Few things are better for the soul than an old-fashioned monster rally. Universal monster mash-ups such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Dracula have gotten many a horror fan through tough times; I’ve yet to be in a funk that an episode of Drak Pack couldn’t lift me out of.
It’s too bad Hammer never got around to a monster mash-up of their own. If they had, though, it would have looked a lot like Flesh and Blood, a graphic novel series from Monsterverse (the company behind Bela Lugosi’s Tales from the Grave, which I wrote about in RM #105). Scripted by Robert Tinnell, drawn by Neil Vokes, colored by Matt Webb and featuring covers by Dan Brereton, Flesh and Blood is a sexy, gory and incredibly fun throwback to Hammer horror films of the 1960s and ’70s. I can’t imagine the monster fan who wouldn’t love it.
Book One opens with hot-to-trop vamp Carmilla putting the moves on a buxom young lady named Laura Ward Baker (told you these guys are Hammer fans). By the time the first volume draws to a close, Dr. Frankenstein, Abraham Van Helsing and Dracula have all been drawn into the bloody mix. To say more would be spoiling the fun that leads into Book Two, which is on stands now.
Robert and Neil were kind enough to answer a few questions about their four-color valentine to creepy castles. eerie experiments, bloody nightgowns and dueling monsters. (Note: Robert is also a filmmaker whose 1997 movie Frankenstein and Me was the subject of a recent interview conducted by RM’s Paul Counelis. You can read it here.)
Flesh and Blood is the great Hammer monster rally that Hammer never got around to making. What made you decide to do it?
Robert Tinnell: Whenever someone asks a question like this, you wish you could answer about how it was that struck-by-lightning moment of inspiration – and that’s unfortunately never the truth.
I think a few things happened. I had done a series of comic stories with British artist Adrian Salmon featuring Terry Sharp – a 1960s British guy who directs gothic horror pictures for Anvil Studios by day and fights a satanic conspiracy by night. Anyway, in the graphic novel The Faceless, Neil drew a backup story – an imagining of Terry Sharp’s second Frankenstein picture. Neil and Ade and I are good friends in addition to being collaborators, and the three of us talked about doing more adaptations of Terry’s films and we were going to – until we didn’t (actually not true – at long last Ade is drawing a back-up I’m writing starting in Flesh And Blood Book Two: Terry Sharp’s Baron Frankenstein). But Neil and I kept talking about how we wanted to try and do a version of Dracula we’d come up with. And we had already done, with our pal Todd Livingston co-writing, a couple of graphic novels called The Black Forest, which was more like a Golden Age of Classic Horror movie take on a monster rally. Fans loved it – we loved it. And at some point, Neil and I said, “Let’s try to do this.” We played around with it for maybe a year before showing it to Monsterverse. And the rest is history.
RT: Clearly both the literature and the films are intensely visual, from the grandest of backdrops of castles and mountains and such down to the detail of a drop of blood on a nightgown or hand-carved crucifixes. For guys like us you have the added inspiration of the amazing work coming out of comics in the ’60s and ’70s – from the Warren stuff to Marvel’s fantastic Dracula comics and black-and-whites. To be honest, Tomb of Dracula remains one of the biggest influences on me in any medium. That being said, I think they only translate as well as the artist interpreting them. Gene Colan, Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson – those guys were geniuses at it. Fortunately for me, Neil Vokes is as well.
Neil Vokes: The most obvious reason for that, to me, is that comics are primarily a visual medium, as is film. Though the words – or dialog, in the case of film – can be just as important, the visual storytelling of both mediums is absolutely necessary, because both film and comics can be done without the words and still get their point across (though there are probably several writers who would argue that point). Bob mentions the influences on us of books like Tomb of Dracula, the Marvel Comics black and white horror magazines and the Warren Publishing mags like Creepy and Eerie (and there are many others). For me, the Warrens are the ones that are always in the back of my mind as I draw the books we’ve done together and the few I’ve done with others. I agree with Bob when he states that the most successful of these have been due to the artists involved. You can always tell when the artist drawing that story is in his element. As an artist, I most certainly belong in that select group (though I will humbly add: I am no genius).
Besides the obvious visual and narrative elements, Flesh and Blood plays with some of the themes that were popular in Hammer films. Can you talk about some of these themes, and why you wanted to explore them?
RT: Full disclosure: my deeper appreciation of films – Hammer films in particular – was kindled by a brilliant book I got when I was kid: A Heritage of Horror by David Pirie. David’s analysis of the great British horror films and the work of directors like Terry Fisher and Michael Reeves affected me greatly. He was able to take the films apart and explain logically why they worked, what larger themes they were embracing and why. I began to see the ramifications of not just seeing horror films for what they were on the surface, but for what was simmering beneath. Flesh and Blood is meant to entertain, first and foremost, but we’re also aiming for delivering sympathetic characters whose problems are very real. At the center of it all are the sexual politics – particularly those of men threatened by sexually-liberated women (and the women in FnB are demanding in their appetites) – which was certainly something troubling the male heroes present in Stoker’s Dracula. I should mention I am very excited that I finally got to meet David Pirie via Facebook and was able to express my gratitude for his inspiration. Best of all, he really liked Flesh and Blood and gave us a nice blurb for the back cover of Book Two.
