Following quickly on the heels of its first “True Blood” miniseries, IDW Publishing is set to launch its second mini set in Bon Temps, this time with some new blood on the creative side. “True Blood: Tainted” #1 arrived in stores last week, co-written by “Manhunter” and “Let Me In” scribe Marc Andreyko and actor Michael McMillian and illustrated by Joe Corroney. The new six-issue miniseries finds the enigmatic cast of HBO’s popular series contending with a contaminated batch of Tru Blood, the artificial blood that allows vampires like Bill and Jessica to live somewhat at peace with humans — notably, Bill’s lover and series protagonist Sookie Stackhouse — though more aggressive creatures of the night like Eric prefer the real thing. CBR News spoke with McMillian and Andreyko about their plans for the series, the nature of the “bad Blood,” and charismatic religious leader Steve Newlin, whom McMillian plays on the show.
Regarding his own history with “True Blood” as a fan, Andreyko told CBR News, “I was hooked on the show the moment I saw the opening credits with that great theme song.”
Though “True Blood: Tainted” will be their first project together, Andreyko and McMillian are no strangers. “I’ve been a fan of Michael the actor since he did a show on TNT called ‘Saved,’ and we both shop at the same comics store,” Andreyko told CBR. “We became pals, and then, about a year ago, he moved into my building. When the TB comic was announced, I asked him if he’d be interested in pitching stories with me to IDW. He said yes, we brainstormed a number of ideas and, luckily, HBO liked ’em.”
The writers’ collaboration reflects their backgrounds in television, McMillian and Andreyko told CBR, in that they plot out the entire six-issue miniseries together and then divide up first drafts, with McMillian doing a first pass on the odd-numbered issues and Andreyko taking the even. “After one of us has completed a first draft, we’ll hand it to the other. That person does a pass and hands it back,” McMillian said. “We make some final tweaks before passing it off to IDW and HBO for notes. It’s fun.”
“It truly is a 50/50 split,” Andreyko added. “And it has been a dream — so far.”
“True Blood” will be McMillian’s second comic book project, following the four-issue miniseries “Lucid” at Archaia, which concludes this month. He told CBR that he is also co-writing an original graphic novel titled “The Indian and the Bandit,” and that, now that he’s in the comics business, he’s looking to stay, especially now that he feels he’s on a strong footing with the series he’s worked on to date. “There are a couple differences between ‘True Blood’ and ‘Lucid.’ The first being that I think I’m a better writer now than when I started ‘Lucid,'” McMillian said. “It’s amazing what writing your first comic can teach you. I’m proud of ‘Lucid,’ I’m not trying to dog it by any means, I’m just much more confident than I was walking into ‘Lucid.’ It also helps that I’m working with a writer like Marc.
“The other big difference is that I’m playing in someone else’s world. Much of the work on the first volume of ‘Lucid’ was spent on world-building. I was creating a mythology from scratch,” McMillian continued. “It’s nice to walk into a world that’s already formed.”
That world, too, is one McMillian has previously explored as an actor, playing the character Steve Newlin, a religious leader with an extreme anti-vampire agenda, on the “True Blood” series. “It’s a bit like writing about a fictional world that I’ve actually visited before. As Steve Newlin, I got to walk around the ‘True Blood’ universe as one of its denizens,” McMillian said. “I know how it feels, how it sounds. At the very least, it makes writing dialogue for Bill and Sookie and Jason much easier having actually interacted with those characters in the flesh.
“I think it’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this comic so badly — its a fictional world I have tangible access to. That’s an awesome gift for a writer.”
And, McMillian told CBR, Steve Newlin will be making an appearance in “Tainted.” “He shows up on page 3 of issue 1. I’m pretty shameless. But Steve wouldn’t have it any other way!”
Andreyko told CBR that the story of “True Blood: Tainted” was inspired by the Tylenol poisonings in and around Chicago in 1982, when a still-unknown culprit added cyanide to Extra Strength Tylenol capsules, resulting in seven deaths. “Michael and I were coming up with stories to pitch, and the concept of someone poisoning Tru Blood was something that really intrigued us,” Andreyko said. “I mean, who would do that? Angry vampires? Vampire haters? Was it personal? Like any good mystery, there are dozens of feasible suspects.”
