kickstarter?

MARK: There are both business and creative reasons we chose Kickstarter.

With publishers you are usually faced with two options.  Either you can get paid up front, but give up some or all of your ownership and creative control, or you can maintain creative control and ownership, but not get paid up front.  As a writer, I can take on multiple projects at once, so doing something without upfront pay is something I’m okay doing.

For Salgood, who is not only penciling and inking the book but providing tones and hand lettering the book as well, asking him to do that for free is not only unrealistic but unfair.  Going the Kickstarter route should allow Salgood to be fairly compensated while we maintain full ownership and creative control.

Beyond that…I feel like Kickstarter lets us engage with readers in a really intimate manner.  We’re offering perks like cameos in the book that will literally allow them to be a part of the story.  I’m also offering backers to have the chance to have their own writing evaluated by me – I’ve been teaching writing for years.  And Salgood and I are even offering to help backers write and draw their own stories for far less than it would normally cost to have that done professionally, giving them a chance to bring their own ideas to life.

Finally, there’s a team spirit that comes out of it that I’ve found incredibly rewarding.  I’ve been incredibly touched by not only the pledges but by the enthusiasm that backers have shared with their friends about bring DRACULA: SON OF THE DRAGON to the page.

We haven’t approached any publishers yet, despite the fact that both of us have excellent relationships with the premier creator friendly imprints.  We’re not ruling it out, but if people are waiting on this book to appear in another form, they’ll be waiting a long time.  Backers will be the first – and possibly only people to see this version of the book.

dracula3

Tell us about Dracula: Son of the Dragon.

MARK: Part historical fiction, part horror-fantasy, it’s the epic, blood-soaked tale of how Vlad Dracula transformed from real life Impaler to Bram Stoker’s vampire Count.

To say it’s been a passion project would be an understatement.  Ever since I learned that Stoker’s Dracula had a connection to Vlad the Impaler, I’ve been dying to know HOW Vlad became a vampire (and yes, I know there’s debate about how much Stoker drew from history…but at the very least he drew his name).

dracula2Historically, there’s obviously no record because he never really became a vampire.  There are some hints in Stoker’s novel.  For example, the novel mentions he studied dark arts at The Scholomance, a school where the Devil is the teacher and he claims the soul of every tenth student.  And although I loved Francis Ford Coppola’s movie (and Mike Mignola and Roy Thomas’ comics adaptation), I didn’t think they made a convincing case for how a medieval warlord could become the greatest vampire of all time.

At some point, I decided that if other writers fiction wasn’t going to provide me with the answer, I’d have to come up with an answer myself.  To say any more would be to spoil the book.

Tonally, I think the best comparisons for DRACULA: SON OF THE DRAGON are “Game of Thrones” and “From Hell”.  It’s like the former in that it’s a medieval epic with bloody intrigue that slowly introduces a supernatural element.  And it’s like the latter in that we’re trying to weave a compelling fictional horror story into historical events.  (I’m also planning to have endnotes like From Hell in the extras…although I don’t know if I can match what Mr. Moore did).

Dracula is a familiar character to people, but it has been represented in different ways from the ultra creepy Max Von Schreck’s Nosferatu to the seductive Bela Lugosi’s Dracula to the cold blooded vampires represented in 30 Days of Nights.  How do you approach this well documented character?

MARK: A ton of research, both on the historical Vlad Tepes and on Bram Stoker’s fictional creation.  I tried very hard to find a characterization that would be as consistent as possible with both but still feel fresh and relatable.

Although fidelity to the source material is important, Vlad has to be someone that you at least start out liking as a human being, even if his actions take test your love for him in the same way Breaking Bad has taken on that journey with Walter White.

There are definitely seeds for sympathy for him in his childhood.  He was witness to and subjected to some incredibly cruel things as a young boy, from being left to fend for himself in the elements in the Spartan tradition to being given over as a hostage to the Ottoman Turks by his own father.  Almost everyone he loved either died, betrayed him or both.

Still, that’s not going to get a reader to think it’s okay for him to start impaling people – even if many of those people are the enemy, and possibly vampires.  These were also incredibly religious times…and most of his actions were encouraged or condoned by The Church…that then excommunicated him.  That was worth than a death sentence…it meant he was condemned in the next life.  If you know you are going to hell, then it actually makes sense that you’d seek the earthly immortality that comes vampirism represents.

You have several levels of print rewards. What was the thought behind the leatherette, trade paperback, and leather bound hardcover editions?

MARK: Since we’re not using a traditional publishing model, we wanted to offer something that would forever remain unique to Kickstarter backers.  Yes, that will hopefully make this a collector’s item, but more than that, this should be a tome…an artifact that looks like it could have been printed in Vlad the Impaler’s time.  The art and hand binding reflect that.

