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With the hardcover collection of AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOL. 1 now on sale and the second story arc playing out in new issues (issue #9 goes on sale October 27), comic-book writer Scott Snyder spoke with Fango about his collaboration with best-selling novelist Stephen King and artist Rafael Albuquerque, as they created this fresh and original take on bloodsucker lore.
FANGORIA: AMERICAN VAMPIRE started off as a screenplay, then materialized as a comic. How did the idea first come about, and how did it change media?
SCOTT SNYDER: The idea itself came to me a few years ago, during the previous vampire craze. This was when the BLADE sequels, UNDERWORLD, QUEEN OF THE DAMNED and all those were coming out, and the vampires had that same Gothic, super-cool look to them—with the leather jackets and turtlenecks and sunglasses at night. Nothing against that, but it got me nostalgic for the kind of vampires I loved growing up: creatures that were scary rather than romantic or alluring. I mean, for me, what makes vampires scary and really enduring is the core idea that they’re undead versions of people you know, coming back to life to kill you. ’SALEM’S LOT, THE LOST BOYS, NEAR DARK—their vampires are your brother, your girlfriend, your neighbor and friends, scratching at your window, back from the grave to kill you.
Anyway, I started thinking about writing a story about a more homegrown kind of vampire, instead of the exotic, romantic type. And it dawned on me: Why not create a new species that’s indigenous to America? One born in the American West; a new breed with different powers and weaknesses. From there, the concept of vampire evolution in general really blossomed—this idea of a secret vampire genealogy with all sorts of secret species born at different points and places throughout history.
As for how it became a comic, that’s a much shorter answer. I tried working on it as a screenplay and then a novel, but I kept feeling like the story was spilling out over the form. Like there was more in the idea than I wanted to do in those media. So in the end, I never wrote it as either of those things; deep down, I realized this was a story that had to be a comic.
FANG: King wrote the Skinner Sweet origin story, based on your detailed outline. What was your working relationship with him like? In his introduction to AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOL. 1, King mentions that you needed to correct his page layouts, because they turned out wrong.
SNYDER: Believe me, he’s just being humble. His scripts needed very little editing. And as for what it’s like to collaborate with him, the thing about Steve—the thing that’s so wild—is that when he likes a story, he writes like a hungry young writer, right out of the gate—a guy with something to prove, not like someone established—established beyond anyone out there! It’s very inspiring to see someone of his stature go to the mat for a story that way. We e-mailed and spoke every day for those couple of months; we talked ideas, edits, etc. Again, 100 thanks to him.
FANG: In this mythology, new vampires can now walk in the sun, unlike the older generation. What was it about this evolution that you wanted to explore?
SNYDER: Well, I wanted this new species—the first new one born in a long time, in the world of AMERICAN VAMPIRE—to be like a big evolutionary leap from the dominant breed at the time. I knew I wanted the claws, jaws and fangs to have a meaner, more snakelike or spiderlike quality—more like a desert creature. But then I realized that regardless of how tough this new type was, the biggest advantage it could have would be an imperviousness to sunlight. If the American Vampire could walk in the sun, it would have this huge advantage over the Carpathian vampires—the dominant species we’re all familiar with. Basically, the birth of this species would scare the hell out of the ruling breed.
FANG: In issue #2, “Morning Star,” the most breathtaking panels are when the town of Sidewinder has become completely submerged, with the cemetery underwater. Skinner is lying inside his coffin, waiting for his chance to come out and strike. In your afterword, you mention being excited but hesitant to see Skinner as the reborn American Vampire. As a storyteller, why was this moment so integral to your vision?
SNYDER: I guess because for me, Skinner represents the wildness and freedom and violence of the West. He himself believes that those qualities are what make us, us. We forge ourselves on the frontier, according to him. We’re tough and unchained. To him, the civilizing of the West is repulsive and un-American. And so, there was something really exciting, haunting and scary to me about this idea of that kind of spirit—a wild and ferocious one, lying dormant at the bottom of this lake, waiting to be set free so it could turn the West wild again, if that makes sense.
FANG: You present two different sides of America: Hollywood and the Western frontier. How important were these locations in telling the history of America and Skinner’s origin?
