The international community of vampire clans wage war this April in IDW Publishing’s “V-Wars,” the first comic book adaptation of Bram Stoker award-winning horror writer Jonathan Maberry’s popular prose anthology. Edited by Maberry, “V-Wars” takes place in a world where an ancient virus has brought the vampire population back from the edge of extinction — and now they want their revenge on humanity. The series of novels features stories from many of today’s most exciting horror writers, all tied together under the artistic umbrella of illustrator Alan Robinson.
Maberry recently spoke with CBR News about bringing the popular series to the world of comics, revealing how much the IDW series will resemble the novels and how it will differ from the source material, exactly what it is he loves so much about vampires and much more.
CBR News: Jonathan, can you give us a quick primer on what “V-Wars” is about and what readers will discover when they grab the first issue?
Jonathan Maberry: “V-Wars” deals with an outbreak of a virus that triggers a gene buried in junk DNA that is responsible for vampirism. We learn that vampires were never supernatural; they were a different genetic line, like Neanderthals, that went dormant when Homo Sapiens hunted them to extinction. Once the gene is active, a percentage of the population begins transforming. The kicker is that they become whichever kind of vampire is tied to their ethnic/cultural background. So, someone from the Czech Republic would become a Nelapsi, a Russian would become an Upir, a Chinese would turn into a Jiang-shih, and so on. Some of these emerging vampires are driven to hunt, others are confused and frightened. The reaction by the uninfected public is immediate and mostly hostile.
“V-Wars” explores the collision of ideologies, of cultures, of religious beliefs, of ethics. We explore how the media handles the crisis. We look at the politics of conflict — is our violent response self-defense or ethnic genocide? What is the role of nature, nurture and choice? Who’s right, who’s wrong?
We follow two main point-of-view characters. The moral center of the story is Luther Swann, formerly a college folklore professor and author of books on the “myths of vampires,” who is now asked to serve as the advisor to the U.S. Government. Luther is reluctant, because the government is shifting toward an “Us vs. Them” hardline view; and Luther thinks we should be striving toward peace and understanding. He is attached to a Special Ops team called V-8, run by a brutal “kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out” bull of a soldier.
The other point-of-view character is reporter Yuki Nitobe. She’s ambitious, smart and conflicted. Going into the series her primary goal is advancing her career. She wants the V-War to do for her what Katrina did for Anderson Cooper. As the story unfolds, she begins to realize that this isn’t a black and white issue. There are layers upon layers and she begins to peel them away. That will prove to be a very dangerous thing.
Why did you decide to bring “V-Wars” to comics?
There are so many interesting stories we want to tell, and they echo a lot of things that are going on in our world. Bigotry, intolerance, acceptance, social injustice, hatred, the expansion of military power and the evaporating human and civil rights, domestic spying…all of those things play into “V-Wars” as well as our day-to-day life. “V-Wars” allows us the opportunity to tell some risky stories that are not as far-fetched as you might think. I mean, hell, fantastic fiction has always been the way for storytellers to talk about real issues. Always.
And I grew up with comics. I started with “Fantastic Four” #68. I remember when comic book creators began using that medium to tell some hard truths about our world. Drug addiction, racism, politics. Comics have been unflinching in their desire to use sequential art to shine a line on what really matters. Of course I’d want “V-Wars” to try and do that as well.
Are any of the stories from the book making the transition, too?
For now the comic will be all new stories. We’re not doing an adaptation of the comic, but rather telling stories running parallel to the second anthology, “V-Wars: Blood and Fire,” which debuts in early summer. The first book was about the outbreak and a flare-up of tensions. The second book and the comic are about the actual war.
How do you make sure each author’s story doesn’t contradict each another? Do you have a “V-Wars” ‘bible?’
The “V-Wars” bible was one of the first things I created when I pitched the original anthology to IDW. And I’ve been expanding it ever since. But that bible is built on the five nonfiction books I wrote about vampire and werewolf believes around the world and throughout history. The first one was “The Vampire Slayers Field Guide to the Undead” — written under my one-time pen name of Shane MacDougall; and the others are “Vampire Universe,” “The Cryptopedia,” “They Bite” and “Wanted Undead or Alive.” And to a lesser degree, “Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead.” I did an enormous amount of research for those books on the folklore and myths of supernatural predators, and the science that is often at the root of monster beliefs. All of that is packed into the “V-Wars” bible, which means the series is built on beliefs people around the world had — and in some case still have. Not everyone has stopped believing in the undead.
