Comic Books, Vampires in

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Cover art from Chaos! Comics’ Purgatori, which features one of the newer breeds of “bad girl” vampires.
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Cover art from the comic book Seduction of the Innocent, one of the many comic books to feature vampires.

Comic Books, Vampires in

(pop culture)

Comic books emerged as a distinct form of popular literature in the 1930s, arising from the comic strips that had become a standard item in newspapers. The first vampire in a comic seems to have appeared in an early comic book title, More Fun. Each issue of More Fun carried the continuing stories of Dr. Occult, a ghost detective who fought various supernatural villains. In issue No. 7, Dr. Occult’s first major case pitted him against a creature called the “Vampire Master”. The story ran for three issues, each installment being one large page. It concluded with the vampire being killed when a knife was plunged into his heart. Before the end of the decade, in the fall of 1939, Batman would encounter a Transylvanian vampire, the Monk, in issues 31 and 32 of Detective Comics. As more horror stories appeared in the adventure and crime comics of the 1940s, response suggested that there was an audience for an all-horror comic book.

In 1948 the American Comics Group issued the first, and one of the most successful, horror comics, Adventures into the Unknown. Very quickly vampires found their way onto its pages, and through the early 1950s each issue commonly had at least one vampire story. Adventures into the Unknown soon spawned imitators. In 1950 William Grimes and artist Al Feldman of EC Comics began Crypt of Terror (later Tales from the Crypt) which was quickly joined by the Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear. During the next four years, over 100 horror comic book titles joined the pioneering efforts. Among the horror comics of the 1950s were a variety of titles by Atlas Comics (later Marvel Comics) such as Suspense Comics (1950–1953), Mystic (1951–1957), and Journey into the Unknown (1951–1957), each of which carried vampire stories. Avon’s Eerie No. 8 (August 1953) became the first of many to adapt Bram Stoker‘s novel Dracula (1897) to comic book format.

Vampires under Attack: The boom in horror comics did not go unnoticed by the larger society, and attacks upon them began to mount. Psychology spokespersons such as Frederic Wertham (1895–1981) decried the violence and sex he found in some comic books as a direct source of the growing phenomenon of juvenile delinquency and began to demand their suppression. Feeling the intensity of the attack, a number of the comic book publishing firms found it in their best interest to create the Comic Magazine Association of America (CMAA). The CMAA quickly concluded that some form of self-regulation was necessary to prevent government intervention in its business. In 1954 the CMAA issued a Comics Code, which went into effect in October of that year. The code dealt with some broad issues such as glamorizing crime and the graphic portrayal of death and responded to the criticisms of horror comics directly.

At the same time that controversy raged in America, a similar controversy developed in England. In 1955 the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act was passed, which led to the disappearance of horror comics from the stores. The bill was renewed in 1965 and is still on the books, one reason that so few horror/vampire comics have originated in the United Kingdom. The Comics Code called for the elimination of the words “horror” or “terror” in the title of comic books and forbade the picturing of, among other things, scenes of depravity, sadism, or excessive gruesomeness. One paragraph dealt forcefully with the major characters associated with the horror story.

Thus, in October 1954, Dracula and his kin were banished from the pages of the comic book. The only major appearance of a vampire following the implementation of the code was by Dell Comics, a company that did not formally subscribe to the code, though in large part tried to adhere to it. A single October/December issue of a new title, Dracula, appeared in 1962. The story, set in the present time, centered upon an encounter between several Americans and Count Dracula in Transylvania. However promising the first issue might have been, the second never appeared.

Meanwhile, Dracula and his cohorts were discovering a new format by which they could sneak back into the comic book world. In 1958, four years after the implementation of the Comics Code, a new type of magazine, the horror movie fan magazine, arrived on the newsstands. The first, Famous Monsters of Filmland, was developed by James Warren and Forrest J. Ackerman and published by the Warren Publishing Company. Projected as a movie fanzine, it was not subject to the regulations of the Comics Code, even though it began to include black and white horror comics interspersed with movie stills and feature stories. In 1964 Warren risked the publication of a black and white horror comic, featuring the very characters and scenes specifically banned by the Comics Code, in a new full size (8 1/2” X 11”) magazine format.

