The vampire myth avails itself to, it seems, nearly infinite permutations and variations — misunderstood heartthrob vampires, creepy lurkers and ancient stygian kings. Writer Jonathan Maberry has built a career, in part, on researching and revisiting the original, root myths surrounding the monster of folklore and popular culture. On January 1, Maberry teams with artist Tyler Crook to launch the five-issue “Bad Blood” miniseries at Dark Horse Comics, presenting a new twist on the vampire legend.
“Bad Blood” follows a young man, Trick, who suddenly sees his ambitions cut short by a severe and crippling cancer. Concurrently, a vicious vampire lord, Sturge, awakens his vampiric subjects from a long slumber in hopes of world domination. However, when their paths cross and Sturge helps himself to quaff of Trick’s blood, the chemotherapy drugs in Trick’s system don’t agree with the vampire. In fact, his blood is poison to the vamps.
In anticipation of “Bad Blood” hitting shelves, Maberry spoke with Comic Book Resources about re-vitalizing the classic vampire, novel writing and his creepy grandma.
CBR News: First off, what’s the story you’re telling with “Bad Blood”? Who are our primary cast of characters?
Jonathan Maberry: “Bad Blood” is built around Trick, a young college kid who thought he was going to have a fun and very full life as a professional football player, but who is now wasted to a stick figure by cancer. He’s looking death and his own mortality right in the face before the story even starts, and then he’s confronted with other kinds of death, and with the phenomenon of immortality — all of that starts when a vampire attacks him.
His enemy is Sturge, the lord of the vampires, and he — and all his kind — has been sleeping in the dirt for over a century. They wanted to outwait anyone who still believed in them so that when they returned there wouldn’t be any experienced vampire hunters left. The first person Sturge attacks, however, is Trick, and the chemo drugs in Trick’s system make his blood toxic to the vampires. Sturge begins to die and the vampires are uncertain as to whether they are going to be able to feed on humans — and after their long rest they’re starving.
Trick’s ally in his attempt to destroy the vampires (before they can learn the truth) is Lolly, a Goth stripper whose blood is also toxic — though for a completely different reason.
In our youth, we all seem to have some difficulty accepting mortality. How does Trick — a young man facing death — confront the possibility of actual immortality?
Trick doesn’t buy into the idea of living forever. He’s been disappointed by the concept. To him life is a cheat and he’s already lost that game. So, overall he’s not impressed by immortality, and to encounter creatures that can live forever tends to increase his hostility. It’s like a hungry homeless person being mocked by one of the super rich who are enjoying a lavish feast.
How would you characterize Sturge? What’s his background and how did he come to be the head vamp honcho?
Sturge is a typical plutocrat. He’s the big mahoff and he expects everyone to instantly and completely defer to him and his tight circle of cronies. He has no compassion for humans and regards them as cattle, but he does care about his own kind — in the way that conquerors care about their armies. He’s also a vindictive S.O.B. On the flipside, like most bullies, he’s easily and badly shaken when his worldview is called into question, or — in this case — the certainty of his own immortality.
“Bad Blood” is a vampire story, though one with a bit of a twist. What makes this vampire story different than another? Is there still room for a fresh take on the vampire story?
There’s no such thing as a dead storytelling trope. Anything can be reinvented. Look at romance — there are hundreds of thousands of romance stories told every year. Look at quest stories. Hell, look at super hero comics. What’s required is for writers to either find new ways to tell old stories or to find new stories to tell. That happens all around us. Look at what Justin Cronin did with “The Passage,” and what Mike Mignola’s been doing with all kinds of classic monsters in “Hellboy” and “BPRD.”
What I’ve built my career on is tapping older monster legends to find story elements that have been lost because of the Hollywood-ization of vampires, werewolves and other critters. I did that with my first three novels, “Ghost Road Blues,” “Dead Man’s Song” and “Bad Moon Rising,” building that trilogy on lesser-known but incredibly creepy bits of myth and folklore.
