[Interview] Scott Snyder Reawakens ‘American Vampire’

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Scott Snyder is a man who needs no introduction, renowned for his longstanding work on “Batman”, and more recently on “Superman Unchained”. However, Snyder has his roots firmly seeded in the horror genre. His first major work was a book of short horror fiction, “Voodoo Heart”, published in 2007, which caught the attention of none other than Stephen King. Snyder would go on to write the first five issues of “American Vampire” alongside King, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque took hiatus from their acclaimed horror title in January 2013 in order to focus on other projects. This week saw the release of “American Vampire: Second Cycle” #1 from Vertigo Comics (review here), and it’s as if the book, and its characters, never left.

I sat down with the always passionate Scott Snyder to talk about returning to the series, his plans for Skinner and Pearl, and, of course, his love for horror.

Bloody-disgusting: American Vampire was on hiatus for over a year, and I know you’ve been excited to bring it back for quite a while. What’s different this time around with second cycle?

Scott Snyder: The first cycle was all about expanding mythology and the cast to show readers what kind of breadth we were going for with the series. This half is taking the characters we’ve introduced and bringing them all closer together. We’re revealing the biggest secrets behind the mythology, some of the darker evil behind the early monsters – The Ancients, The Carpathian – and showing the singular consequence that we’ve been planning since the beginning. So I wouldn’t say it contracts because it moves through time with new characters and eras, but it does contract in the sense that it goes toward this fight that’s been brewing since the very beginning.

BD: I know you do so much research and you always manage to bring in some interesting cultural things into the time period you’re working in. Is there anything in the 60s that that you’re really excited about having in the series?

SS: There’s a lot. The conflict over seas, you see mentioned in this first issue. The farmer, his son is fighting over seas in Vietnam and we expand on that in the second issue more thouroughly. But more than that, the era, I find fascinating, because it’s so volatile. There are so many forces at work with this generational split, the skepticism over government, the depression over the JFK assassination, this feeling of a country with so many cracks in it, and not sure of what it’s going to become. Ultimately, it’s a time when it’s almost impossible to have a singular issue or way of approach. It’s this incredibly rich time, so it’s fun to explore a bunch of different angles, and this arc is almost small and intimate with Pearl and Skinner.

Some of the elements we try to bring in aren’t the big historical forces, but more pop culture and Americana elements we love. I’m a big fan of Peckinpah’s movies, and there are elements of that in here, like Straw Dogs. Skinner’s situation and the Mexican borderlands is meant to throwback to the westerns of that time as well. So you’ll see a lot of things pop culturally, like the flashes you get in issue #1 of a guy in a country suit. He comes in more in the next issue, but he’s based on some of my favorites country singers from the 60s. There are all sorts of mysteries hidden in his suit, and he changes it all the time. So a lot of things tie into the time period, but we never try and do something where it’s a big message or lesson on historical periods. We try to use the history as a context that these characters are living in and to try to see it through their experiences that are central to our plot.

BD: In an interview you did with THR, you mentioned that it’s not just about Americans defining themselves anymore, but a larger conflict. What has the title “American Vampire” come to mean to you and how has it changed?

SS: When we began, I always had the outline to go this far, but the fact is that the series is so much bigger than I expected it to be. I thought that we would be where we are now in the plot about fifteen issues earlier. But we both fell in love with the characters and peripheral storylines with Calvin, Felicia, Gus, and The Ancients. They were all going to be secondary, but we really wanted to explore them. Originally, the term American Vampire, it was going to focus solely on the bloodline on the Americans through history, but now it has become the idea that the series is a broader exploration about what makes us heroic and monstrous and doesn’t necessarily tie into the American bloodline or the two central characters, even if they are the spine narratively.

BD: The Gray Trader has me all excited. What can you give us about him?

SS: I can tell you he’s going to be the most powerful, evil, and scary character we’ve had in the series by far. He ties back to the origins of our whole mythology. He’s been waiting in the wings and we’re excited to bring him in. Without giving too much away, every culture has a myth of the beast, that creature that is the origin of evil, and for us, this is where we did our research for a character like this. We’ve wanted to bring him out for a while.

BD: There’s always been more than just vampires, there are other monsters lurking around in this world. Are we going to see more of these or are you sticking with vampires?

SS: Oh no, no, no. This is definitely the half where it all breaks loose. We saw some of it in the miniseries we did, Lord of Nightmares, we had creatures that were almost like precursors to ghouls or ghosts and to werewolves and gargoyles. We saw hints of it with The Ancients in Survival of the Fittest, with the dragon-like creatures from earlier times. But this is the half where you’ll get to see the whole variety of terrifying creatures formed from this singular bloodline – the ones that have been deeper, hiding, literally and figuratively, in the mythology.

BD: I know a lot of writers start out with horror and then branch off from it, but you obviously have a strong adoration for it. Why do you keep returning to horror?

SS: I always come back to it. It’s by far my favorite genre. Ultimately it’s because with good horror you try to figure out what’s the most terrifying challenge to our characters. The monsters or the villain, in good horror, represent things that the character is afraid is true of him or herself. So you have a monster that reflects their fears of their own capacity for evil. In my favorite stuff like Pet Cemetery, or Night of the Living Dead, the monsters are monsters, but also a reflection of the pressure on the characters, who usually end up doing worse things themselves. For me, those are the kinds of stories that I’ve always liked to tell, even when there are no horror elements. Like, when I write Superman, I want to stirp him down so he faces a fear about himself, you know? Is he doing the right thing? Stuff like that. Horror is a pure form of the kind of storytelling that I love the most.

BD: It can get pretty dark doing these introspective works where you consider what scares you and bring it onto the page for others to see. Do you find it exhausting to explore at those things in yourself?

SS: Very much. When I was doing the Joker story on batman, or even here on American Vampire, there are elements that are very hard to bring to bear on the page because they are personal. They are your own demons, and the things you’re afraid of. But there’s nothing more rewarding as a writer than finishing a story and feeling like you’ve mined material that matters to you, that represents an exploration of things that frighten you or excite you. For me, that’s something that makes it worth it. But every once in a while I feel badly when my mom or dad or wife reads my work and there is this transparent fear that they know is something I grew up wrestling with.

BD: Along those lines, you mentioned previously that American Vampire has never really been about the vampire tropes or regular vampirism in general. So how did you start with them, and how have they changed for you over the series?

SS: I think part of it was the desire to create a series about monsters indigenous to our country, to explore this idea of what would be evolutionarily different bout this monster that would then be reflective of traits or elements that we thought of as interesting as part of the American character. For me that was always the impetuous. Certainly it was fun to use vampires because at the time there were a lot of sparkly, exotic, and charming vampires, and it was fun to stand against those. But at the end of the day, the series is about what makes us scary, and heroic as a people. These characters represent different elements of the American psyche and give us a chance to delve into the scariest stuff we can.