Technically, Creepy was not a comic book, but it reached the same youthful audience. It was so successful that in 1965 it was joined by Eerie, which followed a similar format. That same year, vampires crept back into comic books (full color in a standard comic format) through The Munsters, a comic book based upon the popular television series which featured two vampires, Lily and Grandpa (really Count Dracula), in a comedy format with no visible bloodsucking.

Finally in 1966, Dell decided to release a second issue of Dracula. While continuing the numbering of the original issue of 1962, the new issue carried a completely new story line and an entirely new “Dracula” recast in the image of a superhero. The new Dracula character, a descendent of the original Count, had been experimenting with a serum made from the brains of bats. After he accidentally consumed some of the potion, he discovered that he had the ability to transform into a bat. In two subsequent issues he moved to the United States, donned a superhero costume, and launched a war on the forces of evil.

In 1969, with rising pressure to revamp the Comics Code and provide some liberalization in its enforcement, Gold Key issued the first new comic books to feature a vampire as the leading figure. Like The Munsters, also by Gold Key, Dark Shadows was based on a popular television series. It featured the adventures of vampire Barnabas Collins. Dark Shadows was joined in September by Warren Publishing Company’s Vampirella. The latter, featuring a sexy female vampire from outer space in stories combining humor, horror, and romance, became the most popular and long-lived vampire comic book in the history of the medium.

The Vampire’s Return: Finally, bowing to the needs of companies eager to compete with the black and white comic books, CMAA formally revised the Comics Code, effective January 1, 1971. The change also reflected both an awareness of changing times and the inability of the critics of comic book art to produce the evidence to back up the charges leveled at them in the 1950s. The code still discouraged the portrayal of situations that involved, for example, excessive gore, torture, or sadism. However, the important sentence concerning vampires was rewritten to read:

Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high caliber literary works written by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki (H. H. Munro), Conan Doyle, and other respected authors whose works are read in schools throughout the world.

Marvel Comics responded immediately to the new situation. It launched a line of new horror titles and in 1972 led in the return of the vampire. Joining Warren’s Vampirella was The Tomb of Dracula, which provided a new set of imaginative adventures for Dracula in the modern world. It lasted for 70 issues, had two revivals, and influenced the 1990s, adventures of the Midnight Sons, who united a variety of forces to fight malevolent occultism. That same year, Marvel introduced a new vampire, Morbius. After several appearances as a guest villain in other Marvel magazines, Morbius became part of the regular cast appearing in Vampire Tales (beginning in 1973), was the leading figure in Fear (beginning in February 1974), and in the 1990s was an integral part of the Midnight Sons, a short-lived venture by Marvel into the creation of a horror universe similar to its superhero universe.

The rapidly rising sales in horror comics during the early 1970s slowly leveled off and during the later part of the decade began to decline. While Vampirella survived the decade, few others did. The enthusiasm for horror comics had been overwhelmed by the proliferating number of superheroes. As horror comics in general slumped, the vampire comics all but died. The Tomb of Dracula was discontinued in 1979, to be followed by six issues of a black and white full-sized comic magazine, which died in 1980. Vampirella was issued for the last time in 1981. With two exceptions, no comic book in which a vampire was the leading character was issued through the early and mid-1980s.

In 1981 DC Comics, by no means a major voice in the horror comics field, introduced a new vampire character, Andrew Bennett, in its long-standing horror comic book The House of Mystery. His life and adventures were told in a series of episodes under the title “I … Vampire”. Bennett was, according to the story, 400 years old. Four centuries ago he bit his fiance, Mary, who, of course, also became a vampire. She resented what had happened to her, and as a result spent the rest of her existence trying to get even with Bennett and with the world. “I … Vampire” dominated most (but not all) issues of House of Mystery from March 1981 (No. 290) through August 1983 (No. 319). DC had also introduced another vampirelike character, Man-Bat who appeared periodically throughout the decade, usually in association with Batman. In 1975 and 1976, DC tried to establish Man-Bat in a comic book of his own, but it lasted for only two issues. A second Man-Bat comic, a one-shot, was issued in December 1984.

