Saturday, February 09, 2013

Renfield: A Tale of Madness – review

Story: Gary Reed

Art: Galen Showman

Release date: 2006

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: “Those whom God wishes to destroy… He first makes mad…”

In this haunting and sophisticated story, Renfield tells the tale of the bug-eating prophet of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Confined to an insane asylum, Renfield is a man who is slowly being consumed by madness because of the visions and voices that intrude upon his dreams and nightmares. The torment of possession by almost demonic forces and impassioned with the zeal of a religious fanatic, Renfield struggles to grasp the overwhelming need to serve the darkness against his humanity.

The review: Regular readers will know that Renfield is a favourite character of mine. Indeed he is a favourite character of many Dracula fans, immortalised through the performances of such actors as Dwight Frye and Tom Waits. Indeed, I would say that he and Lucy are my two favourite characters from Stoker’s novel.

However Renfield is an enigma within the pages of Dracula. Vitally important as a sort of psychic barometer with regards the activities of the vampire, certainly misunderstood by the principle players and by himself for that matter, we as reader know little about him.

No wonder then that Renfield appeals to writers, that artists wish to recreate the character, to flesh him out. Hence Renfield: A Tale of Madness. Reed has placed Renfield centre stage and, it has to be said, in doing so he gives yet another reworking of the story – staging all the action in Whitby, excising Quincy Morris and generally reworking Stoker’s vision in order that he further his own.

By making Renfield the centre character he cuts out much of Harker’s adventures (except those viewed in Renfield’s dreams) and, when he meets the fate that his original version met, the graphic abruptly ends, with just a few pieces of prose in the form of letters to close the story.

Prior to that, of course, Renfield is inserted into much of the action changing the story as a result – for instance the Captain’s log from the Demeter is included because it was read on deck by Renfield (who reads Russian), he even inspects the corpse – despite the fact that he is an institutionalised lunatic, Seward uses him to help with the inspection and clearing of the wreck! Frankly, it seemed a push.

There are some nice insights, Renfield suggesting that, whilst he does take the life of flies, that to a fly he seems immortal was a particularly nice one. However too much felt crowbarred into the story.

Of course, this is a graphic novel and it fell down here for me as well as I personally was not overstruck by Showman’s illustrations. That is a matter of taste I guess, but I felt them overly simplistic and was not moved by them.

Not the best graphic novel (though certainly not the worst) but if you want to read an imagining of Renfield beyond Stoker’s novel I’d suggest Tim Lucas’ the Book of Renfield instead. 4 out of 10.

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