Ottomans vs. Vampires: Saladin Ahmed on His New Comic, DRAGON
The Eisner winner returns for our second crossover with his COPPER BOTTLE newsletter! You've never read a vampire story like his. Let's explore why.
Edited by Sam Thielman
I HAVE A NOTIFICATION ON MY CALENDAR set for every May 29. That's the anniversary of the date in 1453 when Mehmed The Conqueror, who is unquestionably Top 5 emperors of all time and quite possibly the GOAT, took Constantinople. The legacy of the Ottoman Empire is vast and varied, but in the "West"—a term that the Ottomans really complicate, given that they ruled Southeastern Europe from Thrace to the Danube for hundreds of years; were the Ottomans not Western?—it's obscure. Me? I like to remember when Mehmed II ate the red apple.
If Mehmed had only conquered Constantinople, dayenu. But it turns out Constantinople was not even his most based achievement. If I told you what that was, you wouldn't believe me. So here I must transcribe three paragraphs from The Ottoman Centuries by Patrick Balfour, AKA Lord Kinross.
To the northeast beyond the Danube lay Wallachia, ruled by the earlier mentioned Vlad Dracul, otherwise Dracula, one of the monsters of history whose cruelties, far exceeding those familiar enough in that age of brutality, made him also one of the devils of legend.
For all this, the Sultan was inclined to let Dracul alone as long as his tribute was paid and he left his Ottoman neighbours unmolested. But in 1461 he formed an alliance against the Turks with King Mathias Corvinus, who had succeeded [John] Hunyadi as ruler of Hungary. Mehmed sent an envoy to lure Dracul to Istanbul, with his arrears of tribute and a contingent of Vlachs for the Ottoman army, and instructed the commander of his troops on the Danube to ambush and capture him on the way there. But the tables were turned by an encounter in which Dracul's bodyguard put the Turks to flight, and on his orders both envoy and commander were impaled, the highest pike being allotted to the highest in rank. Vlad Dracul then crossed the Danube into Bulgaria, at the head of an army with which he ravaged Ottoman territory and massacred much of the population.
At this the Sultan, determined on vengeance,
Mehmedddddddddd my fucking BOYYYYYYYYYYY let's goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
led a large army into Wallachia. In the course of the campaign they came upon a "forest of corpses," in which there rotted the remains of some twenty thousand Bulgarians and Ottomans impaled on stakes and crucified – a grim example of the mass executions which Dracul liked to stage for his pleasure and for the edification of his neighbours. The Sultan's army, though harassed by bouts of unaccustomed mobile guerilla warfare, finally overcame the enemy and drove Vlad Dracul into exile in Moldovia, while the Ottoman commander was able to place two thousand Vlach heads at the feet of his sovereign. Vlad was replaced as lord of Wallachia by his brother Radu, a hostage in Istanbul whose good looks had caught the Sultan's fancy, and who was thus singled out to serve as one of his most favoured pages. Under him Wallachia became a vassal state, but was not otherwise treated as a Turkish province.
That's right: Mehmed The Conqueror was queer. He defeated Dracula and one of his lovers was Dracula's own brother, who was apparently a baddie. A man who calls himself "Lord Kinross" doesn't want to dwell on that, but it's canon. Happy Pride!
If you're asking yourself "why have I not read a million stories about this indisputably incredible moment in history," do we have an interview for you. Saladin Ahmed, AKA Mr. Win An Eisner With His First Comic, and Dave Acosta recently released Dragon, a horror graphic novel set in the 15th Century Ottoman Balkans, that they funded through Kickstarter. It's the story of a monster-slaying quest by a Jannisary in Mehmed's service and a Hungarian nun. One of their companions? The baddie himself, Radu Dracul. Non-backers can now read the early chapters of Dragon for free on Saladin's excellent comics newsletter, COPPER BOTTLE. (You can also read the whole thing in a sitting if you subscribe.)
I'm pleased to present our second COPPER BOTTLE crossover: a conversation with Saladin about Dragon; the Ottoman Empire in history and memory; and vampires. This one is just for subscribers, so pay Saladin or pay me. You won't want to miss it. I'm not speaking like a journalist in this interview, I'm speaking like a fan.