Last week, we mentioned the passing of Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis. This promoted us to revisit the gothic soap opera in its comic book incarnations. Jeffrey Thompson, a leading Dark Shadows collector and historian, contributed this piece.

One of the most phenomenal television series of the 1960s was ABC-TV's Dark Shadows, the daytime serial which ran from 1966 to 1971. Originally a mildly mysterious romantic serial reminiscent of the Gothic novels popular at the time, Dark Shadows became completely supernatural with the 1967 introduction of Barnabas Collins, a tortured, guilt-ridden vampire, freed from his chained coffin after 171 years of maddening imprisonment. The unprecedented character of Barnabas, as portrayed by Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid, so captivated the daytime-television audience—especially children and teenagers—that Dark Shadows soon was one of the highest-rated programs in all of daytime TV. The serial's ratings increased steadily from 1967 to 1969, and its ratings were still respectable when the show was cancelled in early 1971.

Dark Shadows helped acquaint or reacquaint audiences of the 1960s with traditional vampirism, from its coffins, bats, and stakes to the bite marks which the fanged Barnabas inflicted upon the other characters and to Barnabas's battles with other, more sinister vampires. Although vampire Tom Jennings may have been the show's most frightening vampire and Angelique or Roxanne the most sensual, it was Barnabas Collins who set the post-Lugosi/Lee standard for the popular-culture vampire. It was not long before Barnabas and Dark Shadows invaded another popular-culture medium: comic books.

The first issue of Gold Key Comics' Dark Shadows series was dated December 1968, and the thirty-fifth (and final) issue bore a February 1976 date. The comic magazine began as a quarterly publication but with issue #13 (April 1972) was stepped up to bi-monthly status. Twenty-six of the thirty-five issues were published after the ABC-TV series was cancelled. All thirty-five issues were edited and/or supervised by Wallace I. Green, managing editor. Among the uncredited scriptwriters of the Dark Shadows comic book were Donald J. Arneson and Arnold Drake. Arneson wrote Dark Shadows #1 and other issues, the one-shot Dark Shadows Story Digest Magazine (June 1970), and stories for Gold Key's Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery, The Twilight Zone, and The Governor and J.J. Arnold Drake wrote Dark Shadows #22, #24, #30, and about ten other issues.

Drake is one of the most respected names from the Silver Age of Comics. "I wrote something like 2000 stories during my comic-book period," Drake declared in a 1986 interview. Arnold Drake created Deadman and the Doom Patrol for DC Comics. At DC and elsewhere, Drake scripted the four-color adventures of Batman, Bugs Bunny, Bullwinkle, Challengers of the Unknown, Heckle and Jeckle, Little Lulu, and Barnabas Collins.

As for the art direction of the Dark Shadows comic book, "Everybody who has seen all of the Dark Shadows [comic] magazines has seen every piece of reference we ever got from Dan Curtis Productions!" Wallace I. Green recalled in a 1986 interview. "We used all of the photographs [which came from Dan Curtis Productions] on front covers and inside covers [of the first seven comic books]. Eventually, of course, we ran out of photographs. That's when we went to the painted covers. The artist was a man named George Wilson, who did a lot of painted covers for us. I think for several years he may have been the only artist we had painting covers [for Gold Key comics], so almost everything you saw that had a painted cover was done by George Wilson. George eventually went on to do [covers for] a lot of paperback novels. How we were able to keep him as long as we did at the prices we paid him, I'll never know! Joe Certa did [the artwork for] all of the insides; he did every single issue of Dark Shadows."

From 1940 to 1943, Joe Certa was one of the illustrators of Street and Smith's twenty-issue Doc Savage comic book. The 1950s found Certa penciling the adventures of Robotman, the Martian Manhunter, and other DC Comics super-heroes. In the newspapers, Certa collaborated with John Belfi and Ray Gardner on the Western comic strip Straight Arrow. After Gold Key Comics' Dark Shadows was cancelled in late 1975, Joe Certa drew stories for Gold Key's Ripley's Believe It or Not, The Twilight Zone, and Grimm's Ghost Stories magazines.

