Robot 6

Robot 666: Van Jensen reluctantly rides the vampire wave

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

Editor’s Note: With Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer from SLG Publishing hitting comic shops this week, we asked writer Van Jensen to share his thoughts on vampires in this guest post for Robot 666 week.

by Van Jensen

This past weekend, I was a guest at the Vampire Film Festival in New Orleans, a fitting enough setting with my first book — Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer — coming out this week. With vampires in books (Twilight), TV (True Blood and Vampire Diaries) and movies (Twilight and The Vampire’s Apprentice) exhibiting unrivaled pop cultural dominance at the moment, it’s a good time to be aboard the bloodsucker bandwagon.

But I have to confide a secret: I don’t like vampires.

It’s not that the concept is a bad one. Immortal, undead, shape-shifting, bloodsucking monsters of the night? I can get behind that. But the execution almost always leaves so much to be desired. Twilight is the obvious punching bag, with its ridiculous additions to the mythology (sparkle, anyone?), disturbing sexual commentary and milquetoast vampires. Grady Hendrix already perfectly explained the disappointment of these sissified vampires whose chief concern is how not to bite anyone, so I don’t need to elaborate.

True Blood, to its credit, is far superior to Twilight and at least has a relevant point to make by using vampirism as a stand-in for homosexuality. The latest Esquire has a fun essay that delves further into the idea of Americans embracing vampires equating to an increased interest in sexual “freakiness.”

That original vampire libertine, Count Dracula, first appeared in 1897 in Bram Stoker’s novel. And while I enjoy Dracula, I never saw it as living up to the hype. There lies the root of my disaffection for vampires in general, as all vampire stories to one degree or another build on Stoker’s tale. Sure, there are usually a few wrinkles added (sparkle!), but Stoker created the mold of effeminate, cunning, daylight-shunning, evil creatures that crop up again and again.

When artist Dustin Higgins first asked me to craft a script based on his sketch of Pinocchio stabbing a vampire, I knew my only option was to try to find a new approach to vampires. It seemed a daunting task, with so many Stoker variants already created. Through some epiphany, I realized the answer lie in seeking out the vampire legends that existed before Stoker and his century of progeny.

It took a bit of digging, but before long I found old European folk stories of freshly dead bodies rising at night for unholy purposes. It was an unscientific people’s way of explaining decomposition. It was disgusting. And it was rich with new possibility.

How did I find a new spin on Pinocchio? That’s a story for another day.

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One Comment

“Stoker created the mold of effeminate, cunning, daylight-shunning, evil creatures that crop up again and again.”

Actually he didn’t — he just wrote the most successful example of the idea, and the only one that’s still known to the general public.

John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” from 1819 — which is the story credited with launching the entire vampire fiction subgenre — featured an aristocratic “vampire libertine” who preys on young women; 1846′s “Varney the Vampire” had another vampire nobleman and introduced the fangs, superhuman strength, hypnotic powers, and ‘sympathetic vampire’ idea; and “Carmilla” (1872) featured a crypto-lesbian vampire Countess. These were the three most-seminal vampire stories until “Dracula,” and “Dracula” is heavily based on them.

And in Stoker’s story, Dracula wasn’t afraid of daylight — he could walk around in direct sunlight, it just weakened him to do so. The idea that vampires were killed by sunlight didn’t come about until the film Nosferatu in 1922.

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