Sunday, October 18, 2015

Interview with author KURT AMACKER (second interview) by Dave Wolff

Interview with author KURT AMACKER

You recently let me know you have a new novel in the works. Can you reveal when you began working on it and anything about the storyline?
I started writing Bloody October in bits and pieces a few years ago. I had a lull between graphic novel projects, and I wanted to try my hand at prose. Then, I was asked to work on comics for both The 69 Eyes and Cradle of Filth, all within a couple of years of each other. Those immediately put my personal projects on the backburner. The storyline for Bloody October was born of a simple idea that stayed with me for several months, which usually means it’s worth exploring. I wanted to write a vampire novel where the narrator was, instead of the vampire, his best friend. Essentially, it’s a novel told from the point of view of a supporting character. And, the vampire, John Devereux, is a handful. He drinks and smokes and gets into trouble. He’s still imbued with a value system from the 1950s, and he has willfully avoided the modern world. His friend, Jason Castaing, has to help him adjust and also keep his own life from falling apart. He’s an underemployed journalist with a drinking problem and no direction. And then, someone tries to frame John for two vampire-style murders. John promptly skips town, and Jason is left holding the bag—now having to act as a detective for his friend.

How did you come up with the idea of narrating the novel from the best friend’s point of view?
Writing from the point of view of the “lonely vampire” has been done already. Dark Shadows and Anne Rice nailed that years ago, and there have been many, many examples since then. Vampires have been reused and recycled to death (and unsurprisingly, they can’t be killed!). I wanted to write about a vampire that was just trying to live his life and fit in as much as possible. Obviously, things become more complicated than that in the book. But, the impetus was someone who wanted to be able to have friends and just go out in the world without being discovered. The book probably isn’t breaking entirely new ground, but I like to think that the reflective, noirish tone might set it apart.

Is there anything about this idea that is going to set the work apart from other vampire fiction?
I wrote the book from the best friend’s point of view because it puts the reader in a more sympathetic position. None of us are vampires. Vampires aren’t real. But, I wanted to inhabit the point of view of someone who was learning that they were for the first time. And, I wanted the situation and Jason’s reaction to be plausible. There’s only one vampire in the world, and he’s an anomaly. It’s not like learning that they’re all over the place, which would change life as we know it. All Jason Castaing has to accept is that there is this one guy who is a vampire. After seeing his fangs come out, it’s easy for him to believe it. I think the average reader can sympathize with that situation.

When do you suspect the lonely vampire theme began to grow stale? How many different examples have you read altogether?
I think the first sympathetic vampire was probably from the penny dreadful series, Varney the Vampire, which was likely written by James Malcom Rymer (although this is disputed against the contributions of Thomas Peckett, as is their shared creation of Sweeny Todd). Varney was the protagonist in that rather long collection, and was often presented sympathetically. But, that series wrapped in 1847. Dark Shadows and Interview with the Vampire both really sealed the deal on that idea. It’s hard to pinpoint when it went stale, because there are so few other notable works that make good use of the idea. There were the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and I understand those are well-loved. But, I was never a great fan myself. Ask my wife about them. It’s more that there were a lot of easily forgotten films and television shows that drove the idea into the ground. I admit to having a nostalgic pang for Forever Knight, though.

I take it you have read Varney the Vampire? What do you remember from that penny dreadful and in what ways was the lead character sympathetic?
I've never read Varney, I'm ashamed to say. I own a collected edition of it. There wasn't one available for many years, so modern readers are arguably fortunate in that regard. But, it suffers from a problem that is often debated in literary circles--whether you should read something because it is historically or culturally important, but not very good. Varney is an important step for the literary vampire as we understand it, but it's also not well regarded as a piece of fiction. It's incredibly long, because it was assembled from the serialized stories. It contradicts itself. It has plot holes you could drive a truck through. So, I've put off reading it for years. I will one day, though, I promise all of you. Varney the character is sympathetic because he doesn't necessarily want to be a vampire. Unlike Lord Ruthven from John Polidori's The Vampyre, Varney seeks to cure his vampirism--and ultimately, commits suicide at the end when he can't.

What about Forever Knight gives you a feeling of nostalgia?
Oh god, this is embarrassing to even admit. Forever Knight was a Canadian television series in syndication when I was perhaps 12 or 13 years old. I was generally too young to watch R-rated vampire movies. So, it was a way to see vampires in a modern context that my parents didn't object to. I have no idea if it holds up now or not, but it still seems to have a bit of a cult following online.
There is a new TV series based on From Dusk ‘til Dawn that expands on the movie while offering new ideas to vampire lore. In the series, Satanico Pandemonium is not a lonely vampire, but a former slave who wants to establish a new order in the vampire world. Her species is related to snakes and the series explains their history in greater detail.
I haven't seen that one yet. I saw the movie years ago when it came out on video. My friend and I had already mounted a failed effort to sneak into the theater when it was playing several months before. I'm so utterly behind on modern television that I'm even missing shows I really want to watch.