Following the demise of the Tomb of Dracula in 1979 and its sequel in 1980, Dracula made a number of appearances as a guest villain in various Marvel comics. A definitive encounter occurred in Doctor Strange (No. 62, December 1983). In a faceoff with Dracula, the occultist Dr. Stephen Strange performed a magical ritual, the Montesi Formula, which demolished Dracula and supposedly killed all of the vampires in the world. By this single act, Marvel banished the vampire from the Marvel Universe.

The Vampire Revival: After this low point of interest in vampires following Marvel’s banishment in 1983, the vampire slowly made a comeback. The situation in the comic book world paralleled that in the movies. The production of vampire movies hit bottom in 1984 when only one, The Keep, was released. At the same time the number of new vampire novels dropped to nine in 1983, half the number of 1977.

Meanwhile, radical changes were occurring in the world of comic books. First, and most noticeably, the technology of producing comic books measurably improved. A higher quality paper allowed a more brilliant eye-catching color. Then, as comic book illustrations were being recognized as an art form, artists demanded and got more freedom, most obvious in the disappearance of the box into which cartoon art had traditionally fit. At the same time, the comic book market was shifting to accommodate a new adult readership. No longer were comic books just for children and youth; numerous new titles were developed exclusively for that ever-expanding adult audience that had grown up with comics. Third, the X-rated comic had emerged as part of the new specialty line for the adult reader. Fourth, a significant portion of the new adult-oriented comics were not open-ended series, but miniseries designed to last for a predetermined number of issues, most frequently four. Fifth, to accommodate the new market, a host of new companies, collectively called “the independents,” came into existence.

Thus, when the vampire comic began to make its comeback in the 1990s, it did so in a radically new context. The initial issue of Blood of the Innocent, the first of the new vampire comics, was released at the beginning of 1986 by WarP Comics. It ran four issues and was followed by Blood of Dracula from Apple Comics. Rick Shanklin was the writer of both projects. Marvel, the giant of the comic book industry, entered the picture with its very unconventional vampire title Blood (four issues, 1987–88), a good example of the new artistic and technological advances that were setting the standards of the industry. In 1989 Eternity Comics (an imprint of Malibu Graphics) released the first of two four-issue titles, Dracula and Scarlet in Gaslight. Then in 1990, Innovation (another of the new companies) launched a twelve-issue adaptation of Anne Rice‘s best-selling novel The Vampire Lestat. These six titles heralded the spectacular expansion of vampire comic book publishing, which became evident in the early 1990s. The ten new vampire titles that appeared in 1990 became 23 titles in 1991. In 1992 no fewer than 34 new titles were published, followed by a similar number in 1993.

In 1983 Marvel had killed off all of the vampires and for six years none appeared. At the end of 1989, Morbius reappeared in issue No. 10 (November 1989) of Dr. Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. It seemed that he had survived when the other vampires had been killed. He had been returned to his human state before Dr. Strange worked his magic and for a number of years lived a somewhat normal life. On a vacation in New Orleans at the end of the decade, however, he encountered the witch Marie Leveau, who changed him back into a vampire. The cover of Dr. Strange: Sorcerer Supreme No. 14 (February 1990) announced the return of the vampires to the Marvel Universe. Morbius, after several appearances with Dr. Strange, got his own comic in September 1992.

