The line for the “American Vampire” panel on Friday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego went down a long hallway, turning down another, then another, before snaking back upon itself. Had the DC/Vertigo series that began publication just before last year’s Comic-Con really become that popular?
The Vertigo series is definitely considered a hit, but the reality is that much of the crowd ad lined up in advance for the next panel, “Rifftrax” featuring a live performance of the popular “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-related audio show. But the “American Vampire” panelists saw this as an opportunity to convert the uninitiated (or “turn” them, to borrow a vampire phrase). Each seat was filled, with some fans turned away from the packed room. Regardless, the crowd was polite and enthusiastic, applauding even for a comic they had likely never heard of. But by the end of the panel, there were more than a few attendees whose curiosities were piqued.
Representing the series at the first-ever “American Vampire” panel were creator and writer Scott Snyder, artist Rafael Albuquerque and Vertigo editor Mark Doyle. Not present were Sean Murphy, artist of the spin-off series “American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest,” and also, quite predictably, mega-writer Stephen King, who wrote a back-up story in the first issues of the series and whose name surely brought some attention to the title in its early stages.
As a means of introduction to the series for the crowd — whom he sarcastically said were surely all there for his comic — Snyder described the series as about vampires who don’t sparkle (a jab at “Twilight”). The bloodsuckers in his stories aren’t meant to be romantic or exotic, as they are often portrayed in popular media, but as a means to explore the darker side of the human race. His series also explores the notion that every new bloodline of vampires mutates as it works its way into a new population, introducing new powers and weaknesses as the affliction spreads over time and space. “American Vampire” kicked off by showing a new species of vampire in the American West of the 1880s and following its main character, outlaw Skinner Sweet, through the decades. The series also stars Skinner’s vampire offspring Pearl Jones, a mention of whose name brought squeals of affection from the audience. With this through-line established for the series, the book explores American history through a very dark prism.
“Survival of the Fittest” is a spin-off mini that has run concurrently with the main title’s current arc, as both series present stories from World War II. In the main series’ arc , taking place on islands near Japan, the main characters go after a group of vampires working with the Japanese army. In “Survival of the Fittest,” established vampire hunters Felicia Book and Cash McCoogan search after a rumored cure for vampirism in Europe. Though this side arc does not take place in America, its events will have a great and lasting impact on the stories that take place in the U.S.
A slide of the covers from the current “Pacific” storyline appeared on a screen overhead, all five of them interlocked to present one broad, cohesive image. Albuquerque wondered if anyone noticed that they all went together and noted that the story is told on the covers. “See, the magic happens,” the Brazilian artist said. It was noted that soon Albuquerque would be listed in the comic as co-creator.
At this point, the panel opened the presentation to questions. Immediately a line formed behind the microphone on the floor. The first fan asked if the character of Pearl was inspired by anyone in Snyder’s life. The writer said that Pearl is a character who had no reason to be hopeful in her life, being an actress in Hollywood at a time when women with that occupation were not taken seriously, though she always wanted to be part of the world of movies. The vampires of Snyder’s story are mostly left intact from when they were humans, but Pearl has an embedded darkness in her that she is pulled toward, like she is pulled toward Skinner.
The next fan asked what time period would be next in the series. Snyder said that there is an arc that will take place during the Indian War with Jordi Bernet as artist. This will tell of Skinner before he was a vampire, and how he was friends with Book, as both of them grew up together but eventually became enemies. There will also be a tale of the early American vampire bloodlines with the American pioneers.
The next arc will take place during the ’50s and is a story the creative team have been planning since the beginning of the series. The first page of the arc shows two hot rods in 1955, one belonging to the narrator, who is a new character but with ties to earlier revelations. He’s a “super-cool guy,” a “rockabilly Elvis Van Helsing,” Snyder said, barely able to contain his excitement. He enthusiastically promised suburban massacres and hot-rod races before Doyle cut him off.
The next question was about Pearl’s friend Hattie and whether or not there would be a confrontation with her. Snyder said that Hattie is one of his favorites, and she will return.
