Sometimes a relaunch is meant for a bold new take on a comic character or concept, like taking a vampire and putting her into the guise of a detective.
Sometimes, however, a new #1 means a return to form – whether that’s a seemingly dead character returning to their costumed land of the living, or in the case of the new Vampirella #1 hitting shelves in June 2014, a return to the horror roots of a character who has dabbled in other genres for the last few years.
At the helm of that return is award-winning horror novelist Nancy Collins. Fellow Dynamite Entertainment horror-writer (and Newsarama Alum) returns to his roots as an interviewer to explore the new old take on Vampirella.
Troy Brownfield: Nancy, you’re an extremely prolific writer that’s done a lot of work in various formats, including comics. In that vein (awful pun intended, sorry), let’s talk about your process first. How do you personally approach the plotting of something like an arc of Vampirella versus a novel or even a screenplay? And what would say are the challenges inherent in creating fear or horror on the comic page versus the standard written word?
Nancy Collins: Well, my process for plotting the arc on a comic book and a novel aren’t too different from one another—save that a comic book arc is nowhere as long and designed to be episodic. I usually come up with a rough outline for the arc—usually about 5-8 pages—then try to figure out how many issues the story will require to be told. Then I break down the story issue-by-issue, and sketch out the action page-by-page while keeping track of which pages face each other, in case I need to set up a double page spread or splash page. Once that’s framed out, I go back and work on the dialog. When I work on a novel, I do something similar with chapters, while numbering the action/plot developments and crossing them off once they’re finished. I also attach visual aids, when needed, for the artists.
Brownfield: I know from your True Sonja Blue blog entry upon the announcement of your Vampirella gig that you go back a while with the character. Can you discuss your experiences as a reader of the Warren magazines and tell us a little about how that informs your approach?
Collins: Back when I was growing up, getting caught with a copy of CREEPY, EERIE or Vampirella was almost as bad as your parents finding out you were reading PLAYBOY. They were definitely NOT for kids. It wasn’t until I was 13 years old that I was able to buy any of those titles without worrying about having them confiscated once I got home from the drug store. What made the Warren books verboten wasn’t simply a result of the nudity and sexual situations depicted in the mags, but the extreme gore and violence as well. There was always a little thrill of the forbidden that accompanied picking up any of the Warren magazines back in the early 1970s—especially Vampirella. I want to try an recapture some of that feeling with my stories, although I’m working with a generation that has always known Vampirella as a four-color comic book character, not a black & white horror mag hostess.
Brownfield: How did your relationship with Dynamite come about? Were you looking for a special project in comics, or did it develop in other ways?
Collins: I owe it all to Gail Simone, actually. She tapped me for the Legends of Red Sonja mini-series, which was my first comic book work in over 15 years. Nick Barucci and Joseph Rybandt liked what did, so I pitched them an idea for a Red Sonja one-shot that became Red Sonja: Berserker. Then, a couple weeks later, Nick approached me about taking over one of their books—and offered me Vampirella, contingent on a pitch for the first year of stories. I worked up the pitch for “Our Lady of Shadows” and the rest you know.
Brownfield: As someone that’s dealt with vampires as a centerpiece of your other work, what do you do to maintain that mental separation between the different “rules”, etc. of your universes and Vampirella? Do you find it a challenge, or is that part of the enjoyment?
Collins: I know about various fictional and folkloric vampire mythoses the way other people know about the personal life of celebrities. At least I make my living writing about ‘em. And, no, it’s never been difficult for me to keep the various “rules” of vampirism straight. I do find it amusing to discover certain elements I personally created are now considered widely accepted “facts” of how vampire society works.
Brownfield: Acknowledging of course that you’re extremely accomplished as a writer, do you nevertheless feel a sense of trepidation or just an awareness of responsibility when it comes to relaunching such an iconic character?
Collins: Yes, of course. There’s always the chance that what I’m doing with the character will go over like a lead balloon. But you can’t second-guess yourself, or you’ll end up paralyzed, both emotionally and creatively.
Brownfield: Knowing that you can’t go into a lot of detail about the plot itself, can you give us a little insight into the story? What’s the emotional reality of Vampirella’s world like when you begin?
Collins: You have to understand that I went into this with only the barest sketch of who and what Vampirella is nowadays. Dynamite wanted me to come in with fresh eyes, completely uncompromised by previous continuity. I had never read any of the Vampirella four-color comics, and had stopped reading the Warren titles once I got into college. That being said, as Vampirella #1 opens with her still living in Seattle and working as an operative for the covert Vatican organization Cestus Dei, investigating occult-related crimes and/or phenomena that might relate to the Apocalypse. We discover in the second issue that Vampirella’s high-rise apartment and lifestyle has been bankrolled by the Cestus Dei for some time. But once she becomes “compromised”, all that changes and her entire world is quickly turned upside down.
Brownfield: One of the ongoing concerns in comics comes from the idea of getting fans of characters or interpretations from different media to sample the actual comics. You’re in a unique position in that you have this well of fandom from your prose that can potentially transfer into following Vampirella. What’s the response been like thus far from your Sonja Blue readers, and what are your views on how comics might reach some of these other readers in general?
Collins: So far it’s been very positive. The over all response has pretty much been “You’re a natural to take over the book”. Whether my Sonja Blue fans will embrace Vampirella remains to be seen—but so far I’m very positive about the whole thing.
Brownfield: What’s the major goal that you hope to achieve with Vampirella?
Collins: Like I said, I want to bring back a little bit of that old Warren frisson and ground the character in the horror/weird fantasy genre from which she first emerged, as opposed to being a superheroine with fangs.
Brownfield: And finally, there are still people in the world that regard the writing or even reading of horror as strange. What do you say to those people, and what’s the best thing to you about working in the genre?
Collins: Horror serves a cathartic role in human society, all throughout the world. It is a way of confronting the darkness, both within and without. Granted, some people can go overboard with it and become extremely morbid, but the same can be said for any personal interest, such as sports or karaoke. Personally, I don’t trust people who go out of their way to state they never read or watch horror, and insist there’s something wrong with those of us who do. All it does is suggest that something essential is lacking with them, much like people with no sense of humor.
Vampirella #1 is on shelves June 2014 from Dynamite Entertainment.