The Marvel Comics title that would become Tomb of Dracula appears to have been in the works for quite some time prior to its first issue reaching stands in November, 1971. Perhaps the first inkling comics readers had of its development had come by way of a vague reference on the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page appearing in comics published that March; in the midst of a news item explaining the moves of several artists from one title to another, the following statement appeared:
By “another 50¢ mag labeled M”, the anonymous Bulletin scribe meant that Marvel was planning a companion to Savage Tales, a black-and-white comics magazine intended “for the mature reader” whose first issue had gone on sale in January.
The next month’s Bullpen Bulletins offered more details — including the new magazine’s title (or at least the leading contenders for same):
According to an editorial that ran a couple of years later in Dracula Lives #1, the idea for Marvel’s second b&w title originated with its publisher, Martin Goodman — a fact which may surprise those familiar with Goodman’s actions in regards to editor Stan Lee’s previous attempt to crack the magazine-sized comics market, The Spectacular Spider-Man. (Back in 1968, Goodman had forced Lee to change the format of that title from black-and-white to color after the first issue, then cancelled it after the second.) The publisher’s newfound enthusiasm for the format didn’t last very long, however; Savage Tales wouldn’t see a second issue,* and by the next time the Bullpen Bulletins mentioned Tomb of Dracula (evidently,Tomb won the coin toss against House; or maybe someone at Marvel remembered there had already been a 1945 movie with the latter title, and wanted to avoid rights issues), in July, it was being referred to as a color comic (albeit a giant-sized 25-cent one). Perhaps recent changes in the Comics Code Authority played a part in the decision-making here as well; prior to the adoption of new guidelines which went into effect on February 1st, Marvel wouldn’t have been able to bring out a Code-approved color comic about Dracula (or indeed any other vampire); afterwards they could, and this approach may have better suited Goodman’s comfort zone.
In any event, Tomb of Dracula continued to face delays. The same Bullpen Bulletins column that confirmed its new color-comic status also suggested that the first issue would be coming out imminently, but July came and went with no ToD #1, as did August. The latter month’s Bullpen Bulletins explained that “the sudden increase in the volume of pages” resulting from Marvel shifting nearly its entire line into a 25-cent/48-page format had compelled the company’s “panic-stricken printer” to ask them to hold off on launching any new titles.
But even before the month of August came to a close, Marvel’s extra-length 25-cent comics had by and large passed into history. By the time its “breathlessly-awaited DRACULA book” finally did come out — in November — it was as a standard-size, single-feature comic, at the new standard price of 20 cents. (Ultimately, that meant that the “Tomb of” part of the title ended up not making nearly as much sense as it had when the book was supposed to be a black-and-white anthology, or even a 48-pager with room for an extra feature or two — though “Tomb of Dracula” was probably still easier to trademark than the single name “Dracula”, or even “Count Dracula”, would have been,)
As you might imagine, November’s Bullpen Bulletins didn’t let the long-delayed release of Tomb of Dracula #1 go unhyped:
While my fourteen-year-old self was looking forward to Marvel Premiere #1 featuring Warlock (and fear not, you’ll be able to find out what I thought about that book in just one week; how’s that for a shameless plug?), I’m pretty sure I was even more keen to read ToD #1. As I related in my September 18th post about the debut of the Code-approved Marvel monster series that ultimately beat Tomb of Dracula out of the starting gate — i.e., “Werewolf by Night”, in Marvel Spotlight #2 — over the previous year or so my pop culture consumption had primed me to go all-in on the burgeoning monster-horror trend in American comics. And by mid-November, 1971, I was even more avid. By then my local TV market finally had a weekly late-night “creature feature” program on which I could actually catch Dracula (1931). Frankenstein (1931), and other such classics (as well as many rather less distinguished films, of course). I may also have by that time purchased (and read straight through) a terrific book — Drake Douglas’ Horror! (Collier, 1969) — which devoted individual chapters to virtually all of the classic movie monster types, and gave thorough historical overviews of each. Talk about being primed — this book was my literal primer, making me what I presumptuously considered to be an “expert” on movies I hadn’t even seen yet, not to mention books (again, like Dracula  and Frankenstein ) that I hadn’t yet read. (It’s probably just as well that I had few, if any, people I could talk to at the time about this stuff, as I would likely have been an insufferable little snot about it all.)
But, getting back to Tomb of Dracula #1… the comic bears a cover by Neal Adams, which I think is interesting to compare with the one he’d turned out (with inker Tom Palmer) for the aforementioned Marvel Spotlight #2 (see left). To begin with, like that earlier cover, ToD #1’s sets its core illustration within a bright red frame — probably intended to suggest the bloodiness of the horrific events within (though, of course, under the Comics Code, the depiction of actual blood was still almost entirely out of bounds). More significantly, however, both illustrations (excellent as they may be) are quite generic; indeed it’s accurate to say that, in the same way Adams and Palmer’s Werewolf by Night bears only a rudimentary resemblance to the creature depicted in Mike Ploog’s interior art for MS #2, Adams’ Dracula hardly resembles the one represented within ToD #1’s pages, a version designed and rendered by Gene Colan.** It’s hard not to conclude that, in both cases, Adams was working with minimal direction — e.g., “draw a werewolf”, “draw Dracula”, etc. — and didn’t (or couldn’t) make reference to what the artist responsible for the story’s visualization of the title’s star attraction was up to. In the end, of course, it probably doesn’t matter — they’re both still highly effective covers, and I doubt that anyone picking up either of these books were more than momentarily bemused by the discontinuity between their covers and their interiors.
