by Casey Brazeal
Let’s get the Twilight comparison out of the way first. No, these vampires don’t sparkle. They’re smart, what they do isn’t pretty, and the vileness of the act of drinking human blood is out there in the open. Illustrator Raphael Albuquerque knows how to draw a beautiful woman, a western vista, and a hideous creature of the damned.
It’s telling that “vampire” is the second word in the title of this series, because the story is just as concerned with the United States at the turn of the twentieth century as it is with the mythos of vampires in general. The first arc takes us through a manhunt in the Old West and ties it to a story from a generation later of two young women trying to make it in the golden age of Hollywood.
Initially, American Vampire got a lot of attention because of Stephen King’s writing in that first arc. King’s novels, or the worlds explored in his novels, have been made into comics before, but this was his first time writing for comics directly. The story is split in half, with Scott Snyder writing one part in the story’s present and King writing another part taking place in the story’s past. The background story that King writes is exciting and is told from the point of view of an author (something he has done in a number of his novels), but in the end it is outdone by the story sharing its issues, written by Snyder.
One of the challenges of writing a comic at the beginning of an ongoing series is that you have to produce something that sets the tone and the world for a larger work, while delivering a satisfying story. Many great TV shows begin with a pilot that isn’t so great. American Vampire doesn’t have that problem, thanks in large part to Albuquerque’s artwork. A lot of the world building in the story is done visually. The backgrounds aren’t color swatches, they’re richly illustrated towns and deserts. Part of the strength of Snyder’s stories comes from his restraint. He puts fewer words on the page so that the reader can watch the drawn characters act out the drama.
That restraint is also evident in the fact that there is no big information dump. American Vampire doesn’t need pages of exposition to get started. It borrows from western and horror genres that the audience knows well. When it wants to tweak those genres, it doesn’t do so in a ponderous prose passage, it does so in a big reveal.
Trade Paperback Release
The series, which has now reached issue 19, finally released its first trade paperback. (Comic “trades” are softcover collections of several issues, in this case numbers 1-5.) This may be a move to sell some horror books in connection with Halloween, or maybe they heard about Josh’s Horrorfest. In any case, I think these collections are a great way to experience the story. As a reader more accustomed to novels and movies than comic issues, I find this to be a satisfying way to read comics in general and this series in particular. Folks who would rather be reading the latest books can pick up this month’s collection. I am currently reading the second hardcover and can say that the series continues to deliver. The first trade covers two full story arcs and includes the work that Stephen King did on the series, though for my money that story places a strong second behind the one crafted by series creator Scott Snyder. Before this series started, I was already a King fan, but this book made me a big Snyder and Albuquerque fan, as well.
You can visit Casey at his blog, North and Clark.