Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Barnabas Collins is black and white and red all over

It's vaguely ironic that comic books, the source for the 20th century literary tradition of "origin stories," had so little use for the history of Barnabas Collins. When Gold Key introduced its adaption of DARK SHADOWS in 1969, the character's epic backstory was relegated to a one-page introduction, an obligatory gesture needed by the book's creators to tell the stories they wanted to tell. The production schedules of a comic book and a television series were never going to be compatible, so it's difficult to find fault in the decision to dissociate the properties. That decision left a lot of great characters and stories on the table, though, replaced in their stead by viking ghosts, Egyptian sorcerers and an endless parade of shirt tale Collins family relatives.

The DARK SHADOWS newspaper strip adopted the same policy, but to different results. If Gold Key's quarterly schedule for its comic book adaption was incompatible with a daily television series, the rigid parameters of a daily newspaper strip were even more confounding. There was little choice but to extend the misadventures of Barnabas Collins in yet another direction, cutting a path away from the television series, comics, Marilyn Ross novels and HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

And the comic strip pruned the floral Collins family history with ruthless efficiency. Gone from the scene were Roger Collins and his son, David, leaving Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her daughter, Carolyn, the only inhabitants of Collinwood. The mansion seems a little sparse without the rest of the family drinking and plotting in the background, but writer Elliot Caplin and artist Ken Bald recognized their limitations and tailored the strip around them. (This is a lesson that Tim Burton and Seth Grahame-Smith might have learned from their 2012 motion picture, which was a wasteland of underdeveloped supporting characters.) With three panels a day — and as many as eight on Sundays — to tell their story, there was no space for inessential players. It might have sometimes felt like a plague had descended on Collinwood, but at least Barnabas wasn't tripping over his supporting cast every time he left the room.

Caplin and Bald took a classic approach their introduction of Barnabas Collins. Again, we get the vampire's iconic arrival at Collinwood, bathed in mist, moonlight and lies. Here, he also borrows from Julia Hoffman's playbook, not only identifying himself as a British cousin of the family, but also as a writer researching the family history. "Never — under any circumstances — am I to be disturbed during the daylight hours," he suspiciously tells Carolyn and Liz.

All of this is intercut with his origin: spurned by Barnabas Collins, Angelique casts a spell on her former lover, transforming him into a bat. This is a truckload of exposition, but Caplin and Bald manage to convey this data in just eight color panels. See for yourself, below.

The strip made its debut on March 14, 1971, and it was an uphill battle for success from the very start. DARK SHADOWS the television series would tape its final episode just 10 days later, while many newspapers in the Bible belt found the strip's tales of vampires, witches and warlocks too distasteful for print. Caplin and Bald would finish their one-year contract on the strip, publishing its final installment on March 11, 1972. It's probably the least-scene DARK SHADOWS spinoff, but is also among the best loved. Ken Bald is the reason the strip worked as well as it did; he has a gift for both atmosphere and likenesses that makes the strip feel downright cinematic at times.

Pomegranate Press press collected the series in a well-researched, poorly conceived edition back in 1996. Hermes Press made a run at collecting the strip in a landscape-shaped hardback in 2014 without success. The publishers are revisiting the project and expect to have their collection, complete with the Sunday strips in color, available in early October. You can read more about that project HERE.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...