Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Dracula

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Pub Date 28 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 26 Aug 2021
Humanoids Inc, Life Drawn

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As horror cinema’s most iconic actor, Bela Lugosi is forever remembered for his haunting role as Count Dracula, frightening filmgoers for many years. But once the cameras finally stopped rolling…that’s when Lugosi himself learned what true terror was.

Beginning with his early years in Hungary as a young actor and activist, this first-of-its-kind graphic memoir details Lugosi’s flight from his homeland after becoming an enemy of the state and his eventual move to the US, where his career flourished—for a while. Following a pivotal mistake that allowed Boris Karloff’s star to rise while his plummeted, Lugosi’s pride, extravagant lifestyle, and addiction to drugs, women, and the high life led to his tragic decline and humiliating later years that saw him join forces with infamous B-movie director Ed Wood for one last shot at stardom.

From the acclaimed writer/artist of The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television comes an unforgettable examination of the life and work of one of Hollywood’s most enduring stars.

As horror cinema’s most iconic actor, Bela Lugosi is forever remembered for his haunting role as Count Dracula, frightening filmgoers for many years. But once the cameras finally stopped...

Advance Praise

“Lugosi is nothing short of a masterpiece. With riveting style and a storyline that drives full-tilt from the opening panels, Shadmi tells the tale of the man behind Dracula—his immigrant struggles, his wild love life, his dope fiend torments, his heinous treatment at the hands of studio moguls—with such vision and heart, you find yourself rooting for the monster from beginning to end. It is Shadmi’s special genius to render his subject an Everyman, so that his story is the story of every artist trying to live off their art only to be ground to pulp by the real bloodsuckers, the Hollywood execs who feast on talent, who bleed genius until there’s nothing left but memories and pain.” —Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight, Hemingway & Gellhorn

“Poignant and informative.” —Joe Dante (The Howling, The Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins)

“Lugosi welcomes you to explore the life of one of film history’s most evocative, mysterious figures in a journey that’s both haunting and humanizing, something cut from the cloth of Adrian Tomine and the Coen Brothers alike. A moving bildungsroman…with bite!” —Steve Orlando (Commanders in Crisis, Wonder Woman, Rainbow Bridge)

“With a cultural icon as large as Bela Lugosi, it’s easy to forget he lived a whole life off-screen, one as complex as it is tragic. Shadmi’s book reminds us that, more than fangs and a cape, Lugosi was an artist, a lush, a romantic, and a wonderfully flawed human being consumed by all sorts of monsters.” —Lonnie Nadler (Black Stars Above, X-Men)

“A fascinating look at the most infamous face of Hollywood Horror, Lugosi offers a beautiful deep-dive into the life and career of Bela Lugosi that is not to be missed.” —Stephanie Phillips (Harley Quinn, The Butcher of Paris)

“Lugosi is one of those characters you always come across if you’re obsessed with Hollywood or movie monsters. Whether it’s the iconic voice or his rivalry with Boris Karloff, the idea of the man lingers long. Koren’s wonderful graphic novel beautifully depicts the real monsters lying beneath the skin of a man we asked to portray one.” —Sean Lewis (Bliss, Superman, Coyotes

 “Lugosi is a fantastic, wonderfully illustrated look at the real life of the man behind Dracula.” —Jeremy Haun (The Realm, The Red Mother, Haunthology)

“Lugosi is nothing short of a masterpiece. With riveting style and a storyline that drives full-tilt from the opening panels, Shadmi tells the tale of the man behind Dracula—his immigrant struggles...

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Featured Reviews

Great information on an actor everyone knows from his role as Dracula. This book made such a great graphic novel. It would have been very dry as a complete book so it was a great choice. I was not truly aware of the life of Bela Lugosi until I read this book. He, like many other actors of his time, had major issues in his personal life.

