Stephen King is no stranger to comics – many of his novels have been adapted; he’s a regular contributor of introductions to collected editions with a horror theme; and his influence is a constant presence in all modern horror, regardless of the medium. What he hadn’t done prior to American Vampire is get involved in the actual creation and scripting of a comic.
According to King, he was approached by Scott Snyder to write an introduction to this comic, saw its potential and wanted to get involved. He wrote a sort of prequel, based on Snyder’s outline, which is presented alongside Snyder’s, so each chapter is split into two – the first part set in 1925 and written by Snyder; the second part King’s prequel, spanning 1880 to 1912. Both parts are illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, who does a cracking job of ensuring that the artwork enhances the time-shifting plot, while maintaining clarity and engagement for the reader.
This works surprisingly well. Both stories are deftly intertwined but uniquely different, and appear historically solid. Interweaving the two stories adds a complexity to the plot that’s welcome – it gives solidity, substance and a good foundation to the main themes.
Albuquesrque’s art is perfectly suited to the tempo of the story – he can flip from drawing pretty women chatting in a cafe to visceral vampire horror in the blink of an eye, clearly relishing the horror illustration but not holding anything back from the everyday moments either. His vampire transformations are jaw-dropping, and he’s not shy of laying down swathes of blood and gore. But his characters are just as convincing out of action sequences as they are in them.
His attention to detail is also impressive, with occasional horrors happening unmentioned in the background that seem worse than the main events, perhaps because they aren’t brought to the forefront. Human life is made to feel extremely cheap.
I’m not going to give anything away by revealing much of the plot but it’s fairly standard vampire stuff, with the added twist that the vampires are fighting each other – the titular American vampires are an evolution of the species, with less susceptibility to sunlight and other classic vampiric weaknesses.
In a nutshell, those with a taste for horror – and vampires in particular – will love this. The quality of writing and art is high. If there’s a weakness to its potential it’s that it remains firmly in the horror genre – it’s visceral and brutal enough to be kept solely in the hands of strong-stomached adults, so is unlikely to make it into the maintstream. But horror comic fans should rejoice that such literary skill has, once again, been gifted to their genre.