Talking "Sword of Dracula" with Jason Henderson

Tue, October 4th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Tony Salvaggio, Columnist

In between reading manga and writing about it, I recently had a chance to talk my co-writer and good friend Jason Henderson into an interview where he could finally lay it all out about the new "Sword of Dracula" series and I could ask some "inside" questions that I can get away with (as well as a few that may not have been asked before in previous interviews) The result is an interview with some insight to the new "Sword of Dracula" developments, as well as a few notes added that only an insider might have a line on. I hope you enjoy this interview/email "fireside chat" about a book that I would be picking up even if I didn't know Mr. Henderson.

"Sword of Dracula" #1
How is working on "Sword of Dracula" different than the other, more collaborative works that you've been doing?

The funny thing is that "Sword of Dracula" was at the time the most collaborative work I'd ever done. I thought of it as a jam session-- we had a story to tell and we were going to do everything we could to get it done. But on the scripting side, being on your own means you have the freedom to really walk on the edge. Like, when you and I are working on "PSY-COMM," we debate, we argue, we come to a consensus and we go with it. On your own, you have all the freedom to get it in your own voice, but you can also make amazing mistakes and it's all on you. But the real truth is that in the end, the only thing that's really your voice is the dialogue. I gave Greg, Belk and Terry wide berth with my scripts, and then I'd dialogue in the end. Is my dialogue different than what we write together? Well, gosh, yeah. But in comics, it's always a jam session. If you really wanted to be on your own, you'd write novels.

What makes this season new, different, and compelling? What issues are you tackling this time around?

"Sword of Dracula" #1, Page 1
"Sword of Dracula" has to be a freight train of story-- the whole thing needs to run on adrenaline. But the themes can be a little deep. This season is about two big issues-- first was Dracula as a politician from a political family. Our big idea in "Sword of Dracula" was to give you Dracula stories you've never seen before. Now, novels have dealt with Drac as a politician-- Dark Horse had a series where Dracula was a political kingmaker-- but the angle I wanted to pursue was to remember, this is the guy who was Prince Vlad of Wallachia. He has his own brand of justice and an amazing talent for coming off like a hero. So, the setup in "Sword of Dracula" is that Dracula has seized a small island nation and immediately sets out-through Senators under his patronage-to get new laws passed in the US that would extend due process rights to vampires. The way we put it was, "when dealing with re-animated corpses bent on world domination, when is due process due?"

But nothing ever quite goes the way Dracula plans. Even as he's starting his whole plot with the new country, there's a new party out there who's taking on both the Polidorium and Dracula. Someone tries to set off a bomb at his inauguration. And the Polidorium gets the blame. This is a complication because Dracula wants to deal with the Polidorium his own way. The solution will be a surprise.

The second big plot is that we're tightening the screws on Ronnie Van Helsing. See, one thing I always wanted to make sure of in "Sword of Dracula" was that the plot has to keep moving. So instead of long issues about her past, instead we sprinkle in hints here and there about her unique past as a member of the Van Helsing family, and her past with her three sisters and one brother. Ronnie is the key witness in a Senate hearing about the Polidorium, and she's being set up for something big.

"Sword of Dracula" #1, Page 2
Ronnie, incidentally, has been the strangest development in the whole series, because she's a strong character with some rough flaws, and I just love writing her. And I've been to conventions where women tell me they want to know more, more, more about Ronnie. They like her because she's not a sexpot or a dour depressive, but a driven, competent person dealing with a lot of pressure. I wish we could run forever just for her.

So, who is "Agent Salvaggio? And what do you have against him?"

