More than 40 years after James and Deborah Howe unleashed their vegetarian vampire rabbit on the world, Bunnicula is back in a new format for a new generation. Bunnicula: The Graphic Novel will be out on August 30 from Atheneum, adapted by writer Andrew Donkin (who partnered with Eoin Colfer on the award-winning graphic novel Illegal) and artist Stephen Gilpin. Plans are already in the works for a second graphic novel based on the sequel, Howliday Inn.

Howe and his late wife Debbie first came up with the idea for the story in the late 1970s, when they were underemployed actors in their 30s. “We loved watching movies on late-night TV, horror movies especially, and vampire movies even more especially,” Howe said. “After watching too many low-budget, silly vampire movies, I asked myself, ‘If I wanted to make a really ridiculous vampire movie, what is the silliest vampire I can imagine?’ And because my mind works the way it does, I thought of a fluffy little bunny rabbit, and Bunnicula was born!”

Neither of them had thought of writing for publication before. “We wrote for the sheer fun of it,” he said, “much as we might make up characters and improvise a story with actor friends, something we did often in those days.” Midway through writing the book, however, Debbie was diagnosed with cancer, and she died shortly after it was completed.

The book found a home with editor Jean Karl at Atheneum, and Howe began writing children’s books full-time. He and Debbie hadn’t intended to write any sequels to Bunnicula, but after a project Howe was working on fell through, he decided to go back to that original story. “I loved Harold and Chester and the other characters in Bunnicula and thought it would be fun to return to them, which I did with Howliday Inn,” he said, “although I made the decision after the first draft to take Bunnicula out of the book and focus on Harold and Chester, the Holmes and Watson detective team whose friendship was at the heart of the stories.” Harold and Chester then starred in five more sequels and several spinoff series, even when Bunnicula was brought back into the stories, Howe said. “I also added a new central character—Howie, the wire-haired dachshund puppy—who is a stand-in for my eight-year-old self.”

Despite the horror theme, Howe wanted the books to be more funny than scary. “I guess I’ve used myself as the barometer,” he said, “imagining what would have scared me as a kid and trying to imagine what would scare me now in a world that has become scarier for kids both in the entertainment they’re exposed to and, sadly, in real life.” That carried over to the graphic novel adaptation as well. “I gave this scary/not too scary balance a lot of thought when considering the visual images in the graphic novel,” he said. “The question always, in words or images, is how the material is presented. If it’s clearly satirical or meant to be funny, it takes the edge of the scariness.”

When it came to adapting the book into the new format, Howe let Donkin take the lead. “The key to a good adaptation is when the adapter really gets the voice and style of the original author,” Howe said. “When that happens, the original author—in this case, me—feels comfortable turning over the reins.”

“What we’ve done is expand the story rather than change it,” Donkin told PW. “We get to see a lot more of Harold and Chester’s relationship. We get a glimpse behind the curtain of Harold’s doggie world. And we get to dive headfirst—holding a large clove of garlic for protection!—into Chester’s daydreams about being a feline vampire hunter.”

While he did update the story a bit, Donkin didn’t change the essence, which is the characters and their interactions. “Chester the crazy cat and Harold the slightly more sensible dog is a classic comedy pairing,” he said.

Gilpin’s artwork was inspired by Alan Daniel’s original illustrations for the book. “We wanted to keep it timeless, so we added stuff that didn’t exactly ‘date’ it,” Gilpin said. “Old boxy TV sets would have done that, but the computer [on which Harold writes the story] could be 15 years old.”

For Gilpin, the most fun part of drawing the book was “nailing down the funny expressions and actions to complement the text. That was also the hardest part.”

As for why he thinks Bunnicula continues to be popular 40 years after its publication, Donkin said, “The idea of something being cute and sinister, furry and frightening at the same time has a brilliant, ageless appeal to kids and adults alike.”

Gilpin pointed to the characters. “The contrast between the neurotic Chester and the even-tempered Harold really works well,” he said, “and I think that’s what has given the series its staying power.”

Howe said he once asked a librarian about the book’s enduring appeal. “She said, ‘It has three key elements that kids love: humor, animals, and mystery.’ My best guess is that that’s still the answer. I also think it has humor that appeals to adults and that’s helped the books carry on through the generations.”

Bunnicula: The Graphic Novel by James Howe and Andrew Donkin, illus. by Stephen Gilpin. Atheneum, $19.99, paper $12.99 Aug. 30 ISBN 978-1-5344-2161-5; 978-1-5344-2162-2