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MYTHS MEET MANIACS: Richard Davis’ new comic book combines the horror of Dracula with Charles Manson

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Evil, like a good story, never dies. Merely, it gets passed down and reshaped through generations, like a shadow over society. The horror genre always has been a safe outlet for that darker side. Yet, for every creation of the imagination, there is a greater seed of psychosis that served its origin: for every Hannibal Lecter, there is a Charles Manson; every “Red State,” a Jonestown. Hell, for Count Dracula, there is a real-world counterpart in Vlad the Impaler.

For debut comic-book writer Richard Davis, these marred legacies certainly left their impression on him—impressions he now aims to unleash on the comic-book reading masses. “Cult of Dracula” is an 18-issue mini-series, broken into three volumes. Based off of Davis’ original 2013 play “Dracula Re-Imagined,” the first issue hits store shelves nationwide on August 5, from independent comic publisher Second Sight Publishing. The company has full faith in the title and has placed an order of about 15,000 copies for the first issue. “Insanely enough, we’re on track to sell out that first print run!” Davis gleefully proclaims.

Set in a modern world, characters from the famed Bram Stoker novel are dropped into the meat grinder of a Jonestown-like compound and fronted by the maniacally mysterious R.M. Renfield, but led by something far older, far eviler. Readers will see myths meet maniacs as a human game of chess is waged by monstrous players. Davis’ script finds parallels between Manson and Dracula.

“As a child, two things absolutely terrified me: Count Dracula and Charles Manson,” Davis admits. “It’s something about the power they have over people. The things people would do for those two figures scare the hell out of me.”

In 2014 the play won Best Original Production at the Star-News’ Wilmington Theater Awards. After the victory, Davis (who owned/ran the now-defunct Browncoat Pub & Theatre from 2007 to 2016) knew his story had lifeblood left in it. He set off to turn his adaption into a film throughout 2015. The best-laid plans of mice and men found the project lost in the limbo of development hell. Undeterred, Davis carried with him a journeyman spirit, the same he brought to his ragtag theatre venue.

“Anyone can do it, but it’s not easy,” he says. “No one will open the door for you. Sometimes you have to kick the fucker down yourself.”

Davis, who owns the comic book shop Nirvana Comics in Knoxville, TN, saw horror titles like “The Walking Dead” and “Hellboy” were filling up and selling off the shelves. He knew exactly what medium “Cult of Dracula” was primed for: graphic novels. It was when he paired with professional artist Henry Martinez (“Ghost Rider,” “Spirits of Vengeance,” “Blaze”) the title began to come to life. Davis found a true partner-in-crime with Martinez.

“Henry and I work very well together,” he says. “We’ve been in sync since we first began discussing the project. I didn’t need to hold anything back. I knew Henry could recreate whatever insanity I put onto the page.”

Rounding out the rest of the creative team is Trevor Richardson as the colorist and Ed Dukeshire, who handles lettering for the comic. “Cult of Dracula” will boast a number of impressive variant covers from the who’s who of the comic-book industry. The likes of Carla Cohen (“The Boys: Dear Becky”), Gyula Nemeth (“Criminal Macabre”), Sanford Greene (“Bitter Root”) and Georges Jeanty (“Buffy,” “Firefly,” “X-Men”)  are all producing a cover.

While Davis feels pressure to give readers the story they’re familiar with, he also promises many new surprises brought to the Dracula/vampire lore. “I started researching mythologies from different cultures,” he says, “and started to notice a common character, La Llorona, Babaroga, Medusa, Lilith. She’s an outcast/cursed woman who steals children; she was Lucy in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.'” The research led Davis to a simple yet radical change to the story—switching the gender of the typically male Dracula to female.

“It became a story about a woman seeking her birthright, pursuing her history and her legacy,” Davis explains. “It’s been fun to challenge stereotypes and tropes. There are no damsels in distress in ‘Cult of Dracula.’ There are no Mary Sues—certainly, no refrigerators” (a notorious reference to the bizarre death of DC Comic’s Green Lantern’s girlfriend).

The story is stuffed to the brim with blood, guts, monsters and madmen. None of those things are what has Davis spooked, though. For him, it’s waiting on the comic’s release that keeps him up at night. “My biggest fear is no one will read it, you know?” he asks rhetorically. “It’s imposter syndrome. I don’t even care if it’s liked, I just want it out there. To know I did something.”

“Cult of Dracula” is available now for pre-order through corner-box.com.

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