I’ve often described my book Anno Dracula as ‘literally, a vampire novel’ – in that it battens on to other novels and sucks their lifeblood, transforming as well as feeding off them. With the publication of Johnny Alucard, the series now extends to four volumes. The earlier books are Anno Dracula, The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha and the definitive Titan editions include two long novellas, ‘Vampire Romance’ and ‘Aquarius’, which fill in gaps in what now feels to me like one long story set throughout an alternate modern era built on the notion that Count Dracula defeated Van Helsing in 1885 and rose to power in Great Britain, then became a dominant influence on 20th Century history and popular culture.
The series is not strictly an alternate history saga in that Anno Dracula diverges not from events in our history but from something which happened only in Bram Stoker’s novel – Dracula’s visit to England – to people who didn’t really exist. Also, though my version of history includes vampires (a lot of vampires), I have still tried to write about what actually happened rather than speculate on what might have been. If Dracula permeates the culture of the Anno Dracula series, so he does the real world around us … The vampire Count wouldn’t have survived as a character (or a multi-platform franchise) if he didn’t mean so much to so many people. Dracula can sustain many interpretations and exists in many phantasmal forms …and Johnny Alucard is my attempt to explore the multiplicity of Draculas unloosed on the world in the long wake of Stoker’s novel.
The earlier novels in the series position Dracula as a ruler, a power behind the throne, an exile and the recognised leader of a vampire community (a title occasionally contested by would-be rivals who are more like imitations – many are based on characters who have been substitutes for the Count in films like Brides of Dracula or Count Yorga – Vampire). Now, thanks to events in the earlier books, Dracula is mostly absent from the world, which makes space for his cultural ghosts.
All the earlier books and stories in the series have subtitles like Anno Dracula 1918 (The Bloody Red Baron) or Anno Dracula 1968 (‘Aquarius’) and are set over a relatively brief time and in a fairly limited place (London in 1888 in Anno Dracula, Rome in 1959 in Dracula Cha Cha Cha). This time, it’s Anno Dracula 1976-91 – even though there’s a 1944 prologue – and the story takes place in many locations, including London and Transylvania but with the series’ first visits to America (New York, Hollywood, Baltimore, Route 66). In the series so far, I have played with the notion of the many-faced Dracula, drawing from Stoker (who gives several very different descriptions of the vampire) and playing with the images of the Count presented by Bela Lugosi (who has a cameo in The Bloody Red Baron) and Christopher Lee.
This time, I wanted to pull back a level and look at imaginary Draculas – using the term in the sense that DC comics used to use ‘imaginary stories’ to describe the sort of metafictions that Anno Dracula is. ‘Imaginary stories? Aren’t they all?’ Alan Moore asked in one of the best of them, ‘Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?’ A great many artists – mostly filmmakers, but authors too (I am far from the only novelist out there playing with Dracula) – have been drawn to Stoker’s book, and in Johnny Alucard I bring on several who have a tantalising almost-history with Dracula: Francis Ford Coppola (who made a Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but not the Apocalypse Now-like adaptation I envision in the book), Andy Warhol (who painted and notionally produced Draculas and made a now-lost Batman vs Dracula film) and Orson Welles (who did a radio Dracula and talked about filming the novel). Ken Russell and Ingmar Bergman also wanted to do Dracula – Russell’s script has been published – but I couldn’t quite see my way to work them into my tapestry, which isn’t to say they won’t be pulled in to later Anno Draculas (yes, there will be a fifth; no, I can’t say where it will go or when it will be set).
The ghost of Dracula is all around – as a political metaphor and a Sesame St teaching aide (‘the Count’, who draws on a little-noticed folkloric aspect of vampires - that they are compelled to number things), as a shelfload of weird knick-knacks (I own Mr and Mrs Dracula salt-and-pepper shakers, not to mention a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Dracula and a Smurf Dracula). Johnny Alucard is the novel in which I get to play with this sort of trivia – I was delighted to work a reference to the Count into the book (though sad that I couldn’t do a bit I once wrote in a vampire musical rom-com film script in which a muppet vampire is staked and his felt skin crumbles to reveal the skeleton of a giant hand inside). But, of course, the trivial leads to the momentous. The time period the book is set in,which laps up against the time when I wrote the first novel in the series, and the focus on America, the main generator of 20th Century pop culture, allows for an exploration of the relationship between vampirism and the cult of celebrity, pornography and high culture, drug addiction and distribution (yes, I wrote that section before True Blood did something similar) and, of course, money.