I can neither confirm nor deny that Agent Salvaggio is Tony Salvaggio in the "Sword of Dracula" Universe. He sure is lucky, though. Lemme back up: When we first started "Sword of Dracula," we made the first issue one… long… battle. There were agents everywhere, some of them killing vampires, some of them getting killed. Red shirts! But as I wrote the series I decided I wanted to drop in references to the larger world, and one of the important things was the culture of the Polidorium, an agency funded by the United Nations and the United States. And I thought-- let's have one guy, one guy who makes it through every adventure and keeps coming back. And that was Agent Salvaggio: you first see him in Issue 3; he's drawn guard duty in the Polidorium warehouse because he apparently took a bunch of "blood spines" to the face in Issue 1, blood spines being these quills borne by demon dogs that Dracula created to protect his castle. So we see him playing cards in his boring assignment, and of course he gets attacked by the fallen angels who want to raid the warehouse. Then he gets chomped on by zombies in the apocalyptic battle at the end of Season 1. In Season 2, he's back, this time just barely surviving a run-in with blood-mutated sharks that skitter on the ocean. Agent Salvaggio is a survivor. But we know nothing about him! He needs his own book.

"Sword of Dracula" #1, Page 3
Note: I had to ask this. As a friend, I've always wondered if I should be worried that agent Salvaggio keeps getting put out of commission in various ways. I've often wondered "Should I check my brake cables for blood spines?" Personally I think agent Salvaggio is OK on the sidelines, out of harm's way….

This season has seen a lot of setbacks reaching retailers and fans. Care to elaborate on that, and how you've tried to overcome it?

This is the life of the independent! I liken making comics to putting on a play, except that to get the play seen you have to market if to about four thousand theaters around the country. And you have to get the theaters interested four months early. And you can throw all the money at it you have, but you have a hard time rising above the volume of promotions for the big guys, Marvel and DC.

But those are the rules, you know? We're not Marvel-- we're an independent book out to give you the most innovative Dracula we can muster. There's freedom on the edge.

"Sword of Dracula" #1, Page 4
So, the retailers and fans told us what they wanted to see-- they wanted to see the series in color, and they wanted one art team. I swear to god, I thought it was cool to have different artists interpreting the series in Season 1. That was how they could afford to do it, a couple issues at a time. And I loved seeing different takes. But the market wants consistency, and they want color. Okay, cool, then-- Ed Dukeshire and I got together to hatch "Sword of Dracula" Season 2 from Digital Webbing. In color. One team, Terry Pallot and Matt Webb, with original "Sword of Dracula" artist Greg Scott on covers. But one thing happened after another.

For one thing, the new series was originally solicited as "Sword of Dracula: Color Edition," and a lot of people took that to mean it was a color version of Season 1. Which is no big surprise, because we were thrilled to have the ability to get Matt Webb to do colors. And I've talked a lot about how I want to publish a color version of the first trade. But this is an all-new arc, and somehow people just didn't see that. So orders trickled in as we got the message out. Meanwhile we're doing all the promotions people expect-- you and Rise from Fire did a theme song-which rocks-- and Michael Long animated a new trailer. But the damage was done, to some extent. Meanwhile we switched to a printer in Korea and completely overshot our date, which is why you'll be seeing "Sword of Dracula" #1 in October-- but then, it's Halloween, so maybe it's fitting.

Recently "The Historian" has gotten a lot of press about this "new, different vision" of Dracula. Your Dracula is as evil or more, and often based on the real Vlad as well. "Sword of Dracula" came out quite a while before "The Historian." Any chance of trying to do a Novel version (plug your other novels and such) or are the action and blood powers relegated to the graphic novel format?

"Sword of Dracula" #1, Page 5
I've written novels for comics characters-- I did a "Hulk" book and an "X-Men/Spider-Man" with Tom DeFalco. But "Sword of Dracula" really seemed to find its form as a script and a comic. I haven't given up novels, though; I have a new book called "The Darkling Band," about two friends searching for a pair of lost girls among the elves of medieval Germany, coming out in early 2006.

I confess, though, that I haven't read "The Historian." There's always room for different Draculas, of course. It never ceases to amaze me what a complex guy he was. In the fifteenth century when the Pope called out to all Catholic rulers to join a new crusade against the Ottoman Turks, whose Sultan Mehmed was brilliant and had a good shot at taking Europe, only a small handful took up the Pope's call. Dracula was the most daring, personally leading night raids against the Turks, practicing scorched earth tactics when they pursued him back into Wallachia. You know who pursued Dracula for the Sultan? His own brother, Radu, with whom Dracula had been raised as a prisoner of the Sultan.

