Writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque’s Vertigo-published creator-owned series “American Vampire” returns from hiatus in March of next year, picking up after the events of the series’ last story arc “The Blacklist” as Pearl, Calvin and Skinner Sweet move from the 1950s to the swinging ’60s.
Launching in 2010 with a story co-written by horror novelist Stephen King, Snyder and Albuquerque have spent the last several years racking up the body count along with the accolades, winning an Eisner and praise from fans and critics alike. The series tells the story of the first ever American vampire, Wild West outlaw Skinner Sweet, and his vampire progeny, flapper and aspiring movie star Pearl Jones. The title takes a scientific and historical approach to horror, categorizing vampires into different species as Skinner and Pearl weave their way through the major events of the 20th Century.
While March may seem far away, Snyder’s fans can keep themselves occupied with the writer’s second creator-owned book, “The Wake.” Written by Snyder and co-created by artist Sean Murphy, the ten issue miniseries about a group of doomed researchers discovering an aquatic and venomous race of sea-dwelling humanoids culminates next year.
Speaking with CBR, Snyder dove into discussing his two series with gusto, looking at the real-life science behind both books, the impact Henry’s death will have on Pearl and Skinner Sweet and the surprising commercial success of “The Wake.”
CBR News: Before we talk about “American Vampire,” I wanted to touch on “The Wake,” especially since the very first issue was the highest selling single Vertigo issue in about a decade. What was your response to the first issue selling so well and it being so positively received straight out of the gate?
Scott Snyder: I was incredibly grateful. My first impulse is to always suspect it was my mother buying ten thousand copies of the comic! [Laughter]
This was a book for Sean and me that we had been planning since — I think it was 2009. I sent the pitch into DC when I was on “Detective Comics,” and they wanted to do it, but it really became waiting for when Sean was available, because he was working on “Punk Rock Jesus,” which was just masterful. It was simply finding time to do this together because it was always designed for us to work on as a team. I just knew he was the perfect guy for it because it has that sci-fi element that needs a great world-builder like him, but at the same time it needs that paranoid, claustrophobic, dark, emotional feeling of being trapped in a tin can with a monster. I knew he could pull it off with his dark inks and expressiveness.
But with the sales — we wanted to do it for fun, with no expectations. I was like, “There’s going to be cavemen in the first issue and there’s going to be a girl with wings 200 years in the future — this is probably not going to sell tremendously well.” [Laughs] It was designed as a book where we could both push ourselves, and I mean that whole-heartedly and hope people see that. From me, it’s something really different in terms of the subject matter and the breadth and scope of the story. When you hit issue #5 — I know you have issue #4 at the end of the month, but #4 ratchets things up insanely and #5 is the big game-changer issue that turns the whole story on its head towards the more speculative science fiction you see in those tags at the end and beginning of the story.
To see people respond the way they have genuinely means the world to us, and I can’t thank people enough for picking it up because it makes me feel good about trying new things. If we tried it and it totally bombed, it would be scary to go out and try to do other series or things different than what you’ve done before! [Laughs] The validation that people want to see you do something outside of your wheelhouse means a tremendous amount. It definitely made me excited to do more creator-owned work, which is a huge priority for me in 2014 and 2015.
And there’s also the first “Wake” trade collection coming out soon.
The format is something different from Vertigo, which I’m excited about. After the first five issues, they’re going to release the collected edition immediately. So you should not trade wait on this book, because that is evil. [Laughs]
After you read and pick up the first five issues, then you’ll be able to buy the trade, which I’m excited about because it’s a story broken into two parts that all comes together in the end in a way I hope people find as surprising and satisfying as Sean and I do. It’s exciting to see it get collected so quickly and use that format where you can buy issues and pick it up, then start on the second half and pick up the second half.