Innovation’s The Vampire Lestat featured some of the best artwork in the field, and its success justified the equally well-done series adapting Rice’s other vampire novels, Interview with a Vampire and The Queen of the Damned. Following Innovation’s lead were Big Bad Blood of Dracula (Apple), Blood Junkies on Capitol Hill (Eternity), the adult adaptation of “Carmilla” (Aircel), Death Dreams of Dracula (Apple), Dracula the Impaler (Comax), Dracula’s Daughter (Eros), Ghosts of Dracula (Eternity), Richard Matheson‘s I Am Legend (Eclipse), Night’s Children (Fanta Co), Nosferatu (Tome), and The Tomb of Dracula (Epic). In 1991 Harris Comics acquired the rights to Vampirella and revived it with a new story line that picked up the title character ten years after the last episode in the original series. The response led to a new full-color Vampirella and a set of reprints from the original series.

An equally expansive year for vampire comics, 1992 had a 50 percent growth in new titles from the previous year. Innovation continued its leadership with its adaptation of the briefly revived television series Dark Shadows. Its artwork was rivaled by the equally spectacular Topps Comics production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula based on the Francis Ford Coppola movie. Other new titles included Blood Is the Harvest (Eclipse), Children of the Night (Night Wynd Enterprises), Cristian Dark (Darque Studios), Dracula in Hell (Apple), Dracula, The Suicide Club (Adventure), Little Dracula (Harvey), and Vampire’s Kiss (Friendly).

By 1992 Marvel Comics was fully involved in the vampire revival. It issued several reprints of its 1970s, success The Tomb of Dracula under new titles: Requiem for Dracula, The Savage Return of Dracula, and The Wedding of Dracula. More importantly, it began several entirely new comics that featured vampires. Team Titans, a spin-off of the superhero New Titans, included the vampire Night Rider. The Nightstalkers was built around vampire hunters Blade, the Vampire Slayer, Frank Drake, and Hannibal King, all characters from The Tomb of Dracula who had disappeared in 1983. Morbius finally got his own series.

These titles were then integrated through crossover stories with several other horror (but not vampiric) series, including Ghost Rider, Darkhold, and Spirits of Vengeance. The response was significant enough for Marvel to begin talking about a separate area of the Marvel Universe which dealt with occult issues. In late 1993 Marvel announced its new Universe structure by briefly setting apart these five titles, plus a new title, Midnight Sons Unlimited, and the older Dr. Strange: Sorcerer Supreme under a distinct Marvel imprint, Midnight Sons, which appeared in the October, November, and December 1993 issues of its several occult titles.

The vampire revival at Marvel proved short lived. As part of a general reorganization of Marvel titles, all of the Midnight Sons series were discontinued in the spring of 1994. The only vampire-related character to survive was Blade, who got his own series, but even it was discontinued the following year after only ten issues, caught in the continued rethinking of Marvel’s overall direction as a comic book company. Marvel again largely abandoned the world of horror and vampires, though its characters from The Tomb of Dracula would make occasional appearances. Blade’s comic series was revived in anticipation of Blade the movie starring Wesley Snipes (released in 1998).

A major event in comic book publishing occurred in 1994 with the emergence of the “Bad Girls”—the female superheroes who were both feminine and deadly. Brian Pulido at Chaos! Comics is generally given the credit for producing the first successful bad girl, Lady Death, but she was soon joined by Shi and the revamped Vampirella, introduced in the Harris series, “Vengeance of Vampirella” (1994–96) written by Tom Sniegorski and utilizing a variety of artists. Chaos! Comics soon expanded into the vampire field with its characters Purgatori and Chastity. Collectively the Bad Girl titles from Chaos! and the various “Vampirella” titles (Harris having featured her in a number of miniseries) were notable for their consistency in appearing at the top of the comics sales lists. The Bad Girl phenomenon also opened a market for a variety of new titles with a lead female character, a number of whom were vampires. Other notable vampires included Luxura featured in the comic series “Vamperotica” from Brainstorm Comics; Bethany the Vampfire (also in a series from Brainstorm); Donna Mia the succubus introduced in the horror anthology series “Dark Fantasies: Lady Vampré” (Blackout); Sonia Blue (in Sunglasses After Dark from Verotik); and Taboo (Backlash, Image).

