Friday, March 25, 2011

American Vampire, Volume One

American Vampire Vol. 1
Scott Snyder and Stephen King, authors
Rafael Albuquereque, illustrator
Hardcover: 200 pages
Publisher: Vertigo (October 5, 2010)
Mature Audience
5/5 stars

I wish there was some way to convince those who raise their eyebrows and wrinkle their nose in distaste over graphic novels to just give them a try. I was one of those, and am so thankful I was a big enough fan of Neil Gaiman's novels to give his Sandman series a try. I've read some really good ones--few, if any, better than Britten and Brülightly--and some pretty poor quality ones as well.  I'm happy to say that American Vampire is creme de la graphic novel creme.

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There are two stories, told simultaneously in American Vampire.  The first, Snyder's part of the novel, is the story of Pearl trying to make her way in Hollywood during the 1920's.  Pearl falls victim to a vampire attack and a strange man vampire, Skinner Sweet, helps her out.  Sort of.  Pearl seeks revenge, thanks to Sweet's gift, and the reader watches her go from lovely, gentle flapper one moment to disgustingly grotesque and violent the next--and cheers for her the whole way. 

The story that begins with the second chapter is written by Stephen King, and is Skinner Sweet's back story, taking place some forty years early in the Wild West.  Through it, the reader finds out how and why Sweet became a vampire, and what is motivating him--and what makes an American Vampire different from the European vampires. As is to be expected, a hard new country like the United States creates a hard new kind of vampire.  In addition, he writes an excellent introduction, validating the graphic novel as a medium.  A very good read for those not convinced that it is a legitimate literary medium.

The stories are told alternating, first a chapter about Pearl, then a chapter about Sweet, so that they finish up together in the last two chapters.  It may sound awkward, but the back-and-forth flow was actually excellent, with a certain amount of parallels between the two stories.  Both Snyder and King write a good story, with solid characters, riveting plot lines and some terrifying instances.

Albuquereque brings it all to life with his drawings, full of bold lines and brilliant colors and lots of scary bits and gore.  His vampires are frightening and horrible and they do unspeakable (but not undrawable) things to their victims.  As the reader takes in the background, and sees the horror of the scenes, at times it's enough to turn the stomach.  On the other hand, his ladies are very lovely, he drew some strong heroes and used some very effective, unusual angles and compositions.  As for Skinner Sweet. . . well, darn it, despite King's introduction all about how American Vampire reclaims the evil vampire from the sexy mold it's been placed in of late, Albuquereque draws Sweet as rather desirable. Even seeing Sweet at his worst, I could turn the page and see him turn on the charm and forget just how evil he really was--and then be whammed again by his horrible actions.  I think that was the artist's intent: another way to show just how dangerous these American vampires are.

The collaboration between these three was wonderful and produced a story both haunting and satisfying.  American Vampire does reclaim the vampire from it's present fictional state, and successfully gives it new blood with this new American breed. I look forward to following Sweet's further adventures in American history, with pleasant trepidation because I expect the story will be creepy and icky but sensational, just like this volume.  (I already have Volume Two on pre-order!)

~~Read for the Graphics Novel Challenge.~~

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