Having seen From Dusk ‘til Dawn, what do you think of its slant on the vampire species?
When I first saw it, I was really torn by the film. It’s been said many times before, but it really plays like two different films joined at the middle. There is the Southwestern crime drama in the first half, and then the intense, bloody horror show in the second. But at the time, the prevailing critical opinion was that it felt like two different movies poorly lashed together. From Dusk ‘til Dawn is a cult classic now, and I’ve grown to like that aspect of it. If you know nothing about the film, it really pulls the rug out from underneath you. I respect any writer or director that has the gall to do something like that—and then keep the cinematic ship afloat, so to speak. I think that’s the case with FDTD, and the fact that it has endured enough to merit a television show really speaks to that.
As for the vampires, I like them better than I did when I was younger. I really liked the romantic, Gothic atmosphere of Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the many other films that emphasize the fallen beauty of that archetype. But, any convention can be done to death. That one arguably has, both by filmmakers and fans. Most people would consider Twilight the nadir of the sexy vampire subgenre. These days, any filmmaker working on a vampire film has to emphasize that it’s actually scary (and not sexy). You can see that with 30 Days of Night, The Strain, and others. I like both types, though. Vampires don’t have to be depicted in any particular way. When it came out, From Dusk ‘til Dawn was really unique in that regard. So many of the vampire films were more romantic and decadent. The ones in the Mexican bar were just monsters. That was unconventional at the time, and I think it has aged well.

How close to your vision did your character come out, as far as making him more plausible as a vampire?
He’s fairly close in that his origins are more technical than mystical. I don’t want to give away more than that, because his origin plays a big part of the backstory that Jason is forced to uncover. Initially, I wrote John as a lot more of a drunk, amoral party-monger. He was intensely unlikeable in his first iteration. But, I thought about it and kind of found the idea of an old man in a young man’s body more interesting than someone who had, apparently, learned nothing in all of his time alive.

Are there other vampires in the universe the novel is set in, or is John Devereux exclusive to it?
John Devereux is, as we understand vampires in this narrative, the only one of his kind. But, the answer is a bit more complicated.

What particular values from the 1950s is John Devereux imbued with and why does the avoid today’s world? Were there any real life personalities you based Devereux’s character on, or did he come from your own imagination?
John is sexist, and he drinks and smokes too much. He’s like Don Draper from Mad Men combined with Bill Compton from True Blood. He’s not a mean guy, but he has to adjust to a world that is, itself, adjusting to cell phones, the Internet, and having women on more equal footing with men. He has avoided the outside world for years because he was afraid of it, and because there are things in his past that could’ve come back to harm him. You’ll have to read the book to find out what those things are.

How long did Devereux live as a vampire? Did he learn his character traits and 50s values from his interaction with humans?
John Devereux has been a vampire since the 1950s. That’s when he stopped aging. Again, his life before becoming a vampire are integral to what Jason learns about him, so I won’t spoil too much. He learned his values just by growing up in that era and then all but refusing to interact with the world after. It’s a common enough criticism that people won’t update their values. Society mocks the elderly for this all the time—that anyone over a certain age is undoubtedly racist, sexist, and homophobic. It’s not that those qualities aren’t deplorable. Let me be clear: they are. But, people (especially those who have lived through the rapid cultural changes that have occurred since World War II) are more than the sum of their worst prejudices. But, John Devereux is not immune to that.

What do people mean by updating their values? People remain people regardless of what values are considered acceptable. Values became less conservative beginning in the 1950s and in some ways are becoming conservative again today. At the same time, religious fundamentalism is declining in the U.S. and more liberal views are gaining popularity in that regard.
I mean that his beliefs and mannerisms are, at least initially, outdated. People often criticize older people for having views that are no longer appropriate or relevant. John obviously starts to get with the times as he interacts with people, but initially he behaves more like an old man trapped in a young man's body.

In the novel does a catalyst of some kind lead Devereux into re-entering modern society?
He finally just gets tired of being alone, so he ventures out to a bar in Baton Rouge. That way, he can drink in peace without people from his neighborhood recognizing him or asking questions. He meets Jason at the bar, and they talk. John leaves, and then has a car accident on his way back to New Orleans. Jason sees the wreck and helps him. On the way back to the city, John reveals himself. He can’t avoid it, because Jason saw him emerge from the car accident unscathed. They start talking and John invites him over the next night. Ultimately, John is just bored and lonely. He wants to eat, drink (and he can do both in this story), meet women, and otherwise enjoy himself.

