Ricardo Delgado grew up obsessed with monsters and has turned his childhood love into a career. He’s worked as a conceptual artist in Hollywood, published The Age of Reptiles graphic novel series, and is coming out with books on Dracula. After the success of his illustrated novel Dracula of Transylvania, his The Art of Dracula of Transylvania was put on Kickstarter where it quickly earned its goal. The Kickstarter continues until November 9, and Delgado spoke to Cemetery Dance about his early interests, his career in conceptual art and graphic novels, and why Dracula has obsessed him for so long.
(Interview conducted by Danica Davidson )
CEMETERY DANCE: Congratulations on making your Kickstarter campaign already!
RICARDO DELGADO: Thank you! It’s gone very well and I’m delighted. It’s certainly validating when you have a belief in a project. I described it to people like The Art of Star Wars meets ’Salem’s Lot. Publishers were like, “Okay. Well, we see one or the other.” So it’s cool to see it come together as well as it has.
Now that you’ve made the amount for Kickstarter, will there be extra benefits and more printings as people continue to give money?
Yes, there will be extra benefits. Some of the extra benefits have been announced, and I think some are in the works. I think it’s a really cool additive to the publishing experience these days. It’s a reward for people’s faith and belief in the project.
Have far back has your interest in Dracula gone?
Since I was a little kid, honestly. I’d watch the Universal Monsters on TV. You could only see the Universal Monsters on television during Halloween here in Los Angeles where I grew up. Regardless of whether it was October or not, I would scan the TV Guide every week to see if I could find any. I would circle all the monster movies that were coming up, if any. I was a big Famous Monsters of Filmland buff. I got that magazine every month. I enjoyed the Aurora Monster Model Kits as well. One could say I was kind of obsessed. And Dracula . . . he’s kind of different from the other Universal Monsters if you will. Frankenstein is kind of a bunch of people thrown together in an extraordinary situation. Larry Talbot’s like, “Hey, I was bit by this dog and now I’m a werewolf.” But Dracula! Dracula’s the one where, hey, I want to actually be the bad guy. “I’m the king of the vampires and I want to conquer all of them and I want to break into your house and drink your blood at night.” He stuck out to me as a villain. Also, the great Tomb of Dracula Marvel comics. They were a big influence on me. The Tomb of Dracula’s Dracula is kind of this malevolent Dracula, kind of like the Christopher Lee version of Dracula. That’s the version I lean to as I go into this project.
With your work on movies, it’s a lot of science fiction and horror. These are really your childhood loves, right?
They really are. I’ve been pretty lucky in that way. I grew up in what I’d say is a middle class neighborhood in Los Angeles, and to be able to end up doing that stuff for a living and have that transpose itself onto my publishing career is something I’m really excited about. There are illustrations, but there’s the idea of taking conceptual design from film and weaving it into a published manuscript. It’s not just what I’ve written, but what I thought it could be. With visual effects for a film, you’re kind of limited with what you can do. That’s why a lot of the bats in those old movies . . . don’t look at those very closely because they’re not very believable. Although I was watching House of Dracula the other night, and that Dracula vampire bat was pretty good. For me, I can design a version of the Dracula bat, but it’s as big as a sabretooth. When it crawls into the room, you’re like, “Oh my God, that thing is going to rip my head off.” You’re not limited by budget. I remember I storyboarded the launch of Apollo 13 early in my career, and there were a bunch of effects shots cut after the launch. I said, “Hey.” They’re like, “Well, we can’t afford it.” On a format like this, if you can write it, or you can draw it, or in this case both, you can visualize it.
How much creative control do you have in these Dracula books compared to working on movies or TV?
Well, that’s the fun part. I have complete control. The story is mine. I can guide it and do as I want or need. For example, in this new Art of Dracula book, I have a few more designs on the inside of Dracula’s Castle. There’s a bunch of witches I designed. I tried to make witches that we haven’t seen before. I tried to make Dracula’s Castle that was familiar but conceptually looked really, really foreboding and interesting. The castle is just kind of a representation of Dracula the Conqueror and his ability to go all over the world and just take different pieces of architecture that he’s raided and taken back to the castle and just sort of put stuff together — Frankensteined together, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Can you tell us how you got started as a professional artist?
I was in community college here in Los Angeles, and then went to ArtCollege of Design in Pasadena. I graduated from there and I started working in TV animation. I think my first job was in the 1990s animated series The Real Ghost Busters. And from there, I worked in animation for a stretch as a background designer. But I wanted to work in film. My first big break was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and I spent about two years working on that. But I wanted to work in movies. That was my thing, I grew up loving concept art and learning the artists who did it. I admired people like Bernie Wrightson. And I wanted to do that. So, I left Deep Space Nine, and I worked for my heroes: James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, John Landis. And all they ever talked about was the story, and they were not the originators of the story, but they controlled how the stories were told. And all these years later, I decided I wanted to create my own stories kind of like I saw all my heroes do early in my career. And so this story is the first of a few different books that are going to come out and hopefully explain all my childhood dreams in stories that I love, and hopefully everyone else will love too.
How much has an influence has the novel Dracula had? Or is it more the movies and the comics?
