I, Vampire is another one of those DC Dark titles that took everyone by surprise at the launch of the New 52. It’s a risky superhero horror mashup about immortal vampire ex-lovers at war. In the hands of writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Andrea Sorrentino, “I, Vampire” began as an under the radar critical success, and has since become a New York Times Bestseller.
In the latest arc of “I, Vampire”, which begins tomorrow in issue #13 (preview here), Fialkov flips the role of protagonist and antagonist. Andrew Bennett becomes the villain, and his ex-lover Mary becomes the hero. BD spoke with Fialkov about taking risks in writing, how to keep vampires interesting in modern comics, his experience with the New 52, and plenty more.
BD After issue #12, it became pretty clear that you were telling a story with a big scope. Did you know where you were taking the series from the start?
Fialkov: Yeah, absolutely. This is the story I wanted to tell, literally, right from the beginning. After I got the book approved, I went to my editor and said I want to change main characters after a year. For me comics offer a unique type of storytelling. It’s hard to enact change in most books, but I think part of my responsibility with this book is to force that change. I have liberties you might not have with books like Batman or Green Lantern; you can’t really change those characters.
BD: Andrew and Mary are changing roles then, and she’ll be the main character. Why change their roles?
Fialkov: The big thing for me is the idea that the book is not called Andrew Bennett: Good Guy Vampire, it’s called I, Vampire. It’s about the experience of being a vampire, what it’s like to be a vampire. So we did the first arc from his point of view to see what it was like for him, but I want to see what it’s like for other characters. What does it mean to actually be a vampire?
Vampire fiction, there are great vampire books right now like the Buffy comics and American Vampire, 30 Days of Night, and when I look at what I’m doing, I’m not going to win the race playing things safely. I need to do stuff in my book that they wouldn’t be able to do in other books. Part of it is bringing in characters, and part of it is doing what you can’t do in traditional super hero books. There is a level of expectation for a superhero story and for a horror story. With Steve Niles in 30 Day of Night, he killed of the main character, and you can do that in horror, but in a superhero book, that would be a huge deal. So I’ve tried to bring my horror sensibilities in a more superhero world.
BD: There are a lot of vampire books out there as you mentioned, and with it being such a big topic in pop culture right now, it must be difficult to keep it fresh.
Fialkov: I think being in the DCU helps a lot. You get to see what vamps mean to these other established superhero community. On the other hand, the most important thing about comics is that it’s the voice of the individual creator. I have ten years of indie comics that are very much me and about my life and my experiences, and I try to bring that into everything I do. If I ever write traditional superhero books, I don’t know how I would do that. It would be a bit of a challenge because I want to do things my specific way.
BD: Talking about how I vampire fits within the DCU, I, Vampire is so different from other DC books. You brought Batman in and he seemed like he wanted nothing to do with the vampires.
Fialkov: You’re playing with other people’s toys and mine are a bit easier to play with. So part of it is making these other toys, like Batman, fit in with mine. I try to treat it as if there’s this thing with vampires going on that people just don’t want to deal with. It’s bad enough that there is a walking atomic bomb. For a lot of heroes, like Batman, he’s a man of logic and reasoning, he wouldn’t believe in vampires. Every villain he’s faced has had some sort of science-based explanation, they’re not chattering undead hungry monsters. I try to treat it that way with everyone. Even when Stormwatch shows up in issue #12, they have a past with vampires, very specifically. So we hinted at that in other issues. People know vampires exist in the DCU, they just don’t pay much attention.
BD: Getting onto issue #13, you mentioned that Andrew is going to be recruiting an army with some heavy hitting generals. Can you tell us about that?
Fialkov: Mary had an army of vampires at her command, but she could not accomplish anything at all. The reason she was beaten is that, with vampires and zombies, you don’t just pick up homeless people and bikers and turn them into vamps. That’s just getting shmucks that never did anything and giving them tremendous power. Andrew wants to have a team of generals supporting him. So over the next few issues he goes hunting for them to try to build a well-rounded attack. They are all sort of adjacent to other things in the DCU, I didn’t create any of them. We get a magical vampire (he doesn’t sparkle), we get a re-appearance of the Van Helsings, and then I’m hoping to bring in some League of Assassins vampires. It’s about building up a team, a legitimate threat. Not just a horde of vampires to get their heads cut off, which has become a trope in vampire fiction. I’m just trying to do something a little different.
BD: A lot of our readers are really familiar with vampire movies and fiction, so how do you keep I, Vampire from being too much like its predecessors.
Fialkov: I have a weird history of writing vampire fiction. My first job writing was doing a prose short story for 30 Days of Night. I’ve written Vampirella, I wrote some vampire Manga, I did some vampire romance books. I have done so much vampire stuff, and on top of that I’ve spent my entire life loving horror. I’ve seen it all and I love it. So it’ a matter of what can I learn from this all and what can I throw out from all this stuff. If you go back and look at my creator owned work, I don’t do monster horror. I do character driven, real world horror because that is way more effective for me.
I grew up in Pittsburgh. I worked in the mall where Dawn of the Dead was shot. Nothing scares me anymore. I’d walk through the mall as a kid and be like, “look that’s where that guy go shot in the head!” The stuff that scared me was, my dad was a psychiatrist, he treated some patients and I typed up the cases for him, I typed really fast so he got me to do it for him. The stuff that scared me was not Jason Voorhees jumping out of my closet, it was the child rapist who like to cut people up with axes. That happens, that’s a real thing! And that is just terrifying. The humanity of it is what makes it effective.
In Dracula, what’s scary is what he does to the relationship between Jonathan and Mina. Finding the emotional core, what’s real, is what works. So, where we are going with Mary, she’s basically a human and Andrew wants nothing to do with her. The tragedy of being left behind, of watching him do a way better job of being evil, is hard to deal with. I think that’s where we get a response.
BD: Romance has been tied to vampirism for a while. Why are they still so tied together?
Fialkov: I think it depends where you trace vampires to. If you go back to Judeo-Christian stuff, you have Lilith, who was the first woman cast out of the garden. In kabalistic scripture she’s described as a vampire. She’s a woman who god decided couldn’t be with the man she loved. That’s a romantic tragedy. Then you have Dracula who portrayed as a monster but he’s kind of a handsome guy in Bram Stoker’s book. Even Nosferatu, it still has that desire and feeling to it. He’ terrifying, but he’s still a man who wants a connection. It’s called necking, making out, and what’s sexier than making out with a neck, it’s one of the sexiest parts of the body.
BD: Bringing up the lore and vampire stories like Dracula, are you going to bring this into I Vampire at all?
Fialkov: I don’t want to give anything away, lets just say there’s a reason I’ve been talking about all this.
BD: It’s been a year now, how has the new 52 been for you?
Fialkov: It’s nice to see the new 52 get revitalized. I’m immensely proud of how the book has been, we haven’t compromised at all really. It’s the vision we wanted to bring from the start.