Although dead at heart, vampires have lived on for centuries and seem to be more alive now than ever both in film, television, books, and comics. Comics writer William Harms introduced a unique new take on the vampire mythos several years back with the debut of Impaler, turning vampires from alluring individuals into the encompassing horde bent on world domination. After a conflict that had been raging for centuries in secret, the vampires made their presence known and landed on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and promptly began a full-scale takeover of the entire country. With survivors few and far between, the recent issues of Impaler have focused on three groups of survivors, from a detective trying to get back with his family across the country and a withering group of soldiers holed up in the nation’s capitol.
After several months of delay after the release of Impaler #4 from the second volume, Top Cow bundled the two final issues into one double-sided book to give fans a satisfying chunk to finish off the second volume. But as readers of Impaler #5 can tell you, the story’s not over yet. We talked with both the writer and artist about rounding out the second volume and the future of Impaler.
Newsarama: For fans, the fifth issue of Impaler was a long time coming – but having this last issue being double-sized is a bonus. Guys, can you explain the delays with this?
William Harms: We basically underestimated how much time it'd take to complete an issue. This was Matt's first ongoing comic gig, and since he did all of the art himself, it just took him longer than we thought it would. Some people have joked that Matt was off playing World of WarCraft or something, but that wasn't the case - he was working the entire time. The poor guy even skipped family vacations so that he could stay home and keep drawing.
Matt Timson: I’d love to be able to blame somebody else, but the fact is, the delays all along were simply down to the amount of time it takes me to draw. When I initially took the job on, I had some concerns about my speed, but we all agreed that I would probably get faster as I went along. Unfortunately, that never really happened, or if it did, I seemed to offset that by making the work more detailed and time consuming in other ways.
One of the biggest problems that I’ve had is that I’ve basically spent ten years as an illustrator, and I’ve found it difficult to adapt to the fact that a comic page is essentially one illustration split into several sections. Rather than approach a page this way, I treat each panel as an illustration in its own right - which means I can put the same kind of effort into a single panel that I’d put into drawing a cover - and it’s not unusual for me to spend all day slaving over one panel - which is no good to anyone, really.
I know people must think that I’ve been watching daytime TV or playing World of WarCraft or something - but the truth is, I just find drawing comics a lot harder than drawing single illustrations. The irony is that if I was only known as a cover artist, I’d be known as a fast cover artist. Either way, I know that people hate late books and I am genuinely sorry for any irritation that I’ve caused and for any sales that have been lost.
Harms: We'd talked about getting Matt some help, in the form of a fill-in artist or whatever, but in the end we decided it was important to keep the art consistent and maintain the vision that Matt and I had for this volume. And I think that was the right decision.
Nrama: Despite the delays, now that I’m holding this final issue in my hands I don’t see any skimping on art like some late books seemed to be rushed out. Can you tell us about doing this final issue – and doing it double-sized?
Timson: I’ll never understand that. To my mind, if a book is late, it’s because you’re working on it to make it look as good as you can. If I was handing stuff in late and it looked a real mess... Well... I just wouldn’t do it. I’m too proud to hand in anything that I think looks crap! Bad enough that it’s late...
I was pretty far along with issue #5 when the word came down that we were rolling out #5 and #6 together, so in terms of actually drawing it, nothing much really changed for me when I moved on to what was still, for me, issue #6. There were some alterations to the script, but still nothing that really affected my approach. The only thing I did notice was that the less I had left to do, the longer it seemed to take me to do it!
Nrama: Getting into the story, in the last issue you had Victor beginning to deal with these new powers he’s gotten from Vlad. Not a vampire – but definitely special – and powerful. Can you tell us what exactly the powers are for Victor?
Harms: They have supernatural powers, which came from Vlad murdering an angel and "absorbing" its powers. He's now passed those powers on to Victor. We haven't fully explored the nature of their powers, but if we get a shot at doing volume three, that's something that's at the top of my list.
Nrama: What about the vampires they’re facing? No glimmery sparkly stuff like Twilight I hope.
Harms: As for the vampires, there's no glimmering or sparkling or any of that crap. My philosophy is that when you see a vampire, you shouldn't swoon, you should shit your pants. And that philosophy has guided the vampires in Impaler from day one.
The big difference between our vampires and vampires in other fiction is that crosses, holy water, wooden stakes, etc., do nothing. If you can shoot a vampire in the head, it dies. However, our vampires can shape-shift into shadows, and while in that form the only thing that kills them is iron, which is why Vlad carries a giant iron sword.
Nrama: In this last issue, with the snow and the picturesque moments of the Arlington Cemetery and the Washington monument were amazing. I’m going to let Matt Timson claim his credit here – but what were your goals when writing the script and inserting these important landmarks and weather?
Harms: Winter can be extremely hostile, so it adds a nice dramatic element. Not only do Wagner and Trippe (and to a lesser extent, Victor) have to worry about the vampires, they also have to worry about freezing to death and finding food and shelter. In a world without modern conveniences, winter quickly reverts us to a pretty primal state.
I used the Washington Monument because it's cool and very iconic. Arlington came up because I wanted the characters to look for a fall-out shelter and the idea that it would be placed under a cemetery seemed to make a lot of sense. Why would anyone bomb a cemetery?