And his brother got allies how? By reminding Dracula's people that Dracula might be a brilliant military strategist, but he was also the guy who would skin adulteresses alive and chain them in a village square next to their own skins. That's really the key about Dracula, at least in my book: he's brought down by the fact that he's a freaking psychopath.

You mention the blood powers-- to me those are the ultimate way to convey the man's ability to use. So if Stoker was right and Dracula's power was growing, by now he would be a world threat.

"Sword of Dracula" #1, Page 6
In the end, "The Historian" is welcome because it gets people talking about Dracula, and that's good. But it's a big, romantic, historical thriller, whereas we're rock-em-sock-em vampires and rocket launchers, with some romance and history.

Any news on "Sword of Dracula" media developments, films, games, etc.?

First off, we've gone international-- "Sword of Dracula" is now out as a trade in Spain, and we're getting calls now for the rights in other countries, like Turkey, where of course Dracula is remembered as the opposite number to Sultan Mehmed. That's a relationship I'd love to explore, by the way-- Drac grew up in Mehmed's court, where he was held prisoner as a child, traded over by his own father.

Meanwhile, the latest news on the games front is that Critical Mass Interactive is still working on the demo, and working hard, but as you're aware, game development is a long, arduous process. I hope we can show some new stuff soon. Internally I can tell you what I have seen looks awesome. "Sword of Dracula" will be an amazing shooter.

"Sword of Dracula" #1, Page 7
Finally, the movie ran into a rough spot when "Van Helsing" came out and was roundly despised. It made me sad to see, because they invented an all-new back-story for Dracula, why? But then, it made me glad because it meant my own Dracula was intact. Still, interest in Dracula cooled in Hollywood. But we get bites every now and then. People get the trade and they see what we're about, Dracula as a terrorist with an amazing arsenal, and a lot of heavy weaponry aimed his way. I think Part 4 of the first trade, an issue which you were so instrumental in designing, with Dracula in his glass cage, is like a movie in itself.

Note: Jason is being overly nice here, we talk a lot about our comics and my comments usually are, "Dude, wouldn't it be cool and crazy if such and such happened." The cage and the brain Geiger counter in "Sword of Dracula" were just ideas that I suggested. Jason's vision of "Sword of Dracula" is really his. I'm just glad he dug some of my crazy ideas.

Remember, I was pretty shocked by the reviews we got-- people like Cinescape were just amazed that they could be excited by Dracula again. Not just one reviewer called it a new and exciting revamp, but many of them. That's why I know it'll find it's place-- the trade of Season 1 is out there, and when people look at that and Season 2, they'll know we're far, far from the world of "Van Helsing."

What keeps you going in comics?

What's great about comics is it's a mainline vision-- you can get all these ideas on the page, visual ideas, special effects, inner thoughts, everything in one place. It's a creative person's dream. As long as I get to be a part of it I'll keep going.

"Sword of Dracula" #1, Page 8
Any new movies or newly discovered movies/books/games/current events influencing "Sword of Dracula" this time around?

Well, I just re-read "Dracula: Prince of Many Faces" by McNally and Florescu, which I think is a crucial work, and "Dracula: A Connoisseur's Guide" by Leonard Wolf. They re-inspire me every time. But they're always background-- the key is to keep bringing it forward and see what Dracula would be mixed up in today.

You know, bottom line, we're an indy book. I have a vision I want to see and a team that wants to do their best-- Terry makes these characters whip and move, and Matt, his colors just pop. But the day could come-- and soon, if people don't buy the book and try it and give it to their friends-- that that vision could come to an end for now. I hope not. Hey, this is your chance to save "Sword of Dracula." But if we close up, don't worry, "Sword of Dracula" will survive. Dracula keeps coming back. And so do we.

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