American Vampire

In my last post, I discussed vampires from space. Today, we’ll take a look at thoroughly Earth-bound vampires, though we will travel back in time to 1920s Hollywood and even a little further back to the Old West. The comic book series American Vampire first captured my attention because one of its stories was written by Stephen King. Even though King’s works had been adapted for comics, American Vampire was the first time King actually scripted a comic. What’s more, I had enjoyed the way King played with the tropes of the American west in his novel, The Gunslinger, so I hoped he’d capture some of that magic again in a novel actually set in the American west.

American Vampire

The first volume of American Vampire actually tells two stories. The lead story, written by Scott Snyder, introduces us to Pearl Jones, an aspiring actress in 1920s Hollywood. As the story opens, she’s pretty much just picked up small parts in films, but it looks like her luck may change when she’s invited to a party hosted by some of the players in the movie industry. It turns out these producers and directors are vampires and she’s there as part of the buffet. Somehow she survives the initial assault and a mysterious stranger, who also proves to be a vampire, helps her become a vampire. The mysterious stranger is Skinner Sweet, a vampire who appears to have a grudge against the old European vampires who attacked Pearl.

The other story running through the issues is Skinner Sweet’s origin story penned by Stephen King. We meet Sweet as a human outlaw on a train. A Pinkerton agent is taking him to face justice. Sweet expects to be freed by his gang, but one of the men who paid the Pinkertons is a European vampire who wants Sweet dead so he can fulfill his plans. The vampire attacks Sweet and appears to kill him. Unknown to anyone, Sweet managed to drink some of the vampire’s blood. Sweet is buried, but eventually rises again years later. This segment is told through the eyes of a successful author who wrote a book based on Sweet’s story. For the most part, it worked. King did lean heavily on the tropes of the American west, plus tropes within his own writing, but he delivered a solid vampire origin story.

The two stories weave a tale of vampires evolving in the new world. American vampires have new powers and fewer weaknesses than their European counterparts. As a metaphor for Americans embracing the new and moving forward, sometimes in dangerous ways, I found this interesting. Still, as a scientist who likes to ask why things happen, I wanted to better understand why American vampires are fundamentally different from European vampires. What’s the mechanism that caused vampires to evolve in this world? Admittedly, I’ve only read volume one, which contains the first five issues of the comic, so it’s possible this is explored more later.

Both stories were nicely told, but I think the real star of the comic was Rafael Albuquerque’s art. Having the same artist on both stories really helped to unify them. Also Albuquerque’s art felt very dynamic, which fit the stories well. I loved his use of color to both differentiate the stories and set the moods of the stories.

Another thing I appreciated in the graphic novel editions was the inclusion of sample script and early art pages. As someone who has long been fascinated by the process of creating comics, I liked this behind-the-scenes look.

You can learn more about my vampire comic, Guinevere and the Stranger by visiting http://davidleesummers.com/Tales-of-the-Scarlet-Order.html

4 comments on “American Vampire

  1. Hopefully I haven’t mentioned this on your blog before. But your mentioning different types of vampires got me thinking of it.

    Years ago, when we were new to the Internet, a friend and I one day chatted with a woman online who claimed to be a vampire. One (later both) of us had bought the book *GURPS Blood Types* which had descriptions of various vampiric types from fiction and even historical beliefs. So we asked the woman questions about her “vampiriness,” and consulted the book. We found a type that fit her self-description, and we and her were all happy.

    So for fun, my friend and I looked for more “vampires” online whom we could advise on their type, and did that several times.

    Two things that surprised me were 1) vampire stories apparently originated independently in many parts of the world, and 2) beliefs in vampires likely came from real-life phenomena.

    • I think you may have told me about chatting about the woman who claimed to be a vampire, but not the part about finding a type in the GURPS Book that fit her self-description. That’s neat.

      You make good points about vampire stories originating independently in many parts of the world and beliefs in vampires likely coming from real-life phenomena. I learned the first point while sitting on a panel of vampire authors at the World Fantasy convention a few years ago. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro made the point because she deliberately looked through as many of those legends as she could find for common threads, which became the basis of her St. Germain vampire mythos.

  2. With something as made up as vampires, I guess it doesn’t bother me when authors put their own spin on it. It’s all just a story, right? As long as they stay consistent, I can suspend my disbelief.

    • Staying consistent is actually a big part of why I like changes to have a mechanism in stories. The mechanism can be “magic” or even an explicit “we don’t understand why” (which implies an undiscovered mechanism) but “it’s just the way it is” feels unsatisfactory to me, in part because it feels like an inconsistency created for no reason other than driving plot.

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