A review a day: <i>Bite Me!</i>

Sigh. Vampires. I'll probably hate this, right?

Yes, it's true that I'm a bit burned out on vampires. However, it's not that I hate vampire stories, I just find most of them simple retreads of what has come before. So if you give me a good vampire story, I'll probably like it. Happily for me, Dylan Meconis knows what she's doing, and Bite Me! is a very fun and funny vampire story.

Meconis did this as a webcomic for years and then published the book herself (under the name Elea Press). She charges 15 dollars for it, and it's definitely worth your time.

As you can see from the cover, this story is set during the French Revolution, which means that Meconis can make plenty of jokes about bloodthirsty non-vampires along with the bloodthirstiness of vampires. She begins the story with a bar wench named Claire, who goes a bit lusty when a mysterious stranger named Lucien comes to visit the inn where she works. Lucien, of course, is a vampire, and eventually Claire becomes one, too (not strictly in the traditional way, so I won't spoil it). It turns out that Lucien was out of Paris on an errand given to him by the head of his coven, and while he was away, a tyrannical revolutionary discovered the existence of the group and seized them all, intending to have the leader, Audric, turn him into a vampire. Audric refuses, which drives Rougiére, the revolutionary, nutty. Meanwhile, Ginevra, another vampire in Audric's coven, shows up and tells Lucien they must return to Paris and save Audric and their other fellows. They are assisted in this endeavor by Luther, a German theologian who happens to be a werewolf and an old friend of Lucien's. It all, of course, works out in the end.

The story is fun enough, but the true enjoyment of the book comes from Meconis's humor, which is very wry and often under-stated, even though she's not above puns (oh, puns - what would we do without you?).

As this was a webcomic, each page often has some kind of humorous pay-off, even though it's all part of the bigger story. Meconis has fun fooling around with stereotypes - Claire, for instance, is far from a simple bar wench, and when she gets to Paris and is encouraged to act more "revolutionary" by Lucien and Ginevra, she really gets into her element. When Lucien asks her to start a riot, she wants to know how many people he wants - 500 or 750, because with 750 she can promise "complimentary looting AND aimless hooliganism!" Meconis does this constantly - this is a very modern book set during the Revolution, with generous dollops of irony and parodies of crazed revolutionaries, vampire fiction, and even bodice-ripping romances. Yes, it's all tongue-in-cheek, but Meconis is smart enough to get plenty of historical details right (or at least close enough for her purposes), so when Robespierre shows up, we can believe he'd be smitten with Claire in her crazed-riot-rousing mode, and we can believe she'd get him to sign her thigh. He was quite the 1790s celebrity, after all.

Meconis also takes the piss out of vampire fiction quite nicely, too. Lucien is amiable enough, and Ginevra a bit of a harpy, but they also enjoy the finer things in life and usually only "deal" with fools, not everyone. Audric is a nice parody of the effete vampire that has become de rigueur these days, as he sits around waiting for others to rescue him and is oddly calm about the entire thing. He's not completely ineffectual, as we see when Lucien outfoxes him after Audric turns him, but for the most part, he's a good parody, because we can believe that a world-weary vampire would act this way, and the fact that so many vampires these days are wildly emo makes it even funnier.

Meconis also has fun with the guillotine-happy culture of the French Revolution, as Ginevra gets decapitated during the course of their rescue and they spend the rest of the book trying to keep her head on her shoulders. It's gross and goofy, but Meconis's tone, which implies that these vampires have seen pretty much everything, keeps the book from devolving too far into farce (despite the subtitle of the book). Yes, this is a farce, but like the best farces, it never gets too mean-spirited. Meconis obviously loves these characters (so much that she has revisited a few of them in her later work), so the book never feels like she's mocking anything, even when she pokes fun at Anne Rice's supporting characters late in the book.

As Meconis drew this over four years, it's not surprising that her art evolves over the course of the book, becoming more nuanced, more intricate, and more shaded. The opening few pages are a bit stark and the characters a bit angular, and while Meconis doesn't change their look too much, she does fill in the backgrounds more as the book goes along and softens the character designs just slightly. As this is a farcical comic, Meconis does a lot with wild facial expressions - the characters react with wild changes of mood, highlighting the inherent goofiness of the proceedings. As the nominal point-of-view character, Claire's moods are important, as she veers wildly between poles depending on the craziness around her (although, as we learn, she's not quite what she seems, so she might be more equipped to deal with things than we think).

Because Meconis is dealing with grand, dramatic gestures that are undercut by humor (as when Lucien whips out his sword to duel, but it turns out he's holding the blade end rather than the handle), she needs to be able to do a good job both with the expressions of someone pulling off these grand, dramatic gestures and the disappointment when they don't go as planned. The writing veers wildly in this way, and Meconis is able to nail the art as well so that the jokes work. When you consider that she was 17 years old (!) when she started this comic and only 21 when she finished it, it makes you appreciate the storytelling even more. Damn you and your talent, Meconis!!!!!

As with many humor comics, it's hard to discuss specifics because so much of it relies on a long build-up and clever timing. Meconis's overall story, however, is strong too, and she herself is having plenty of fun with this (she has fun footnotes throughout the book), all of which comes through on the page. If you know nothing about the French Revolution except for the fact that a lot of people were guillotined, that's fine. All you really need to know is that Bite Me! is damned funny. I wouldn't steer you wrong, people!

Tomorrow: More cool comics by Dylan Meconis! Can you stand the suspense?!?!?

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