Answers From an American Vampire

Since it's release there hasn't been a hotter Vertigo title (at least at the store I manage) than American Vampire. It's rich world and deep characters at once evoke the kind of reactions that books like Y: The Last Man and Fables did upon their release and has since surpassed the sales figures of all other Vertigo books that are currently on the shelves (once again, at least at the store I manage). And when you add to it the fact that Stephen King is working on the book for the first 5 issues it's certainly made for a big hit. But what most people might not take in to consideration when they look at the book is that it isn't based on a Stephen King story or even a Stephen King idea, it's core concept is, whole cloth, the work of comics newcomer Scott Snyder.

Snyder shows in the first issue of his first ongoing series that he has an incredible grasp of the comic medium and knows how to write for both the issue and the arc the way it takes most writers several years to grasp. Paired with one of the most incredible (and underrated artists in the industry) Rafael Albuquerque they've put a whole new spin on what it means to be a Vampire. I had the opportunity to talk with Snyder at c2e2 in Chicago back in April and he was both incredibly gracious and incredibly excited to be at his first big convention pimping his first ongoing series and when I asked him if he'd be willing to answer some questions about his work with Vertigo as well as his work with Marvel he was more than happy to oblige. So, on the eve of the release of the 3rd issue of American Vampire, I bring you my interview with Scott Snyder:

Fantasy Shop: How long have you been into comics? What was the first comic you read that made you want to write comics?

