Vampires Never Stay Dead:

Dark Shadows Found A Second Life in Comic Strips

In April 2024, Hermes Press reissued the Dark Shadows newspaper strip that ran from March 1971-March 1972. Gerard J. Waggett provides a remembrance of that series.

Three weeks before ABC dropped the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows from its afternoon lineup, newspapers picked up a comic strip based on the series. While nothing could replace the soap opera, the comic strip filled some of the void. The soap opera had already been adapted into a feature film, a bimonthly comic book, and a series of paperback novels, but the strip best approximated the soap opera watching experience: fans who loved tuning into Dark Shadows every afternoon could still check in on Collinwood every single day, including Saturdays and Sundays. The strip only ran for one year (14 March 1971 to 11 March 1972) but managed to acquire an ardent following. The Newspaper Enterprise Association, which syndicated comic strips and editorial features “received more protests about the dropping of the Dark Shadows comic strip than any of the other features they handled within recent memory.” (Scott 26)

While no specific writers are credited with penning the series, Elliot Caplin served as the story editor. At the time he took on Dark Shadows, Caplin had been editing Dr. Kildare, an extremely successful strip adapted from the primetime medical drama, as well as The Heart of Juliet Jones, a soap operatic strip which ran in 600 newspapers (NYT 2/26/2000). Caplin recruited Dr. Kildare artist Kenneth Bald to draw the Dark Shadows strip. In the Foreword to Dark Shadows: The Comic Strip Book, Bald describes himself as “an ardent fan of the TV show.” (Scott vii) His artwork, especially the black-and-white strips printed in the daily papers, captured the Gothic look the series needed. The very first panel, set on a moonlit night, cast Barnabas Collins in silhouette, making his way toward an equally silhouetted Collinwood. True to the strip’s title, Bald understood the artistic value of shadows.

The first comic strip plays out much like actor Jonathan Frid’s first day on camera. Barnabas Collins, a centuries old vampire, introduces himself to Elizabeth Stoddard as her cousin from England. Ever accommodating, Elizabeth allows him to stay in a cottage on the estate. The remainder of the first day’s strip truncates Barnabas’s origin into two panels: Angelique cursing him for rejecting her and him being bitten by a vampire bat. While the storyline parallels that from the TV series, the comic strip takes place in a different Collinwood. Here, the widowed Elizabeth Stoddard and her daughter Carolyn are the only family members living in the house. Aside from Angelique – who will not turn up again for six months – no other characters from the TV show appear in the comic strip. Unlike the mansion at Collinwood with its countless rooms and parallel dimensions, the three-paneled comic strip could house a few Collinses.

The villain in the first story arc tried to trim the Collins family down to none. Lucas Penrose Bell, a warlock and magazine publisher, arrives at Collinwood intent on wiping out the family line. His mother had been accused of witchcraft by an ancestor, Eban Collins. Before she was burned at the stake, she cursed him and her son to walk the Earth until the Collins family was destroyed. Barnabas battles Lucas to save his newly discovered family members. Unlike the soap opera, the comic strip cast Barnabas as a hero from the very beginning.

Among the supernatural threats Barnabas faced were a werewolf, a werecat, Egyptian gods, and the Devil himself. Well, not exactly the Devil. The TV series had come under fire for Angelique conjuring up Satan in one episode; she subsequently dealt with lesser demons. The comic strip, which appeared in many newspapers on Sunday mornings – Church time – proceeded with caution. Mr. Sinestra leads a convocation of witches and spends his two month story arc trying to gain ownership of Barnabas Collins’s soul. At one point, Barnabas refers to Mr. Sinestra as “the master of evil” and holds him at bay with a Bible. While he’s never called Satan, Mr. Sinestra’s true identity is as obvious as the horns on his head.

Some readers criticized the scene in which Barnabas wields the Bible as a weapon. According to accepted lore, vampires should not be able to touch a sacred text. By allowing Barnabas to do so, the comic strip reminded the audience that this vampire was more hero than monster. In this story arc, he was battling on the side of the angels.

The two-month story arc also explored the complicated emotional dynamics between Barnabas and Angelique. In the original TV series, Angelique cast spells to trap Barnabas into marriage. When she realizes that he would never love her – a deduction she comes to after he shoots her – she places the vampire curse upon him.  The strip paints a sympathetic portrait of Angelique’s pain. “I remember how he scorned my love,” she recalls, “how he cast me aside when I tempted him. It was I who transformed him from a mortal into a vampire.” (Scott 90) As if to atone for her sins, Angelique defies her master, Mr. Sinestra, to help Barnabas. “I want to help you … ” she tells Barnabas, “even though I know you could never love me as I love you.” (Scott 96) The storyline ends with Angelique convincing Mr. Sinestra not to kill Barnabas as he lay in his coffin. Seeing this softer side to Angelique, seeing her act from her true feelings for Barnabas appealed to fans who enjoyed the more traditional, romantic elements in Dark Shadows as well as the horror.

Romance played a role in several of the comic strip’s storylines. In the second story arc, the goddess Isis travels from Egypt to Collinwood in search of her long lost love Osiris. Osiris’s soul, she discovers, is housed within Barnabas himself. “Your body is that of the vampire Barnabas,” she tells him, “but your soul is Osiris.” (Scott 62) Despite her everlasting love for Osiris, Isis finds herself attracted to Barnabas himself. In one thought balloon, she admits, “I am in love with the soul of Osiris, and the body of Barnabas Collins!” (Scott 66) Soap opera fans have always enjoyed complicated love triangles, but this storyline took that complication to another level. In the end, Isis’s feelings for Barnabas convince her to leave him to live his life at Collinwood.

The story’s penultimate storyline delved into Elizabeth Stoddard’s romantic past. Her college roommate arrives at Collinwood determined to punish Elizabeth for stealing the man she loved, Paul Stoddard, Carolyn’s father. To avenge her broken heart, the college roommate plots Carolyn’s murder but only succeeds in killing Carolyn’s dog and boyfriend. The college roommate, as it turns out, can transform herself into a werecat. The storyline bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1942 horror film Cat People, where sexual desire and jealousy turn a female artist into a panther.

The comic strip’s final story arc may have been inspired by current events of the time. In December of 1971, the Supreme Court heard the opening arguments for Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that would legalize abortion nationwide. A month later, Barnabas Collins meets Thomas Collins, a spectral figure whose great-great-great-great-grandfather died as an infant in a long-ago fire at Collinwood. “Had he been rescued, William would have been my ancestor,” Thomas explains. “And so I am doomed to walk this blessed Earth as one of the … Unborn!” (Scott 128) Thomas begs Barnabas to help him change history, to prevent the newborn William from dying in the fire. At the same time that the Supreme Court was debating when life begins, the Dark Shadows comic strip was making a case that it begins several hundred years before conception.

Dark Shadows fans had to bid farewell to Collinwood for the second time in as many years when the strip was canceled. The final strip finds a now born and fully grown Thomas Collins showing up at Elizabeth and Carolyn’s doorstep eager to meet his distant cousins. The arrival of another mysterious cousin brought the strip full circle, back to the first day when Barnabas showed up at Collinwood.


Scott, Kathryn Leigh (publisher). Dark Shadows: The Comic Strip Book. Pomegranate Press, 1996.

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Gerard J Waggett has taught classes on comic books, graphic novels, horror fiction, and vampires at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. After freelancing at varied soap opera magazines in the early 90s, he then published 11 books of soap opera trivia. More recently, he has begun focusing on his fiction with three stories published in Mystery Magazine during the past two years. He is also a two-time Jeopardy! champion.

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