What sort of future shock does Devereux experience upon his return to civilization? How difficult a time does he have adjusting to it?
He’s initially introduced into the New Orleans goth scene in the late 1990s, because Jason is involved in it. He’s confused by the music, to be sure—especially because that scene, in and of itself, was driven by nostalgia. I know, because I lived through it. He also doesn’t like the Internet, because he realizes how easily it could expose him. But, overall he isn’t that shocked by modern society. I think people forget that prior to the ubiquitous availability of the Internet, life wasn’t all that different from the 1950s to the late 1990s. There were some remarkable technological advances, but cell phones, computer ownership, and unfettered Internet access were really only available to a small segment of society. I knew people that had none of those things in the late 1990s, when the story takes place. They swore they never would. In some cases, they only caved in a few years ago. It’s easier for John to acclimate in 1995 than it would be if the story took place in 2015.

There are still some people who still haven’t caved in. The main argument being that there is a lack of physical communication. To this day I don’t own a cell phone but get along fine with home phones, email, and snail mail.
It's true that a cell phone isn't a requirement these days. You can survive without one. John does, in fact. He tries to stay off the grid by using only cash, avoiding the Internet, and not using a mobile phone.

Are vampires that can eat and drink as humans can a rarity in vampire folklore and fiction? Had that been done before?
In folklore, it’s not unheard of. I think there are a few variations that attack food supplies and crops. The vampires of mythology exist on a continuum. There isn’t a definite starting and stopping point for what constitutes a vampire. But, virtually all of them are about eating, when you get down to it. The common theme isn’t so much blood drinking as a debilitating nocturnal presence. In some cultures, they, of course, drink blood. In others, they consume “spirit,” or other bodily fluids. So yes, depending on what culture you mean, actual food was sometimes a target.
I believe the vampires in the film The Hunger were able to eat and drink, as well as move about during the day. Hell, Dracula moved about in the day in the original novel! I read that in The Vampire Diaries, they can eat food as well. But overall, it’s a rarity. I just look at it this way: vampires are fictional, so you can create whatever rules you want. They can even sparkle, if it’s that important to you. There’s no canon for them. John can eat and drink, but it’s made clear that he just “passes” food (use your imagination). But, he still enjoys the taste and the sensation of feeling full. And, alcohol can still affect him. The sedating and pacifying effects of alcohol are a running theme in Bloody October, for both John and Jason. I say this as someone who loves a stiff drink, but who has also seen the long-term effects of alcohol on people in New Orleans.

I remember that vampires could consume food in The Lost Boys. Also in The Addiction, the head vampire can still perform the bodily functions of a human. And there is still room for new ideas.
I've never liked Lost Boys, to tell you the truth. I like the idea of it, but I think the movies is more of a nostalgia trip for people. I feel like I watch it every five years because I always forget why I don't like it. Then, I'm reminded. I did enjoy The Addiction. It was one of a crop of alternative, arthouse vampire movies that came out in the 1990s, along with Nadja and Habit. I used to scour video store shelves for movies like that, along with more obscure fare like Daughters of Darkness.

What is your general opinion of contemporary vampire cinema of the 80s?
I can't speak for every vampire film that came out in the 1980s, because there were certainly a lot. And in the 1990s, the home video market had really come into its own, so there were more independent and international vampire films available. Many of those came out well before the 1980s, in fact. I'm still woefully behind on Jean Rollin's vampire movies. But, I think that the '80s had a handful of really fantastic vampire films. The Hunger is a perennial favorite. David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon, are fantastic in that--and it became an indelible part of gothic culture in the UK and America. Fright Night is amazing. Chris Sarandon (ex-husband of Susan Sarandon) really nabbed this kind of sexy, 1980s soap opera vibe that I think is really charming. And, Near Dark was just a violent cow-punk masterpiece. It had The Cramps on the soundtrack, and some of the cast of Aliens cutting it up as vampires.

I don’t really think of The Addiction as an arthouse movie, but a brutal independent film that doesn’t sugarcoat its message about human nature, perhaps too much for the mainstream.
I know that "arthouse" is a bit of an anachronistic expression at this point, when the Internet has made every movie ever created available. But in the early 1990s, Miramax and Dimension really popularized independent films from the festival circuit—or created movies that fit the same offbeat mold. But Miramax was owned by Disney at that point, so it was never really all that independent. But, the idea that offbeat, independent, and foreign films deserved attention really reared its head at the same time that The Addiction, Nadja, and From Dusk 'til Dawn were all in the theater. Clerks, Pulp Fiction, and a few other films really catalyzed that. In fact, I think all of those vampire films were playing at the same time in New Orleans! But, The Addiction is a really great film. And, it was one of the first films that, as a teenager, I felt like I could "interpret" on my own. In that case, it was that vampirism was a metaphor for knowledge—but that a true understanding of our place in the universe could be destructive. But, I suppose that mincing the difference between "arthouse" and "independent" is really just a parlor argument at this point.