SALGOOD: But we also wanted to have it be accessible, The Leather and Leatherette editions are hand bound, made for the ages which will give them that artifact feeling. I personally like to think at least a bit of my life’s work will be bound in a serious leather tome to be found in some far time in a dusty library somewhere.  The color trade and B&W insider’s editions give us some still material, but also very affordable options for people. Hopefully, it works out so that we get the best of both worlds. I’m really excited about those who’ve opted for the digital subscription to Revolver Quarterly too.  The digital option works out in terms of costs and expanding the readership of Revolver. Digital reward backers get all my other independent work too introducing lots of people to Dream Life and Bastards Tale that way.

Salgood, you have drawn vampires before for Sea of Red, which had very unique depictions of vampire pirates.  What do you use as your inspiration for your version of Vlad the Impaler?  What artistic changes did you make when Vlad becomes Dracula?

SALGOOD: Well I have always enjoyed Vampire films and stories, I was really into the world of practical visual FX growing up and loved seeing how monsters were constructed for the movies. So I do enjoy this stuff a lot. I’m planning to work in an element of the dragon like aspect that Mark has come up with for our story. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the Dragon is more than just symbolic reference in our book. I’d expect lots of teeth, and blood, and talons, and more teeth! There will be a few different kinds as well, with Dracula himself as a vampire being something we save for the final arc of the story. Some of the first you will see are Moroi, infected but not dead. We’ll also be depicting Strigoi, and for both.  I’m going to be borrowing in part from traditions of genre fiction before us.  As I’m prone to do, I follow my inspiration in the moment when drawing the pages, and trying to keep you up at night.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve confronted during the Kickstarter campaign?

MARK: Although I was told that doing a Kickstarter would be a full-time job, I don’t think I really believed it.  I think that I expected our names and the social network of Kickstarter to do most of the work for us, which was quite frankly arrogant on my part.  You need to ask almost everyone you know – fans, friends and family – to help you out.  That’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me.

As a creator, whenever I’ve had books come out in the past, I’ve e-mailed everyone and told them I had a book come out.  I could imagine that they all bought it…when you are dealing with tens of thousands or even thousands of copies it’s easy to imagine that.  But with Kickstarter…I know everyone who has and hasn’t contributed.  I get that it’s hard to give, these are hard times, and my friends will be my friends whether they can contribute or note.  But the ignorance of just having something solicited in Diamond was a kind of bliss.

SALGOOD: Well for me this is my second crowdfunder, I ran one to get my new book Dream Life wrapped up this month. Just putting the final touches on that before rushing it to the printers for launch in mid May.

I had warned Mark about everything he just mentioned, and this drive has been much larger in scope than the last was.  It’s a LOT of work. Aside from the work you do to make a comic, raising the funds that way is no walk in the park unless you’re a bit randomly lucky. The runaway Kickstarter is not the norm.

You have to find a way to graciously pester EVERYONE you know, and anyone who’s at least friended you in the past on social networks, to take a bit of a chance on something before they can pick it up. This and I’m doing it at the same time as putting another book to bed too.

It’s a real challenge. The upside is I think it’s probably a great way to vitalize your networks and friends as part of your reader base. Much less passive than doing via middlemen and the traditional retail models were used to in this business. I’ve had a lot of experience in self-publishing and in that context it’s all very familiar, but much more intense with the time constraints.

You’ve got around five days to get a little over $5000 in pledges, which is feasible based upon your highest pledge days.  If someone is sitting on the fence, what would you say to them to convince them to pledge?

MARK: The story and Salgood’s art are a potent combination, and I’d love to think that alone would be enticing.   We’ve also got some amazing perks, and we’ve show a willingness to create a custom perk, as long as it’s within reason.  (I’ve agreed to tell a friend the story by poolside, so I do encourage backers to use their imagination).

But ultimately, it comes down to this – this isn’t a situation where we’ve raised 2 or 3 times our goal and you can sit back and wait until this shows up in your local comic book store.  Without your help, this story won’t get told.  If you want to read this book – you are the only ones that can make this happen.

SALGOOD: It would be nice to say I’d find a way to draw it without the funding, but the truth is if I do, it’s going to be like that last thing I did that way. And take 5 to 10 years to do it. You know, like that funny/sad Onion piece recently? On weekends and nights?

But I’m 42 folks; I make a living as an artist. But I don’t do it by starving. That means I have to be pragmatic and really can’t abuse myself like I did in my 20s. Given the scale of the story we’re considering telling, it is just not very viable to do it on the side slowly. So if you’re on the fence and would like to read this book, get off the fence! Come help us make a book! We’ll owe you one, literally! Would you like it in leather, black or tan, or red leatherette? It’s going to be super sexy.