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The vampiric figure of Bela Lugosi has become legendary. For horror movie lovers, he’s an icon. But even for those unfamiliar with the genre, images of Lugosi’s Dracula are common throughout popular culture. In this captivating graphic novel, Koren Shadmi delves into Lugosi’s real life, from his childhood in Lugos, Hungary (the inspiration for his stage name) to his old age in Los Angeles. The story is told in flashbacks. An elderly Lugosi lies in a hospital bed struggling to overcome his drug addiction as he remembers his life. Some memories come freely, while apparitions of days gone by are conjured by the fever dreams of withdrawal. Shadmi paints a rather sympathetic picture of a generally unlikable man. Lugosi was a womanizer and a schmoozer and often lived well beyond his means. But he paid for these decisions with many tragic moments in his personal and professional life. What I found most interesting was his tumultuous relationship with Hollywood studios. Typecast as Dracula, Lugosi struggled to find other roles and was often treated and paid unfairly. For movie lovers and history buffs, "Lugosi: The The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Dracula" is chock full of information on cinema and society at the time. The graphic novel even gives readers a glimpse into Hungarian socialism as the backdrop for Lugosi’s early interest in unions. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Universal Studios in its early days, as well as the social and moral pushback against horror in the 1930s. And many horror icons like Boris Karloff, Tod Browning, and Ed Wood join Lugosi in the beautifully illustrated panels. Lugosi the man was always dramatic, on and off stage, and "Lugosi" the graphic novel pays homage to this. The illustrations often feature long shadows, clutching hands, and close-ups of anguished faces. And the text compliments this well. In the first few pages of the book, the text narrates Lugosi’s walk into the hospital: “Used up, strung out, and forgotten by an industry that took him for all he had. This is his last act of hope, last chance of salvation.” "Lugosi" delivers its namesake’s story with all the drama of a 1930s horror movie. I love that Shadmi included panels from Lugosi’s movies. This is one of the many clever touches that bring this graphic novel to life. Shadmi’s brilliant work illuminates the good and the bad with poignancy in this story of the man behind the fangs. This is a truly enjoyable read for horror movie lovers, cinema buffs, and everyone else.

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Graphic novel biographies > traditional biographies I’ve now had the pleasure of reading a number of these non-traditional format biographies, and I find the approach to be exceptionally satisfying. It’s a great way to get the history of a famous figure in a more concise and entertaining method than standard biographical nonfiction. Bela Lugosi is a fascinating if not particularly likable icon of old Hollywood’s monster movie craze. His Dracula is one of the most iconic of all time, and a role that meant the world to the man who played him. Lugosi isn’t exactly what you would call a likable guy. He was a nasty addict and a misogynist womanizer who was likely a diagnosable narcissist forever desperate for attention. Thus he isn’t exactly the hero of his own story, but his story is an interesting one anyway and it is well rendered here. The art is also excellent, accurate but with a bent that is a nod to the subject’s life’s work and also—I think—just how Bela himself would have liked to be illustrated.

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This is a fun graphic novel about the life of Bela Lugosi that hits a lot of the high and low points in his life from childhood to death. It starts with Lugosi checking himself into the hospital to detox from his morphine and alcohol addiction where he has flashbacks to a lifetime of choices that are haunting him. From his childhood in Hungary to Hollywood, Lugosi confronts himself. At the beginning of the book, the author says that this is a book for anyone who wants to know more about the man who first brought the iconic character of Dracula to life on the screen in 1931. I would argue that having some knowledge of the man and the things going on at the time would be pretty helpful for even the casual reader. For example, the affair that Lugosi allegedly had with Clara Bow is included in this 160 page book and if I didn't already know a lot about Bow, I would think of her as a strange floozy who just showed up in the story to party with Lugosi for a few months and then disappear. The painting that Lugosi commissioned in her likeness and hung over his bead for the rest of his life after wasn't even mentioned. There are several other figures that show up like this who I was grateful to already have background knowledge on (such as Ed Wood Jr., Carl Laemmle, and Tod Browning), but that is more of a nitpick since the focus should remain on Lugosi and not the side characters in his life. This is a fun and quick read with above average art.

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Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood's Dracula is a biographical graphic novel telling the life of actor Bela Lugosi. It was so well written. I loved the use of flashbacks. It made a very straightforward story much more dynamic. The artwork was wonderful. It was simple but very effective.

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I am pretty new to the graphic novel world, but I love non-fiction so I knew I had to request this one. I really loved the artwork and the overall style of this novel. I didn't really know Bela's story so it was all new information for me. I would for sure recommend this for just about anyone.