McMillian added that he sees the comic as “an action-packed expansion of the ‘True Blood’ TV mythology.” “I think the comic can play a role in exploring areas of the ‘True Blood’ world that the show may not be able to get to.Â Marc came up with the wonderful idea of Tru Blood bottles getting contaminated with an element that causes vampires to go crazy. Since the bottled blood is the link between vampire/human relations, it’s such a great device to mess with. Tainting that symbolic connection seemed like an apt reflection of where vampire/human relations were left off in Season 3,” McMillian said. “On another level, the theme of contamination is at play with the main cast of characters. Their lives have been drastically affected since Bill walked into Sookie’s life. Are they themselves tainted? A lot of our characters kick off the series with a longing to return to the way things were before… to reclaim a feeling of lost, perhaps even false, innocence.”
As to the nature of the “bad Blood,” McMillian told CBR, “It basically causes vampires that drink it to go into a feral bloodlust. They are conscious, but their moral center is completely vanished and they go wild. It basically acts as Vampire PCP.” Andreyko suggested there’s a special degree of nastiness inherent in such a potion. “When you see the art, you’ll understand,” he said.
“True Blood” has a fairly large ensemble cast, and “Tainted” will be bringing in a few more residents of Bon Temps than were seen in IDW’s first miniseries. But Andreyko told CBR he doesn’t find juggling so many characters a problem at all. “I actually like sprawling casts. As a huge Robert Altman fan, if your main cast numbers more than five — I am so there,” Andreyko said. “And from a writing standpoint, while actual logistics of characters can get complicated, having a big cast, particularly with such a specifically-drawn cast as in ‘True Blood,’ allows you a shorthand — i.e. Lafayette may only have one line in a given scene, but since we know him, those few words inform us more than a monologue from a one-dimensional character.”
The current miniseries places the focus on Jessica, the young girl Bill reluctantly turned into a vampire toward the end of season one and who has had a rather rough time of things since then. Asked about the appeal of this character, Andreyko said, “She’s a teenager, she was home-schooled, and now she’s a vampire whose every time having sex is, literally, the ‘first’ time. That pretty much screams ‘interesting’ to me.”
Speaking of sex, which is a not insignificant part of the HBO incarnation of “True Blood,” CBR News asked the writers how they were handling bringing some of the naughtier bits into comics. While sex and coarse language can be done well in comics — ask Alan Moore — they do tend to play a bit differently on the page than they would on screen. “Marc and I haven’t really censored ourselves as writers,” McMillian said. “I think we’re both using the show as a guideline, and letting the story dictate what happens. The comic won’t be gratuitous for gratuity’s sake. However, I’m pretty conscious of language while writing. I’m not opposed to dropping the f-bomb, but too many times and you start to look lazy. Bad words can lead to redundant writing, so I try to keep it fresh on my end.”
Andreyko added, “Sex is a huge part of True Blood, both from a narrative standpoint and metaphorically, so eliminating it from the comics would be a conspicuous absence. That being said, we are not doing ‘adult’ comics here, so the choreography and what isn’t shown become important in the storytelling. And I’m also a firm believer that, except for specific moments of impact, less is much more when it comes to moments of graphic sex or violence.”
â€¨Joining Andreyko and McMillian on the series is artist Joe Corroney, who provided covers for the first IDW “True Blood” miniseries. “Joe is a master at the likeness. He really captures the look of the actors without making them seem stiff or ‘cut and pasted,'” Andreyko said. “And we also are lucky enough to have my ‘Pantheon’ co-conspirator, Stephen Molnar, doing amazing, energetic layout, too. I can’t be more excited about how this book looks!”
Though “True Blood: Tainted” seems like a must-read for comics fans who love “True Blood,” there should also be strong appeal for Truebies who don’t normally read comics, McMillian said. “They have a long time to wait until Season 4 kicks off. If they want their fill, ‘True Blood’ volume 2 is going to be the closest they get to watching the show! I think they’ll be surprised at how much fun it is.”