Beyond the cover, of course, Tomb of Dracula #1 is all Gene Colan — and I do mean all Gene Colan, as it features one of the rare instances of the artist inking his own work. This almost didn’t happen, according to the introduction provided by Roy Thomas (then an associate editor at Marvel) to Marvel Masterworks – The Tomb of Dracula, Vol. 1 (2021):
…though Gene almost never inked anything for Marvel back in those days, he had cajoled Stan into agreeing he could do full-art chores…something Stan really wasn’t wild about. When a guy was as valuable a penciler as Gene, Stan preferred he spend all his time in that one capacity and never pick up a pen or brush. But Gene was uncharacteristically adamant. So Stan agreed he could ink at least that first story…
[Later] I was in Stan’s office… when he was on the phone with Gene, who was objecting because Stan had just informed him that he wanted to have someone else ink that first issue so Gene could pencil something else. I could hear Gene plaintively reminding Stan that he had promised him he could ink that issue! The reply was classic Stan: “Gene, if you’re going to hold me to that, I’m not going to be able to promise you anything again!” Or words pretty close to those.
Anyway, Gene won the argument…
Unfortunately, the gray ink wash tones Colan is reported to have used in his finished art, with the understanding that it would be reproduced in black-and-white, didn’t really translate well to the final color version. Nevertheless, it remains a rare pleasure to see the unfiltered vision of the notoriously difficult-to-ink Colan (though I’m just as happy that Tom Palmer eventually ended up as the series’ regular, permanent inker).
While the early Bullpen Bulletins about Marvel’s new Dracula book had touted the involvement of both Stan Lee and Roy Thomas as writers, the first issue’s splash page gave scripting credit only to Gerry Conway (though Lee’s name as editor came first anyway, of course). Still, according to all reports, both Lee and Thomas did play a role in developing the story, though Lee’s was essentially limited to coming up with the basic premise. From that starting point, Thomas crafted a several-page synopsis, which Colan used as the basic for his graphic interpretation; only then did Conway come in to script the captions and dialogue. As the latter writer told Tom Field for Back Issue #6 (Oct., 2004): ““I tried to bring to it a kind of an eerie, dark, misterioso style of writing and dialogue—pretentious, let’s say… I mean, I was 19 years old—what did I know, really?” (Your humble blogger has some thoughts on that subject, actually, but I’ll refer you to my “Mister Kline saga” post from earlier this month for them.)
Evidently, this village is so remote and isolated that fashions in dress haven’t changed since the 19th century — though that probably wouldn’t have come as a surprise to any 1971 reader whose knowledge of Transylvania (assuming they had any) came primarily from classic vampire movies. I’m pretty sure it didn’t faze fourteen-year-old me, in any case.
En route to Castle Dracula, the guy with the carriage, Otto, speaks dismissively of his fellow villagers’ superstitious beliefs — but, as it turns out, even he’s not willing to take our travelers any closer than shoutin’ distance to their ultimate destination…
As his reverie continues, Frank Drake recalls how Jeanie stood by him despite his swiftly blowing through a million dollars — even as most of his well-heeled pals turned a deaf ear to his subsequent requests for a modest loan. Only Clifton seemed willing to give him the time of day; unfortunately, Cliff was pretty low on scratch himself…
This page suggests (though it doesn’t expressly state) that Dracula first became a vampire a couple of hundred years before the time of the story; it also indicates that Bram Stoker didn’t get the circumstances of the Count’s dispatching at the hands of Abraham van Helsing precisely correct (though you’d have to be familiar with the details of Stoker’s novel to pick up on that, of course). As Marvel’s Dracula mythology developed over the next several years (primarily in the black-and-white companion title to ToD, Dracula Lives), this backstory would be considerably modified; we readers would learn that Count Dracula was in fact one and the same as the historical personage Vlad Dracula, “the Impaler”, who ruled Wallachia (a neighboring territory to Transylvania in what’s now modern Romania) in the 15th century; we’d also learn that Stoker hadn’t done much fictionalizing at all, but rather just collected and edited the letters, diary entries, and other documents that make up his epistolary “novel”. But, hey, this’ll do for the time being.