The comic-book rights to Dark Shadows went to Western Publishing Company (Gold Key comics) in the first place because Dan Curtis Productions, controller of Dark Shadows then and now, was unable to sell the rights to either Marvel or DC, the two major comics companies at the time. Neither DC nor Marvel legally was able to produce a Dark Shadows-type series in 1968 because of each company's voluntary, long-time observation of the strict tenets of the Comics Code Authority. In the late 1960s, most comic books were still governed by the original guidelines established by the Comics Code Authority on 26 October 1954. One passage of the restrictive Comics Code read, "Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with, walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited."

It was not until 27 October 1971 that the Code was revised and the above passage was changed to read, "Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with, walking dead or torture shall not be used. Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the classic tradition, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high-caliber literary works written by Edgar Allan Poe, Saki (H.H. Munro), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and other respected authors whose works are read in schools throughout the world." Marvel and DC Comics then were able to feature vampires and werewolves in their magazines—too late, however, for Dan Curtis Productions' 1968 deal with Gold Key Comics. Dell/Western/Gold Key/Whitman comic books had never been governed by the Comics Code Authority, reportedly because of some fast talking by publisher George Delacorte in 1954. With their newly increased creative freedom, Marvel and DC immediately launched two of the greatest post-EC supernatural-horror titles in the history of comics: Tomb of Dracula (1972-1979) and Swamp Thing (1972-1976), respectively.

Meanwhile, Gold Key had been producing the highly supernatural Dark Shadows comic book for almost four years. With lurid titles such as "Creatures in Torment," "Souls in Bondage," and "My Blood or Yours," the stories in Dark Shadows recalled—but did not equal—the height of EC Comics horror of the 1950s. Although often lacking the high quality of the subsequent Dracula and Swamp Thing comics, Dark Shadows nevertheless zealously pitted vampire Barnabas Collins and werewolf Quentin Collins against other vampires and werewolves, zombies (still technically taboo elsewhere), a golem, a mummy, winged "zozoes," and even a headless horseman. Most of the stories took place in and around the Collins estate in Collinsport, Maine, although Barnabas or Quentin occasionally traveled to the Netherworld, Limbo, Eskimo Point, the Island of Eternal Youth, and other locales. Barnabas also indulged in a great deal of time travel. In almost one dozen of the thirty-five issues, Barnabas used various methods to transport himself to the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, or (in Dark Shadows #11) twenty-first century.

Although Barnabas occasionally behaved more like a super-hero than a vampire (e.g. #3, #5, #13, #15, #33, et al.), editor Wally Green and writer Arnold Drake tried to remain faithful to their basic concept of the character as a romantic hero. According to Green, "We thought of him as a sympathetic character with a lot of problems. That's the way we saw him. He had to be a hero despite the evil part of him which he was constantly fighting."

Green continued, "We [at Western Publishing Company] were very circumspect with any comic book we did which was based on a licensed property to see that the material went to the licenser and we got a written approval on it before we went to press. However, I don't remember that we ever did that with Dark Shadows! Actually, Dan Curtis Productions had zero input. Every story was original with its author."

Although such unsupervised originality was a dream come true for the writers, the readers of Gold Key's Dark Shadows comic book often suffered through drastic inconsistencies and deviations from the established facts, history, and relationships depicted on the ABC-TV series. Even more disconcerting was the fact that many of the comic-book stories themselves did not even agree with each other as to which of the seven regular characters knew Barnabas's secret, whether or not Quentin could speak while in werewolf form, whose name was what, and even whether Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and Roger Collins were indeed brother and sister or (as incorrectly portrayed in the infamous Dark Shadows #28) "husband and wife!"

Arnold Drake admitted that he did not watch the TV series regularly while he was writing Gold Key's Dark Shadows comic book.