No, it’s definitely based on the novel. I just took the novel and expanded it in the sense of the supernatural world that surrounds Dracula. Many times he’s kind of alluded to as the King of the Vampires, and I created that kind of story architecture to surround specifically his journey back to Castle Dracula. I always thought it was kind of weird how the brides stayed behind and Dracula went to England. So, in this case I created brides that had back stories, motivations and had a complicated relationship with this conqueror. And Dracula in this story is all about himself and they are making their move into their own sense of independence. And on one hand they are ferocious creatures of the night but on the other hand they are strong, independent female characters and I am very, very proud of that. So, they go to England with Dracula and do what they do. But as the story goes on, their relationship grows more fragmented and complicated. It’s very cool.
Can you tell us about your history in working with graphic novels?
I started off working in film design. And back then you could look in The Hollywood Reporter and see all the upcoming movies that were in development. And I noticed that there was a listing for Dark Horse Comics’ Alien vs. Predator. I thought, Aw man, I’d love to work on an Alien vs. Predator movie. So back then you could call that office and fax them your résumé. I would fax my résumé and about ten drawing and say, “Hey, I would love to work on your picture.” That’s how it all kind of worked back then. I called them to ask if they got my fax, and the kid who answered the phone said, “Yes, we’re not going to do the movie, but would you like to do comics?” And it all just started from there. I came in and I met with Mike Richardson and showed him the pitch I had for this comic book about dinosaurs with no dialogue in it and it all just worked out.
Can you tell us about your previous book with Clover Press on Dracula and how it lead to this new one?
Well, essentially, the way that I have learned to work in film is to create a bunch of concepts for a project. The public really doesn’t know how much artwork is generated for a particular film. I think the public only sees less than 5% of all concept art generated. So, I generated dozens of pieces of artwork for the illustrated novel, and then Clover was like, “Well, we can use twenty of them.” I was like, “Okay, I wish we could use all them, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.” As a concept artist, you’re used to most of your ideas not being used. But then the novel did really well, and Clover came back to me and said, “Hey, we’d like to actually put all the artwork together that wasn’t used and put it out as a companion piece.” I was like, “Cool, sounds great. Let’s kind of model it after my original pitch, in a sense that I love those Art of Star Wars books as a kid and loved the way they were annotated.” So, I annotated each of the images with experiences, techniques, anecdotes, memories of what went into designing each of those images. I ended up basically making sure everyone understood where I was coming from with each of the pieces, and it’s come together very nicely, I must say.
Where can people find your work?
You can go the Kickstarter, you can go to Clover Press. The original illustrated novel is on Amazon. I’m supposed to do a bunch of original drawings as part of the Kickstarter. That’s one of the goodies. Clover was like, “Can you do twenty-five to fifty original drawings?” I’m like, “I can do about twenty to twenty-five.” I start on those pretty soon. It’s all been terrific. I feel like we’re over delivering. We’re giving the public, the readers, more than they are bargaining for. I even put a list in the back of the book of my favorite horror novels, vampire movies, and a brief bio.
Can you share some of your favorites with us?
Yes. As a little boy I loved Ray Bradbury. I was just in love with Halloween Tree. I’m a big fan of those LAIKA stop-motion films, and it would be really cool if LAIKA and Ray Bradbury’s work could come together to make one of those movies one day. And then as I got older I discovered Stephen King. ’Salem’s Lot is still the real deal in my opinion. It’s kind of interesting because the TV version of ’Salem’s Lot, that vampire that is based on Nosferatu is super terrifying, but the book is much more complete and interesting and thoughtful. I was really taken by Cycle of the Werewolf. The Cycle of the Werewolf influences Dracula of Transylvania today. In my teenage years I started finding out about H.P. Lovecraft, and his amazing, macabre world. He was kind of like, “Eh, vampires, werewolves, they’re cool, but let me give you this.” And it is so astonishing, the breadth of his work. M.R. James, I’m a big fan of his stuff. My Renfield in my Dracula story is name Montague Rhodes Renfield, and after M.R. James. I just love his stories. They feel very scholarly, and there’s a skeleton that comes running into the library that says boo and runs off, but they are very charming and I love them a lot. So, those are the big influences. Movie-wise, I’m a big fan of the Frank Langella Dracula in addition to the Lugosi/Lee films. I think that the Night Stalker film by Dan Curtis is pretty amazing, even today. And I think the Coppola Dracula is the moving zoetrope of fine art that tells this Dracula story. So, there you go.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Yeah, I just want to reinforce that there is a new avenue for publishing in the sense that you can take these two worlds of concept art and a manuscript and mash them together into something I think can be a little different. It has certainly been done before. I just brought up Cycle of the Werewolf and James Gurney’s Dinotopia novels as well but I really am excited about the possibilities that lay ahead of us with this format. I have two or three projects that are nearing completion and I think that as proud as I am of Dracula of Transylvania, I look forward to seeing how the public reacts to my future publishing endeavors.
In the end I am still that kid that loved monster movies, monster models, and monster comic books. I spend most of my days working on that. I teach at ArtCenter college of Design. I teach conceptual design and storyboarding and teach what I know. I have a book list for my students, and Siddhartha is on that list. Siddhartha is a story of a being that lived many lives. I feel like I moved onto a different portion of my life, a different story of my life where I spend my days doing stuff like this which I love. And yet those twenty years working in entertainment, in film, are the basis for what I’m doing now. I’m pretty lucky.