Jonathan Maberry is no stranger to vampire lore, having written five nonfiction books on mythology behind the infamous monsters as well as a heap of horror fiction. Next week, on January 1st, Maberry kicks off his new series at Dark Horse Comics, “Bad Blood”. The book follows a young man named Trick who discovers that his blood is poison for vampires.
I talked to the prolific writer about his affection for vampires, his thoughts on pop culture portrayals of blood-suckers, and his plans for “Bad Blood”. Below, you’ll also find an exclusive preview for issue #2.
BLOODY DISGUSTING: I’m sure you’ve done it a thousand times, but tell briefly about the concept for Bad Blood.
JONATHAN MABERRY: It’s a downbeat story about a teenager dying of cancer who begins hunting vampires after his best friend is killed. His only super power is that his blood – which is filled with chemotherapy drugs — is toxic to vampires. The vampires in the story are very nasty and very scary, and they’ve been in hiding for over a century, waiting until everyone who ever believed in them was dead. Now they’re planning an assault against humanity –and this kid is caught in the middle. It’s about what it means to be ‘alive’, about living and dying, and about what you’re willing to risk in order to save those you love. It’s not, however, going to be the ‘feel good story’ of the year.
The art for BAD BLOOD is by Tyler Crook, who brings both real scares and true humanity to the story. I’ve always loved his art on BPRD and other books, and I was so delighted to have him on BAD BLOOD.
BD: How did you team up with Dark Horse for the book?
JM: I’ve been a Dark Horse fan for a lot of years. They’re out in front when it comes to groundbreaking horror comics. My friends Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden are Dark Horse writers. So, at last year’s New York Comic Con I had coffee with Scott Allie and he asked me to pitch some horror comic ideas. BAD BLOOD was the one I most wanted to do, and it was the one he liked best. So we ran with it.
BD: The protagonist, Trick, has blood that is poisonous to vampires, but he’s also dying of cancer. Can you tell us more about him? How does he go about hunting the bloodsuckers?
JONATHAN MABERRY: To try and find the vampires, Trick dives into the vampire and Goth culture, and starts cruising the nightclubs frequented by vampire wannabes. Problem is that none of them are actually vampires. The worse problem is that some of them really are.
BD: And the fact that he is slowly dying contrasts nicely with immortality of his enemies. What made you want to play with the idea of riding the line of life and death?
JM: I’ve written five nonfiction books about the folklore and legends of vampires. In those older beliefs, romance was never a factor. It was all about life and death, and about why people die. In BAD BLOOD, I wanted to explore those issues. Viewing it through the eyes of a kid who has no future, who actually defines himself as already dead, allows us to measure how much we lose when we can see the end of our own existence. On the flipside, the ‘immortal’ vampires become sick from biting Trick, so suddenly they have to confront the possibility of their own mortality –and the possibility that their race may be coming to an end. Every major character in the story has to address the likelihood of their own deaths. It’s a sobering moment.
BD: From the first issue, it seems you have some aversion to contemporary portrayals of vampires in pop culture, namely the sparkling vampires of Twilight. What do you dislike about them so much?
JM: Funnily enough I don’t despise the vampires of TWILIGHT. They’re absolutely appropriate for the tween girls for whom they were created. I’m not in that demographic and neither is my audience, so I simply don’t go there. And, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve written extensively about vampire folklore, beginning with THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD (written under the pen name of ‘Shane MacDougall’ –long story), VAMPIRE UNIVERSE and the more recent Bram Stoker-nominated WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE. Folkloric vampires aren’t romantic, even when they use a glamour of seduction to lure their victimcs. Vampires were monsters. It was fiction like Carmilla and Dracula that began the romanization of vampires; and Hollywood has taken that to such extremes for so long that nowadays most people believe that this is what vampires were like. In myth and legend, vampires were monsters. Many were hideous, some are even very close to werewolves, zombies and witches. The vampires of BAD BLOOD are old school vampires. Nasty and scary.
BD: Do you feel we’ve lost track of vampire mythology because of the way vampires are portrayed in pop culture?
JM: Pop culture is, by its nature, a lens of distortion. And that’s pretty much as it should be. In books and movies we need to surprise and entertain, and to do that you have to reinvent. What happens after a while, though, is that some pop culture creators build so heavily on other pop culture works that it becomes inbred and self-informing. The connection to the source material is lost. This isn’t a crime, and it’s nothing to become upset about. As far as I see it, now that the old stuff has faded from the public eye it opens the door for writers to tap into those old legends for ‘new takes’ and a new wave of reinvention. Mike Mignola has been doing this in HELLBOY for years, tapping into old myths and legends as rich source material, and that well is far from fished-out.
BD: How do you keep the idea of vampires fresh, both for yourself and the readers? What’s your take on them?
JM: I start with an understanding of what the vampire needs: to feed and to perpetuate its own species. They are hunters whose nature closely resembles vermin like rats, insects and other unpleasant critters. They aren’t noble demigods. They aren’t romantic. They also aren’t human, despite the fact that they once were. They are a different race now, and their needs, actions, policies and goals are particular to their species. Not ours. To a degree it removes some of the element of ‘evil’ from them without removing any element of threat. Much like scorpions. They will kill you, but they’re not evil. It’s what they do. It’s what they are.
BD: You are most well known for your work writing novels. How does your process differ when writing comics? Is it an easy transition for you?
JM: My approach to comics is very similar to the way I write novels. Or, maybe I should say that my approach to writing novels has changed because of writing comics. I outline the story as a three-act structure even though it’s told in five issues. I have a developmental arc for each character and each character relationship. And I know from the jump how it’s going to end. The end of the story, in fact, was part of my pitch.
BD: What’s next for Jonathan Maberry?
JM: I’m about to start ‘hell year’. I have four complete novels to write over the next twelve months –each in a different genre: THE NIGHTSIDERS (science fiction/horror for middle grade kids), PREDATOR ONE (the 7th in my Joe Ledger series of weird science thrillers for adults), DEADLANDS (a Steampunk-alt history western based on the classic RPG), and COLD COLD HEART (second in my new series of mystery-thrillers for older teens). Plus I just moved to California because two of my novels –ROT & RUIN and DEAD OF NIGHT—are in development for film; and we’re having some discussions about a TV adaptation of an anthology I edited. I’m going to be busy, but having a blast!