What different types of vampires are showing up in “V-Wars?”
In my nonfiction books I catalogued couple of hundred different species and subspecies. We’re going to dip into that pretty heavily. All of the vampires in “V-Wars” will be based on creatures that appeared in actual beliefs. We won’t, however, be doing any retreads of the Hollywood vampire. No pale-faced Eastern European noblemen in opera cloaks. No tortured and gorgeous sexually ambiguous immortals. Nothing that sparkles. Not that I object to the Hollywood vampire — I’m way too much of a pop culture junkie for that. It’s just those vampires are not based on the folkloric versions. The vampires of “V-Wars” are. The twist is that any apparent supernatural powers will be explained scientifically.
What do you find fascinating about vampires? You’re writing them in “Bad Blood” right now, as well as many other previous projects.
The vampire is an incredibly elastic monster. In appears in nearly every culture, though it is radically different from one culture to another. For example, only about a third to a half of all vampires drink blood. Many feed on life essence, sexual essence, breath, faith, you name it. Their powers and weaknesses vary. And some of the world’s vampires overlap in nature and powers with werewolves, witches, demons and even zombies. As an amateur folklorist, a science junkie and a storyteller, I’ve come to appreciate how deep a creative well that is. My first novels, “Ghost Road Blues,” “Dead Man’s Song” and “Bad Moon Rising,” are vampire novels based on a legend from Europe that when a werewolf dies is comes back as a vampire. That’s some cool stuff right there. So, yeah, I love me some vampires.
What do you love about the anthology format?
I’m not the kind of writer who thinks I’m the only kid in the playground. I’m an avid reader and a pop culture junkie. I love to share my interests like a kid who brings a new toy out to share with his friends. And I remember how other writers have expanded their ideas by sharing them with talented peers. Look what Lovecraft did by allowing everyone who was interested to write a Cthulhu story. And Michael Moorcock did that when he allowed writers to pen Jerry Cornelius stories. George R.R. Martin did it with “WildCards” and Robert Lynn Aspirin did it with the “Myth” books. Besides — in a lot of ways that’s the backbone of comics. People coming in to tell new stories of our favorite characters. So, with all of that loaded into my gun, I couldn’t wait to invite a bunch of my friends in to help me pull that trigger. And damn if they didn’t bring game. I’m editing the stories for the new anthology, “V-Wars: Blood and Fire,” and some of these tales are insane. Scott Sigler, Kevin J. Anderson, Joe McKinney, James A. Moore, Yvonne Navarro, Westin Oches, and Larry Correia — each of them went places with “V-Wars” I never would have gone. That’s what makes an anthology, particularly a shared-world anthology, so hot. It’s endlessly re-inventable. Endlessly fresh.
How did artist Alan Robinson come on board?
When I was in San Diego to visit the IDW offices, CEO Ted Adams gave me a copy of one of their new books, “The Secret Battles of Genghis Khan” for which Alan had done the artwork. I was blown away. He has a great sense of character mood and of bodies in dynamic motion. Plus he has a very strong sense of how to move the story along visually. He was an easy fit for this project, and really he was our first choice. A damn good choice, too, as it turned out.
Why use a single artist instead of a different one for each story like in most anthologies?
The “V-Wars” comic is told from one writer’s perspective, following a few central characters. We decided to go with a single artist from the jump so artist and writer can put their stamp on it. That’s working really well. I tend to adjust my script’s art directions based on what I know of the artist, so now I’m writing with Alan Robinson in mind.
Were multiple artists ever considered?
Sure, and we actually do have some guest artists coming up for the second arc. That storyline is a bit of a different slant for us and features a guest-starring role from Joe Ledger, the character from one of my most popular series of thrillers. Because Joe has such a huge fanbase, we decided to try something different by having a guest artist come in for that three-issue arc. That’ll be issues #6-8. However Alan Robinson will return right afterward.
“V-Wars” #1 is available April 30 from IDW Publishing.