Absent in discussion up to that point was the involvement of Stephen King, but the next fan asked how the author got involved with the series. King and Snyder had a mutual friend who had passed along Snyder’s short-story collection “Voodoo Heart,” asking for a cover blurb, to which King complied. “American Vampire” was green-lit by Vertigo, and again Snyder reached out to King for a blurb. King liked the idea of the series so much, he asked if maybe he could write something for it in the future, doubtful of whether DC would want him to do so since he’d never written a full comic story. Of course, DC loved the idea of his writing something for them and left the door open for his involvement. Snyder gave King the bible for the three pages they intended for King to write, but it “went off the res” from there, and King ended up writing an entire arc. King remains always involved in the series, and Snyder sends his completed scripts to the author. King has an open door to come back, but right now there is nothing planned.
The next person to ask a question was actually at the panel for “something else” but said he would check out the comic, a sentiment that proved to be fairly common amongst the crowd. He asked about the creation of the comic. Snyder said that current-day stories of vampires made them “too cool,” and he wanted to take them back to versions like from “The Lost Boys” and “Salem’s Lot” — when they were scary. Part of the terror comes from someone you have loved who dies but comes back to life. Much of the common American iconography had itself turned dark, and vampires could no longer produce real horror. In a way, Snyder postulated, America had turned into a vampire. Along these lines, it could be asked, with Skinner representing America turning toward darkness, where does his story really begin? Snyder offered a fresh take on vampires, Vertigo liked it, but they said that westerns are a hard sell. Snyder came up with the character of Pearl, and that is where the story really came alive for him.
Albuquerque was asked if he would do another DC book. He said that he would give it a try if it were offered, but he likes doing “American Vampire.”
The next fan asked if they were planning to do a spin-off miniseries each summer. Doyle posed the question back to the crowd and was met with wild enthusiasm. He said it might happen. Snyder also said that “American Vampire” is his passion and would spend his whole life in that world if he could. The characters and situations from “Survival of the Fittest” will certainly fold back into the main book.
The next fan at the mic asked if Albuquerque would draw “Sweet Tooth,” another Vertigo series, the same month that creator Jeff Lemire is going to draw “American Vampire.” That fan turned out to actually be Lemire himself, and both artists confirmed that this trading of their series’ art chores is definitely planned. They also noted that a crossover between the two series could happen.
Another fan asked if we will see more American vampires. Snyder said that there will be more species of vampires explored in the series, maybe some from before Skinner existed, and they will have different powers and be even more vicious.
Snyder declared his love for American history and noted that sometimes the stories and their time periods reflect where the characters are emotionally, like when Henry Preston, Pearl’s boyfriend, goes on a far-away mission, which represented how far he felt from Pearl.
Albuquerque said that he always tries to find the feelings behind the characters. He purposely changes his art style on each arc to reflect the time period in which the story happens. He does a lot of research to make the art as realistic as possible.
The next fan asked if there were more vampires that Skinner had created. Snyder hedged his answer but said that part of the overall mystery of the series is why Skinner created Pearl.
A reader asked if there might be plans to create an American werewolf. This got a laugh from the panelists but Snyder said seriously that he was trying to get away from the rivalry between monsters, which has been done so much lately. But he said that ancient bloodlines had split to create vampires and could have split differently to create other species of monsters, as well.
The next fan asked a bit of a left-field but specific question, if the comic might delve into the Revolutionary War. Snyder said that the series might go into medieval times or ancient Egypt, exploring the history of American bloodlines into far-off lands and times. He said that he’d like the time periods to be a surprise for readers.
The last question by the fans was, appropriately, if the creators know where the series will end. Snyder said that he knows how it will end but hopefully it won’t be for a long while. The more the series went along, he said, the more they would find more parts of ancillary characters to explore, and that road to the end is a winding one.
And with that, the panelists thanked everyone for coming, and the discussion wrapped. It was only a fraction of the room that got up to leave, but even with most of the room there only for the next presentation, certainly some of that captive audience was converted into curious readers of the increasingly popular Vertigo series (which would go on to win an Eisner for Best New Series just a few hours later).