Scott Snyder: I've been into comics for as long as I can remember. My dad used to take me to the old Forbidden Planet in NYC every week, when I was in grade school. He used to send me comics at sleepaway camp - it's his fault. As for the first comic that made me want to write, I actually wanted to draw comics when I was a kid - all the way through high-school. (I got more into the writing side of things in college.) So it was things like McFarlane's first Spidey run, Bernie Wrightson's Swamp Thing (and this Frankenstein), Jim Lee's X-Men - I traced those guys over and over.
FS: What kind of comics do you find yourself drawn toward, currently or historically?
SS: I've always liked slightly darker stuff I guess. The books I return to over and over for story are Batman Year One, the Dark Knight Returns, Swamp Thing, The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum, Gotham Central... My more recent favorites are everything Mike Mignola does, Scalped, Sweet Tooth... Honestly, I read pretty much everything now, and it's hard to throw a rock without hitting a good book nowadays. The quality in the DCU, at Marvel, all the mainstream stuff is firing on all cylinders too. 
FS: I understand that you are a teacher as well, do you use comics in your classes?
SS: Mostly I just teach fiction workshops, so it's almost all student work. But I do teach a class at NYU about the crossover between genre, literary fiction, and comics in the last 20 years - it's mostly a workshop, but I end up talking a lot of comics. 
FS: Having a cover quote from Stephen King must have felt rather cool for your short story collection, Voodoo Heart, but getting him to work on the origin story for one of your comic's central characters must have been a whole other kind of high. How did that pairing happen? 
SS: I've been in close touch with him ever since he gave me that review/quote. So when it became clear that Vertigo was going to greenlight the series, I sent him the pitch to see if he’d be up for giving a quote or doing an intro for the trade at some point — really just seeing if he’d be up for writing a line or two. Anyway, he wrote back saying he liked the character of Skinner enough that he’d actually be up for writing an issue or two if anyone would let him. I was like, “If anyone will let you?” Obviously, when I told Karen Berger and everyone at Vertigo that Steve was up for writing an issue, they jumped at it. So he started off just writing an issue. But then a couple weeks in, he wrote me asking if he might be able to go off the rez a little. I told him to do anything he wanted and he ended up writing five full issues... What I learned is that the thing about Steve - the thing that's so wild - is that when he likes a story, he writes like a hungry young writer, right out of the gate - a writer with something to prove, not like someone established (established beyond anyone out there!). It's very inspiring to see someone of his stature go to the mat for a story that way. We emailed and spoke every day for those couple months - talked ideas, edits... Again, the series as a whole, not just his part of it, is exponentially better for his involvement. A hundred thanks to him.
FS: When we talked at C2E2 you mentioned that you were thinking about pitching some other ideas around to see what sticks in the hopes of getting more work in the comics world, what do you think that you bring to the comics medium that is going to differentiate your style and voice from the other writers of the day (for example I've said many times that I think that Jason Aaron explores the world of moral grey better than most other comics writers currently working today)?
SS: Wow. That's a tough one. I can tell you what I hope I bring, which is maybe a bit of a darker sensibility when it comes to character. I've always been drawn to stories that bring characters face to face with the ugly parts of themselves. 
FS: What has it been like working with a talent like Rafael Albuquerque?
SS: Alright - I know I sound like a PR asshole, between singing Steve's praises and now singing Rafa's, but honestly, the experience working on this comic has been a dream come true with these guys - the editor, too, Mark Doyle (who you met in Chicago, too). I told Rafa early on I wanted him really involved in the story-process, if he was up for it, and he jumped right in - he's been sweating blood for the thing. He actually came up with the idea of doing two different styles for the two stories in each of the first 5 issues. I couldn't be more grateful that Rafa agreed to work on the series. He's a major creative force behind the book - not just layouts and compositions, but character design, style, tone... We chat almost every day on AIM - he's honestly become a good friend, like Mark and Steve. We're a tight team on this thing, which makes it a pleasure to work on.
FS: What can you tell us about your prose work and where can we get our grubby little hands on it?
SS: My collection of stories, Voodoo Heart, is out there in paperback still. 
FS: What can you tease us with about the coming stories in American Vampire?
SS: They keep me on a pretty short leash in that department, but I can tell you that the next cycle, issues 6-9, will take place in the Depression 1930's, in a young, booming Las Vegas, where a series of gruesome murders leads the local chief of police to start to suspect that the killings might be the work of something worse than human. The cycle will introduce new characters, explore the mythology of the series further, give more vampire history, touch on human/vampire conflict, and also continue the stories of Skinner and Pearl (though all the issues from 6 on will be single story-format, 22 pages of all me and Rafa). They just posted the cover (by Rafa) on the Vertigo blog. 
FS: Turning to your Marvel miniseries: Iron Man Noir, what can you tell us about the inspiration behind that series (as it seems to combine several different concepts into a really satisfying concoction, sort of a Doc Savage-meets-Rocketeer-meets-Indiana Jones sort of feel)?
SS: My editor at Marvel, Jeanine Schaefer told me about a year ago about that Iron Man Noir might be a possibility if someone pitched something Marvel liked. I was elated to hear that - I'd been a big fan of the Noir line - but also a little stifled, because no matter how I tried I simply couldn't imagine Tony as a noir character. He's got his demons (which will be on display in IM Noir), he's a dark guy, but world of Iron Man for me has more to do with tech and adventure and big, bright stories. But just then David Hine's terrific Spider-Man Noir series started, and I saw that in it, he'd taken the Noir world a little closer to pulp - that story has mysticism, colorful gangsters and super-powers; it read a lot more like a re-imagining of something like the Shadow or even the Phantom or the Avenger than a re-vamped hard-boiled noir. And so being a big, big fan of 1930's pulp stories and pulp art, it just clicked for me; the only way I was going to make an Iron Man Noir series that I'd love myself would be to go all out into pulp and Men's Adventure, which to me at least, seemed like a context Tony would fit perfectly in. Once I knew that was the way I was going to go, the story began to fall into place. And it's been an insanely fun job - getting to re-imagine Tony and Rhodey and Pepper and Jarvis, but also characters like Namor... I hope I get to do more of the series someday.   
FS: You've clearly hit the ground running with the world of comics as you've got an ongoing series from Vertigo and a mini-series from Marvel hitting the shelves within a few weeks of one another, was it simply a matter of convenient timing or was it more an issue of DC announcing your title last fall and then Marvel coming to see if you had anything that you'd be interested in contributing?
SS: My Marvel one-shots came first, actually. Back in 2008, I wrote a story for an anthology that features contemporary writers coming up with new superheroes or villains - the books is called "Who Can Save Us Now." The story I contributed, "The Thirteenth Egg," ended up catching the eye of an editor at Marvel and an editor at DC. After asking me if I was a genuine comic fan (which was easy to answer), the Marvel editor gave me a chance to pitch a couple one-shot possibilities, and I jumped at the Torch opening. I've always loved the Original Torch, the weird blend of Frankenstein and superhero he is... Anyway, I pitched hard for that, writing up a number of ideas, and luckily I got it and soon after I got the chance to pitch to the DC editor, Mark Doyle, who worked at Vertigo. I'd had American Vampire in mind for a while at that point and so I went to he meeting with a pitch for it. Mark liked it right away and helped me re-work the pitch a number of times, before it was ready for Karen Berger and Will Dennis. From pitching it to Mark to having it greenlit took about 6 months. 
FS: Your comics to date haven't been straightforward Super Hero tales, what kind of comics do you have interest in writing?
SS: I have some original ideas that are sci-fi and horror things, but I'm really excited about doing more super-hero stuff. As for characters, I'd kill to get my hands on anyone in the bat universe.
FS: And like I prefer to end every interview, is there anything that we should be looking forward to from you? Anywhere people can look for you online or out in the real world (conventions and whatnot that you're planning on attending)? 
SS: I'll be at the NY: Comic-Con in October... And I'd love to hear what people think of American Vamprie as it comes out, and I'm easy to find on facebook and twitter - honestly, please get in touch and let me know what you like or don't like. As for what else is upcoming, I have some irons in the fire at DC for later in the year, but nothing concrete yet. Really, making American Vampire as good as I can is what I'm focused on hard right now. 
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Be sure to check out American Vampire, in stores now, or for you trade waiters the Hard Cover will be released in September!