How many rare movies did you find at video stores, and from which eras?
Not all of them were rare, per se. But, I remember renting, as I mentioned before, Nadja and The Addiction (both from the early 1990s) from this little video store near my house. And, there was a Blockbuster farther down the road that had taken over an older video chain and inherited their inventory. So, I found Daughters of Darkness (1971) and Nosferatu (1921) there, and probably some B-movies that I rented in hopes of seeing some bare flesh. I saw Carl Theodore Dreyer's Vampyr (1932) in a creative writing class around the same time. And, I would always go for some of the schlock movies like Vamp and Innocent Blood from the 1980s and early '90s. I should also mention that, while not rare, the Universal Dracula from 1979 with Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier scared the hell out of me. When Lucy emerged in all of her pale, undead glory, it's almost as scary as Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

Are you a fan of the old Hammer vampire movies?
I am. I've seen most of their Dracula films, along with a handful of others. I was devastated when Christopher Lee died this year. The Hammer films really succeeded by contrasting themselves with their Universal predecessors. I love the old Universal horror movies. But, the Hammer films really gave their own brilliant, bloody spin on the classic monsters. They're all just so bright, bloody, and sexy, compared to everything that came before.

How much of a contribution did Christopher Lee make to vampire cinema as a whole?
I think he really updated Dracula for the sensibilities of the time. Universal had dominated the horror genre for three decades at that point. But, I imagine they were looking a bit stiff by the late 1950s. And, Universal’s horror brand never really went away. But, it had evolved into atomic age science fiction. Times were changing, and cinema with them. Technicolor was more widely available, and the first Christopher Lee Dracula film (Horror of Dracula, in the USA) took full advantage of that with really broad, bright splashes of color—not to mention some actual blood! It was, for its time, probably much scarier than any of the Universal efforts, though you can’t trump those for moodiness. And, Lee’s Dracula films really made the sexuality inherent in the vampire film more explicit. The later films went all in with more nudity and even more gore. Universal couldn’t really do that with the Hays Code in full effect after 1934. I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Lee and director Terence Fisher created the first modern vampire film.

How important has sexuality in vampire movies become, especially where female vampires are concerned?
I don’t think it’s as important as it used to be. As I mentioned before, there is a rising emphasis on scary, violent vampires over sexy, maudlin aristocrats. Twilight is so universally despised these days that I think it might be hard to do a romantic vampire film. I should be clear in that I don’t particularly hate that series, or any other. Hating a fictional creation is an enormous waste of energy. But, it seems like vampire movies coming out now are funny (What We Do in the Shadows), artsy (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), action-oriented (the Underworld series), or metaphorical (The Moth Diaries). They emphasize a host of other qualities besides sexuality. Obviously, you can’t escape sex as a theme in any film aimed at adults. But, vampire films that are overtly sexual seem to have descended into the VOD and direct-to-DVD market. There will always be a market for that kind of thing, of course. There’s an old joke that nudity is the cheapest special effect. But, I think it’s fallen out of favor. Hell, the last Dracula movie (Untold) was a PG-13 action movie.

Regarding whether vampires actually exist, I watched program on the Discovery Channel or the History Channel and an interview as a bonus feature on the DVD release of The Ironbound Vampire that suggested vampires might be real, or something similar to them. Is there anything you have watched along those lines?
I’ve seen a lot of those documentaries, and I find their research kind of specious. Vampires, in any kind of mythological sense, are not real. If they were, they probably would have multiplied and taken over the planet. There was a movie in 2009 called Daybreakers that dealt with that scenario, in fact. Blood has to be rationed, because they’ve wiped out most of the humans. But, the folklore surrounding vampires and why cultures believe in them is fascinating. I’ve been reading and even lecturing on the topic for years. A lot of it has to do with a misunderstanding of diseases and decomposition. But, the aristocratic vampire—or any vampire that looks and acts human—is a literary creation.
It should be pointed out that there are human beings who drink blood regularly, and who feel that they need to for health reasons. Those who have allowed themselves to be studied haven’t been able to demonstrate a physiological dependence on blood in any clinical setting. But, they insist that they require blood. A psychiatrist might diagnose this as a paraphilic disorder. I’m sure you can become psychologically addicted to anything, though.

