01/06/2011. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
American Vampire Volume 1 by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King. pub: Titan/Vertigo. 192 page graphic novel hardback. Price: GBP 18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-85768-031-0).
check out website: www.titanbooks.com
One of Vertigo’s most high profile new comicbook lines recently was the ambitious ‘American Vampire’, a blood-soaked take on the vampire genre aiming to take it back to its darker horror roots, rather than the more sanitised vampires seen in franchises like ‘Twilight’. Scott Snyder had been working on the idea of Skinner Sweet, the first in a new breed of vampires, for a number of years, but when it was finally decided to turn the story into a series of comics, the Vertigo team pulled off a huge coup: landing the immeasurable talents of Stephen King to co-write alongside Snyder.
This graphic novel contains the first five issues of the series. Each issue is split into two timelines. Snyder writes the more modern timeline, set in Hollywood in 1925, where Pearl, a young girl trying to make it as a movie actress finds that the film industry has a bit more bite than she was expecting. The cocky rebel Skinner Sweet turns up to help her and a satisfyingly destructive swathe is carved across Hollywood.
Stephen King’s sections start in 1925 as well, as an old writer talks about the real events that inspired the character’s books about Skinner Sweet. After a couple of panels, these sections go back fifty years to the wild west, where we learn about Sweet’s origin story, how he went from dastardly outlaw and bank robber to become the first American vampire.
For Sweet is different to the stuffy, nocturnal European vampires that own the railroads and the film production companies, who fear the sunlight and crave power just as much as blood. Due to a quirk of his genes, Skinner is a new breed of vampire. He can walk outside in the daytime, but come the new moon, he loses all his strength and can be killed easily, compared to his near invincibility the rest of the time.
The storylines blend a mix of dark and grisly vampires with the machinations of classic wild west and roaring twenties politics, with the ageless vampires who made the journey to the new continent assuming the power behind the American Dream. Skinner is a classic loose cannon in the vein of the trickster-god Pan, a fly in the ointment of the European vampires domination plans purely because he feels like it. Skinner is not a good person by any stretch of the imagination, but his unpredictability and charm make him an engaging anti-hero. The more innocent Pearl’s uncovering of the vampire world adds a more traditional protagonist to Snyder’s sections and the banter between her and Sweet is well played.
The art for both sections is by Rafael Alberquerque, who uses gritty, detail filled drawings, lushly coloured by Dave McCaig. The richness and vibrant violence of the art complements the unvarnished nature of the story – the creators have really delivered on their promise to return the horror to the vampire sub-genre. Stephen King is no longer writing for the series, but Snyder is a talented writer in his own right and the storyline in this volume sets things up nicely for the rest of the series as we move into the modern era. Definitely worth checking out this passionate and skilful return to the world of the classic vampire of our nightmares.
Tomas L. Martin
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