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Lugosi is the engrossing graphic novel depiction of the life of polarizing Hollywood legend Bela Lugosi, most well known for his portrayal of Count Dracula in the Universal monster movies. Spanning his entire life and career and framed by his intake into a rehab facility for his addiction to morphine and methadone, Lugosi shows the ups and downs of a roller coaster career marked by hubris and poor decision making. While Bela is not always a likeable figure, he is often sympathetic and tragic. At times destitute, lonely, and drug dependent, Lugosi was typecast after Dracula into portraying mad scientists and monstrous roles in increasingly low budget movies culminating in his infamous allegiance with "worst director of all time:" Ed Wood. The graphic novel medium is a good one for this tale, utilizing black and white imagery for a gothic tone befitting the subject. Highly recommended for those interested in the life of a true Hollywood legend. **I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Netgalley and Humanoids Inc**

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There’s the likeness and the icon itself. The myth and the man behind it. We owe our modern conception of Dracula to Bela Lugosi, who donned the cape of the infamous bloodthirsty count in Tod Browning’s production of Dracula, which premiered in 1931, before the pearl-clutchers would focus their prudish crosshairs on the film industry in the form of the Hays Code, which forced studios to either veil or completely eliminate references to anything the aforementioned pearl-clutchers would consider morally reprehensible. Horror films were a natural target of the Code, so it is to the benefit of the culture at-large and the horror industry in particular that Dracula was released in the pre-Code era. Bela Lugosi was a Hungarian émigré who first cut his teeth on the stage in the National Theatre of Hungary. After facing political persecution, he made his move to the promising shores of America. First starring in (as well as producing and directing) shoestring-budget theater productions with other Hungarian émigrés, young Bela soon found himself disheartened, feeling as if he was destined to die a penniless pauper. His first big break came when he met Henry Barton, a theatrical manager who had been impressed with Lugosi’s performance in one of his Hungarian-language productions. The American impresario hadn’t understood a word of the dialogue, but had been captivated by Lugosi’s command of the stage. He told him he would be perfect in a new play he was producing called The Red Poppy if only his English were better. Never one to give up, Lugosi told Barton he was a quick learner and would be willing to have an English tutor hired with the tutor’s wages deducted from his own. The Red Poppy’s run was short-lived, a commercial failure. Lugosi, however, was praised for his performance and afterwards he had consistent work in small-budget English-language theater and silent film productions. Once he secured the role of the titular character in Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston’s Broadway production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, his fate was sealed. The rest, as they say, is history. Koren Shadmi does an excellent job bringing Bela Lugosi to life. Penning a pictorial biography of one of the world’s most iconic actors is a daunting task, certainly not for the faint of heart, but Shadmi deftly illuminates the man behind the myth, waking him from his coffin for a whole new generation. Shadmi’s book is just as perfect for the longtime Lugosi acolyte as it is for those who only know him through his image as Dracula. It is evocative and daring and sobering. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough.

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A good graphic novel on the life and times of one of the legendary founders of Horror Cinema. The art style was beautiful, and I would love to own a framed copy of some of the sketches in the back, they are so evocative. While the information contained within this book is somewhat widely known by Lugosi fans, the juxtaposition with the lovely art makes it a worthwhile purchase.

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Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this! Wow, this was an amazing biographical pictorial! I was only a little familiar with Bela Lugosi's story, but I feel this graphic novel gave a great overview of not only his career, but also his motivations, his dreams, and his fears. Bela is a one-of-a-kind character, and he most certainly achieved what he set out to do-which is be immortal! I think most people write off those actors who get mixed up in addiction as junkies, but rarely do we get to hear their story, especially someone of Bela's time period, and his immigrant background. While it's clear he definitely struggled with extreme narcissism and manic episodes, he still remained a dedicated artist, always proud of his most famous role, and I really respect that. Many people don't consider the horror genre to be anything more than crude and flat-out dismiss it, so it's wonderful to read that Bela, even until the end, cherished Dracula and his other characters. Also, the Ed Wood parts were great, Bela clearly fits in with the "weirdos" of the world! I believe this book really pays great homage to the great Bela Lugosi and I look forward to recommending this to all horror fans in my circle.