"I saw a few episodes of 'Dark Shadows,'" Drake said. "I did not see many of them. It wasn't one of my favorite shows. I saw several of them because I knew that Dan Curtis was turning out a good, low-budget package, and I was interested in the techniques. As a man who had written and produced for the screen, I was interested in the techniques that were being used to knock those things out at the bottom dollar they were doing them for. So I did watch [a few episodes] for that reason, and I read a number of the stories that had been written [by Dan "Marilyn" Ross], one or two of the theatrical scripts [of House of Dark Shadows and/or Night of Dark Shadows], and some of these comic books which had been written before I started to write them. And I gained the basic flavor of it: the language, the somewhat 'purple prose' which makes something like that work, and I'm not knocking it at all. And then I just took off on my own. I would get outside the 'house cast' [of Barnabas, Elizabeth, Quentin, Julia, Roger, Angelique, and Stokes] and search for other themes. One of the things I tried to do [with Dark Shadows] and with most of my comics was to bring in as much of the real world as I could: to try to write out of the headlines and out of what was happening.

"My goal was to write a good story. The 'fans' are interested beyond the normal interest in a story. Their interest becomes almost like a religion or something bordering on it. So they are interested ritualistically: they want everything to be 'observed' in a particular kind of way. The writer is not interested in the 'ritual' of Dark Shadows. He is interested in the people, yes; in the characters, of course; and in the best darn stories that he can get out of them, but not in whether he observes precisely what Jonathan [Frid as Barnabas Collins] should do under these precise conditions so that it will be in agreement with twenty other stories that came before [or be in agreement with the television series]. If the writer involves himself that much in the 'ritual' of Dark Shadows," he isn't going to get a decent story. He's going to be restricted—bound—too much by what has been done."

Despite some fallacies and low points within the 35-issue run of Gold Key's Dark Shadows, excellence shone through many other issues. Quite a few issues of Dark Shadows presented exciting, thought-provoking stories which were true to the TV characters and their backgrounds and/or were good comic-book stories in their own right. Occasionally, the writers even produced a tale which fans might have wished could have been dramatized on the TV series or in a third Dark Shadows movie. Issues #1, #4, #6, #8, #11, #17, #18, #24, #31, and #32 were superb. Issues #7, #25, #29, #34, and #35 were above average. The remaining twenty issues of Dark Shadows ranged from average to below average. Nevertheless, Dark Shadows fans still seek out the comic books and pay top dollar for this unusual facet of the voluminous Dark Shadows memorabilia (which also include model kits, games, puzzles, masks, gum cards, LPs, View-Masters, et al.). A near-mint copy of even the least valuable issue is worth more than $60.00—and the value of a near-mint Dark Shadows #1, complete with the pull-out poster of Barnabas still attached, is worth more than $410.00.

In the Dark Shadows comic book, the circumstances of Barnabas's becoming a vampire were left vague at best and contradictory at worst. Dark Shadows #1 (December 1968) revealed that "in the late eighteenth century...a real witch, more evil than death, cast the curse which doomed Barnabas to eternal existence as a vampire." The witch was Angelique, who appeared in eleven issues of the comic book to torment (and occasionally aid) her beloved Barnabas. However, three-and-one-half years later, in Dark Shadows #14 (June 1972), Barnabas mused, "My travels took me to the West Indies! Now, I return with the dread mark of the bat!" This story ("The Mystic Painting") asserted that Barnabas was cursed in the West Indies in about 1740 as opposed to the TV-series fact that Angelique cursed Barnabas in Collinsport in 1795-1796 (as Dark Shadows #1 also implies).

The Dark Shadows comic book succeeded in observing most of the conventions of vampirism. By day, Barnabas remained in his coffin; the box was seen in almost every issue of the comic book. At least five issues (#10, #11, #24, #31, #33) even mentioned the bit of "native soil" which Barnabas needed to keep inside his coffin. "The Thirteenth Star," the excellent story in Dark Shadows #11 (November 1971), even hinged on the need for the soil. In this one point at least, the comic book bested the TV series, for the TV show never mentioned vampires' need for native soil.

After enduring the brief catastrophe of having his coffin stolen (in #21), Barnabas actually carried his coffin with him when he traveled away from Collinsport (in #23 and #24). However, in Dark Shadows #33, as Barnabas prepared to follow Quentin to Eskimo Point, the vampire was confident that "nature will provide some sunken hole in which to rest."

