Monday, 4 July 2011

American Vampire

Vertigo made a big hoo-ha about the fact they'd persuaded Stephen King to write his first ever original comics series (as opposed to the Dark Tower adaptations Marvel has been producing for years now), so I was intrigued to check this out when I saw it in my local library. Yep, now that I'm unemployed I'm really going to stick to the letter of the law round these parts - this book cost me nothing but the shoe leather it took to walk into the centre of our village.

American Vampire sets out with a pretty bold aim - to chronicle an alternate history of America in which vampires are as much a part of the culture as overpaid actors and crooked politicians. But these aren't cutesy twinkling Twilight vampires though: these guys are putting the blood back into bloodsucking.

It begins, as many of the best American legends do, in the latter days of the Wild West when an outlaw, murderer and bank robber called Skinner Sweet falls prey to an old, wealthy European vamp. Though Skinner himself is turned, the circumstances of his death prevent his resurrection for a number of years, and when he does eventually waken he's become a very different kind of vampire - one who can walk in the daylight.

Skinner's story continues in the book's alternating thread, set in 1920s Hollywood, wherein an ambitious young actress called Pearl Jones finds herself at the mercy of the fanged fiends who rule the casting couch. Like Skinner, Pearl is transformed into a new breed of vampire, and takes the necessary revenge on those who created her.

At the end of book one, American Vampire looks set to be an exciting and ambitious project, though Stephen King's involvement is secondary. The real guiding force is Scott Snyder, who scripts the Pearl Jones segments and appears to have provided much of the plot for the Skinner Sweet origin that's written by King. Both writers being overly modest in their introductions, it's difficult to tell just who came up with what, but it's clear that American Vampire is Snyder's brainchild, with King dragged along for the ride (and the extra sales his name will obviously bring). There's little stylistic difference between the two, and if credits were stripped from this book I'd easily believe it all the work of one writer. Likewise I doubt I'd recognise King's voice from his sections, despite being a huge fan of his work. Comics and novels are very different beasts, and the in-depth characterisation you'd expect from King's prose isn't particularly noticeable here; it's telling that in his introduction, King mentions his surprise at discovering thought balloons were considered old-hat in contemporary comics... for a writer who loves to get inside his character's heads, you can't help but feel this was a loss. The only truly typical King trait here is that Skinner Sweet's origin is told from the perspective of a grumpy pulp novelist.

Despite all this, American Vampire is both thrilling and engrossing, and I'll happily pop down the library to catch volume 2 when the book arrives in August. It's particularly worth a look for Rafael Albuquerque's dramatic and expressive artwork.

If you're slightly more flush than I am right now, you can pick up the hardcover of American Vampire: Volume. 1from Amazon for £10.36 (almost half rrp). Not sure when the trade paperback comes out, but I'm sure that'll be even cheaper.


  1. I miss thought balloons. I'm gonna bring them back.

  2. I read the issues collected in this book when they first came out, just because of Stephen King's involvement, and thought they were pretty good, too. Not brilliant, and not good enough that I wanted to carry on buying the series, but I'd definitely pick up the second volume if I saw it in the library.