‘The New Deadwardians’: If vampires, zombies visited ‘Downton Abbey’

Feb. 08, 2012 | 5:56 p.m.

Yes, “The New Deadwardians” is another comic about vampires and zombies, but the new miniseries from Vertigo also throws in a generous helping of Sherlock Holmes and a dash of “Downton Abbey.” The miniseries follows Chief Inspector George Suttle, a lonely detective in post-Victorian England, where members of the lower class are zombies, and members of the upper class voluntarily become vampires to escape them. The first issue doesn’t come out until March but is previewed in the “Vertigo Preview 2012” free sampler, which hits comic stores today. “The New Deadwardians” is illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard and written by popular comics writer Dan Abnett.

Culbard has made a name for himself in the comics world, turning classic books into graphic novels — among them Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and most recently H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness.” Hero Complex writer Noelene Clark caught up with Culbard about “The New Deadwardians” and the surging interest in H. P. Lovecraft.

NC: How did “The New Deadwardians” come about? What drew you to this project?

IC: Dan Abnett contacted me with a view to do something. Anything. I think this was after he’d read my adaptation of “At the Mountains of Madness.” There was the vague suggestion of something Edwardian, something to do with vampires and zombies. The next thing I know, I get an outline in my inbox for “The New Deadwardians.” Suddenly I could see this much, much bigger picture, and so I spoke to him on the phone, and we had a very long and detailed conversation talking about the world of “New Deadwardians” and all the things we could have in it and do with it. It’s huge. We talked about everything from the political map of Europe to the microbiological aspects of vampirism. Dan’s a thinking machine, spitting out ideas at a phenomenal rate, so it was great to bounce off that. We can, in the space of about five minutes, cover everything from particles to the planets. Dan then took the idea to Vertigo editor Will Dennis, and the rest as they say…

NC: What sets this story apart from other vampire and zombie stories?

IC: Class. We have the politics of the Edwardian era and the social changes. All of which, especially given our current political and economic climate, is relevant today as it would have been then. Plus our vampires have a twist.

newdeadwardianspanel The New Deadwardians: If vampires, zombies visited Downton Abbey

Two panels from "The New Deadwardians" issue #1. (Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard / Vertigo / DC Comics)

NC: How did you develop the look of the miniseries? Where did you find inspiration?

IC: For me, I grew up on a steady diet of Hammer Horror and Universal Monsters, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that wormed its way into my work generally somehow, and I’ve little doubt it’s present in this. In fact, whenever you see a vampire’s shadow in the book, you can pretty much guarantee that I was thinking about Nosferatu when I drew it.

NC: Every project brings its own set of challenges and surprises. What was unexpected about “Deadwardians”?

IC: Working with a colorist has been a surprise, and a very pleasant one at that. Over the last three or four years, I’ve drawn eight or nine graphic novels now and colored them all myself. Patricia Mulvihill has done an absolutely amazing job on “The New Deadwardians.” So not only do I get a nice surprise when I read the script to the next issue of “Deadwardians,” I get a nice surprise when Trish turns in colored pages I’ve drawn. It has me looking at my work completely differently.

at the mountains of madness The New Deadwardians: If vampires, zombies visited Downton Abbey

The cover for I. N. J. Culbard's illustrated adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountians of Madness." (SelfMadeHero)

NC: Can you talk a little about the challenges of adapting “Mountains of Madness” into graphic novel form? It’s a massive undertaking. Do you consider it a translation? An adaptation? A new work altogether?

IC: “At the Mountains of Madness” is an adaptation. As I see it, with an adaptation you have to serve two fundamental elements — the spirit of the original story and the medium to which you are adapting it. I say “the spirit” of the original story, because there are undoubtedly going to be a few differences. Often the medium to which you are adapting the story presents opportunities for economical interpretation of exposition. If you take a story verbatim, you’re not adapting anymore, you’re transcribing. Thankfully, descriptive text is not all there is to Lovecraft. He wrote great stories too. But also with “At the Mountains of Madness,” as with many of his stories, there’s very little dialogue. But it just takes a little detective work to put all those things together from the existing text.

Lovecraft wrote a letter to Fritz Leiber in 1936 saying, “Characterization is undeniably a woefully weak point with me.” I’d argue HPL was being a little hard on himself. Characterization is just one of the many reasons I think HPL fits the comics medium so well. When you start drawing any of his characters, from the very first line, you enter the realms of characterization. A face can carry a ton of exposition, from a scar to a broken nose or a bloodshot eye. And that alone, instantly, breathes new life into his work and brings something new to the table.

NC: There seems to be a lot of stirring interest in Lovecraft lately. Why do you think there’s a resurgence of interest? Why do you think his work is so timeless?

IC: Stephen King wrote about what an influence HPL was to him way back when King wrote “Danse Macabre” in 1981. So, I’m surprised it’s taken this long. Why is his work timeless? Well, there are elements of his work that aren’t timeless and are very much of their time, but the mythos itself, that is timeless. He was a generous writer working with a pool of writers who would have far-reaching influence themselves — Robert E. Howard, who wrote “Conan the Barbarian,” Robert Bloch, who wrote “Psycho” and so on. All dabbled in that thing they call the “Cthulhu Mythos,” or “Lovecraftian horror,” if you like. So its influence is bound to be “tentacular.” It’s been in comic books for years in many guises. It’s everywhere. And as those other aspects of popular culture rise to the fore in popular entertainment, Lovecraft’s work rises with it. It’s in the blood.

NC: Any other projects you have coming up that you’d like to talk about?

IC: I have a short story, “The Dunwich Horror” (adapted by Rob Davis, drawn by me), included in “The Lovecraft Anthology: Volume I” published by SelfMadeHero, a brilliant London-based graphic novel publisher and who coincidentally launch their imprint in the U.S. this month. “A Princess of Mars” with Ian Edginton will be out in the U.S. this May, distributed by Sterling. And I have another Lovecraft-related project coming out this autumn. SelfMadeHero will be publishing “Deadbeats,” written by Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey, who host the H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast. Each week they look at one of HPL’s stories and dissect it. It’s a terrific show and often very funny too.

Larger page images: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6

— Noelene Clark


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2 Responses to ‘The New Deadwardians’: If vampires, zombies visited ‘Downton Abbey’

  1. Joanne Westwood says:

    Nice article. About "At The Mountains Of Madness" – after NBC-Uni ditched it last March, it was picked up by Stella James Studios (who released an audiobook version of it last March as well) and is in early preproduction. See sjlume.com/pr_mountains-madness

  2. Zombie Comic Books says:

    This one passed me by, will check out. I would however just like to point out that there already is similar work. Namely "Victorian Undead".

    Thx for the article!

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