Barnabas seemed to have no trouble crossing water (e.g. #19 and #24), but his primary enemy remained the dawn. The vampire found "reflected sunlight" to be painful in issue #24, and the sunrise almost caught him away from his casket in #25 and #27. The sun did come up on the hapless vampire in Dark Shadows #10 (August 1971) when his body withered away and his soul was snatched by Termina, high priestess of St. Lucifer Island. (Quentin Collins and Dr. Julia Hoffman succeeded in resurrecting Barnabas.)

Writers D.J. Arneson and Arnold Drake and editors Wally Green and Denise Van Lear also made frequent use of the vampiric convention of the transformation into a bat. Just as he sometimes did on the TV show, Barnabas turned into a bat in almost two dozen of the thirty-five issues of the comic magazine. Finally, the writers handled with caution the matter of the actual bite. Although in many comic-book panels Joe Certa prominently drew Barnabas's fangs in his mouth, Barnabas was rarely seen biting anyone. Sometimes, Barnabas's attempt at biting was foiled by a cross or some other distraction; at other times, the bite was suggested more than shown. Barnabas actually fed in only a handful of issues (including #1, #8, #18, #30, and #32).

Most curious of all was the fact that Barnabas Collins was not a vampire in issues #3 (November 1969) through #7 (November 1970). The writers gave no explanation for this startling move other than Barnabas's casual line in Dark Shadows #4 (February 1970) about "the day Angelique's curse dissolved." In issues #3 through #7, as well as in the June 1970 Dark Shadows Story Digest Magazine, Barnabas lived in fear of the curse's reactivation as he was "forced to walk the thin line between worlds." Then, on the splash page of Dark Shadows #8 (February 1971), vampire Barnabas was seen once again lamenting his unholy affliction. Without a transition or even an explanation, he was a vampire again for the duration of the comic-book series. Perhaps the writers made Barnabas human for a year because there had been periods on the TV show in 1968-1969 when Barnabas had been cured and was human again.

Several other vampires found their way into the Dark Shadows comic book. In Dark Shadows #7 (November 1970), Angelique transformed herself into Barnabas's double and bit Collinsport citizen Pamela Cordon. Pamela, now a vampire, bit Terk, a wharf bum, and planned to make Barnabas a vampire again, too. However, Professor Stokes developed a serum which cured vampirism and used the serum to return Pamela and Terk to normal. Apparently, Stokes—and the writers—had forgotten about the cure before Barnabas could have used it. Curiously, Pamela Cordon returned in Dark Shadows #23 (December 1973) in a story which took her, Barnabas, Quentin, and Stokes to Amenti, a village populated by the 400-year-old Cult of the Dasni. Having drunk from the cursed waters of Ab-I-Hayat, the Dasni cultists were immortal vampires who made Pamela Cordon one of their own. In the excellent Dark Shadows #8 (February 1971), Barnabas killed Tybalt, an occultist who sought to kill Barnabas and Quentin. However, Tybalt was resurrected as a vampire and further terrorized Barnabas and Quentin until he was impaled on a stake. In Dark Shadows #20 (June 1973), werewolf Quentin Collins himself became a vampire during the full moon when he accidentally received Dr. Julia Hoffman's blood serum meant to cure Barnabas! At the end of the story, Julia developed another serum which cured Quentin of vampirism (but not lycanthropy) but which, in another forgotten plot point, seemingly never was used on Barnabas.

An outstanding exploration of vampirism took place in Dark Shadows #24 (February 1974), one of the very best issues of the series. In Arnold Drake's story "On Borrowed Blood," an emergency blood transfusion from Barnabas turned the ruthless millionaire Andre Markovian into a vampire. Markovian used his new supernatural powers to become the dictator of the island nation of Romanique, and he blackmailed Barnabas into acting as his First Minister! Ultimately, the leader of Romanique's rebel army fired a crossbow whose arrow pierced Markovian's heart and ended his unnatural life and evil reign. Deadman creator Arnold Drake said of this fine story, "I had fun with that." Despite some failings, Drake and other creative forces behind Gold Key's Dark Shadows comic book led the magazine to quite a few creative pinnacles before it was cancelled in late 1975.

