If you’re reading ‘American Vampire’ then chances are you’re only doing so because of the draw of one man’s name – Stephen King. A straight vampire project by Snyder alone would have been unlikely to pick up many readers, but by pairing him with a celebrated (and established) horror writer and a fantastic artist, Vertigo have hit on a winner.
Approaching ‘American Vampire’, King’s first direct foray into comics, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
King is a difficult writer to pin down; his early work is some of the best written ‘pulp horror’ around, his habit of writing scary stories is often parodied but his ear for language and his ability to write convincing characters and dialogue is unmatched in the field. If there has been a drop off in quality recently it is more noticeable in his longer novels than the ever reliable short stories he seems to excel at. Much can be chalked up to the accident he suffered a few years ago which impacted so heavily on his writing, the direct effects most clearly seen in the derailing of the Dark Tower series into a self-pleasing anti-climax.
And yet, I love him. I buy anything he releases. So I went in with high hopes but low expectations.
The comic comes in two parts, the first being a 1920s tale of Pearl, a young waitress/would-be actress who falls prey to the traditional vampires – European aristocrats and big Hollywood – and eventually gets turned by Sweet. Strangely enough it reads exactly like the pilot episode of Angel, if Cordelia had become a vampire and begun a war of vengeance against her sires (but seriously – exactly the same first act plot).
The second part is a familiar King trope; a tale told by an author who passed off fact as fiction and now feels the need to tell the story as it happened. It’s a hokey start to a Wild West action romp spanning years and centring around ‘Skinner Sweet’, the first American Vampire; outlaw, murderer, candy lover and the first of a new breed of vampires who thrive on sunlight and have some tweaked powers.
It’s hard not to heap praise on American Vampire. For a comic whose main attraction was that I own everything else widely published by Stephen King, it’s almost better than it should be. If anything, King’s half is the weaker; Snyder has created a believable and utterly convincing main character in Pearl and the comics are as much about her relationships and friendship as they are the all-important vampires. The period detail and Hollywood setting is a lovely touch.
I stated in my review of Doctor Who: Vampires in Venice that:
“Personally, I don’t care what my Vampires are as long as they suck blood. Make them friendly, let them fly, or walk in daylight, make them mutants, infected, aliens, whatever. Vampires in my book are always cool.”
So the powered by sunlight, lunar connection, giant claws and rattlesnake teeth don’t bother me. Considering that this is an entire comic based on a new and fundamentally different breed of vampire, I can forgive artistic licence.
Then again, when the art is this lovely it’s totally forgivable. Albuquerque is the kind of artist that makes books. What’s most incredible is that he brings to both halves an obviously linked yet subtly different slant.
This is easily one of the best little buys I’ve had. For once the $3.99 price tag is justified, with two halves of a story which are both brilliantly done and a clear resolution in sight this is an easy buy for the curious. What’s most surprising is that I’ll probably still get this when King leaves next issue.