In both “The Wake and “American Vampire,” the speculative science aspect you mention is central to the story, where you have a very biology/evolution-based explanation for these creatures and you really blur the lines between actual science and fantasy. In that vein, I have to ask: Is the whale conversation Lee Archer speaks about in “The Wake” real? Because I have spent a lot of time trying to Google that recording. [Laughter]
Yeah, there’s a real whale called the 52-hertz whale, and they call it the “loneliest whale in the world.” I was joking around the other day with Jeff Lemire about hiding where the science goes off the rails and turns into your comic book crazy fake-science. There’s definitely a point with the vampire evolution or Wraith’s physiology [in “Superman Unchained”] or in this where you take things that are realistic and twist the science that exists. That story is true, but once it starts turning into “maybe it’s repeating a conversation it heard from humanoid cannibalistic monsters,” that’s where the science gets a little hazy! [Laughs]
The mythology and folklore in the series is real, too. There’s actually a big moment in the next issue where Sean illustrates this old folktale, and it seems to fit what we’re doing really ominously. But the aquatic ape theory and a lot of that stuff’s real. You just hide the juncture from the real train tracks into your crazy mine cart ride. [Laughs] The best part about that, with “American Vampire” especially, because it’s really minute, is when someone calls you out. Every once in a while you’ll get someone who goes, “There’s no helicopter like that in 1937!” I want to give that person the comic free for life! Rafael will really dig in, so sometimes he’ll send them a thing back going, “Look, in December, 1937, there was that helicopter, so what are you going to do?” [Laughs]
“American Vampire” is officially returning from hiatus in March of next year, and like “The Wake,” that’s another series you’ve broken into two halves. We’ve see the beginning of the 20th Century, so when it returns, are we going to get the Cold War and the big events of the second half of the 20th Century heading into the modern day?
Yeah — one hundred percent. It’s really about those decades and following the bloodline through the second half of the 20th Century. The first part happens in the ’60s when we get back, and I’m so excited. Again, I’m probably a little too frank, but when I gave it up for the year, I gave it up because we wanted [artist] Rafael [Albuquerque] to get far ahead on the series, and he wanted to do a couple of things in the DCU. I wanted him to do some “Batman” backups with me; also, I was launching “Superman Unchained” and “The Wake” and I was worried the quality of “American Vampire would go down with Rafael stretched thin and me doing everything. We always planned on doing a short break for a few months.
But it was actually really depressing. Internally, my friends at DC, like Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes and Gail Simone — I had a lot of trouble a few months after giving it up, a lot of anxiety and it was very depressing for me to be away from it because it was before “The Wake” started and I didn’t have anything creator-owned at the time. As much as I love working on Superman and Batman, there was no place for me to go any more where you know it better than anybody else because you made it up. I started missing it immediately, and Rafael and I started talking about how we were going to bring it back, that we were going to bring it back really early. Coming into this, there’s nothing more important to me than the series. As much as I put Batman and Superman at the very top, I can’t give them any more than I give them, you know? I’m giving them my all, but “American Vampire” is my baby with Rafael and [editor] Mark [Doyle] and [colorist] Dave McCaig, and I have never missed a series like I missed this series while I was away. It was a big part of my year, thinking about this while I was doing those series, so I know the best stuff on the book is coming up. I’m already scripting the arc we come back to in March so Rafael can get way ahead and start drawing it in the beginning of October.
Obviously, the big turn at the end of “Blacklist” is that Pearl, Skinner and Calvin are moving forward, but Henry’s gone.
Henry’s been an anchor for Pearl in the series, and she’s kept her human side intact due in large part to him being around. With Henry dead, is Pearl going to have to deal with the world more than she was while she was in hiding with him?
Very much. When you see her status quo, she’s found a different purpose in life that is very much less human in some ways. She’s not — I don’t want to say she’s become darker in any way, because she really is a lot of the moral compass of the series. But her purpose is bigger and different, and you’ll see it in the very beginning of the issue we return to. I really toyed with the idea of teasing it and showing it to you in the anthology we just did as the bookend story, but I felt that would give too much away. I was more interested in catching up with Skinner, because he’s so cagey and all over the place all the time. He gives less away when you see him.
Skinner’s always been a force of chaos, but entering the chaotic ’60s and ’70s with the Baby Boomers, the war and everything that’s happening, does he find himself lost in the upheaval?