In “Bad Blood” we tap into mythological vampire types as well as elements from fiction, like “Dracula,” because most modern readers don’t really remember the rules of vampirism as laid down by Bram Stoker. They only know the Hollywood version, which is really quite different.
What are the rules of vampirism as defined in “Bad Blood?”
Although I don’t use the book as a primer to vampiric nature as it appears in folklore, the vampires do tend to follow a certain historic model. They don’t fear sunlight, for example. Sunlight was never part of the vampire myth until 1922 when the movie “Nosferatu” was made. Even Dracula walks around in sunlight in Stoker’s novel. The vampires don’t care much about the cross — something Stoker added to the mythology because he was Irish Catholic. They are strong and fast, which are benefits of their supernatural nature, and they’re hard to kill — which is in keeping with their nature as resurrected corpses. They are also very nasty. The idea of a romantic vampire came into our consciousness with the short novel, “Camilla,” and with Lord Byron’s vampiric characters. Folkloric vampires were predatory monsters, and that’s what we have here.
As you said, there is no dead storytelling trope — what do you think makes vampires, or horror in general, so compelling?
Vampires can represent a lot of different social and psychological models. They can be the ultimate bourgeois, as in the novels of Anne Rice, the misunderstood demi-gods [of] “Twilight,” corporate tycoons [as in] TV’s “Dracula,” secret societies [as in] the “Blade” movies, the lonely old ones [as in] just about everything else, manipulative users [in] “‘Salem’s Lot,” savage predators [as in] “The Passage,” lost souls or outright demons [as in “Buffy” and “Angel,” and so on. They can be funny or scary or both. And, like all great tropes, they can be easily and effectively reinvented. Look at what Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan did with “The Strain,” Look at Justin Cronin’s “The Passage.” Look at the neo-classic vampires of “B.P.R.D.” You can’t destroy a perfect trope. There’s always something new to say.
You came to writing horror novels out of an interest in the occult, which followed several works about martial arts, correct? What sparked that interest, and how has it evolved?
I wrote twenty-eight nonfiction books, most of which were about martial arts and self-defense. I’ve been an active practitioner of traditional Japanese jujutsu and kenjutsu for nearly fifty years. However, for “Bad Blood” and most of my horror fiction I tapped into six nonfiction books I wrote on the myths and legends of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural predators, including “Vampire Universe,” “They Bite,” “Wanted Undead or Alive” and the Bram Stoker Award-winning “The Cryptopedia.” I’ve had a lifelong interest in the occult and paranormal thanks to a wonderfully creepy grandmother who taught me about that stuff when I was little. She believed in all of that — monsters, ghosts, spirits — all of it.
What are the challenges, or rewards, of working in the serial, comic book format as opposed to novel writing?
Writing comics is very good for the ego. I’m not talking about inflating it, but controlling it. With a novel it’s all you: your vision, your words, your imagery. In comics you share the storytelling with a bunch of people — pencillers, inkers, colorists, letterers and the editor. Each of these professionals contributes to the process of telling stories through what is mainly a visual medium. So, even though the writer conceives the story, writes the script and gives art direction, he’d be a total fool not to allow the other players to sharpen, broaden and sweeten the visual components of the story. I know for a fact that the comics I’ve done previously (mainly for Marvel) all benefitted from the artistic storytelling skills of artists like Scott Eaton, Goron Parlov, Laurence Campbell and others. With “Bad Blood,” though, I struck gold with Tyler Crook.
What are you seeing Crook bring to the story?
Tyler Crook has an incredible sense of style and vision. You can give him a small bit of art direction and he’ll grab it, understand it, and then broaden it so that so much more story is told by a panel of movement, the lift of a character’s head, the look in someone’s eye, or a shadow on the wall. He brings a great deal of humanity to the characters, even the villains. In “Bad Blood” he played all of the other roles in the creative process: pencils, inks, colors, letters and covers. I was absolutely floored and I look forward to working with him again.
Ring in the New Year with “Bad Blood” #1 by Jonathan Maberry and Tyler Crook.