*The story of Prince Mamuwalde has been the subject of two cult classic films that, though true to the times they were created, were met with mixed reviews.
Blacula, and its sequel Scream Blacula Scream, follows Prince Mamuwalde from his beginnings as an African Prince. We follow him as he travels to 18th-century Transylvania in an attempt to recruit the legendary Dracula in his fight to stop the slave trade of Africans.
Though campy and comical in some regards, the underlying cultural relevance in storytelling, as well as the darkening of the traditional Eurocentric tilt of vampire lore, makes the trials of the defiant prince ideal for an update, which just so happens to have already taken place thanks to Rodney Barnes.
Barnes has written for hit shows such as “My Wife and Kinds,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Marvel’s Runaways,” and “The Boondocks.” He is one of the most accomplished black screenwriters in Hollywood, but he also is an accomplished comic book writer as well.
Recently, EURweb’s Ricardo A. Hazell spoke with Barnes about his new Image Comic graphic novel, and the indie comic vs. big three comic creative experience, as well as “Killadelphia.”
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EURweb: “Blacula” is a cult classic of a bygone era. What made you want to update this tale?
Rodney Barnes: Oh, you know, as a fan of blaxploitation, in its time, if you look at what’s under blaxploitation, there was a subversive, rebellious feel that was there. A lot that dealt with politics, race, culture, and a lot of things that mirror what’s happening in our world today.
The fashion may have changed, and the style may have changed, but a lot of the issues are the same. So, I felt like resurrecting it, no pun intended, Prince Mamuwalde aka Blacula to a new world from the 70s to a 21st-century world. I thought it would be interesting to sort of create a bridge and see some of the parallels and just open up some different discussions for yesterday versus today.
EURweb.com: In what ways are you making this story more contemporary?
That’s a great question because I fell in love with a lot of this stuff when I was a kid. So it was can be, I really didn’t know the difference. As I revisited these things that I loved from my childhood, year after year, and I saw some of the culturally relevant elements beyond the campiness, you saw that a lot of times, you had great actors doing the best that they could do with what they were given; low budgets, sometimes questionable scripts.
I felt like in a graphic novel, I could extricate some of the problematic elements. But I could also elevate the idea if you think of William Marshall, who was a Shakespearean-trained actor who was an Othello, you know, on stage, and really, to me, embody what Bela Lugosi was with Dracula.
And in a different setting and a different dynamic would have come off the same way.
And to me, the challenge was, if I could put him in that environment, and create a certain elegance, to put him on a similar stage, that it was worth the effort. It was worth the effort to go down that road to say, okay, remember where we were, remember elements of the movie that need to be reworked, the idea of him, Prince Mamuwalde was going to Count Dracula for help with the slave trade. I always thought it was kind of a cool idea.
And then we sort of ended up in a traditional blaxploitation film, I’m not critiquing it or judging it in any way. If we take that beginning idea, and we play with it, the essence of that is still in the idea of what’s in his heart, in his sensibilities, what’s left of the human aspect of what he is now as a vampire. I could evolve that, and I could get it to a place where he would be on the same footing as the Universal past that I embraced and appreciated, which was part of the goal.
EURweb.com: Will readers be treated to some of the other classic movie monsters?
Rodney Barnes: Dracula is round one. There’re still other monsters I think in the pantheon of Universal monsters for Blacula to face, not to give away what happens in volume one, hopefully, volume one of three. That’s the goal. Because this is a fully realized story, it’s not just your typical graphic novel, where it’s 20 pages, this is 100 plus pages.
You know, as I’m dealing with the emotional, sociological etcetera, aspects of what’s going on in the world, I want to still have fun and still delve into the genre aspects of, you know, monster against monster, and still go back to the classic genre. There are other antagonists who come up against Blacula that we’ve yet to meet and hope to be able to bring those to the table as well.
EURweb.com: How did you choose the illustrator for this book? I feel like your writing style, and his drawing style meshes quite well. They’re soft colors, and then hard angles, and it just looks beautiful on the page. And it reads beautifully. What went into that?
Rodney Barnes: First, thank you very much. But you answered it within that. It’s like I know Jason from Killladelphia, we’re partners on that. And Jason is a fine artist as much as he is an illustrator. And we know each other because we’ve done virtually 30 issues right now. With illustrators, a lot of times people think is just drawing pictures. And really, it’s more like a director and film. Like you’re telling the story. I’m writing the script, but he’s bringing it to life.
So, a lot of that emotional stuff, subtleties, and nuance, and all of that you’re leaning on an artist to sort of interpret all those things that go beyond the words.
And Jason is such an incredible artist. And we know each other’s moves (so) that I sort of wrote to him and the things about his work that he can pull off. And I think it did an incredible job.
He did the colors as well, which is unique, because most guys either do pencils, or pencils and ink, but he did every aspect of the art. And you know, from top to bottom. And so, you know, I was just really, I felt like the book and Prince Mamuwalde was in good hands because of him.
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