Since our previous interview is there any vampire fiction you have read and appreciated, that makes an effort to stand out?
Honestly, I haven’t read much recent vampire fiction in a while. I enjoyed Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends. I think the next two vampire novels I’m going to read are George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream (which predates his Ice and Fire books), and Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which I understand is quite good.

What was the basic storyline of Bloodsucking Fiends and who are the principal characters in the novel? How many novels of Christopher Moore’s have you read?
Bloodsucking Fiends is the only one I’ve read. It’s about a girl named Jody who is turned into a vampire, and this writer named Tommy that she meets who helps take care of her. He works the night shift at a grocery store full of punks and miscreants, and they stage bowling matches with frozen turkeys when the manager isn’t around. I liked it because it was more glib and comedic, and just a different tone from, again, the “lonely vampire” archetype. For that matter, it isn’t the kind of ravenous zombie vampire that you find as a reaction to that, either. Like so much good literature, it’s just about someone trying to live their life. I read that in advance of writing Bloody October, because I wanted to capture a more sardonic tone for the book.

We discussed the comic projects you were developing for 69 Eyes and Cradle of Filth? Are those now available to the public? If so, how well have they been received by the press so far?
They’re both available. They’ve been well received, if the Amazon reviews are to be believed. The Cradle of Filth graphic novel generated over $40,000 on Kickstarter, which was more than twice our goal. We haven’t had a ton of reviews in the press because, in both cases, the books came out from very small publishing houses (Seraphemera Books, and then my own). In essence, they went directly to fans and we were too busy scrambling to get the next book together to spend a lot of time marketing them.

There are new projects you are working on in addition to the new novel. Are these collaborations with the same bands?
I’m still working on the reboot of Dead Souls. Monty Borror, who did the art on the Cradle of Filth book, is redrawing the entire thing for me, with a lot of new pages I’ve added to flesh out the story. Dani Filth is writing the introduction, but the story is entirely my own (not counting inspiration from countless bands, comics, and novels; and, an unintentional resemblance to Predator 2). I’d be up to doing another rock comic, but I’ve been trying to clear out the backlog of other projects that I’ve had to put to the side. There’s another (non-vampire) novel coming as well.

Tell the readers more about Dead Souls. Why did you decide to reboot this book and how did Monty Borror come on board?
I decided to reboot it because the art in the original miniseries was really raw. I’ve never been happy with it. And, my lettering job left a lot to be desired. And, as I looked at the story, I realized that it needed a subplot to kind of tie the two main narrative threads together—that of Vlad and Erzsebet, and of the two NOPD guys, Brite and Walpole. Monty came on board because he did such a great job on Cradle of Filth: The Curse of Venus Aversa. He really balances the realistic with the utterly fantastic in a way that suits Dead Souls.

What are some of the other projects Borror has worked on, and how well known is he in the metal and comic communities?
He did a graphic novel called Quarantined before The Curse of Venus Aversa, but I haven't read it yet. He wasn't especially well known in the metal community before we brought him aboard. But, he was a fan of metal in general and had listened to Cradle of Filth. The real advantage was that he liked the band, but wasn't completely obsessed with them. He was able to approach the material with a level of objectivity. I think if we had a super-fan working on the book, they might not have been able to turn out the kind of story that we wanted. The goal was to make The Curse of Venus Aversa to feel like a legitimate Victorian horror story, and not like a music video on paper or an overt love letter to the band.

Fill in the gaps concerning the events that take place in Cradle of Filth: The Curse of Venus Aversa.
It concerns a libertine poet named Lord Daniel Impudicus who is in the throes of a deep depression following the murder of his lover, Gabrielle. He is financially destitute and essentially at the end of his rope. Then, he purchases a book that was found at the scene of the crime. By reading the book, he is sucked into a nightmare world of ghosts, vampires, and literary allusions. While he is there, Gabrielle's ghost leads him from one horrifying vignette to the next. By the end of his journey, he understands why she died and what he must do to be with her again. Ultimately, we created an occult backstory for Cradle of Filth. It doesn't conclude with the formation of the band, so much as explain why they exist.

How extensive is the occult backstory for Cradle of Filth, and in what ways does The Curse of Venus Aversa reflect it?
Well, we crafted the back story. I don't mean to pull the curtain back too much, but Cradle of Filth is obviously a real band whose origins you can find on Wikipedia. The Curse of Venus Aversa is our attempt to put the band in a larger mythological context. In the story, the band exists as part of a grand scheme on the part of a malevolent goddess. I don't want to give away the particulars for those that haven't read it, though. The bottom line is that we didn't want to just give the band a fictional biography. I did that with The 69 Eyes because it fit their music. I was going for a more direct kind of storytelling in that case, drawn from 1970s and '80s Marvel Comics, and independent and underground titles. The logical aim, in that case, was to start at a fictionalized beginning, and then conclude with the band's formation. But, we wanted to go more Biblical with Cradle of Filth—like the band was part of a much larger occult truth.

