Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Where have all these vampires come from?

Warning: Contains some graphic, possibly disturbing, imagery.

I don’t know how it happened but by the end of 2011 I seemed to be reading more vampire comics than I ever have before. I know the popularity of all things vampire has surged again recently with the Twilight books and films, and True Blood on TV, among other things. But it just seems that I have been stealthily assaulted with a steady stream of vampire comic books, both established titles which I have just discovered, and new on-going series and mini-series. And you know what. I’m thoroughly enjoying all of them. And that’s the thing that surprises me most.

I’ve never really been a big vampire fan, although I’ve always recognised the appeal. I like the Dracula/Vlad The Impaler myth, and the themes of the vampire related books and movies I read and watched growing up held a certain fascination. Actually, one of my favourite films when I was a teenager was The Lost Boys. And I will admit to sitting through Coppolla’s Dracula film more than once. So, okay, I’m not a huge fan of vampires, but clearly I didn’t go out of my way to avoid vampire related stuff. But as I said, over the last six months I’ve been reading so many vampire related comic books, and on the whole they’ve been way above average, some outstanding. In fact three of my top ten comics of 2011 have featured vampires.

I started off the year reading Justin Cronin’s excellent novel The Passage. If you haven’t read this book you need to stop everything, get a copy and read it. Simple as that. It is amazing. It’s a monster of a novel, filled with original ideas on a subject which has been around for hundreds of years and has been written about countless times. I won’t give anything away about the plot, but I will say that I pretty much put my life on hold while I read it, and some of the characters stayed with me for weeks, if not months. I envy anybody who hasn’t read it, because they get to experience the joy I felt while reading it. I’m just thankful he’s publishing a sequel this year called The Twelve. So excited about that. You can find more info about The Passage and The Twelve here

I also watched for the first time the brilliant film 30 Days of Night. A gripping film with an original, exciting premise, and some truly terrifying vampire monsters. I shudder just thinking about the way they move and sniff the air when they get the scent of a human. Brrrr. Watching this film led me to the comic it was based on. Created by writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith, 30 days of Night was a breakthrough work for both guys. It’s not hard to see why. The writing is filled with tension; even having seen the film and knowing what’s coming, it’s terrifying to see the unwitting inhabitants of Barrow, Alaska, completely unaware of the Hell which is about to descend on them. If you enjoyed the film you’ll love the comic. There have been numerous spin-offs and mini-series form the original comic. Most recently there has been a mini-series written by Joe Lansdale, and there is a current ongoing series written by Steve Niles and illustrated by the ever fantastic Sam Keith. It is published, like all first series by the brilliant IDW. Find out more here

Another well established vampire comic book which I recently started reading is American Vampire. Created by writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque the first five issues featured two stories, one of which was written by Stephen King (himself no stranger to vampires, ‘Salem’s Lot being in my imminent read pile – I just can’t get enough vampires!) American Vampire is an ongoing series and is one of my current favourite comic books that I’m reading regularly. Snyder is an amazing writer who has created some unforgettable characters. Each story arc is set in a different era. The new story arc which began in the most recent issue #22, is set in the 1950’s. If the first part is anything to go by it’s going to be a blast. Featuring a young, cocky vampire hunter with a cause, named Travis Kidd, the writer and artist seem to have so much fun creating their little slice of 1950’s America - hot-rods, mini-skirts, diners and all – that you can’t help having fun while reading it. Snyder is so good at drawing you into his world, and the artists just top it off. American Vampire is a really great comic book, which seems to be getting better, and it is one of my top ten comics of the year.

Which leads me to another of my top ten comic books of the year, and one of the biggest surprises from DC’s “New 52” re-launch. (See my earlier posts on this subject.)

I, Vampire, written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and beautifully illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino was a title that I wasn’t really that interested in when the relaunch was first announced. I, and a lot of people I spoke to at the time couldn’t really see it taking off and I even thought it might be one of the first titles to be cancelled early. But as more and more preview pages got released ahead of the first issue my interest in the title started to pick up and I decided to give the first issue a try. I am so glad I did. Originally created by J.M Dematteis in the early ‘80’s, it features protagonist Andrew Bennett, a character with the powers and weaknesses of a vampire, who resists his base instincts and has vowed only to drink animal blood and human blood taken from blood donor centres. The first issue of the re-launched title reveals a little of his history and his relationship with Mary, Queen of Blood. By the end of the first issue battle lines have been drawn, and we know we are in for an almighty fight between these two characters, whose lives are entwined by centuries of history.

Finally, released in December of last year was the first issue of The Strain, a comic book based on the novel of the same name by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. The comic book is written by David Lapham and illustrated by Mike Huddlestone. The first issue was an introduction to the main character in the story and really set the scene for the series. It was very atmospheric and did a good job of getting me interested enough to get on board for the next installment. It also got me interested in reading the original novel, which turns out to be the first of a trilogy.

So it looks like 2012 is going to be a year of vampires for too. At least for me. If the quality of the comics and books is as high as what I read in 2011 then I’ll be happy to develop my vampire addiction and really sink my teeth into some blood-sucking tales. (I had to have one lame pun in there. Come on!)

For vampire, and non-vampire related comic book action I recommend and – both brilliant sources of all comic book news, as well as film, TV and other stuff.

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