Quite apart from the Bad Girl titles, the number of new vampire titles continued to multiply through the 1990s. Most notable of the new series was Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon from DC’s dark adult Vertigo series, which included the vampire Cassidy as a continuing character. Wetworks from Image set a group of modern commandos against the supernatural world of the Balkans that included werewolves and the Blood Queen’s Vampire Nation. Vigil the female vampire detective created by Arvin Laudermilk and first introduced in 1992, continued her adventures in a number of one shots and miniseries through the 1990s though having to change publishers on several occasions.

At the end of the 1990s, some predicted the vampire’s demise as a topic of comics books, but the vampire theme continued unabated. Leading the way was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Dark Horse began to issue a comic title, which included both new stories and comic versions of selected episodes in September of 1998. The series would continue into 2003 (sixty-three issues), becoming the third-longest vampire comic book series in the English-speaking world. It was also reprinted in several languages in Europe. In 1999, Dark Horse also began the companion Angel comic book, but it was discontinued in 2001.

There was some expectation that following the demise of the Buffy and Angel television shows that fan interest would dissolve away. Though diminishing somewhat, it continued and eventually IDW picked up the Angel franchise. Buffy/Angel creator Joss Whedon decided to continue the story line in the two shows through comic books, and in 2007 picked up the story from the last of Angel with a new series of comics from IDW, Angel: After the Fall, while the Buffy story line was continued in the Season Eight Buffy the Vampire Slayer series from Dark Horse. Both series continue as this encyclopedia goes to press.

Succeeding Anne Rice as the most popular vampire novel author was Laurell Hamilton. After producing more than a dozen novels featuring her monster enforcer character Anita Blake, Hamilton’s first vampire novel was brought to comics in 2006 as Anita Blake Vampire Hunter in Guilty Pleasures, from Marvel. Hamilton’s popularity as a novelist did not displace the most popular writer of vampire comics in the new century, Steve Niles. His 30 Days of Night, a miniseries from IDW became an instant hit and led to a number of sequels as well as additional Niles’s horror titles, including several series featuring his vampire detective Cal McDonald. Vampirella remained a popular commodity in the new century. In 2001, Harris Comics began a new Vampirella monthly series, each issue coming with multiple variant and enhanced covers. The series was discontinued after 23 issues, but Vampirella has continued to manifest in a variety of new miniseries and one shots.

The comic book has proved a natural venue for vampires and seems to have settled in as the second main type of character (next to the superhero) in comics. Literally hundreds of new titles featuring vampires appeared in the decade after the Dracula centennial in 1997. Dracula remained a popular source book, and over the years more than three dozen adaptations of the novel have appeared as well as recent new editions of the novel with illustrations by prominent graphic artists such as Jae Lee and Ben Temple-smith (the original artist used to bring Steve Niles’s works to life).

Note: A complete listing of the more than 10,000 comic book issues with vampires published in the twentieth century, compiled by Massimo Introvigne, J. Gordon Melton, and Robert Eighteen-Bisang, has been posted at http://www.cesnur.org/2008/vampire_comics.htm.

Sources:

Barker, Martin. A Haunt of Fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign. London: Pluto Press, 1984. 227 pp.
Benton, Mike. Horror Comics: The Illustrated History. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing, 1991. 144 pp.
Glut, Donald R. The Dracula Book. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1975. 388 pp.
Goulart, Ron. The Encyclopedia of American Comics. New York: Facts on File, 1990. 408 pp.
Horn, Maurice, ed. The World Encyclopedia of Comics. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1976. 785 pp.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire in the Comic Book. New York: Count Dracula Fan Club, 1993. 36 pp.
Thompson, Jeff. The Dark Shadows Comic Books. Los Angeles, CA: Joseph Collins Publications, 1984, 1988. 115 pp.