Halfway through the run of the Dark Shadows comic book, Barnabas and Collinwood enjoyed a second four-color incarnation—in the "funny papers." Syndicated by Register Tribune, the beautifully drawn Dark Shadows newspaper comic strip appeared in papers seven days each week between 14 March 1971 and 5 March 1972. The comic strip presented six different stories, each lasting two months.

Although the writer of the Dark Shadows newspaper comic strip was never credited, the strip's story editor was Elliot Caplin, younger brother of Li'l Abner creator Al Capp (Alfred Gerald Caplin). Yale graduate Elliot Caplin scripted the newspaper comic strips Abbie and Slats, Big Ben Bolt, Doctor Kildare, and The Heart of Juliet Jones.

The illustrator of Dark Shadows was Kenneth Bruce Bald, who had drawn the Doctor Kildare strip in the 1960s and Judd Saxon in the 1950s. Ken Bald, a Pratt Institute graduate, first made his mark illustrating the comic-book adventures of Captain Marvel, Bulletman, the Black Owl, and Captain Battle in the 1940s. In the 1971-1972 Dark Shadows newspaper comic strip, Ken Bald achieved a remarkable likeness of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins. In addition to Barnabas, the only TV characters ever to appear in the year-long comic strip were Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, her daughter Carolyn Stoddard (never seen in the comic book), and the witch Angelique.

In one storyline, Barnabas traveled back in time two hundred years. In other stories, Barnabas battled a 310-year-old warlock, a Caribbean voodoo cult, and "Mr. Sinestra, Monarch of Darkness." In one of the two best storylines (May-July 1971), Barnabas became romantically involved with the Egyptian goddess Isis, who believed that Barnabas was the seventh reincarnation of the god Osiris. In the other of the two best tales (July-September 1971), Barnabas fought werewolves in Collinsport and in Europe. In the entire, year-long run of Ken Bald's Dark Shadows newspaper comic strip, the vampire Barnabas Collins fed only once. On 9-10 June 1971, Barnabas gave Isis "the bite of love!"

Finally, Dark Shadows returned to comic books very briefly in the early 1990s. In 1991, Dark Shadows was reborn on NBC-TV as a nighttime serial starring Ben Cross, Barbara Steele, Roy Thinnes, and Jean Simmons. Although the new Dark Shadows was a superb remake with fine production values and clever new twists, it was cancelled after a two-month run. One year later, in mid-1992, the now-defunct Innovation Comics launched a Dark Shadows comic book based on the new TV series. Only nine issues were produced irregularly before Innovation abruptly went out of business on December 31, 1993.

Although the intricately painted illustrations (by E. Silas Smith and later Jose Pimentel) were often exquisite and highly faithful to the likenesses of Cross, Steele, and the other actors, the lackluster writing of the nine issues was the comic book's undoing. With each new issue, the writers (David Campiti, Scott Rockwell, and Maggie Thompson) veered farther and farther away from the established TV characters and instead populated Collinsport with a man who could read minds through touch, an old dollmaker named Granny Whitlock, and even Euryale and Stheno, the two immortal Gorgons of Greek mythology! Most of the readers of Innovation's Dark Shadows comic book probably wanted to read stories about the established TV characters instead of tales about so many new characters. The comic book first went wrong (in issue #2) when it took Barnabas Collins and Dr. Julia Hoffman to Barrettstown, a Colonial-style village populated with small, gnomelike, mutated freaks controlled by the Reverend Redmond Swann, a centuries-old religious fanatic. This ill-conceived Dark Shadows comic-book incarnation's only redeeming qualities were its usually gorgeous artwork and its brief flashbacks to 1790 in the first four issues. Its ultimate, swift cancellation was no loss.

The Gold Key comic books' stories were impressive almost half the time, and the Gold Key cover paintings were often stunning. The Innovation issues' interior artwork was usually beautiful, and much of the short-lived newspaper comic strip was a real joy. Nevertheless, the immortal Gothic serial Dark Shadows has yet to reach its full potential as a comic book or a comic strip. The 1966-1971 and 1991 television series remain extremely popular because of their availability on VHS, DVD, and the Sci-Fi Channel, so perhaps some day, Dark Shadows will find its way to the four-color medium for a fourth—and even more creatively fulfilling—time.