That’s exactly how he finds himself at the beginning, and that’s part of what makes him so angry and dangerous. He’s a man without a frontier when you catch up with him. You saw him briefly in the anthology, and if you noticed, he had a shovel and blood on the window of the back of his car, and that’s because he has a really interesting job now. [Laughs]
He’s somebody looking for the Wild West, and it doesn’t exist anymore, so there’s a big plot behind that for him. He’s going to get involved in all kinds of fun stuff in the iconography I think you’ve come to expect from the series — biker gangs and borderlands. So will Pearl, but in a very different way, a very different sort of ’60s. I’m really excited about writing something that will be about those decades, but also, more importantly at this point, to catch you up with those characters in ways that feel emotionally potent, surprising and inevitable.
That’s one of the big things, how [the characters] change. That was what Mark the editor and Rafael and I did just this past month in August; we decided we would re-read the entire series and really make a very strong case to each other about what the characters’ emotional arcs are throughout the 20th Century. Loosely, I know what Skinner’s is and what Pearl’s is and the big arcs, because I know how the series is going to end, but we’re being really nuanced about it. It’s not just that he’s lost and he has no frontier — how does he feel about the Vassals? How does he feel about Pearl? How does he feel about Calvin? About Felicia? All of those things really made a matrix for each to emotionally figure out the most interesting stories to tell with the characters we love so much. We really use that as the guide so it’s not, “Let’s see Haight-Ashbury this,” or, “Let’s see that.” There are things we left out that you might be surprised we haven’t done because they are big historical moments, but they are not that important to the characters, so we left them out.
Talking about the Vassals and Felicia, throughout the first half of “American Vampire,” you ran with co-current miniseries like “Lord Of Nightmares” and “Survival Of The Fittest.” For the second half, is that also the plan, where we’ll see in miniseries what the Vassals are doing, or some of those secondary characters?
The plan at this point is to keep everything in the main series. That was one of the reasons we wanted to get Rafael far ahead on it, so he could do more of those. As we were doing it, we fell in love with those characters so much that we want to really pull them in. I’m completely open to the idea of doing a miniseries, and we have talked about doing one, because there’s this one villain coming up who was introduced in issue #34 called the Gray Trader who is going to play a really big part in the second half of the series. I’ve always planned to do something where we were going to weave through the Dracula character as someone who came before as the very foundation of evil and vampirism, and our version of the devil and a lot of the legends that come up, especially in American about devils at the crossroads. So he’s tremendous fun; you saw him in #34 really briefly and he seems to exist underground, so he’s a character we talked about doing extra stories with, but I can’t wait for him to pop up literally and figuratively!
You’ve got a lot of plans, and we got a lot of different characters and species of vampires in the first half of the series. While you have an end point in mind, is the second half all about bringing the story to a close?
Oh, yeah, that was always the plan; you have an ending in the outline. You’ve seen some of the pieces move into place from the last issue you read in #34. There’s still more to the series left. We’re not quite halfway done, but in terms of the arc, this is where things start to collide. Like, why do we bring Dracula into it? It was fun, but we actually have a bigger plan for him and the ones you saw in “Survival Of The Fittest,” they have a big role coming. The Vassals, where are they — they’ve been destroyed, what happens to them — all those things we did to set up what’s coming in the biggest possible way.
Our format is kind of the same in the second half. In the first half, we knew where we wanted to end; the basic outline of the “Blacklist” arc was discussed between us when we started the Pearl and Cash and Felicia arc. We were going to end this volume of “American Vampire” with a return to Los Angeles and Hollywood and Skinner and Henry’s death — all this stuff. What happened was, as we were getting there, we kept telling stories along the way and discovering characters we wanted to do arcs with. So it actually went on a lot longer than we expected! [Laughs]
I’m sure that’s what will happen with the second half, too, as much as I say, “I know how it’s going to go!” Part of the joy of the series and what makes it magical, as corny as that sounds, is discovering characters you love and love to hate as you create them. Then you take this long, kind of windy path with stories you didn’t know you had. As much as I’d like to say I know when the end is and what number it’s going to come with, part of the fun is discovering the stories still hidden the shadows. I’m very excited about that.
“American Vampire” returns from hiatus in March 2014; “The Wake” issue #4 hits shelves September 25.