When DC Comics announced their New 52 slate of relaunch titles, a number of comics stood out as titles from the publisher’s history, having not been seen around the DCU for a while. But perhaps no title drew more questions than “I, Vampire” — the reinvention of DC’s ’70s vampire epic from writer Joshua Hale Fialkov, artist Andrea Sorrentino and cover artist Jenny Frison.
Only two issues in, and the monthly series is already starting to sink its teeth into the DCU in a major way. After reintroducing series lead Andrew and his former lover/vampire queen Mary, the book overran an entire city with legions of the cursed undead, a move that certainly won’t go unnoticed by the denizens of DC’s superhero community for long. Fialkov promises.
As part of CBR’s ALL COMICS EVE Halloween horror fest, we spoke with the writer about his own background in studying and writing horror, how he approached “I, Vampire” as both a classic bloodsucker tale and a major pillar of DC’s “Dark” line of books, what upcoming appearances by characters like John Constantine and Batman mean for the series long term and how much blood and gore one comic can take.
CBR News: Joshua, it’s Halloween, and you’re writing the latest of a string of comics that land very firmly in the horror realm. Have you always been a horror guy and a Halloween guy? What’s the draw there?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I was born in California, but I grew up in Pittsburgh — better known as the home of George Romero, so our mall in my hometown is the mall from the original “Dawn of the Dead.” When I was a teenager, I worked at the mall, and there was actually still blood stains from the filming on the back wall. [Laughter] I was sort of surrounded by horror and that tradition, specifically the Romero stuff. At a really young age, I got into all that stuff — into the Italian movies and into the classic Universal monster stuff. I’ve been breathing horror for so long, but I also like stuff that’s not traditional horror. A movie like “The Innocence,” which is an adaptation of “Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. You look at that movie, and it’s not a horror movie. It’s a Victorian costume drama, but it very much lives in the realm of horror. I think that when you look at the world through that prism, you start seeing the story opportunities you have and how you can end up choosing horror almost like a medium — using the tropes of horror to tell stories with a bigger meaning.
“I, Vampire” is not only the most recent horror book for you. It’s also the latest in a shockingly long line of vampire projects you’ve worked on.
It’s weird, right? [Laughter]
Some people have a basic conception of what vampires are. “This is how my vampires will always be.” But you’ve done a number of different takes on them over the years. Is that part of your larger conception of horror, the idea that all takes on a specific trope are valid?
I hope so. I feel like my last creator-owned book, “Echoes,” was a serial killer book, and there are few genres that are more well worn — especially in comics — than the serial killer story. But finding a way to tell that story in a unique way was what drove me. Just like “I, Vampire” and with my Image book “Last of the Greats,” I am really driven to find unique ways to tell traditional genre stories that people haven’t experienced yet. That, to me, is the heart of storytelling. It comes down to that old trope that every story has already been told. I think that’s legitimate. That’s so true. What it comes down to is that you have to find, as a storyteller, your story. You have to find your version of the story you want to tell and make it personal.
With “I, Vampire,” that was the main challenge. You’re right that we’ve seen this stuff thousands of times. We do know vampire fiction inside and out because we’re surrounded by it. And because we have this preconceived understanding of it, a lot of those notions are wrong. It’s a funny thing where everyone complains about how the vampires from “Twilight” walk in the sun, but hey — I’ve got some horrible news for you: Dracula walks in the sun. The vampires in “I, Vampire” are traditional, Bram Stoker-style vampires. Then you start to realize that a lot of their power set and what makes them work is not what people traditionally think of them as. People forget things like what I think Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” did a great job of reminding us of. Gary Oldman is only Gary Oldman for like 20% of that movie. The rest of the time, he’s either a hideous, rotting old man or a beast. That’s really what Dracula is. In “Dracula,” Stoker has him almost containing himself. He constantly has to put his monstrosity in check. That, to me, is the core of it.
What I tried to do with Andrew and Mary is to have the two sides of that coin. You have Andrew, who is completely in check. He has moments where he lets the monster out, and then he hates himself for it. He hates himself for being weak. And then you have Mary, who wears this mask of humanity because she has to to make her boyfriend happy. That’s been the thing. The second that she sets herself free, she’s done wearing the mask. She’s done being a slave to her form and now, instead, she can be herself and harness her powers and use them. To me, that’s what the mythology, dating back to Stoker, is all about. Even before him, when you go into the Kabbalah side of things, yeah, a lot of them are flesh-eaters or blood-drinkers. But a lot of it is about them being us without our morals.
One question that really stood out to me after reading issue #1 was this idea that Andrew just doesn’t have a different point of view. When he was turned into a vampire, he kept his personality while Mary had something very supernatural and evil take root inside of her. Will that mystery be expanded upon as the series moves forward?
It will! And it’s going to be awesome. I’m so psyched that you picked up on that, because no one’s really brought it up. The question of why Andrew is the way he is — that’s what’s at the root of this book. To me, a book is titled what it’s titled on purpose. This book is titled “I, Vampire,” and that means that in every issue, you’re going to get a chance to look inside what it’s like to be a vampire or to be in the life of vampire or to be surrounded by vampires. And the question of why he can control himself when none of the others can is a big, big part of the story. It’s a big part of what we’re working on in the next year in terms of the mythology. We’re leading up to issue #7, which is going to be in Previews pretty soon. That’s all about the mythology and how vampires got to be the way they are, how the vampire curse spread and who were the first and second generations that followed. That’s really at its heart.
