Van Helsing’s Night Off

Writer / Artist
Van Helsing’s Night Off
Van Helsing's Night Off review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Top Shelf - 1-89183-038-4
  • Release date: 2004
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781891830389
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

Very little of Austrian cartoonist Nicolas Mahler’s work has been translated into English, which is a great shame, as so much of it requires no translation at all. It applies to this collection of sixteen wordless strips in which Mahler explores the daft side of horror staples Dracula, Frankenstein, the Werewolf and the Mummy, also throwing in superhero archetype the Masked Avenger, confronting them with ludicrous problems.

In the opening strip Dracula heads out for a drink, really ties one on, and can’t remember which is his coffin when he arrives back at the graveyard. The sample art shows Van Helsing, plying his trade rather than taking a night off, and finding his hat troublesome when in the process of hammering stakes through vampires’ hearts.

Mahler provides emaciated sketchy figures, or alternatively stumpy types, always with long noses and very simply drawn operating in a world that rarely contains anything more than is needed for them to function. When Mahler does include a few extra details, such as tower blocks and the moon in the first Masked Avenger strip, the eye is immediately drawn to them. Despite the simplicity, personalities flourish, and the environments are fully formed.

Although the cartoons were produced in the late 20th century, thematically they harken back to the mid-20th century. This isn’t just via the use of instantly recognisable characters from black and white horror films, but with social conventions such as men drinking a lot, and shorthand gags like women waiting at home with rolling pins.

All the background would mean nothing if the jokes weren’t funny, but they are. The Man With Two Heads fights himself because he only orders the single pint; the Werewolf’s husband locks her in a cupboard during the full moon, then settles down to a night of TV porn, and the Mummy goes on a succession of disappointing dates. Only ‘The Mummy Meets Frankenstein’ disappoints, taking far too long to reach an unclear solution.

This is long out of print, but used copies are readily available, and worth getting for some good laughs with some iconic characters.