SNYDER: I wanted to use settings and time periods that were really iconic to this country—in my mind, at least. There are some places and moments that seem to loom large when it comes to our sense of ourselves as Americans, and they make for rich contexts, I believe.
FANG: What’s interesting about AMERICAN VAMPIRE is how half of the story is told through a female perspective. Pearl Jones is a struggling actress in Hollywood, waiting for her chance to be a famous star. Her best friend, Hattie, doesn’t think she has what it takes to make it big. How did Pearl fit into your take on Hollywood satire and Skinner’s plans?
SNYDER: Pearl and Skinner represent two opposing ideas for me. She’s all about trying to live her life, in spite of the dark pull she feels in her blood, trying to be a good person despite her predatory urges. And Skinner’s all about giving in to every impulse and desire. He’s about taking what he wants, survival of the meanest, being the strongest SOB out there. As for the bond between the two, there’s a strange magnetism between them. It’s complicated for them both. It gets explored more in the new Las Vegas arc, actually.
FANG: There are many layers to Skinner Sweet. With Pearl Jones, Skinner is the antihero as he helps her with her quest for revenge, but for his own purposes. On the Western frontier, Skinner is an outlaw and vocal in his racism towards minorities. Was it difficult to see where he was going as a character during these different time periods?
SNYDER: It always makes me a little queasy typing lines Skinner says that are openly offensive, but in the end, he’s a bad guy from a different time. He’s not the hero, he’s the villain—at best, the antihero. I can’t promise he won’t say even worse things in the future, but I do apologize in advance if he offends. As for Skinner himself, and moving him through other periods of history, that’s a big part of the fun of the character for me. I love him in the West, but you put a character like him in the ’20s or the ’40s or ’50s, and he’ll wreak havoc in the best way. He belongs in the wild, violent West. Everywhere else he’s like a bull in a china shop, you know?
FANG: How was your relationship with artist Rafael Albuquerque?
SNYDER: Very collaborative. From the start, I said I wasn’t going to pretend to know what works best on the page as well as him. If you look at the stuff he’s done on his own—his layouts, his compositions, expressiveness—it’s pretty incredible. He’s the kind of guy who thrives when given room to breathe. So, our deal is that I know what needs to happen with the story—the beats, information, dialogue and action that have to occur on each page—and I write a detailed script, but Rafa can always change it up if he has a better way of conveying things. The series owes so much to Rafael’s creative input, not just his art. He’s like my co-creator. I’m actually working on getting him listed as such in the near future.
FANG: How much research did you and he undertake to capture the Jazz Age/Hollywood glamour and the Western frontier?
SNYDER: We actually do a good amount of research, me and Rafa both, and send a lot of references back and forth. The series is about American history to some extent, so part of the fun is trying to capture the feel of that particular moment and place in the writing and art.
FANG: What can fans expect from future issues, in the new cycle of stories set in Las Vegas during the 1930s? Will readers see more of Abilena Camillo and her daughter Felicia?
SNYDER: Definitely! Felicia plays a big part in this new arc, when the city is just becoming the Las Vegas we know. The plot centers on a murder mystery: The bodies of prominent citizens are showing up drained of blood and this young chief of police has to solve the case fast, and the clues lead him down the hole into the world of the American Vampire. I’m very excited about it. It brings back all the big characters from the first arc—Pearl, Skinner, Henry—and introduces readers to new characters, both human and vampire. It reveals more about secret vampire history, and explores human-vampire conflict through the years. You’re introduced to a new species of vampires!
FANG: What else are you working on now?
SNYDER: Right now, AMERICAN VAMPIRE and DETECTIVE COMICS [for which he’s doing a Dick-Grayson-as-Batman arc] are all I need. If I only do those two comics for the rest of my life, I’ll be a happy camper. I’m working hard to keep the quality of AMERICAN VAMPIRE up there. We work way ahead, so we’re up to issue #12 right now. Rafa and I have some big stories planned for 2011!
And please, let me say thanks to you guys. FANGORIA has been so kind to us, and I’m a longtime fan. I may have told you this before, but one of my first pieces of confiscated “porn” was actually an issue of Fango back in the late ’80s. It had Linnea Quigley in it; I think she was on the cover for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Naked in the graveyard. I developed a huge, twisted crush on her. So thanks for the years of bad influence!
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