Lugosi, Dracula

Villain Media has an exclusive interview with writer/artist Koren Shadmi about Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula (Humanoids). Discover what happened during the tumultuous personal and professional life of horror icon Bela Lugosi.

PLOT: “Lugosi, the tragic life story of one of horror’s most iconic film stars, tells of a young Hungarian activist forced to flee his homeland after the failed Communist revolution in 1919. Reinventing himself in the U.S., first on stage and then in movies, he landed the unforgettable role of Count Dracula in what would become a series of classic feature films. From that point forward, Lugosi’s stardom would be assured.”

“But with international fame came setbacks and addictions that gradually whittled his reputation from icon to has-been. Lugosi details the actor’s fall from grace and an enduring legacy that continues to this day.”

With the biography arriving on September 28th, 2021, writer/artist Koren Shadmi opens up about the research, the struggle of addiction, and diving into the life of the actor extraordinaire. Join us as we head on over to the artist’s studio to discuss the craft of illustrating and storytelling.

Villain Media: Tell me what interested you about taking a deep look at the life of Bela Legosi. 

Koren Shadmi: Lugosi’s life is just as dramatic as count Dracula, if not more so. He had a very romantic personality which I think also contributed to his unstable life and substance abuse. When I first heard his life story in a history podcast, I know he would be a perfect subject for a graphic novel.

VM: There is rich detail to the buildings, the wardrobe, and Bela’s theater work. Tell me about diving into the research for the biography. 

KS: Luckily, there are a lot of photos of Lugosi, so that wasn’t a problem, but there is also a lot of great photos from the “golden age” of film and some great publicity photos from Lugosi’s horror films. There’s not as many photos of his theater work so I had to find substitute. It’s a lot easier to find good reference today, but people still don’t do it. I teach art and it’s such a struggle to get my students to use reference photos. I used to be like that in my 20s, but it’s just a type of arrogance, you think you can come up with everything from your head, but you can’t!

VM: I was surprised about Bela’s rough childhood and that he was a Hungarian activist. Was there a certain trivia/fact about his life that surprised you?

KS: I don’t think his childhood was rough, he grew up in a middle class family, but he did have a lot of conflicts with his father. In interviews he kept mentioning that he ran away from home, and went to work in a coal mine as a child, but there’s no proof for that. He exaggerated his life story a lot.

There were a lot of surprising facts, for instance Frank Sinatra read about Lugosi committing himself to rehab, and he sent him a letter of support with a check for $1000. There’s a lot of little tidbits like that in the book.

VM: The most fascinating parts about Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula was how you tackled his addiction. Was it a challenge to dive deep into this aspect of his life?

KS: I’m fascinated by stories of addiction. I was never personally addicted to anything, other than coffee and my devices, but I just wonder what makes someone put everything at stake like that. With Lugosi the story is very similar to what you see now with the opioid epidemic. He was prescribed morphine by a doctor for his sciatica, and soon the doses and frequency were out of control. The worse his acting career got, the more intense his habit became. Finally his wife was able to wean him off the drugs. But eventually her relapsed. The systems that we live within are really tough, and I think that some people can solve their problems by escaping life through drugs. But it’s just kicking the can down the road, and making the can into a giant steel ball!

VM: Because Bela Lugosi has such a recognizable face – from posters and fan art – was that a challenge to interpret him through your style?

KS: Not really, it was a good face to draw, very round and with that pointy nose in the middle. He was quite handsome in an old world kind of way, and I tried to bring that into the book, rather than make him into a cartoon. What I did find out was that Boris Karloff was even more fun to draw! 

VM: How did Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula change you as an artist?

KS: I’m not sure. I think that I’ve hopefully gotten slightly better as a writer and a draftsman. The curve stops rising very much when you are older, but I hope it’s still an improvement to something I would have done ten years ago.

VM: What are you working on now?

KS: I’m finishing up another non-fiction biography about the origin of video games. The project was written by David Kushner and drawn by me. It details the lives of Nolan Bushnell (creator of Atari) and Ralph Baer, the unsung ‘king’ of video games. They had a sort of feud going on between them throughout the 70’s, it’s a fun story. The book should be out in 2022 from Bold Type Books.

Readers can find out more about Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula here:

By Jorge Solis