By Eric Trautmann
When Dynamite publisher Nick Barucci asked me if I would be interested in writing a “commentary track” to the first issue of “Vampirella,” I was more than a little nervous. I love talking about the work when I’m interacting with people in a more face-to-face setting, but in general, I like the work to speak for itself.
On the other hand, as of this writing, three issues are scripted, and I’m starting work on the fourth, so coming back to this issue with fresh eyes had me noticing things I’d missed in the rush to meet deadlines.
So, what follows are my thoughts on the issue — what I was hoping to accomplish in the script, and how the art team of Wagner Reis, colorists at inLight Studios and letterer Marshall Dillon took my words and turned them into something I think (in my completely biased opinion) quite special.
(I tend to write with music playing, as I find certain songs or combinations of songs help me capture a specific mood or illustrate a character’s inner life. Just for grins, I’ve included some “suggested listening” notes from my “Vampirella” playlist.)
Since Dynamite wanted a more grounded, tougher Vampirella, Seattle seemed like a good starting point.
I have a bad habit of setting stories in the Pacific Northwest, but there’s something about the territory that seems ideally suited to horror and “weird” tales. The mist, the omnipresent rain, the long history of strange events — including sightings of everything from U.F.O.s to Bigfoot.
Seattle at night has a particular yellow-green glow, and the colorists at inLight Studio really captured that in the establishing shot.
[Suggested listening: “Making Me Nervous (Sunken City mix)” / Brad Sucks]
…and here’s our girl.
I wanted something powerful, mysterious, and above all, a Vampirella different than we’ve seen her before. An Armani suit seemed suitably classy, and certainly something well suited to Vampirella’s mission to investigate a vampire outbreak in Seattle.
She’s a character well-known for her sex appeal, but I felt it very important, right off the bat, to make it clear that sexy comes in many forms, and there’s an undeniable appeal to a tall, statuesque, smoldering figure in an exquisitely tailored suit kicking vampires in the face.
Wagner has a gift for crafting environments; the concrete has real texture, the brickwork looks scuffed and dirty, the trash-strewn alley looks believably filthy.
All of this combines to create a very believable world for Vampirella to move through.
[Suggested listening: “Fresh Blood” / Eels.]
All credit to Wagner here. He’d taken my description of Vampirella smiling slightly while preparing for battle and turned it into something far more dramatic and subtle. That look in Vampirella’s eyes as she tips down the sunglasses?It manages to combine both a general “bad-ass” attitude and a hint of wry amusement.
The reflection in the sunglasses was all Wagner, too, a sly touch that works brilliantly.
[Suggested listening: “Shot In The Back Of The Head” / Moby]
One of the recurring motifs of the first six issues is Vampirella’s battles within her own head. Something — and we’ll see what later on in the series — has darkened her, made her alter her approach to her mission, and that gathering darkness also serves as a reminder to her–a reminder that she’s a monster, forever apart from those she seeks to protect.
And if she spends too much time in the darkness, how long until her determination not to indulge her thirst falls by the wayside?
“I love this world. And I hate it, too.”
That, more than anything, describes where Vampirella is. She’s seen a world drunk dry by her own kind — whether that experience was real or not, it was real to her — and she wants, more than anything, to keep that from happening here.
At the same time, she’s not human, will never be accepted as human, and humans have a terrible habit of failing to live up to their potential.
So she’s alienated, apart from us, but fighting for our continued survival, which to me is full of dramatic potential.
This was one of the first pages of Wagner’s art I saw — I had been asked to finish up five or six pages rather early so various artists could take a stab at it, giving us a look at how they’d work with my (admittedly over-dense) scripts.
Wagner’s staging of the opening kick — very cinematic and kinetic — segues very nicely to the panel at the bottom: Vampirella, cloaked in shadow, doing her level best not to kill the idiots with the guns.
[Suggested listening: “Ready, Steady, Go” / Paul Oakenfold]
There’s a delightfully “old school” black-and-white horror mag feel to this page, particularly the way Wagner frames the vampire police officer’s eyes and fangs on the right side of the page. Something about it just perfectly evoked the feeling I used to get, reading issues of “Creepy” and “Eerie” (and, of course, “Vampirella”) off the magazine rack at the drugstore in the town where I grew up. (Kinney Drugs, in downtown Massena, NY; it’s a parking lot and front yard of a bank now.)
It occurred to me as I started work on the script that, if one is to hunt Dracula, the best tracks to follow are the inevitable clusters of vampires — young, newly born, not yet adjusted to their power — that would spring up around him.
Wherever Dracula goes, he leaves hungry undead in his wake.
Our first glimpse of Dracula — doom-soaked and apocalyptic. I particularly like the look of bloodthirsty madness on Vlad’s face at the bottom of page 8.
This sequence was also a lot of fun to write, as I had an opportunity to cull some of Vlad Tepes’ known history and recast it as part of Vampirella’s milieu. The bit about young Vlad being sold as a hostage to the Ottoman empire — wherein he was beaten to a pulp for basically being a rebellious punk — seems like a suitable formative experience for him, and one that certainly instilled the ruthlessness he exhibited as “the Impaler,” and now, as a vampire.
[Suggested listening: “Red Right Hand” / Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds]
We’ll see more of this in later issues, but I wanted to provide a look, early on, that Vampirella has acquired some new skills — she’s a tougher, more practiced fighter, utilizing both her innate strength and considerably improved martial prowess to defeat her foes.
The moment, on page 11, where she’s effortlessly hurled one of her attackers into the hood of the car, in a shower of shattered glass, is Wagner at his finest.