Any information you want to share about the publishing house you put together?
I started Dark Notes Press to handle Cradle of Filth's graphic novel. We realized that the book would come out faster and Dani and I would have better control of the story if we just went that route. Since then, I've used it as a launch pad for my own projects. But, I'll also be publishing Dani's poetry book sometime next year (but the schedule is still up in the air at this point).

How many of your projects has Dark Notes Press launched since you worked with Cradle?
I used Dark Notes to put out the third issue of The 69 Eyes: Helsinki Vampires, as well as a reprint of one of my older graphic novels Tad Caldwell and the Monster Kid. And, I collected my second miniseries, Immortal: 60, in a graphic novel. Finally, I used it to release my novel, Bloody October. As I said, it's mostly a platform for my work and Dani Filth's. But, we might take on other writers in the future.

Is there anything you can mention about the book of poetry Dani Filth plans to release?
It's called Across the River Bedlam, and it has illustrations by Samuel Araya for each piece. He did the artwork for the cover of their album Thornography. We're trying to find a notable literary talent to write an introduction, but we're not sure who yet. We just want to the poetry book to stand on its own as a work of literature, and not just as an extension of Cradle of Filth. Obviously, the association is inescapable. But, Dani's poetry is really fantastic and deserves its own consideration.

Another vampire movie I am a fan of is Blade. One deleted scene (the idea was used for Blade: Trinity) was Deacon Frost planning to keep some humans alive for food after La Magra was awakened. If vampire films are a mirror to humanity, I had wondered if that fictional plot development is any more offensive than humans slaughtering animals for mass consumption.
Thankfully, we’re at the top of the food chain! I think the great difference is that vampires, at least on film, are very often too similar to human beings. They have basic, familiar motivations and emotions. They want money, power, emotional fulfillment, and other things to which you and I can relate. They can also display sympathy and empathy. But, Deacon Frost is a ruthless SOB. I think he shows that real vampires, if they were to live long enough, would really start seeing us the way we look at chimpanzees. The length of their lifespan, their increased knowledge and experience—not to mention using humans as a food supply—would alter their perspective of us.
So, it’s not more offensive than our use of animals for food, because it’s driven by the same logic. We eat animals because they don’t live on the same emotional and intellectual plane as us. Some people object to that practice, which is their prerogative—and I make it a point not to criticize people’s dietary habits, as long as they don’t criticize mine. But, there are people that eat meat who object to eating monkeys and/or pigs, because they are similar to human beings in various regards. Vampires would see us as something far beneath them and acceptable as a food supply. In that regard, I’m glad they aren’t real. We wouldn’t have much argument against them farming and eating us, outside of an appeal to our shared self-awareness.

The DVD commentary of Blade included Stephen Dorff speaking of Frost as a capitalist of sorts, and I saw his vampire society as a reflection of the capitalist world.
I did, too. There’s a very obvious metaphor at play when you have a bunch of white corporate industrialist vampires fighting two black characters (Blade and Karen Jenson) and a disabled guy (Whistler). I remember when the movie came out and I tried to explain that to people—and that the film was really good and deserving of consideration. But, most people were still busy acting detached and ironic to enjoy an action movie. All action movies were really out of favor at that point, and everyone was too busy trying to feign originality. I’m so glad that the 1990s are over. Anyway, now Blade is considered a minor classic of sorts and the beginning of the modern, ongoing run of Marvel movies.

Blade II had an original idea of the “reaper vampires” who fed on traditional vampires as well as human beings.
That was a cool twist on the idea. It really takes the idea of vampires and asks what might be scarier. And, it’s a vampire for other vampires! The visuals Guillermo del Toro and his team came up with really matched the idea—bigger, scarier, and meaner. Originally, the main Reaper was supposed to be Morbius the Living Vampire, who has fought Blade in the comics innumerable times. I was disappointed that they changed that (and you can even see him in a deleted ending of the first film), but the Reapers were an amazing creation.

