Stephen King and Scott Snyder Bring ‘American Vampire’ to Vertigo
Good news, horror fans: Bestselling novelist Stephen King will soon be returning to the world of comics in March 2010 with “American Vampire,” an original Vertigo Comics series about the origin of the famous fanged monster on American shores. Created by short story author Scott Snyder and drawn by artist Rafael Albuquerque, the series explores both the genealogical evolution of vampires, and the vampirism of the American character throughout history.
The first five issues of “American Vampire” will be split into two story cycles, with King tackling the Old West origin story of the first American vampire, Skinner Sweet, and then Snyder exploring the story of Pearl, a struggling actress that Skinner turns into a vampire in the 1920s.
ComicsAlliance spoke with Snyder about his plans to revamp one of the world’s most famous monsters, and what it was like to work with the legendary author who had first inspired him to write.ComicsAlliance: You’ve mentioned that you were inspired to start writing at a young age by a Stephen King book, “Eyes of the Dragon”–
Scott Snyder: Yeah, I went to this kind of “Lord of the Flies” all-boys sports camp as a kid, so you can imagine what that was like for a comics-loving kid — it was a little tough. But I had this one great counselor, and he would read us pieces of “Eyes of the Dragon” every night. It was something I looked forward to all day – it was the best part of the day, hands down. I would be standing there missing the tennis ball and just thinking about how at least I’d get to listen to more of that at night. So that was a big influence in terms of falling in love with the idea of storytelling in a serial way.
CA: What was it like to actually start working with Stephen King after growing up as a fan?
SS: Well, Stephen and I have been in touch ever since he gave me a [promotional] blurb for my story collection… So after I pitched ["American Vampire"] to Vertigo and it became clear that it was going to be greenlit, they asked me if there was anyone that might want to blurb the series. I sent it to Steve both for publicity and just to see what he thought, and wrote me back and said that he liked it enough that he’d be willing to do a couple issues. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. So I called Vertigo on Friday and left a message about it, and then Monday morning the whole office called me back. [laughs] And from that point on, he was just amazing to work with. He really just fell in love with the Skinner Sweet character, who’s basically the heart of series. He was originally only going to write a couple issues, but he wound up writing five… and taking the character and the story to places that I never would have imagined. It was awe-inspiring, and so crazy, because honest to God, I really did send it to him just for a quote and an opinion.
CA: Is this the first time that Stephen King has scripted a comic personally?
SS: Yup. He’s never done a comic; he’s had things adapted [to comics] before, but he’s never actually scripted one. I’m relatively new [to the medium], and it was really fun to see him learn the form. And he took to it so quickly. I know he’s done some screenplays, and it’s a little bit similar, but he just got so good at it so fast. He was basically on issue 5 when I was on issue 2.
CA: So while he’s writing Skinner Sweet, you’re going to be writing about Pearl, a different character in the same world?
SS: Right. The kind of high concept of the series is centered in the idea of vampire evolution. Vampires are these creatures that have evolved over the years from the genus vampire into different species at different places and times throughout history. And every once in a while vampires will mutate or evolve into a new version of itself with different abilities or powers. But a new species hasn’t emerged in a few hundred years, for mysterious reasons that are part of the mythology of the series. We begin with Skinner, the character that Steve is writing, who’s a sociopathic Joker-like outlaw who winds up developing into the first American vampire. He becomes one of those rare mutations with a whole new set of characteristics, powers and weaknesses that are revealed as the series moves forward. He actually thrives in the sunlight, where the vampires that come before him are burned by the sunlight. He’s kind of Vampire 2.0: fiercer, meaner, bigger fangs and bigger claws.
CA: So the stereotypical vampire as we understand it exists in this world, but only as one particular kind of vampire.
SS: The stereotypical vampire is only one brand. We had a lot of fun coming up with names for all the different species, and we have a secret tree for ourselves about where the different species developed. So that [stereotypical] species developed at a particular time in European history and has its own secret story as to why it’s become the dominant species. Part of the fun was creating this whole genealogical history for the classic vampire, which dies from a stake through the heart because it has a massive allergic reaction to wood and sunlight. But there are many other species that came before it in many parts of the world that we get to sort of have fun with as the series goes on. It’s going to follow the bloodline of the American vampire throughout different decades of American history, so Steve’s dealing with the origin story in his story cycle, while mine takes place in the 1920s with the first person that Skinner changed into a vampire. This young woman, Pearl, is an aspiring actress in the silent film industry in Hollywood, and she ends up falling into a bad situation. And I don’t want to give it away, but Skinner sort of helps her out.
CA: So to speak.
SS: Yeah, she finds a friend in him in a certain way. My cycle picks up with her and her relationship to the vampires that exist in Hollywood that have come before her.
CA: Are the two story cycles going to be published simultaneously?
SS: The first five issues are going to be double-sized, and they’ll have my 16 pages with Pearl and then Steve’s 16 pages with Skinner. The stories themselves have overlaps, although they are free-standing and you don’t need to read one to read the other. The other thing we’re really excited about is that Raphael came up with the idea of drawing our stories in different styles for the different eras. So my story in the 20s has this art deco, precise pen and ink style, and Steve’s is done in these gray washes with some hard shadows for the Old West.
CA: You’ve emphasized that Skinner is an American vampire; does he have any qualities that you see as distinctly American?
SS: Well, absolutely. We’re not trying to make him essentially “American” in the sense of cultural stereotypes… But as each cycle picks up at a different decade in American history, the series is also about trying to investigate what’s villainous and what’s heroic about the American character at different points in history. It’s a really exciting time right now to be American because it’s so fluid; so many things are changing, and lots of people think it’s great and lots of people think it’s terrible… There are so many different interpretations of what it means to be a monster and a hero at this particular moment, so it’s a rich vein to mine. It’s a fun time to look back not just at this iconography but at actual history. Steve’s cycle has a lot about the Old West, and the fact and fiction and legend of the time, and my cycle deals with t
he silent film industry in the 1920s and the more vampiric qualities of the business itself.
CA: What do you see as the fundamental appeal of the vampire, and why do you think it’s taken on such an important place in our cultural consciousness?
SS: I think part of it is because the vampire has both sides of the coin; it’s something that’s terrifying, that represents a twisted funhouse mirror version of ourselves. It represents both our secret desire to be young and beautiful and to never die, and on the other hand your secret fears about yourself and your animalistic desires. And having both of those qualities makes it something that touches a nerve. The vampire as a creature is so enduring versus, say, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I feel like people start reinvestigating classic monsters and icons of their culture when their sense of national character is in flux. So you can have vampires coexist that are figures of romance and fantasy like in “Twilight,” or figures of southern gothic in “True Blood,” or ["American Vampire,"] which really brings it right back to horror – and about what was vampiric about us at different times, in both good ways and bad ways.