Miami is a beautiful place to live, especially if you’re a vampire. In spring of 2006, writers Howard Chaykin and David Tischman take readers back to the glitzy, decadent, blood-stained Miami they created in “Bite Club” in the follow-up mini-series “Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit.” David Hahn returns to illustrate the five-issue mini-series and Frank Quitely will once again supply the covers. CBR News spoke to Chaykin via phone about “Vampire Crime Unit,” a series following the relationship between an elite unit of the Miami PD and the city’s number one crime family, the Del Toros, a clan of vampires.
“Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit,” like the first “Bite Club,” is not your typical vampire tale.
“We’re trying to get away from the vampire myth and deal more with vampirism as both an affliction that becomes sort of an ethnic sub category and political group,” Chaykin told CBR News. “It’s less the silver bullet and stake through the heart; in the first series we had one of the scions of the [Del Toro] family who was a priest.”
“Bite Club” introduced readers to the Del Toro family, a clan of Miami vampires at the top of the underworld food chain. “Vampire Crime Unit” will introduce readers to new characters whose job is bringing down the Del Toros.
“The first series looked at the family from its own perspective,” Chaykin said. “This series looks at the family as an organized crime family with a new set of characters, looking at the original first series characters from the police perspective.”
Readers met Michael Fortine, the leader of the Vampire Crime Unit, in the first “Bite Club” series.
“Fortine has a real personal problem with vampires. His father was killed by a vampire,” Chaykin explained. “He truly loathes them and he’s got sort of a twisted relationship with the Del Toro family in particular and vampires in general, which comes out very specifically in the relationship he’s got with one of the main characters.
“Fortine is a family man with issues. … We don’t see his family. We see his behavior in reaction to that family.”
Readers will also meet the cops under Fortine’s command.
“We’ve got a detective partnership, DeSalvo and Yama, who are both deeply troubled in their own right,” Chaykin said.
The “Vampire Crime Unit” also has a rookie member.
“The narrative voice is a newly minted gold shield named Paco MacAvoy who is Cubano-Irish. … Since he’s a new guy, no one takes him quite as seriously as they should.”
MacAvoy gets intimately involved with the vampire world when he falls for Risa Del Toro, who plotted, schemed and murdered her way to the role of family boss in the last mini-series.
“He’s got a serious Jones for young Risa. It goes both ways. There’s a big attraction between the two of them. … And there’s some serious heat there.”
The Vampire Crime Unit investigates crimes perpetrated by vampires against humans and against each other. To better assist with their mandate there is at least one member who is a vampire. Chaykin wants the vampire cop’s identity to be a mystery for now.
“Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit” takes place about 5-6 months after the first series and things have not been going well for the Del Toro family.
“What’s happened is all the stuff that was in play in the first series, many of those elements have gone bad for the family,” Chaykin said. “Their attempt to go legitimate is in deep trouble. Their attempts to manipulate popular culture through the record label are in trouble. They’re just not doing well. Things are in the shitter.”
The Del Toro family’s troubles also include the Vampire Crime Unit. In the last series, Michael Fortine tried to blackmail Risa Del Toro’s girlfriend, Carrie Stein, into spying on the family by threatening to turn her over to the Feds who want her on a number of white-collar crimes. In the months between the first series and “Vampire Crime Unit,” Fortine’s hold over Carrie has grown.
“That also has an evolution,” Chaykin stated. “I think in the third issue we get to a point where the tables aren’t as much turned as … let’s say a new leaf has opened in the table.”
Fortine may be the leader of the “Vampire Crime Unit,” but he is not the star of the book.
“It is an ensemble book and he is not the central focus of the book. We see him in action,” Chaykin said. “The book is multi-arced. It calls for this because of the way it works. We’ve got the Risa-MacAvoy arc, the DeSalvo-Yama arc. We’ve got the Fortine-Carrie arc. We’ve got the Fortine-Yama arc. There are a lot of different character relationships. It’s a very character-based book.”
One of the thematic elements of the series explored in the series is the way the police interact with the vampires, which are an ethnic minority in the series.
“What we’re doing here is using the vampire families as sort of a sidebar comment on the way racial profiling impacts on the immigrant experience,” Chaykin said. “I’m a child of immigrants and there’s a ladder to be climbed by immigrants in the United States and I’m writing the vampires as if they are the latter day equivalent of the Italians who moved to this country, the Germans, the Irish and the Jews. They just happen to have this predilection.”
Another element Chaykin and Tischman are examining in “Vampire Crime Unit” is the way ethnic minority culture is incorporated into popular culture.
“For example one of the great ironies of this country, for a country that is as profoundly racist as it is, much of the popular culture derives from black culture,” Chaykin said. “And there are any number of white racists across this country who are utterly and completely obsessed with black culture; black music, black fashion. We deal with that in our book by the fact that there are an awful lot of vampire wannabes, who are manipulated by the style imposed on their lives. I’m having some fun with that.”
“Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit” employs elements from noir fiction and police procedural crime novels, but it has more in common with the “OC” then it does with “The Wire.”
“I find it as much as anything else to be sexy soap opera,” Chaykin stated. “I always felt the best contemporary comics over the past 20 years or so have been those that have combined action adventure with elements of the soap. What’s most done successfully, say, with the ‘X-Men’ comics and multiple group books. Because you’ve got an ensemble here there’s an opportunity to really play off character relationships.”
Chaykin and Tischman feel that they have barely scratched the surface of the world they created in “Bite Club.” Readers may see future installments of “Bite Club” that explore vampire and human relations in other fields.
“I think that’s the next step. Because I think one of the things that were heading towards is the idea of the family evolving away from crime and into a different realm,” Chaykin stated. “So that’s a distinct possibility.”
Chaykin has already seen some of the finished art for “Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit” by David Hahn and some of Frank Quitely’s covers.
“I’ve seen the cover on one and the pencils on one and, if anything, they’re better than the first series which I thought was pretty spectacular. I’m a huge fan of Frank Quitely and of David Hahn’s. David does not get anywhere near the props that he deserves. David is extraordinary. He’s a very idiosyncratic talent and it’s just a great looking book and I’m having a great time with this material.”
Full coverage of the Vertigo panel follows later today.