The association of vampirism with capitalism goes back to a much-quoted passage Marx and is one of the threads of Dracula I pick up in Johnny Alucard, which addresses that wonderful moment in Stoker’s novel (unused in any of the films) when the Count is stabbed and bleeds gold coins from a hidden money-belt. When it was announced that Bain Capital, the controversial American venture capital firm once headed by former US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was likely to take over the main blood plasma supplier to the UK National Health Service as part of the coalition government’s program of inviting private firms to run elements of the NHS for profit, I thanked the real world for consistently proving more ghoulishly awful than anything I could think up on my own. As long as this sort of thing keeps up, I’ll need to continue the series.
A red-headed vampire girl bumped into her and hissed, displaying pearly fangs. Penelope lowered her dark glasses and gave the chit a neon glare. Cowed, the creature backed away. Intrigued, Penny took the girl by the bare upper arm and looked into her mouth like a dentist. Her fangs were real, but shrank as she quivered in Penny’s nosferatu grip. Red swirls dwindled in her eyes, and she was warm again, a frail thing.
Penny understood what the vampire boy was doing in the back room. At once, she was aghast and struck with admiration. She had heard of the warm temporarily taking on vampire attributes by drinking vampire blood without themselves being bitten. There was a story about Katie Reed and a flier in the World War I. But it was rare and dangerous.
Well, it used to be rare.
All around her, mayfly vampires darted. A youth blundered into her arms and tried to bite her. She firmly pushed him away, breaking the fingers of his right hand to make a point. They would heal instantly but ache like the Devil when he turned back into a real boy.
A worm of terror curled in her heart. To do such a thing meant having a vision. Vampires, made conservative by centuries, were rarely innovators. She was reminded, again, of Dracula, who had risen among the nosferatu by virtue of his willingness to venture into new, large-scale fields of conquest. Such vampires were always frightening.
Would it really be a good thing for Andy to meet this boy?
She saw the white jacket shining in the darkness. The vampire stood at the bar, with Steve Rubell, ringmaster of 54, and the movie actress Isabelle Adjani. Steve, as usual, was flying, hairstyle falling apart above his bald spot. His pockets bulged with petty cash taken from the overstuffed tills.
Steve spotted her, understood her nod of interest, and signalled her to come over.
‘Penny darling,’ he said, ‘look at me. I’m like you.’
He had fangs too. And red-smeared lips.
‘I... am... a vampiah!’
For Steve, it was just a joke. There was a bitemark on Adjani’s neck, which she dabbed with a bar napkin.
‘This is just the biggest thing evah,’ Steve said.
‘Fabulous,’ she agreed.
Her eyes fixed the vampire newcomer. He withstood her gaze. She judged him no longer a new-born but not yet an elder. He was definitely of the Dracula line.
‘Introduce me,’ she demanded, delicately.
Steve’s red eyes focused.
‘Andy is interested?’
Penny nodded. Whatever was swarming in his brain, Steve was sharp.
‘Penelope, this is Johnny Pop. He’s from Transylvania.’
‘I am an American, now,’ he said, with just a hint of accent.
‘Johnny, my boy, this is the witch Penny Churchward.’
Penny extended her knuckles to be kissed. Johnny Pop took her fingers and bowed slightly, an Old World habit.
‘You cut quite a figure,’ she said.
‘You are an elder?’
‘Good grief, no. I’m from the class of ’88. One of the few survivors.’
He let her hand go. He had a tall drink on the bar, blood concentrate. He would need to get his blood count up, to judge by all his fluttering get.
Some fellow rose off the dance floor on ungainly, short-lived wings. He made it a few feet into the air, flapping furiously. Then, there was a ripping and he collapsed onto the rest of the crowd, yelling and bleeding.
Johnny smiled and raised his glass to her.
She would have to think about this development.
‘My friend Andy would like to meet you, Johnny.’
Steve was delighted, and slapped Johnny on the arm.
‘Andy Warhol is the Vampire Queen of New York City,’ he said. ‘You have arrived, my deah!’
Johnny wasn’t impressed. Or was trying hard not to be.
Politely, he said, ‘Miss Churchward, I should like to meet your friend Mr Warhol.’