RT: I can’t speak for Neil, but I think about half-way through the first book. The characters started becoming real for me and they did what characters often do: they pointed ways they wanted to go I hadn’t anticipated. We will never, ever lose touch with what inspired us to pursue this to begin with. But at this point, we’re using our inspirations as a point of departure.
Neither of us is interested in simply wallowing in nostalgia. The great thing is having Kerry Gammill at the helm as editor. He’s as big a fan of all this as we are and serves as a pretty good mediator [and] voice of reason, plus his design for the book is wonderful. Actually, we’re lucky all the way around to have such great collaborators and supporters. Matt Webb’s colors are fantastic and integral to the storytelling. Kerry and Sam Park work tirelessly keeping Monsterverse front and center with horror comic fans and keeping us on the straight and narrow. I mentioned Adrian Salmon, but the legendary Bob Hall is also working with us on the Operation Satan back-up story (which takes place in the FnB universe, as patient fans will eventually learn) and his work is stunning. And then there’s Dan Brereton’s covers, which – I don’t even know how to describe them, they are so glorious. Plus we have nifty friends like Tim Lucas, Mark Clark, Bruce Hallenbeck and Curt Purcell who deliver all sorts of cool articles that add some context to the book. And there are the pinups and – trust me, these books are stuffed to the gills.
NV: I don’t know that I can point out the exact moment – or place – in the books myself, but again Bob is not far off. All of the talks we had prior to actually physically creating the book – all of the sketches of characters and settings I did in those many months before I put pencil to paper on issue number one – were inundated with the memories of Hammer movie images and actors. However, once I began laying out the pages and then doing the finishes, the thoughts about Hammer really faded into the background. Yes, there are moments that visually remind the readers of select scenes or performers, but the stories we are telling are truly more the culmination of all the films, all the comics, all the novels that Bob and I have been exposed to through the years. On the surface Flesh and Blood is a Hammer Films homage (and I’m proud to agree with that assessment) but below that are many, many more influences than just one film company’s output.
What movies were your strongest references, for both the story and the look of the book?
RT: Anything Terry Fisher or Michael Reeves or Freddie Francis or Val Guest did will most likely find a way to inspire us. But then, so do the novels themselves. And of course, the aforementioned comics. Honestly, most of British popular culture from the ’50s through the ’70s is lurking in the background. You know, it’s funny, but I can go back to the Terry Sharp stuff and watch what Adrian Salmon is doing there – and his style is very different from Neil’s – and yet the same inspirations shine through.
NV: Beyond the obvious Hammer references, the visual work of directors like Terence Fisher, Orson Welles, Mario Bava (and his modern-day equivalent Guillermo Del Toro) and many more filmmakers all inform my style. I will always be an artist who sees the comic book page as my theater screen. I try to compose a panel as if it was a frame of film – maybe not in the literal sense as far as the shape of the frame, but where the most important visual information needs to be within that panel, that moment in time. The colors that Matt Webb so beautifully does can also be compared to the stylizations of these filmmakers. I sent Matt films and stills that would give him an idea of what kind of look we were going for in the book. The colors should also reflect the emotions behind a scene as much as the characters or situations I’m drawing. We feel that the work that Matt Webb is doing for our series has become equally as important as anything Bob and I have done.
In your opinion, what was the last great Hammer film, and why?
RT: I’m an enormous fan of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. I think it’s a great film, period. I certainly enjoy some of the later films, but that film, for me, is pretty much a masterpiece.
NV: That’s a hard question to answer, as there are several Hammers that came out near the end of their run that I could point to and say, that was a great Hammer Film. But again I have to agree with my compadre and say Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. It was a beautiful summation of all that Hammer was best known for: beautiful set designs, lean storytelling, wonderful performances, great camera work, a lovely score, and in the case of this film in particular, the perfect representation of the title character, Baron Frankenstein who, at this point in the film series, has himself become his most monstrous creation.
Flesh and Blood is planned as a four-part series. What can you tell us about the next two volumes?
RT: The response was such that we intend to go beyond four volumes –although we may come out in shorter volumes more frequently. We discovered that we didn’t want to rush through things – we just can’t cover all the ground we want in only a few hundred pages. We certainly won’t make the ’70s by the end of book four. If we continue to get the response we are getting we hope to push on. We have a very detailed plan for the characters – a huge conspiracy that will not unravel even by book four’s end. And if all goes well we hope to expand the Flesh And Blood universe – to give ourselves a chance to take the same approach to Euro-horror, Mexican horror, Asian horror – sounds ambitious and it would take years, but we actually have a lot of stories plotted out. The question is, do we have the stamina?
Comics from the Monsterverse are available at finer comic shops in the US and Canada, or you can shop from the comfort of your hovel via Amazon.