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This Wednesday sees the launch of American Vampire: Second Cycle, the long-awaited return of DC Entertainment/ Vertigo’s critically-acclaimed horror series from Batman and The Wake writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque.
In terms of story, the new series picks up a decade after the end of the first American Vampire series, which ended its 34-issue run last year, with Skinner and Pearl both coming to terms with life in the mid-1960s.
“I definitely feel like it’s returning to old friends,” Snyder told THR last week. “The fact that almost ten years has passed in the [series] timeline makes it feel like situations we’re coming back to are startlingly different, like the characters are different. Everything’s so radically different from when we left them, it’s so exciting, it’s invigorating to come back to.”
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The idea of putting American Vampire on hiatus for a year was built into the series from it’s earliest days, the writer revealed. “We’d spoken to Vertigo way, way ahead when we first started about the possibility,” he said. “When we got [to the break point], I had Superman Unchained, I had Batman and I was launching The Wake, and I felt like this will be a good time for it.”
The reality of the break was slightly more complex, however. “Two days after we finished the last issue, Rafael started chatting with me online, and we were both getting into what we wanted to do when we got back and how difficult it would be to wait until the hiatus was finished. We couldn’t be more excited [to be back].”
For those who’ve never read American Vampire, Snyder says that, on one level, the series is “about a new species of vampire born in the 20th century in America that has new powers unlike anything that you’ve seen, a new bloodline that can walk in the sunlight, has different fangs and claws, and the series follows that bloodline through the 20th century.” However, he also describes it as “a very character-driven story. It’s largely about a set of characters that we’re following through these epic moments in American history, and it’s a personal story for me and the guys working on it.”
The series’ epic scope has taken the characters from the mid-1920s timeframe of the initial issues — co-written by Stephen King, who Snyder says “has an open door to return” to the series in future — to the mid-century setting of the new storyline. “We never wanted it to be a series where we used the characters as a way to look at the decades or to explore historical elements rather than vice versa, but we tried to strike a satisfying balance,” Snyder explained. “That said, their lives are greatly affected by what’s going on in the country, so this [opening] arc is hugely informed by what’s happening in the country in the mid-1960s, both the conflicts that are coming in the vampire world for Skinner and Pearl and what’s brewing nationally. That sense of unease, the generational rift between parents and children, the discomfort about what’s happening in government, the sense of ominous foreboding that was there.”
That foreboding will continue throughout the Second Cycle series, he continued. “The first half of the 20th century, we wanted to do something where the rise of the American vampire would show this sense of, at least in our own perception of Americans, our own status globally and the optimism that existed pre- and post-depression. [Second Cycle] is about a larger conflict; it’s no longer about the Americans defining themselves, it’s about an even greater conflict — the second half of the 20th century is more tumultuous and unsettling, far more violent.”
Snyder teases that the greater conflict will push the series beyond the vampire-centric mythology its title suggests. “This part of the series really deals with a deeper, darker evil,” he said, promising that Second Cycle will introduce a character called the Great Trader, who “fulfills the American perception of the devil.”
Describing Second Cycle‘s increased scope as “a great challenge, and a great pleasure,” Snyder said that the series “deals with origins of vampirism and the bloodline that created with, but the series has hinted before that all manner of monsters have been created from his bloodline, from werewolves to ghouls to various kinds of things we think of as witches and ghosts, everything that we’re afraid of.” As he puts it, despite the title, “this series was never just about vampires.”
Although he’s primarily known today for his work on DC’s Batman series, the first American Vampire series was Snyder’s first comic series, and amongst his first comic book work. “I think when you go back to some of those comics, you can see me growing and developing as a writer,” he admits, going on to credit collaborator Rafael Albuquerque with helping in that development.
“The thing that’s so wonderful about working with Rafael is that he’s a great writer in his own right,” he said. “He doesn’t just take what you write and visualize it, he gets his hands dirty talking behind the scenes, working out the best way to tell the story visually even if it means going away from the scripts. I love that with him, with Sean [Gordon Murphy] on The Wake, with Greg [Capullo] on Batman. My job is to be really clear about what each scene is about emotionally, and then let Rafael decide, does this scene need lots of close-ups, long shots, whatever? That’s the joy of comics, for me, coming over from prose. There’s a reason I’ve not felt the slightest pull to go back to prose — it’s the collaborative feeling, the sense that you’re working on a living thing, especially with such a good storyteller as Rafael.”
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To newcomers to the series, Snyder said that they can expect scares — “It’s a book that if you love horror, we try to be as scary as possible in every issue,” he said — and a series that doesn’t conform to familiar vampire tropes. “One of the jokes Rafael, Stephen King and I had with Vertigo was that the first ad for the series should be Skinner with his teeth covered in blood saying ‘I don’t fucking sparkle,’ just to be like, we’re not like everybody else, he joked.
American Vampire: Second Cycle #1 will be released in comic stores and digitally Wednesday, March 19.
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