Nrama: Matt, drawing this kind of thing - when you were spacing this all out and figuring out how to draw it, what were your thoughts on these particular scenes?
Timson: To be honest, I think I was just obsessed, to an anal degree, about getting all the right details and I spent long, LONG hours on Google Earth, checking and rechecking where all the action was happening. It’s ridiculous really - one snowy street looks pretty much the same as any other to 99.9% of anybody that will ever read Impaler - but to me, they had to be right. Frighteningly, horribly right. If the guys were walking west, I had to know exactly what that view was like. When they walked through Arlington Cemetery, the layout of the headstones had to be right. I felt like I couldn’t just wing it in case anybody went, “aha! That’s not right!”
Madness! Aspiring artists, please take note: you will break your brain this way.
Nrama: Over the course of this series, you’ve really looked at vampires from a different perspective – not as the sulking shadow-lurkers but as more of an invasion, with massive vampire armies and such. Can you tell us how you came to this idea, and your thoughts in planning and writing this out?
Harms: One of the things I really wanted to have was giant battles between the vampires and the military - that was the plan from the very beginning. Because of that, I had to bend the "vampire rules" a bit; after all, I couldn't have soldiers running around with crosses and wooden stakes. That'd look stupid and no one would believe it.
The shadow-creature angle is simply an extension of the "vampires turning into mist" legends. It also works because it makes Vlad special - when in shadow form, the vampires are basically invincible and only Vlad can kill them.
Nrama: This series has evolved quite a bit from its first volume to the recently concluded second volume. Can you explain your thoughts on the evolution of the series from your perspective?
Harms: The first volume was always intended to be more intimate in some ways, to kind of have this slow-burn of the vampires taking over New York City. I really wanted to focus on the people in the city and not really show what the rest of the world was doing or thinking. Of course, the rest of the world intrudes in a pretty big way when the military nukes New York City.
With the second volume, I felt it was important to show that the genie was out of the bottle, so to speak, and explore how the rest of the world was reacting to what'd happened in New York. Wagner's wife Darlene is really the vehicle for that, and as she flees across the country with their kids we get a front-row seat to the disintegration of our society.
Nrama Speaking to Matt here, Impaler has been by far your biggest work to date in your still young career. Can you tell us about your appraisal of your working on the series – maybe what you learned, what you didn’t expect, and what thrills there were?
Timson: Oh God, where do I start?!? In retrospect, I think it’s much more important that what you’ve drawn is interesting to look at and tells the story, rather than whether or not you have the correct number of rivets on a truck, or that the house you’ve just drawn has the right kind of tree out front. Things don’t have to be exact all the time. It’s ok to fudge certain details. Sometimes, less really is more.
What I really didn’t expect was just how draining the whole process would be. You have to remember that I was used to drawing one or two illustrations per week - tops. I went from that to having five or six on one page alone - but I was in a trap of my own making. Everybody liked the way that issue #1 looked and I felt like I had to keep that standard up - but I just couldn’t do it in the time allowed, so I started working late. Then I started working weekends. Before I knew it, I was sending my family off on holiday without me - which is just stupid.
Right after Impaler officially wrapped, I spent the first weekend in a long time with my wife and kids, with absolutely nothing else on my mind except being with them and having fun. On the Sunday night, my wife was telling me what a lovely weekend she’d had when she just burst into tears! I didn’t cry, of course - because I’m a manly man - but it did make me stop and think of what it must have been like for them to have me at home, but unavailable, for so long. So that’s that. Weekends are strictly off limits from now on - unless I choose to swap a day in the week or something. I might still work late if I’m in the groove, but that’s different. My kids won’t be kids forever, and I’ve spent a lot of the last year or so viewing them almost like a distraction - which is wrong. It’s supposed to be the other way around - work distracting me from the brilliance that is my kids!
The downside of that, I suppose, is that I’m never going to be working on a monthly again - not without a lot of lead-time anyway. It’s not fair on the fans or the publisher - or even myself. I don’t want to be known as ‘late guy’. I want to be known as ‘awesome one-shot and OGN guy’ instead. That said, I’m also open to being known as ‘lottery winner guy’.
There were lots of highlights for me as well, of course. For a start, after 120-something pages, I’d like to think that my work has come on a little bit - so it’s almost like Top Cow have paid for me to learn. Which is nice. It wasn’t all Victorian drudgery and longing to see the sun again either (I work digitally, so the blinds are usually drawn in the day). Sometimes, I would miss the full impact or subtlety of something written in the script until it was drawn up and then I’d get these little “oh wow” moments when I looked back at a scene I’d just finished. Impaler’s a lot like that, I think. Yeah, there’s action in it (the 12 year old inside of me loved some of the fight scenes - you can’t really beat chopping off heads and the like, can you?) But there’s a lot more to it than that and I’ll miss those characters a lot.
Nrama: Getting back to Impaler, the final issue did see some major shake-ups but there’s still more story to tell. What’s in the cards for Impaler’s future?
Harms: To be brutally honest, it all comes down to how the second trade sells. If it sells, we'll continue on. If it doesn't, then there probably won't be any additional Impaler stories, at least in comic book form.
As for the story, there's a lot more to tell. The war against the vampires is basically in its early stages, and it's going to get pretty ugly.