Charting The Vampire Virus In Del Toro & Hogan's THE STRAIN
Strain #7Cover Filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro has a unique and scary vision for the world and the supernatural. But when you meld that with the unique story sense of novelist Chuck Hogan (who wrote the novel the 2010 movie The Town is based on) then you’re in for something special. And what they produced was the prose horror trilogy The Strain. The series charted the outbreak of a virus that turned people into vampires, mixing the thriller-like nature of The Andromeda Strain with blood-suckers to really give genre fans a treat.
And like any virus, The Strain spread. Late last year, Dark Horse enlisted the dream-team pairing of David Lapham and Mike Huddleston to adapt The Strain novels in comic book form. Last month’s The Strain #4 wrapped up the series’ first arc setting up the struggle, and after a brief break between arcs the series returns in June with The Strain #5. The new arc will get more into detail about the people trying to live in a world growing full of undead vampires, and the ties this plague might have with the Holocaust in the 1940s.
Newsarama spoke with series writer David Lapham about the series, focusing on a character named Abraham Setrakian – a Holocaust survivor who may have answers for the vampire outbreak in the first place.
Newsarama: David, the first arc of The Strain comic series really set up the situation – now that you’ve got that out of the way, what are you doing starting in issue #5?
David Lapham: Issue 5 and going forward we're really going to start to draw together the team of people who are realizing what's going on and are going to attempt to fight back. That begins with the old man, Setrakian, who we'll learn a lot about in issue 5. Issue 5 we go back into the past and see that this isn't the first time Setrakian has encountered the vampires.
Nrama: In the solicits for The Strain #5 it says the issue will focus on Abraham Setrakian. Apparently, he’s tying the vampire outbreak into the Holocaust and his own time spent in Nazi camps during World War 2. What’s it like for you bridging this fictional story with the all-too-real idea of extermination camps with this character?
Lapham: It's very integral to the overall story, not just in The Strain but through the other books, The Fall and The Night Eternal as well. It's not an adventure story about vampire fighting Nazis. Events like this are connected to the root of true evil in the world. The vampires share this connection.
Nrama: What can you tell us about what Setrakian knows?
Lapham: He knows enough that for all their advantages the vampires fear Setrakian. Pretty good for an old guy with a heart condition. Not only will we really get to know Setrakian in issue five we'll meet the intelligence behind the Strain outbreak. We'll meet who the world is really facing.
Nrama: And for Setrakian, how’d you go about planning out as a writer what to show in the issue and what to leave up to speculation?
Lapham: Well obviously the starting point are the novels, but beyond that I have to break the novel down into 11 episodes. So information needs to be added or cut and also rearranged so that each episode reads as it's own issue then fits into the whole. Then beyond that, if you mean what to leave mysterious and what to reveal then I just do that on instinct. I try and live by the motto of never being too coy. I'd rather be too revealing than hold back too much and leave people confused or like they're not getting something. There's a LOT of mystery here. We can reveal information in big chunks and there're still layers beneath. Even Setrakian doesn't know all the answers. In fact, when we get to The Fall we'll see that Sterakian knows even less than he thought he did.
Nrama: This series has shown that every character is in danger with dying just around the next corner. Can you give us a lay of the land and tell us about who’s left that you’re focusing on?
Lapham: These aren't friendly vampires. In fact, among the vicious depictions of vampires these are the least human. They're their own creatures so there's no sympathy there, no...connection, at least in a human way. These vamps don't even want to torture and toy with you giving a clever person time to maybe escape. These vampires want to suck you dry, kill you, or infect you as quickly as possible. Into that, no one is safe for sure. The characters we'll narrow in on include Eph and Nora, Setrakian, and Gus the ex-gangster who we see encounters Setrakian at the end of issue 4. That encounter will change his life in a big way. There's another character we've still to meet who will ultimately play a big role in the trilogy but those are the main guys and not all of them will make it through.
Nrama: Which one of the character in the book do you find yourself most in common with, and why?
Lapham: When you write--even writing an adaptation of someone else's book--you bring a piece of yourself to all the characters, major, minor, good, or bad. There's probably not one specific me character like in the works I wholly created--Stray Bullets, Young Liars, etc. Eph is probably the closest in terms of he has a child and he's in over his head. But there are definitely aspects of Eph that are not me. So, I'll change my answer and say Gus, cuz Gus is a badass, and, really, that's the way I am in real life. I'm a badass and people fear me. Really. I flash my tats, and it's all over.
Nrama: Artist Mike Huddleston is really showing off his range here in this series – people know him from his recent Butcher Baker series at Image but this is something else entirely. As an artist yourself, first what do you think of the choice of Huddleston to do this?
Lapham: Any time you can work with a top artist you write with a big smile on your face. Mike brings great mood and fluidity to the book. He makes the vampires come to life. Makes them scary. The guy can lay down the ink with the best, which is perfect for a book like this. He's a badass.
Nrama: And second, how do you think his artwork has colored the overall story for you?
Lapham: One of the things that makes comics a unique art form is the character and style of each artist brings a flavor to the story. It happens in film too like Hitchcock has a different style than Ford. But in comics it goes right down to how the characters look, their every gesture. If you gave the exact script I wrote to ten top artists you'd get ten completely different comics. So in that way, Mike's art IS The Strain. I try to anticipate that when I write in terms of giving him shots that I know he's going to kill. Issue 5 is pretty damn amazing.
Nrama: Just prior to talking to you, Dark Horse gave us a glimpse at what’s coming up in The Strain #7 which is being solicited this month – and the answer is sewer rats. What could sewer rats have to do with the vampire outbreak?
Lapham: As you can imagine, there are an awful lot of rats that live in the sewers and subway tunnels of Manhattan. Imagine if something displaced them--scared them up....This is where we'll meet our last major character. A guy who's uniquely suited to deal with this problem and who's also pretty badass--like me and Gus.
Nrama: Since you’re pretty badass, if something like The Strain happened in the real world, where do you think you’d end up David?