Today in comic shops across America, Vertigo is opening up the veins of history in hopes that fans will have a taste for their latest ongoing series “American Vampire.” Conceived and co-written by prose author and comics up and comer Scott Snyder, most of the pre-press hype surrounding the comic has focused on the fact that horror legend Stephen King will co-write the first arc with Snyder telling the 1920s tale of neophyte vampire flapper Pearl as King reveals the origin of alpha male vamp Skinner Sweet.
However, for dedicated comic readers, the third member of “American Vampire’s” creative team carries his own reputation to live up to or shuck off as he sees fit. Artist Rafael Albuquerque has over the last several years been growing his reputation as a fan favorite penciler of fun, fast-moving superhero stories with work on titles like “Blue Beetle” and “Superman/Batman.” But a look deeper into Albuquerque’s career reveals the artist’s history with more hard-hitting subjects like crime and horror for comics published in his native Brazil. CBR spoke with Albuquerque about how “American Vampire” represents a new phase for his career, how he tried to make his vamps equal parts sexy and savage and what it was like to draw two stories for two prose writers in one comic.
CBR News: Rafael, you’ve obviously been on quite a streak the past few years from a really well received run with “Blue Beetle” through more marquee work on titles like “Superman/Batman” and a whole smattering of covers and story work in between, but I’m assuming most of the people who’ve read those comics don’t know about your older, darker work.
Rafael Albuquerque: True. After working for almost 3 years on “Blue Beetle” I felt that I could become a “teen” artist. I have to say that I’m afraid of these “labels” because when you get one it’s hard to get different kinds of stories to work on, and I want to vary my work as much as I can. After “Blue Beetle,” I decided to look for different kinds of projects, where I could try different storytelling, inking, compositions…everything. So when I got “Superman/Batman” that was the idea. “American Vampire” is maybe the next step, following this philosophy.
What brought you to “American Vampire” besides that desire to branch out? Were you actively looking to get some Vertigo work?
I met [Vertigo editor] Will Dennis this past February at NYCC, and I’m a huge fan of the books he edits. To my surprise, he knew my work and liked it, especially my indie stuff, which is more or less the way I want to draw now. Months later, his assistant Mark Doyle contacted me saying that they were developing a new project, and asked if I would be interested. At this point I was the regular artist of “Superman/Batman.” It took a few more months until they could really tell me what the story would be and who would be involved. I was really enjoying drawing “Superman/Batman,” but I felt that I had to grab this chance.
This series has been in development for quite a while. At what point did you come into the process, and what did you have to work with? Were you doing character designs based on Scott’s original outline, or did you get some script pages to get a feel for the characters in action?
We started to talk about it in March [of 2009], probably, and I’m officially on since August. They sent me the whole pitch, and Scott sent me a lot of references of what he had in mind, and I’ve been working on the characters, layouts and all this “pre-production” since then. Scott has everything written already. It’s awesome to work when the things are just waiting for you!
It must have been a trip to hear that Stephen King would be writing scripts for the series first arc. What was your initial reaction to the news? Any favorite King works?
Definitely, his name attached to the project was one big reason to say yes. I haven’t read most of his books, because, well…it’s just a lot, but I’m a big fan of “The Shining” and the “Dark Tower” comic book. I’ll look for more of his books now that we are working together.
For both Scott and Steve, what were your impressions of their scripting styles as prose writers who were doing comics for the first time? Did they bring different visual ideas to the page that you weren’t expecting to see?
I think they both have great timing. They really know when to bring the action, and are really smart with dialogue. Working on their scripts are very different experiences, though. King is more descriptive, he brings more details to the scenes and makes the script more complete, like a novel; Scott has written more comics, so he is more used to this process, I guess, so his script is more direct and gives me more room to decide here or there.
Getting into the nitty gritty of the story, you’re switching up your method and style for each half of the first story arc. Taking each in their own time, what did you want to do with King’s Western tale to make it stand out? Were there any particular influences either from Western comics of films you looked to in developing this process?
Yes, I’m experimenting with a very different technique on King’s arc. I’m using a mix of traditional inking, washes and pencil, trying to bring that dirty and gritty feel we see in Sergio Leoni’s movies. The storytelling is different too. We have more panels and a feeling that the scenes are “slower.” The influences are basically the Spaghetti-Westerns.
On the flipside, we’ve got our 1920s tale from Scott. Did you have to adapt your style in general and change from your Western style to get the art deco look that would fit this time period better?
Exactly. We have the story situated in Hollywood, in the 20s. What came to my mind were the movies of that time -Â quick action, black and white contrasts and very expressive characters. The art here is different from what I was doing in super-heroes. The lines are not that important, but the composition, and black and white balance. I think the readers that are waiting for “Blue Beetle” will be very surprised.
Speaking of the characters, what were the cornerstones of your designs for both Skinner Sweet and for Pearl? What about each characters personality helped you bring them a unique visual design?
To design a character it’s crucial know his/her personality. It will define the way he/she will look, talk, move -Â everything. I was really lucky because Scott introduced great personalities and he is very competent when he writes them. Skinner is like a rockstar. He is arrogant, self assured. There are a lot of references around. For his look especially, I was inspired by Curt Cobain and Johnny Depp. Pearl is a naive girl trying to make a living in the big city. She is smart and charming, but I needed a look that could become something darker later. That’s why we used dark hair, a sexy look.
Overall, one of the more mysterious elements of the series is the fact that these vampires won’t have the same powers and attributes fans are used to seeing in a vampire story. Without spoiling too much, what are some of the “Vampy” touches you’ve enjoyed playing with the most as well as the more horror-themed aspects of the series?
It’s more gritty. Our “American Vampire” is not pretty. It’s a lot more bestial than “Dracula.” I don’t know if I can say more than that, but it’s the baddest ass vampire you could imagine. Period.
Lastly, it appears that “American Vampire” is going to be a series that will be evolving and growing a lot over the course of each new arc. What are you most excited about in taking on a long project like this with so many changes in store?
I think the coolest thing is that I’ll be able to draw very different backgrounds. It will be really nice show in a “realistic” way, how the vampires are involved in American history, and I’m excited about the way Scott is planning to show it.
“American Vampire” #1 is in stores today from Vertigo.