SDCC 09: VAMPIRELLA Bites Back: The Creators Speak
Harris Announces $1.99 Vampirella
Say what you will about Vampirella, but when it’s all said and done – one thing is certain.
Vampirella isn’t real.
Shocking, isn’t it? That’s the subject of the upcoming miniseries Vampirella: Second Coming. This year is the fortieth anniversary of the character’s creation, and to ring in the occasion they’re doing a miniseries that starts with the fact she’s not real.
“Vampirella: Second Coming is a look at a world where Vampirella is nothing more than a legend, a pop culture icon- our world, really- and how that world reacts when aspects of that legend start to become reality,” said writer Phil Hester. “It picks up soon after Josh Fialkov's last Vampirella series and deals with the aftermath of an invasion from a hellish Chaos dimension. This invasion is precisely the sort of thing Vampirella was born to stop, but as you'll see within the first few pages of issue #1, she can't stop anything when she's merely the product of the fevered minds of comic book writers and artists.”
Taking the character of Vampirella into the real world is a novel twist for the forty-year old vampress, but not far outside the realm of possibility. For years, people have dressed up as the dark-haired vixen, and the story in this new miniseries is that some women whose fascination with the comic book character of Vampirella has turned into an obsession leading them to an unlikely end point.
“There’s a little meta-fiction in there, but I promise it all winds itself back into a sensible plot by issue #2,” said Hester. “Along the way there will be plenty of bloodletting, zombie killing, and some seriously depraved demonic armies.”
While the details on how Vampirella returns to the real flesh and blood (and we do mean blood) are scarce, this new miniseries hopes to re-establish the raven-haired heroine in the eyes of fans and newcomers worldwide.
“I tried to expand both Vampirella's powers and responsibilities as far as possible, but still make her recognizable as the character everyone knows and loves,” explained Hester. “It's as close as you can get to a reboot of Vampirella without disregarding past continuity completely.”
Vampirella’s continuity has been growing by leaps and bounds since her debut back in 1969, with stories told by comic greats from Archie Goodwin to Warren Ellis. And on the eve of her “Second Coming”, a good question to ask is why she’s lasted so long to begin with. So we asked.
“She's a genuine icon,” stated Hester. “The imagery is incredibly striking, and not simply as a sex symbol. Frazetta, Archie Goodwin and Forry Ackerman, and then Bill DuBay, Tom Sutton, Jose Gonzalez, Gonzalo Mayo, and all the classic Vampirella creators really keyed in on the powerful image of this athletic, beautiful, but vaguely creepy woman in an impossible costume. The image really takes you a long way, but those creators were smart to give her a really kind and lovable, but ultimately dangerous personality to go along with it. That contrast is the key, she's the embodiment of both life and death.”
Harris Editor-In-Chief Bon Alimagno has another point of view on the character – probably one most people would notice the first time you see the character.
“The costume,” smiled Alimagno.
“No, actually, it's very hard to pin down and something that's a central plot point of Vampirella: The Second Coming. What is the appeal? Is it just that she's a character who shows a lot of skin? Or is there an iconic value there that's timeless and draws in people, women as well as men, from all walks of life? There are characters in the miniseries actually talking about the appeal of Vampi since in this world, at least at the outset, Vampirella is not real, more a pop cultural phenomenon like what Marilyn Monroe and Betty Page have become.”
Taking a character into this meta-fictional environment of this new miniseries is a big step, and something most publishers wouldn’t try. But according to Hester, it’s time.
“I think [the 40th Anniversary] played a part in what Bon Alimagno at Harris was willing to let me try. It's the fortieth anniversary, so we've got to make some noise, and Bon let me swing for the fences,” said Hester. “As I said earlier, it's almost a reboot of the character, and I think some of the imagery from the first issue will really shock Vampirella fans, but hopefully in a good way.”
Hester’s no stranger to character development and reinvention, working with Kevin Smith to relaunch DC’s Green Arrow, as well as his current gig writing Top Cow’s The Darkness. “Almost any time I'm asked to handle a character that's been around a long time I ask myself what's not working about this character, at least for me. With Vampirella it seems that the stakes were never high enough (not a pun). No matter how good a Vampi story was, and there have been some great ones over the years, a reader always had the sense that the status quo would be maintained in the end,” revealed the writer.”
“I made an effort to undo that and give some urgency to her mission on Earth. I don't know if I succeeded, but anyone who picks up #1 will know we sure as hell tried to shake things up. By #4 a new status quo is established, and I don't think it's one anyone will see coming.”
Another thing that readers may not have seen coming is this four-issue miniseries price point: $1.99.
“The bottom line is we wanted more people to pick up the book,” said Alimagno. “DC Comics and Marvel can get away with raising the prices of their books because fans are addicted to them. While I believe we have the best fans in the world we simply don't have enough to take the character to the next level, broadening the licensing reach of Vampirella the ways Marvel and DC have done.”
“So we decided we needed to make a choice between gaining readers or losing them,” said Alimagno,” so we went with the one that we thought would bring in more readers even if we bring in less revenue.”
This flies in the face of recent moves the two major American comic book publishers have made, edging up the price point of many titles from $2.99 to $3.99. So Harris’ move to not only stay at the same price point but cut it even lower is a big risk – especially in this economy.
“It's an experiment, really,” Harris’ editor said frankly. “It could fail and fail horribly but I expect it to turn out well. But if we're wrong I think it'll bring up an interesting question: after all the complaints about $3.99 cover prices, if fans don't want cheaper comics, then what do they want? What will work in today's market?"
It seems Harris is pulling out the stops to ensure this new miniseries success, and while the team they picked to helm this ship isn’t house-hold names in comics (yet) Alimagno sees diamonds in the rough.
“I'd worked with Phil on a one-off Vampirella Halloween Special back in 2006. I'd been meaning to work with him again and give him a grander stage to play with. Really, I think Phil's one of the best writers in comics, something really unrecognized by the average comic book reader. His ideas are big, his execution impeccable. I'd had some ideas for where I thought Vampirella needed to go, some themes I wanted to develop and we discussed it over email. He sent me a pitch where the first line was "Vampirella is not real." It was both shocking and thrilling and when I wanted to know why I felt that way I knew we had our story.”
With story in hand, the next logical step is finding an artist. Easier said than done, but Alimagno found his man – or men.
“We've got newcomer Daniel Sampere coming on board for the first two issues,” explained the editor. “I think there's a lot of Bryan Hitch in him in the way he rendered the faces of the characters, the way emotion plays out in their expressions, a really important aspect to get right since there's a lot of character development in the first issue.’
“He unfortunately had some health issues that prevented him from working beyond the second one, so veteran Al Rio will be coming in and finishing the final two issues and part of the second. But I like bringing in new talent and giving them Vampirella as a stage to showcase their toolbox. Daniel did a great job and Al's putting his own twist on the series, in no less great a fashion.”
Stepping back to see the big picture, the fortieth anniversary of Vampirella is one that is celebrated not only with a new miniseries, but other events Harris Publishing has also planned.
“We're on the verge of announcing that the official Vampirella 40th Anniversary Party will be held in Hollywood on August 16 at the Music Box Theater,” said Harris Editor-In-Chief Bon Alimagno.“ It'll be part of the three day Vampire-Con, the first Con of its kind that celebrates vampire fans. The organizers asked if the official party could cap off the weekend and we thought it'd be a perfect time to kick off the 40th Anniversary celebration. There'll be some more events coming down the road like an online model search too but we're still working out some details of that.”