As a brief aside, zombies are driven solely by the survival instinct; they have no concept of emotion or intellect, just the basic principle of kill/eat to survive. Between zombies, vampires, and humans, does it essentially come down to the same thing?
Everything is survival. It’s all sex and death, when you get down to it. Monsters work in horror because they show us our worst selves. Human beings are capable of amazing acts of compassion and support for one another. We have to be one of the only species that will voluntarily die for abstract ideas. But, we are also capable of literally eating each other if it comes down to survival. Thankfully, we are more complex than that. We are not our worst selves. If we were, the human race would’ve descended into irredeemable chaos hundreds of years ago. I’m not so utterly cynical as to think that civilization is one blackout away from utter savagery. I think there are people that believe that, though. They want the zombie apocalypse to happen so that they can prove how much better they are than all of the “sheeple.” This was sort of the idea that Heath Ledger’s Joker was communicating—that deep down, everyone is as bad as he is. And, there are people that subscribe to that idea. I think these people are awful and I wish they would stop posting online and clogging up the lanes at comic book conventions.

There have been many books published on the impact of vampires in film. Which of them would you personally recommend?
Oh lord, I used to pick through those books all through school. They weren’t serious volumes of film criticism, but just collections of folklore and film history. I think I still have one called The Vampire Companion by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. That has a decent section on the movies, but I keep it around because it was part of my early exposure to gothic music. It has a section featuring Bauhaus, London After Midnight, and a few other bands. I remember being pretty blown away that a book in my high school library had something like that. I haven’t read any other collections of criticism in a while though, because I just poured over all that stuff for the first 20 years of my life. If I read about vampires these days, it’s mostly folklore, history, and fiction.

Describe The 69 Eyes and Tad Caldwell and the Monster Kid for the readers? What are the complete storylines of these publications?
The 69 Eyes: Helsinki Vampires was meant to provide a backstory for the Finnish “goth n’ rollers,” whom I have been fortunate enough to know not just as a fan, but as good friends. It starts during the Thirty Years War, when the Finnish are fighting for Sweden against the Germans. Jyrki is a part of the Finnish hakkapeliitat, which were their light cavalrymen. The Finnish take a great deal of pride in that unit and their history. On the battlefield, he is turned by Dracula himself (though we never call him that by name).
Jyrki spends years in isolation, and generally doesn’t want to be a vampire. In the 20th Century, he starts having visions of a girl who he believes might cure him. He pieces together her whereabouts and finds her in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. But, she only ever wanted him to find her and turn her into a vampire. She seduces him and he gives in to her wishes. As vampires, they live in Paris for a while. He realizes that he has no idea how to care for her or train her. She goes rather wild and preys on too many people, eventually attracting the attention of a society of vampire hunters. When Jyrki won’t leave Paris, she leaves him. Abroad, she gets into some trouble. That ultimately creates more vampires and leads to the eventual formation of The 69 Eyes.
Tad Caldwell and the Monster Kid is a throwback to the “kidventure” movies of the 1980s, like Goonies, Monster Squad, and E.T. It’s a more adult take on it, though. There is a kid named Nathan, who has a group of friends who devour horror movies. Then, they find one that’s a lot more real—and Nathan is the victim. He sees himself killed on camera by a masked assailant. Just before he dies, he yells the name “Tad Caldwell.” He then has to find out, first, who Tad Caldwell is. And second, he has to find out if the tape is real and where it came from. His friends don’t particularly want to help. But, there is an older Finnish girl (so many Finns!) named Theresa that he knew from a few years before as an exchange student. She helps him track down Tad Caldwell, who is a reclusive and disgraced science fiction writer living in rural Mississippi. Years before, his son disappeared in an apparent UFO abduction. Caldwell was acquitted of the crime, but his reputation never recovered. They find Caldwell, and Nathan strikes up a friendship with him. But, it goes without saying that there is more to Caldwell than meets the eye. And, Nathan refuses to see a lot of the troubling signs that are right in front of him.

How much research of Finnish history went into The 69 Eyes?
In The 69 Eyes, it was mostly research on the Thirty Years’ War and Finland’s changing geography from then—including their bid for independence from the Russians in 1917 and their civil war in 1918. The Finns have a strong, proud military tradition. If we needed to set the book sometime near the present, then Jyrki 69 needed to be very old. So I looked for hallmarks of Finnish military history. They are rightfully proud of the hakkapeliitat. I knew that would resonate with Finnish readers. The 69 Eyes are popular all over the world, and their lyrics are in English. But, I didn’t want the comic to feel completely detached from their homeland and history.

What is the nature of the adult twist on Tad Caldwell and the Monster Kid?
The adult twist in Tad Caldwell is that people often make bad decisions that can direct their lives for years after. Most of the “kidventure” movies are fairly optimistic in their approach. They emphasize how great it is to be young, and how kids have a kind of wisdom and optimism that adults lack. The kids save the day, and things go back to normal. In my experience, that is usually not the case. Those movies were made for middle class kids (like me). So, they’re about how great it was to be a kid in the 1980s. No one is going to make a movie where the message is “You’re young. You don’t know anything. Your parents are probably right about most things. And, you’re going to make stupid mistakes until you are 30 years old.” I think it’s fairly clear in Tad Caldwell that Nathan is not terribly bright. He’s the protagonist of the story. He’s determined, and he’s resourceful, and he has good intentions. But, he walks into what is clearly a trap—even when everyone around him tries to prevent it. And at the end, he makes it clear that he intends to keep going in the same direction.

