‘Abram and Sara Van Helsing had always dreamed of a normal life for their young daughters Rosalynd and Berenice, but the family could never escape its mysterious and tormented history. In the winter of 1915, the vampires came with the first snow, and for Rosalynd, nothing would ever be the same.’
Written/art by: Stephan Franck
Publisher: Dark Planet Comics
Released: 30 November 2017
Dark Planet Comics
I will shamefully admit to liking trashy supernatural stories in movie and comic form. Not too trashy, just lowered standards compared to other entertainment I consume. However, good quality is obviously even better, and lucky me, this is it. Stuff trying to capitalise directly on Bram Stoker’s cultural touchstone novel (though Dracula wasn’t the first vampire book), notably by including someone named ‘Van Helsing’, are generally more likely to be near the trashy end of the spectrum, but this one is a step more removed than that; Rosalynd is the origin story of a character from Franck’s earlier series Silver, helping keep more originality in place.
If you haven’t heard of it, Silver is Franck’s earlier miniseries about a con man and a vampire hunter in the 30’s fighting vampires over treasure. Rosalynd is the story of that vampire hunter, Rosalynd ‘Sledge’ Van Helsing, and how she became one: her origin story of first facing vampires as a child. Franck draws on his own grandparents’ stories of Jewish diaspora and regular forced moving on to inform the story of the title character, as well as inspiration from his daughters, and it all helps the story feel real despite facing vampires – and they do have to face human antagonists as well in the face of anti-semitic attack and the struggle of trauma in the face of being seen as a burden. It also avoids the trope of the hunter raised to be one from birth; here, Rosalynd uses what she’s gleaned from things her father has said over the years until she finds another hunter to help her, thanks to her parents desire to avoid that life and its costs for their children.
Storytelling from the view of a child is never an easy thing; by necessity, they are often given an attitude/intellect/decision-making skills above average for the character’s age to be able to gel with the sensibilities of an adult reader, not to mention narrative convenience. Franck hasn’t avoided doing this, but has still done well reminding us of the immaturity of our narrator. I quite enjoyed certain aspects that helped keep a child-like air when needed; often using simple sentences that also give it a prose-like air, spying on parents, the word ‘vampires’ is never used, just simple euphemisms instead, and uncertainty of adult’s reactions. The increasing sense of both tension and innocence lost is well-built, the former as a good slow burn and the latter in little jumps, making the climax and finale, where she survives and ends up with help, a nice conclusion (it’s not a spoiler because I already told you it was an origin story, obviously she survives).
Dark Planet Comics
The writing is supported well by the artwork; as you can see, a dramatic ink brush style is used, lending intense emotion to the whole that seamlessly works for eeriness and horror when called for. It’s all very effective, following an illustrated story style (a picture per page rather than panels) to give each scene breathing room rather than risking a mess by cramming too much detail into a page with brushwork. I really like the water colour paper texture on the pages too – considering the art is all traditional, I couldn’t tell you if that’s the actual paper used or a texture added digitally afterwards. Considering the whole is presented as Rosalynd telling her story, I felt that that visual indicator reminding you of the story being told in drawings was a nice touch, though I know some people don’t like that sort of thing.
An interesting note – while I haven’t read the Silver series on which this is based, I do know that it is in a different style; the same colour scheme is used of a stark black, white, and single grey, but with much cleaner lines. However, I gather that the same intense ink brush style used here was utilised for a flashback scene for Rosalynd there, so it doesn’t just work really well for the story as a whole but directly anchors it to the originating series. While this is not particularly important if you are just reading one or the other series on its own, it is an excellent touch from an overarching narrative point of view and for fans getting both titles (I’m certainly interested in the Silver series now that I’ve read Rosalynd).
If you love gory blood-splashed vampire comics, look elsewhere. While this certainly has its violence, it is based far more on emotion and narrative, making it a great vampire story if you love dark and intelligent storytelling with thematically dark and intense visuals. I know I’ve brought up the series it spins-off from more than once, but it absolutely stands on its own graphic novel feet as well. Franck’s animation background comes through in smooth visual narrative, matching the flow of the story. If you’re a fan of the original series, you should get this, though I don’t know if any other characters are getting the same treatment. If you’ve never heard of Franck’s other work, get it anyway because I just spent several paragraphs telling you why.
Thanks to Comixology.com for supplying this copy of ‘Rosalynd’ for review.