As Frank Drake’s recollections continue, we learn that he was pretty freaked out by what he’d read in his family history, but that Clifton convinced him that turning Castle Dracula into a tourist attraction would be the answer to all his problems. (Considering that Transylvania was under a Communist regime at the time this story was produced, I’m not sure that would have been quite as easy as the script indicates… but never mind.) And so, Frank, Clifton, and Jeanie soon embarked together on their present expedition… “And not once did Drake wonder… why was Clifton so helpful — after all Drake had done to him?”
Once inside the castle, the trio soon discover that they’re not its only current living inhabitants…
Gee, do you think Jeanie’s silver compact might play a significant role in the story later on? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)
Surely Clifton isn’t going to do something as stupid as yank out the wooden stake from Dracula’s skeleton. I mean, no matter how much of a rationalist you consider yourself to be, why take chances? Besides which, the stake isn’t even of any use to him…
Crap, the idiot did it.
Colan based his visual interpretation of Dracula on the actor Jack Palance. As he explained in 2001 for a Comic Book Artist interview:
…I had seen him do Jekyll and Hyde for television, and right there and then I knew that Jack Palance would do the perfect Dracula. He had that cadaverous look, a serpentine look on his face…. And he did play that role, eventually, on television. So, I took him on as a character, and [when drawing Dracula] I’d sit before the television screen with the Polaroid camera, and whenever there’d be a still image of him on the screen, I’d photograph it in different positions, so I could use him. That’s how [the Palance look] came about…
As we’ve discussed in a previous post, Colan’s Dracula was the third comic book villain to debut in a little over a year’s time whose look was inspired at least in part by Jack Palance, following Jack Kirby’s Darkseid and Gil Kane’s Morbius. There was just something about that face, apparently…
But to return to our story: Frank and Jeanie go looking for Clifton, and eventually find the hole in the floor he fell through. Before they can investigate further, however, a big, black bat comes flying up out of the hole. “Frankie — keep it away!“ screams Jeanie…
C’mon — you knew from the start that the saucy barmaid wasn’t going to make it, didn’t you?
The young woman’s blood-drained body is quickly discovered by her fellow villagers, who comprehend the full significance of this event almost immediately. You know what comes next, I’m sure. Cue up the march-on-the-castle-with-torches scene!
In the meantime, Dracula has winged his way back to the castle, where he finds…
Hmmm, I thought the whole “mirror” business in vampire lore was about detecting the undead fiend’s true nature (since they can’t be seen in it) rather than about repelling them. But, what the hell, it’s all make-believe anyway. And besides, it quickly becomes a moot point, since Frank ends up squandering his advantage by throwing the compact at Dracula. It smarts when it bounces off his noggin, sure, but that barely slows our Count down, and soon his cold white fingers are around Frank’s throat…
Thus concludes the first episode of The Tomb of Dracula. At the generous length of 25 pages (probably the result of its having been originally produced for a larger format than the standard color comic), it certainly delivers a lot of content for the reader’s 20 cents. I’m sure that fourteen-year-old me considered his money, as well as his time, well spent.
Looking at the comic from a more mature perspective, however, one might wonder why it took three different writers to craft this tale, seeing as how the plot boils down to not much more than a batch of vampire movie tropes strung together. Frankly, I believe it would be fair to assess the entertainment value of Tomb of Dracula #1 for a contemporary audience as residing mostly with Gene Colan’s wonderfully atmospheric art, which executes those tropes in fine fashion.
Beyond Colan’s art, the main thing that Tomb of Dracula had going for it at the very beginning was its basic premise, as simple as that was: a modern descendant of Count Dracula inadvertently becomes responsible for his resurrection, and then has to deal with the consequences. It’s a concept that could have easily led to an endless recycling of old tropes such as the ones holding up this issue, yet had the potential to be much more than that; it would all be up to the execution.
Fortunately, the series ultimately found the ideal creative team to provide that execution — though it had to go through another couple of writers, three inkers, and eleven more issues to get there. But once the title locked in Marv Wolfman as writer, Gene Colan as penciller, and Tom Palmer as inker with issue #12, fans could look forward to a decade-spanning, 58-issue run of some of the most consistently well-crafted comics of their era, in any genre — an epic streak which outlasted the horror/monster trend that spawned it by several years.
It was quite a journey, a half century ago — a journey which, of course, will be the subject of future blog posts, right here, a half century later.
*At least, not until the summer of 1973, by which time Goodman was well out of the picture.
**As hard as it may be to believe, considering what was to follow, Colan almost wasn’t the artist on Tomb of Dracula. According to his own account, as told to Tom Field for Comic Book Artist in 2001:
…I asked Stan [for Dracula], and he said, “Okay, fine,” and I let it go. I figured he said all right, so I can get it—all right! But then he changed his mind without me knowing it, and who was going to get it but Bill Everett? I called Stan up and said, “Stan, that’s not what you told me!” He said, “Well, Bill had it long before I told you that you could do it, and I promised it to him.” I knew he was double-talking me—I just knew it—so I sat down right away, and I worked out a whole page of Dracula’s character study, and all different poses in a montage…
I sent [the tryout] to Stan, and the next day he called and said, “You got it!” That was it!