What went into the character development of Jyrki and Tad Caldwell? Were they based on any specific personalities in literature or were they mostly from your imagination?
Jyrki’s characterization was really working from the band’s lyrics and imagery. We rationalized that the songs had to come from a larger story that would reflect incidents in the fictionalized character’s life. Really, we started with a handful of songs we really liked and built the comic book version of Jyrki 69 from there. I’ve known Jyrki for a long time, but it wasn’t meant to be some kind of peek into his personal life. It’s a larger-than-life, comic book vampire version of him.
For Tad Caldwell, the character really grew organically from the story. I remembered meeting George Alec Effinger in a writing class as a teenager. He was a “literary science-fiction” writer (if you will), who passed away in 2002. I remembered the sentiments he expressed about the emergence of pop science-fiction with Star Trek and Star Wars, and how Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, and others were on the cusp of really legitimizing the genre in the 1960s. And then, those two media properties emerged. After that, the public only wanted “rockets and robots.” I’m not saying I completely agree with that opinion, but he said that a lot of writers around the time felt that way. Obviously, Mr. Effinger had no influence on Tad Caldwell’s murky past or criminal activities. I just built those ideas from the groundwork I laid early in the story with Nathan, his friends, and then snuff film they find. But, I was just thinking about the divide between science-fiction literature and then the more popular face of it.

What are the origins of your miniseries Immortal: 60? Describe the characters and storyline, and how you arranged it for publication in graphic novel form.
Immortal: 60 was conceived as a mad concoction of The Terminator, Highlander, the Sandman comic, and a few other 1980s genre pieces. It’s a sword-and-sorcery story set in the future, in which Azrael, the Angel of Death, has to convince a Vietnamese woman named Raven D’Arc (living in New Orleans, of course) to take his place. In doing so, they’ll disrupt the countdown that will lead to the apocalypse. And, the goddess that presides over the universe is utterly insane. She delights in building and destroying worlds. She sends down other entities to chase Azrael and Raven before they can perform the ritual.
Originally, the two issues came out from my old publisher Seraphemera Books. And, outside of the currently-out-of-print Dead Souls, it was the only series that I was still selling in magazine format. I’d always wanted a paperback collection on my own shelf, if nothing else. I also wanted to test a new distribution and printing platform for bookstores. I never expected a huge run of sales on it, because it was more of a pet project. But, the book came out beautifully. I added some of artist J.C. Grande’s sketch pages and a new introduction. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the graphic novel collection.

How long were you publishing with Seraphemera Books until you quit or switched publishers?
I was first published by Seraphemera Books in 2008 with Dead Souls #1. We worked together until early 2014, when I took on the last issue of The 69 Eyes with Dark Notes Press. The impetus for leaving was really the Cradle of Filth graphic novel. The head of Seraphemera was completely supportive of me working on the book, but we both agreed that it didn’t belong with that company. It’s far too intense and explicit. Seraphemera publishes more whimsical, literary material. Because of the other reasons I outlined before, I needed to start my own imprint. I’d learned all I could from Seraphemera, so it was just a matter of leaving the nest to start Dark Notes Press. Once I had that, it was just easier to release my own work. Seraphemera is a great company, but it’s a small operation. Trying to handle my own company and coordinate with them would have been logistically cumbersome. So, we amicably parted ways. The publisher and I are still friends, so it wasn’t a huge deal.

Who is Samuel Araya and how extensive is his body of work? Who contacted him to do illustrations for Across The River Bedlam?
Samuel Araya is a visual artist who has been creating art for record labels, roleplaying games, and books for a while. He did the cover for Cradle of Filth’s 2006 album, Thornography. Dani Filth contacted him initially, and Samuel turned out a series of illustrations to complement his poetry. I’ve seen them and they’re quite good. I’m really excited about getting Across the River Bedlam out into the world, so that Dark Notes Press doesn’t just look like my vanity press. I know the fans have been waiting for years now, as well.

Do you have any new projects and/or collaborations in mind for when your current projects have been completed?
After Dead Souls: Resurrection, I have another prose novel in the works. It’s the story of feuding community theater companies trying to stage a very well-known play at the same time. But, of course, there’s some magic and psychological horror. I don’t want to give too much away at this point, because the concept is unique enough that I’d hate to see it show up somewhere else.

-Dave Wolff

No comments:

Post a Comment