Fact-Checking ‘Dracula’: An Immersive, Historically Accurate Take on the Horror Classic
It’s still fiction, but now told as a set of (almost) authentic artifacts created by Beehive Books, the book-art designer for ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Twin Peaks,’ and Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew.
“I’m convinced that Bram Stoker would love what we’re doing,” says Beehive Books cofounder Josh O’Neill.
What Beehive Books is doing, once their live Kickstarter campaign wraps up, is transmuting the full text of Stoker’s Gothic horror masterwork into a briefcase full of letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, telegrams, maps, and even phonograph records. O’Neill wants Dracula: The Evidence to be an immersive, interactive reading experience — and a historically accurate one at that.
“Like, we need a check for Dracula’s real estate purchase in London,” he says. “What did a check look like in [the 1880s]? What did a British check look like, what did a Transylvanian check look like? What do maps from that period look like? What does stationary look like? What do stamps look like?”
These are questions only months of research will answer. And O’Neill and his team can’t wait to “immerse ourselves in this crazy vampire universe for the next year.”
A 15-year-old’s dream becomes reality
Founded in 2016 by O’Neill and illustrator Maëlle Doliveux, Beehive Books views publishing as an exercise in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, O’Neill says. They create books that double as unique design objects: densely illustrated updates on classic literature, newspaper-format magazines of pop culture and criticism, cut-paper comics, and tributes to obscure 20th-century artists like Herbert Crowley and Harrison Cady. “They’re [all] ambitious. They’re unlikely in some way,” O’Neill says. And they’re all funded on Kickstarter.
Dracula: The Evidence is Beehive’s most formally inventive project yet, but the idea predates the publishing house. “I mean, I first thought of it abstractly, ‘How cool it would be if something like this existed?’ probably the first time I read Dracula, when I was like 15,” O’Neill says. Dracula is presented as a chronological series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and ships’ logs, assembled by a group of characters on a mission to track down and destroy the nefarious bloodsucker. “I remember thinking how cool it would be if you actually had all those documents, if you could actually look at them,” O’Neill says. “It wasn’t a publishing plan back then. It was just like, ‘That would be really neat.’”
The project began to seem possible when O’Neill connected with Headcase Design founder Paul Kepple, who’s worked on book designs and graphic artifacts for Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Twin Peaks, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. “He’s obsessed with the ephemeral designs of the past, old newspaper letterheads and stationery,” O’Neill says. “So once I started working with him — he designed our Herbert Crowley book and some other books for us — that was when I was like, ‘Okay, I think we can do this.’” It certainly helps that Kepple, like O’Neill, is a vintage horror-film fanatic and a huge fan of Dracula.
Stoker’s descendant extends a hand
Together, Kepple and O’Neill are working to design a collection of artifacts that look and feel like the real thing. And they’re being helped by one of the world’s foremost Dracula scholars and fans: Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, author of the 2009 novel Dracula: The Un-Dead and manager of the Bram Stoker estate.
Stoker, who just happened to be visiting Transylvania when O’Neill first emailed him, joined the team to help navigate the many editorial challenges the project poses. “It’s a long book, and there are so many details in it. It’s going to be so easy to get things wrong or miss some tiny sentence like, ‘And then my diary was chewed on by a dog,’ but we forgot to put the dog’s teeth marks on [the page],” O’Neill says.
“Authenticity versus readability is a thing we come up against a lot, because we want everything to be exactly as it’s described in the book.” For example, the book begins with a series of diary entries that are said to be written in shorthand. “So do we reproduce the journal in shorthand, which virtually no one knows how to read? Or do we produce something that is actually readable, so people can sit down and enjoy it, but is slightly less authentic because it doesn’t match what’s described in the novel?”
They’re still working on that challenge, and myriad other fascinating frustrations. But others have been satisfyingly solved: For example, the case will contain an archivist’s note that indexes the material chronologically, showing people how to read the book without pulling them out of the experience. But part of the magic for O’Neill is also that readers can peruse the materials in any order they want. “It’s almost like a piece of theater you bring to life yourself,” he says. “You can invent the book on your own. You decide how you want to read it.”
“It’s almost like a piece of theater you bring to life yourself. You can invent the book on your own.”
Why Bram Stoker would love ‘Dracula: The Evidence’
O’Neill reveres Dracula not only for its iconic contributions to the horror genre but also for its formal innovations. “It really is ahead of its time and doing something really formally fascinating and unique,” he says. “Even some 120 years later, you don’t see this very often. It’s hard to pull off, and Bram Stoker did it really, really brilliantly.”
Because it’s so formally inventive, and because the book engages so directly with the idea of found documents and newfangled (for the time) technologies like typewriters and phonograph recordings, O’Neill is convinced that the experimental format of Dracula: The Evidence would be right up Bram Stoker’s alley. “I feel like it’s in line with what he was thinking about when he was working on this book,” he says. “It’s sort of about technologies: the technologies of modernism and the Enlightenment versus [this] representation of superstition and demonic presence.”
Once the Kickstarter campaign for Dracula: The Evidence is over, O’Neill, Kepple, and Stoker will plunge further into researching the text, finalizing the designs, and sourcing and producing the materials. (In the meantime, the project is generating a buzz, including a shout-out from Guillermo del Toro on Twitter.) “It’s a two-year timeline on this project, and it’s going to take us the whole two years. That doesn’t give us much breathing room, really,” O’Neill admits.
But the ambitious goals, the niggling challenges, the months of painstaking research and design decisions — they’re all part of the fun. “It’s so elaborate. There are so many problems that come with it. But that’s what Beehive is about: Can you tackle those problems and do these ridiculous things that seem unlikely and exciting and sort of magical? The mission of Beehive is to do this.”