Vampirella has made quite a splash since her creation in 1969. After acquiring the license from Harris Comics, Dynamite Entertainment debuted a new “Vampirella” ongoing series written by Eric Trautmann that updated the character’s signature look. Not content to stop there, Dynamite wants to bring Vampirella back to comic shops with a vengeance. This March, Dynamite continues its Vampirella onslaught with “Vampirella: The Red Room” written by “Nocturnals” creator Dan Brereton with art by Jean Diaz. “The Red Room” focuses on the one-time horror hostess’ journey into a humans versus vampire combat ring as she tracks a homicidal vamp. And as the cover art reveals, Vampirella is back in her signature outfit.
Brereton spoke with CBR News about the upcoming series, its tenuous connection to Dynamite’s ongoing, his love of the original character and his constant connection to the horror genre.
CBR News: Dan, tell us about “Vampirella: The Red Room.” What’s the general plot and who are the players involved?
Dan Brereton: Vampirella crosses paths with a retired Arkansas lawman while on the trail of a particularly homicidal vampire on a cross-country killing spree with a teenage girl in tow. They track the pair to a roadhouse where high rollers wager on human versus vampire combat. Many of the humans are enhanced and some are barely human, so it’s a pretty gruesome affair. Vampi gains entrance as a competitor, stepping into the ring. Of course all Hell breaks loose — and then it breaks loose again and again — because this is only the tip of the iceberg for the miniseries, as the layers of evil are peeled back more and more. The story is not about a vampire fight club, its about what happens to the losers — where they end up, and why they end up where they do. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Vampi ends up in the last place she expected to find in rural Arkansas. The fun of this miniseries is seeing how deep, twisty and hideous things get as the story progresses.
How does this connect, if at all, to Dynamite’s ongoing “Vampirella” series?
It connects as tenuously as I can possibly make it. Mostly it connects in that the underlying influence of the Elder Gods is at work, as it is in the monthly.
The mythology and continuity of Vampirella has gotten pretty complicated over the years — where does this story take place in the history of the character?
Some time in the present continuity, but it really stands on its own as much as it can. I enjoy exploring stories with Vampirella in slightly different directions without getting too tied to continuity. The more they can stand on their own without contradicting continuity, the better.
For readers who might not be as familiar with the character, would this be a good story to jump in on?
Definitely! And that’s a big part of our goal with “The Red Room,” to bring in new readers. Since it doesn’t really concern itself with the events of the monthly its a perfect place to get to know Vampirella the character.
You’re no stranger to Vampirella, having worked on the “Vampirella Quarterly Halloween Special” back in 2008. What was it like to get back in to the groove of writing the character?
Vampirella is one of my favorite pet projects, actually — I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to craft stories and images over the years, with the hope of enlarging her fan base. I see her as a true exploitation character and feel she should be treated as such and not gussied-up as something more than that. She began as a horror-comic hostess, after all, but her visual appeal and name was so powerful and compelling, she inspired some great stories and some pretty amazing artwork over the last four decades. I think the best stuff is the least complicated, the least pretentious. Grindhouse style.
One of the things you’re known for is horror. Whether it’s your creator-owned “Nocturnals” or an issue of “Treehouse of Horror,” there’s an element of the macabre in much of your work. How did some of this experience writing horror comics come into play when crafting “The Red Room?”
That’s a good question, because I’m not sure. I think it comes naturally because I have always been into monsters and horror is something I connect to as a kid who was scared of stuff all the time. So it worms its way into my work pretty easily. For “The Red Room,” I was asked by Nick [Barrucci] and Joe [Rybandt] at Dynamite to write a darker horror tale that didn’t play up to Vampi’s more camp traditions. I’d done the same with the Halloween Special (for Harris) a few years back with “Dungeon Eyes.” But straight horror isn’t easy to do with costumed characters who fight back, so I try to hobble the protagonist as much as I can without weakening that hero. It’s a tough juggling act sometimes because ideally the less control the protagonist has over their surroundings, the better.
As a writer, what appeals to you about the character of Vampirella?
She’s full of potential, really — but a challenge because you can’t take her too seriously. At the same time, you can’t get too campy with her or too pulchritudinous — at least that’s how I see her. She’s a super hero who drinks her enemies’ blood, sometimes — a vampire who kills other vampires, but she’s also vulnerable because she has feelings. She’s a great character — and the less you know about her, the more fun she is to explore. Too many characters have lost their mystery, and I feel horror works best when you know less about how things work.
Walk us through your collaborative process with artist Jean Diaz. As an artist yourself, have you had a lot of back and forth to get to the final pages?
So far I’ve only seen the first 6 or 8 pages and I had only a little contact with Jean prior to that. I did concept art for the characters, and he can take or leave them as he wishes. Mostly I did drawings of the various characters and monsters because I had images of them in my head the whole time I was writing. So far Jean has nailed Shooter really well, and has a good grasp of the feel of the story.
Beyond “The Red Room,” what’s next for you?
Recently, my graphic novel with Italian writer Tito Faraci, “The Last Battle” was released by Image. So far it’s gotten great reviews and was #4 on the Diamond Comics list of Best selling Graphic Novels for 2011. I’m currently painting a short story written by Jeff Parker to appear in “Hulk” #50, and will be painting a Lovecraft extravaganza written by Len Wein for the 2012 “Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror.” I’m doing more covers for Monsterverse’s” Flesh and Blood” and “Art of Nocturnals” art book and several other projects I can’t announce yet further down the road.
“Vampirella: The Red Room” #1 hits stands in March.