The legend of the vampire is one that is as old as time itself – and since 1897, Dracula has been its crown prince. Nearly every country and culture in the world has its take on this sanguine theme – from eternally youthful and beautiful wanderers of the night that feast on the lifeblood of the innocent to animated floating heads and entrails that subsist on feces and offal.
They are perhaps the most human of our given monsters, dedicated to the singularly mortal pursuit of taking all from another so that they may continue to exist – however pathetic and vile said existence might be.
The first “vampire craze” began as far back as the 1720s – beginning in earnest with The Vampire by German poet Heinrich August Ossenfelder and Gottfried August Bürger’s Lenore – as well as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Bride of Corinth. To be certain, Denn die Todten reiten schnell – For the dead ride fast.
As far as the silver screen is concerned, there have been more than 200 films featuring the Count, playing second fiddle only to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes – a fiddler of some renown in his own right.
The rogue’s gallery of actors who’ve played Vlad read like a who’s who of grue: Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, John Carradine, Jack Palance, Paul Naschy, Udo Kier, Klaus Kinski, Lon Chaney Jr., Frank Langella, George Hamilton, and Ferdy Mayne – hell, even Adam Sandler and Leslie Nielsen have taken the cape out for a test flight and a few laughs.
But for my money – when it comes to vamps, I’ll take the strong, silent type every time. Very strong, very silent. Straight outta’ the Carpathians comes Nosferatu – brought to cinematic undeath in 1922 by German filmmaker F.W. Murnau with Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: a Symphony of Horror).
The well-dressed and pointy-eared Count Orlock is being revisited in comic format by artist Per Darwin Berg of NARWHAL Comics. After graduating from Evergreen State College in Washington State in 2009, Berg took to writing movie scripts, but was soon bitten by the comics bug.
“When I turned 30, I realized I had to start working on bigger projects or I would get stuck in a rut, so I started illustrating my sci-fi epic Earthbound, which had a successful Kickstarter last year. Soon after, I landed a job illustrating a book called Machete Squad for an imprint of the Naval Institute,” says Berg.
“In the meantime I’ve been working on Earthbound as well as two other books, one of which is Nosferatu. The books I create on my own are for now under a pseudo-company called NARWHAL, which basically amounts to a Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook account … and a YouTube channel.”
In the credits, Berg describes his Nosferatu project as a “mixtape,” an amalgamation of Murnau’s original film, the Werner Herzog flick from 1979, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and 10% his own interpretation and ideas.
“The Nosferatu comic project started as a side-indulgence, a low-stakes project to doodle on late at night. But it evolved into something more as I dug deeper. I remember thinking that if I adapted a silent film, in theory I wouldn’t even have to write a script, and I would have visual reference for every panel, and it would be in black and white,” says Berg.
Drawing influence and inspiration from the stark contrasts of noir cinema, Berg logged hours on YouTube watching and re-watching both the Murnau and Herzog versions of Nosferatu. Then, he picked up his trusty pen.
“Something interesting happened when I was thumbnailing, I had an idea of something I could add to Count Orlock’s character. My idea was that if the sun kills you, then you can’t see the sun, ever,” says Berg. “And if you were otherwise immortal, then time would pass. Over centuries, your idea of the sun that you hold in your mind would change and become abstract, perhaps disappear almost entirely, except the notion that you can’t look at this thing, whatever it is, or you die. All you would have is the moon.”
Like so many takes on the vampire legend, there’s no denying that Orlock is a tragic hero of sorts – a misunderstood soul who barely understands the parameters of his own existence, and indeed knows no other way of surviving.
“The moon is lit up at night because it reflects the sun’s light, like a mirror. So to the Nosferatu, the moon is his only reminder of this strange thing he once knew called the sun,” explains Berg. “He just has this great appreciation for it because it’s doing him this huge favor by acting as an anchor point for his own ancient mind.”
“It’s his reminder. In addition, reflection and mirrors play well in the vampire mythos, something reflected becomes ghostly. And, of course, vampires have no reflection. So once I thought of that, I knew I had to finish the book, and my tagline/mantra for the book became MOONLIGHT IS SUNLIGHT.”
Berg is currently at work on the second of three issues, and is speaking with a small, European publisher about getting the series released. He’s on the fast track to get it completed, as there are rumblings that filmmaker Robert Eggers (The Witch) is on an even faster track to create a new Nosferatu film, with The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy apparently already on board.
You can follow Per Darwin Berg and NARWHAL Comics on Facebook or PDB212 on Instagram. Any Patreon followers can also queue up for all kinds of dark artistic goodies for their support. https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3161193