COMIC BOOK YETI: Hello, Koren! It is a pleasure to welcome you to our lovely Yeti home. When Humanoids announced the upcoming release of Lugosi on their Twitter page, I immediately recognized your signature art style from the cover rendition of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula look. The work and research you put into your previous OGN with Humanoids, The Twilight Man, established you as a prominent graphic novelist in the biography genre. The excitement for Lugosi is palpable since your name is attached to another horror icon comic. Why did you pick Bela Lugosi as your next OGN biographic subject this time?
KOREN SHADMI: Thanks for having me! Lugosi was on my shortlist for possible graphic novel subjects for a long time. My interest was piqued when I listened to an episode of a history podcast that was dedicated to his life. I couldn’t believe how dramatic it was. I was a little familiar with his later years from watching Ed Wood but I had no idea he had such a rollercoaster of a life story. I knew he would make for a perfect subject for a graphic novel.
CBY: Writing an overview of someone’s life obviously requires an immense amount of research. Surveying the life of someone like Bela Lugosi, who was known for embellishing his own history, must have been challenging on several levels. What was your research process like? Have you ever come across any historically conflicting accounts?
KS: I read several biographies and any other material or interview I could get my hands on. There’s a great blog called The Bela Lugosi blog which collects tons of interviews and write-ups all the way back to the '20s. The further back you go in his life, the more murky it becomes, since it’s hard to figure out exactly what happened in his childhood in Hungary. He kept changing his own story about his childhood and early years in Budapest, and I hint to that in the book. I tried my best to pick what seemed more reasonable. And yes, there were contradictory accounts in different biographies, but again, you do the best you can to pick what feels right.
CBY: The full title of your new graphic novel reads, Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula. You greatly emphasize both the successes and the downfalls Bela Lugosi endures throughout his life as an actor. Did it prove more demanding to write scenes about Lugosi’s personal life or his professional life? How do you balance giving equal emphasis to both Lugosi’s “rises and falls” in the narrative?
KS: I tried to show both sides. Some people know of Lugosi as either Dracula or as that sad old man with substance abuse problems. But there’s so much in between, and so much more depth to his personality and career, so I tried to bring both the good and the bad forth without judging too much. I think overall it’s an empathetic biography. I tried to understand where his pain and frustration came from and perhaps why he used drugs and booze as a way to cope with a tough reality.
CBY: Akin to The Twilight Man, you opted to draw Lugosi with a similar art style shaded with a greyscale (or sepia tones used only during the “present-day” hospital scenes) color palette. Detailed landscape portraits of the multiple cities Lugosi performs in highlight a few chapter transitions. Otherwise, you give Bela and the other people in Lugosi prominence by highlighting their distinguishing facial attributes or clothing. Together, the graphic novel emanates an aesthetically pleasing appearance and evokes a lovely sense of the black and white film era. What roadblocks arrive when using a limited color palette, yet still requiring human characters to not appear static on page?
KS: I think that black and white isn’t so much a limitation as just another way to tell a story. Some of the best "underground" comics were done in black and white and it doesn’t detract from them, and sometimes it even strengthens the books. I can’t imagine Maus, for instance, being in full color. It just doesn’t work. All of Lugosi’s movies were in black and white, and all the horror films that came out in that period were colorless, so it just fits.
CBY: Lugosi features many iconic scenes, ranging from Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931) performance, to Boris Karloff as the titular monster in Frankenstein (1931), as well as interactions between Ed Wood and Lugosi that fans of the Ed Wood (1994) film will recognize. What kind of emotions arose in you when drawing such quintessential moments in film history?
KS: I don’t think I felt too much while drawing scenes from the films. I just enjoyed the detail and tried to convey the atmosphere of the movies best I can. I think the more emotional moments were outside the "film clips" and in the real life of Lugosi. I definitely felt bad for what happened to him and how he was treated by Hollywood, but he also kind of "dug his own grave" and did a lot of stuff to sabotage his career. So it’s a mixed bag.
CBY: Bela Lugosi was born in Hungary, where Lugosi depicts a young man growing up with dreams beyond minor stage roles in his home country. After brief acting jobs around Europe, Lugosi traveled to Hollywood where he learned English, attaining fame. Have you visited any of the places or theaters Lugosi performed at in his lifetime? If so, did this have any impact on artistically rendering these environments?
KS: I have never visited Hungary, but I want to go one day. There’s not enough money in cartooning to justify a trip to the old country while doing my research, but it’s on my list to visit for sure, and when I’m there I will probably visit the national theater, and I also know there’s a bust of Lugosi somewhere in town. My grandmother was from Budapest; she moved to Israel after surviving the Holocaust. I’m sure I’ll go one day.
CBY: You’ve worked with comic publishers like Z2 Comics and Top Shelf. The Twilight Man was published through Humanoids in their “Life Drawn” collection, so you have a prior relationship with them. What makes Humanoids an ideal publisher for creating graphic novels about real-life individuals such as Rod Serling and Bela Lugosi? How did they react to you wanting to publish another story about a person in film/television history?
KS: Humanoids did a great job with helping me produce both books. They are the ultimate combination of American comics-making ethics with European production standards. They were very happy to see a book that was in the same general world of Hollywood legends.
CBY: A notable part of Bela Lugosi’s career involved starring in countless Dracula (1931) franchise movies, as well as the star-studded crossover films with Boris Karloff. Of course, I also have to mention Lugosi recounts Bela Lugosi’s roles in the infamous Ed Wood B-movies. I’d love to know how many of Lugosi’s films you’ve seen? Which Lugosi film is your favorite?
KS: My favorite is The Black Cat. It’s the ultimate Lugosi-Karloff showdown. It’s very beautiful visually and a very, very strange movie. There’s also a bunch of sort of really creepy stuff in the movie that somehow escaped the censure.
CBY: Thank you so much for talking about comics and film history with me! Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula releases on September 28 – just in time for the Halloween season. I am honored to have this interview opportunity, and look forward to seeing what the future has in store for such a talented writer/artist.
KS: Thanks for having me!