An Interview With The Creators Of ‘Black Mass Rising’

by Rachel Bellwoar

All is not well in Transylvania. Dracula’s death may have afforded the region some peace, but now monsters are returning, and this time Aurelia is determined to join the fight. What chance do a missionary and young woman stand against demons? Writer, Theo Prasidis, and artist, Jodie Muir, share their thoughts in a new email interview about their series, Black Mass Rising from TKO Presents.

Rachel Bellwoar: Vlad Dracula has had many famous death scenes over the years. What made you want to set Black Mass Rising after his death? 

Theo Prasidis: I wanted the story to kick off on a comforting and optimistic note, and then delve into darkness and despair issue by issue, page by page. Placing it in Transylvania right after Dracula’s 400 years of terror was the perfect vessel to achieve that. The Vampire King is dead, and for the first time after entire generations, people are allowed to hope again. But this is a Dracula story, and as Dracula stories go, you’re never quite done with the fellow, are you?

RB: How familiar were you with vampire lore going into this project, and do you have a favorite Dracula story?

TP: Vampire stories were my favorite breed of horror growing up, so I’d normally devour every piece of vampire lore I could get my hands on, Dracula lore in particular. Black Mass Rising is inspired by a medley of different sources, from Bram Stoker’s all time classic and the sublime Dracula studies of Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, to Christopher Lee’s Hammer films and manga/anime adaptations like Vampire Hunter D. If I had to pick, however, there are three Dracula narratives that are very dear to me: Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant 1992 Dracula film, Koji Igarashi’s 1997 cult classic video game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Elizabeth Kostova’s 2005 novel The Historian, which, besides the Dracula mythos, shares a common love for Romanian folklore with Black Mass Rising.

Jodie Muir: I think my first encounter with vampires and what truly piqued my interest in them and their lore was probably Anne Rices Interview With The Vampire, later on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I love the old, earthier folktales as well as the more contemporary portrayals that perhaps play around with the ruleset a little more or leave you feeling contemplative. Park Chan Wook’s Thirst for instance – great Vampire film! I second Theo about the Coppola adaptation being one of the greats. It very much captured that compelling contrast between the grotesque aspects of vampirism and the more seductive qualities that, I personally think, make for such a potent cocktail in a decent vampire story. A more recent Dracula tale I thoroughly enjoyed was Anno Dracula by Kim Newman.

RB: Aurelia and the Healer make quite the unlikely duo. What appealed to you the most about pairing those two characters together?

TP: The Healer is an enigmatic supernatural being, detached from what we perceive as human. It would be impossible to go through this story with him alone. We need an anchor, someone we can relate to, someone who sees this vast world with wondering eyes. Aurelia’s genuinely curious spirit, her unusual perception of the era’s social conventions, as well as her critical stance towards gender constraints, make her ideal for this. There’s an interesting dynamic between these two, between Aurelia’s heartwarming persona and the Healer’s melancholic remoteness. Following them in this bleak landscape was pure joy.

RB: Did you always know what elements you wanted to incorporate from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the real story of Vlad the Impaler?

TP: To be perfectly honest, neither Stoker’s book, nor the real historical figure, were the spark that got me writing this book. It was actually the paintings of Polish extreme surrealist Zdzisław Beksiński. I remember losing myself in one of those haunting cathedrals of his. The hideous, almost organic facade, the menacing wasteland around it. Who’s unholy story could be behind this building? The answer came to me loud and clear: Dracula’s. But what I aspired to do is give a new spin to traditional Dracula narratives, expanding the captivating lore of one of pop culture’s most iconic figures with a subversive new story that hasn’t been told before.

RB: The first monster we meet in Black Mass Rising is the Zmeu, who I didn’t realize was a creature from Romanian folklore. When did you first learn about him, and were there any images of him that influenced your character design?

TP: With Dracula dead, the story needed a villain to drive the plot forward. I wanted to root the book in folklore as much as possible, so while doing research I discovered the creature Zmeu. In Romanian folk tales, the Zmeu is usually the dragon-like nemesis of Prince Charming, but there are certain versions where it’s legit scary, with horrible demonic features, using dark magic and kidnapping young women to its otherworldly realm. I cannot think of a better right-hand man for Dracula than a Zmeu.

JM: To speak to his design, Theo had constructed quite a clear concept frame for me to work from. He needed to be large and intimidating, strong and sharp enough to rip someone to pieces with his bare hands. His design wasn’t informed by any pre-existing images of him per say but it is rooted in many monsters that have come before.

RB: There are a lot of creepy looking demons in this story. Was it difficult to come up with ways to make each monster look distinct?

JM: The wonderful thing about monsters is that they come in all shapes and sizes! I think what makes for a creepy monster is more what you can’t see. What the shadows obscure from view. Black Mass Rising is a dark book in terms of tone, theme and setting so there was plenty of opportunity to play around with form and silhouette.

RB: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Theo and Jodie!

Black Mass Rising is available now from TKO Presents.

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