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I knew Bela Lugosi from, like many others, movies like Dracula. I learned so much, and I really enjoyed this graphic biography. Will recommend to horror fans, movie fans, history fans, and anyone looking for a good biography.

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I still remember the first time I saw Bela Lugosi's image on the black and white screen, I have been hooked on Dracula ever since, for me he enclapulates the prince of darkness. Since being a teenager I have recognised his name and image but ever really known much about the man off screen, so when I saw this book advertised I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I find with some biographies I get bogged down with two much details, however this graphic novel was so refreshing and seems very in keeping with his character and life style. This book gives us an insight in to his career high and lows, how by becoming the such a memorable version of Dracula, he would be typecast for years to come, falling out with various producers his career plummeted. The old saying 'be careful what you wish for" comes to mind, His various unsuccessful marriages all of which lead to a life of alcohol and drug abuse. I wouldn't say he was a nice man or easy to like, but his story makes for good reading and is very interesting. I also thought the graphics and art in the book were wonderful, the information flowed off the page. A really enjoyable experience for me as I am new to graphic novels. Thank you to Netgalley and Humanoids Inc. for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own

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Bella Lugosi is Dracula. In 2021, we all know that. Every Dracula adaptation since 1931 has been a riff on his iconic portrayal. But Lugosi was also a flesh and blood man who wasn't actually a Transylvanian count who wanted to suck blood. Koren Shadmi's biography works to capture the man behind the cape, detailing his life from a young Hungarian actor turned union crusader to pawn of the studio system. It doesn't shy away from his many previous relationships (including the first time Dracula met Betty Boop), low moments, and struggles with drug abuse. Shadmi doesn't linger too long on any one part of Lugosi's life, save his framing device rehab trips, but in doing so he provides a quality biography for a man whose life is remembered less for who he was and more and more for his cape and eyes. But as the end implies - Dracula does not die, and therefore neither does Lugosi.

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This is a very good biographical graphic novel. Reading it felt like I was watching a black-and-white biopic about one of the most interesting "character" actors of all time. Bela Lugosi's life had many ups and downs and the book captures them really well; it follows Lugosi through his childhood, the historical events that shaped him, his rivalry with Boris Karloff, and his "artistic" partnership with infamous director Ed Wood. The book never tries to paint him as a nice person when he does questionable things, but still makes you sympathise with him; shadmi leaves it open for us readers to infer whether Lugosi's fall from grace was due to Hollywood's prejudice (he couldn't speak English fluently) or his bad decisions. I read this book in one sitting.

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A nice follow up to their last book that delved into the origins and backstory of Rod Serling, this new book explores the darkness and history of the famous Bela Lugosi. Shadmi does an excellent job of capturing each section of his life with a poignant snippet and weaving them together in a timeline connected to his drug-induced madness in a state hospital. I like the comparisons to Karloff here as well. Their works were often compared, but this drew further comparison on their public lives. Fans of Universal's monsters know that Karloff the Uncanny (not as relatively unknown as stated here) had a much happier and fuller life with his family, especially when compared with Bela Lugosi. There is some tragedy present and a connection to the immigrant story so often seen in the Eastern block. What I like about this book is that it does not romanticize a moderately villainous guy just because he was popular and famous. He was notably selfish and pretty terrible father/husband. Still, there is this feeling at the start of the movie that he was this hopeful young actor who wanted to make something of himself in the Hungarian circles. I like that image of Bela as a proud man of his long gone country. It adds depth to his speech, mannerisms, and eventual coping mechanisms that make him feel like a fuller character --rather than the washed up actor we see in the Ed Wood 1994 film. Speaking of that film, those last pages and the back matter leave it off, but it would have been nice to include why Wood was taking those generic, quick shoots of Lugosi.

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Was so happy to read this! I've been a fan of classic monsters & cinema for a long time, this book is wonderfully illustrated look into Lugosi's life. I would definitely recommend for fans of classic Hollywood cinema and graphic novels.

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As a monster lover in general, and Dracula lover in particular, this book was a fascinating, if sad, glimpse behind the cape. Beautifully illustrated, this graphic novel will intrigue monster and Hollywood fans alike.

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