Thursday, July 20, 2023

Alberto Breccia's Dracula: More Art Book Than Graphic Novel

Alberto Breccia is a famous Argentinian comic book artist who has many classics to his credit, including a banned biography of Che Guevara. I came to know about him when I stumbled on a graphic novel of his titled Alberto Breccia's Dracula, published by Fantagraphics. I was trying to find a graphic novel that featured Dracula and Sherlock Holmes to follow up A Study in Emerald, which married Holmes to Lovecraft. I loved the cover and instantly knew that this was going to be awesome.

Alberto Breccia's Dracula is the English version of the originally titled 'Dracula, Dracul, Vlad? Bah..., which was published as a serial in the Spanish publication Comix Internacional in 1984. The book features a version of Dracula who is long past his prime and is living in the shadow of his ancient glory. The book is a compilation of five short stories with varying themes. It is a wordless graphic novel, and the only things English in it other than titles and credits are a biographical sketch of Breccia and a translated piece by Daniele Brolli, an Italian comic artist and publisher, which provides a great background of the work and turned out to be very helpful for appreciating it fully.

The five short stories that make up this book portray a satiric view of humanity in general. The art style is very colourful, crowded, and overpowering. Each frame needs to be gazed at for some time to grasp its full significance. Though the entire artwork is textless, except for translations of certain graffiti, it is not difficult to visually comprehend the narrative. Textless structure also allows a scope for self-interpretation, which helps the reader from a different place and time evaluate his social situations and compare them to those depicted in the book. 

It is ideal to understand the political background of Breccia's Dracula, even though the premise can be scaled and superimposed on the current political and social discourses effectively. It was drawn at a time of intense dictatorship in Argentina, with external support from the USA. Intellectuals of any capacity were thought to be dangerous and had prospects for starting a rebellion. Acute censorship was prevailing. The economic downturn and inflation added to the woes of the public. Anyone suspected of resistance was put down brutally.

For Breccia, in such an environment, comics were indeed a form of resistance. He mirrored the social situation through the eyes of a washed-up Dracula. There was a time when Dracula was synonymous with evil. But now that he sees the outside world, he realises that he has lost his status. Around him, he sees the real evil, and ultimately, he has no option but to take refuge inside a church. This situation happens in the darkest and defining story of the book titled I Was Legend. 

In the story The Last Night Of Carnival, it is a Superman-like superhero who thrashes Dracula for misbehaving but finally succumbs to the evil of the one he loves. By presenting Superman in the story, Breccia winks slyly at American interference in matters of other nations and how their own friends ultimately bite back. Still works like a breeze. In the story titled Latrans Canis Non Admordet, Dracula has a toothache and, after returning from a visit to the dentist, is delighted to find a guest in his castle. But then he finds that he has literally lost his bite and has bit off more than he could chew.

In the story A Tender and Broken Heart, we witness a romantic Dracula who is lovelorn. The panels of this story are the most beautiful of all. The final story is Poe? Yuck, in which Dracula drinks the blood of an inebriated Edgar Allen Poe and finds himself in trouble with the law. Alberto Breccia's Dracula is a unique graphic novel that is a biting satire and a work of great artistic merit. Instead of the cruel and remorseless Dracula that we usually find in the adaptations, here we find one who is exasperated by the infiltration of evil in the public sphere and doesn't even attempt to keep up with it.

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