The other thing I wanted to ask about was how you were planning on constructing the story. A lot of the New 52 books are taking real pains to have the issues stand on their own, and “I, Vampire” #1 certainly feels like a complete introduction, even though we know there’s a bigger story at work here. Did you view the first six issues as an arc, or are you trying to keep things more episodic?
I’m very much of the belief that any unit that you sell [should stand on its own]. Like, if I sell you a music single, you can listen to it, and it’s a complete thing. Comics are the same way. I think for too long we haven’t been that. We’ve gotten to the point where you pay $4 to read a fifth of something or a sixth of something or, worse, a twelfth of something. That, to me, is not fair. It’s not fair, and it’s not right. Every comic book you sell to somebody is something they should be able to pick up and read, beginning, middle and end, where they can know who the characters are, know what’s happening and get enough to want to come back. If you’re not doing that, you’re doing something wrong.
That’s always been,Â since my very first comic — and this is my tenth year in comics — the thing I focus on. If you want to go back and look at the books from the ’70s, ’80s, ’60s or even the ’40s, that’s how comics were. You could pick up any issue of “Amazing Spider-Man,” and you knew what was going on. Whereas now, everything is a crossover and is this big, giant thing. I want to tell stories that encourage you to come back, but you can pick up any of them and be okay.
I’ve had the neat trick with “I, Vampire” of this point-of-view shift. Again, you’re getting with each issue a different character’s point of view. You’re getting a different voice. And by its very nature, you’re getting introduced to the characters that way. I would love it if everybody read every single issue, or five copies of every single issue, but I also want to construct it so you can pick up any single issue and enjoy it. I think that’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of with the book. I think we really nailed it.
In the first issues, we’re very much focused on Andrew and Mary’s relationships, but from the solicitations, we can tell that not only will we meet more cast members specific to this vampire corner of the DCU, but we’re also going to be seeing John Constantine show up around issue #4 and Batman just a month later. How has it been, playing this as a book firmly set in the DCU?
You know, the honest answer is that it’s been a challenge for a couple of reasons. For one, I’ve got a lot of building to do on my end. I’ve got a couple of characters to establish. In issue #2, we got Mary’s supporting cast. In issue #3, we get Andrew’s supporting cast and then in issue #4, we’ve got Constantine coming in to say, “What does the rest of the world make of what’s going on here? What’s the outside view of these characters?” I really want to establish our story and our characters, and then we start moving into the DCU and using those characters. By the end of issue #4, I think you’ll have a good idea of how the book is going to interact and work. With the Batman stuff, I’m lucky in that I’m buddies with Scott Snyder, so I get to talk to him and find out what’s going on over there. We got to figure out what’s best for my issues.
I want the book to be in the DC Universe because I think that’s awesome. It’s so cool to tell dark stories set in the DCU because historically, the DCU has been able to do that. Up until the ’80s or ’90s, when it became more streamlined creatively, you always had monsters. You always had “House of Mystery” and “House of Secrets.” Those books served such a different purpose because they had the same construction as the superhero stuff, but they’re written in a different genre and as an outreach — a way to get new readers in. That, to me, is the core of it. Every issue, when I sit down to write it, my goal is a double-edged sword. I want more straight horror fans trying “I, Vampire” and then going, “Wait? Batman is in this! Batman is awesome — and there are more Batman comics?” And the other side of it is that I want people who read “Batman” and “Superman” to come in and try “I, Vampire” and realize that you can do this in comics, and it’s awesome. You can do other stuff and hopefully expand both audiences by making them intermingle. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s really what I think about when I sit down to write: how can I bring new readers from both sides of the aisle down to sit together?
On the horror tip, what are the kinds of elements you’ve been wanting to play up in terms of gore and monsters and classic horror elements for Andrea to work with art-wise? So far, you’ve given him beheadings, transformations and an awful lot of blood.
I really tried to put the gamut of what the vampires can do in the first issue, because the idea was to do a perfect jumping-on point where every piece of information that you could possibly need to understand the book going forward was in there. Andrew has a bat form that’s pretty awesome, and I just did a lettering proof on issue #3 where it opens on a big spread of him turning into a bat. You’ll get to see some more of that stuff moving forward. In issue #2, you got to see more of the battle from #1, so there was as sea of vampires massacring people. Issue #3 shows some sexy ’60s vampires and in issue #4, you get to see what happens when you put a vampire in a truck stop with John Constantine. If that’s not terrifying, I don’t know what is. [Laughter] And I can tease the cover to issue #6, which is my favorite of the series so far. It’s still in the early stages, but it’s Batman, Andrew and the rest of our supporting cast in a sea of vampire. And that happens in the book, so that’s awesome!
Stay tuned for more scary comic surprises as ALL COMICS EVE continues today on CBR!