A Vampire in WW I: John Byrne on Angel: Blood & Trenches

John Byrne on Angel: Blood & Trenches

Angel: Blood & Trenches #1

One of the best parts about being a vampire is you can live forever. But even that’s put to the test went you put yourself in danger – especially, when it’s something the scope of World War 1.

Created by Joss Whedon, the character of Angel was born in the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and blossomed in his own self-title series. When it finished, the vampire found new life in comics. In addition to a regular ongoing series at IDW, Angel has also starred in several miniseries including the recent Angel: Blood & Trenches mini by cartoonist John Byrne.

Byrne is one of the most well known creators in the comics medium, having worked on nearly every major American superhero including the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Superman and even co-wrote the first issue of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. In recent years he’s called IDW his home, doing work on the creator-owned series FX and several Star Trek stories. But in this, his first jaunt into the Whedon-verse, Byrne takes the character of Angel back to the early 1900s to explore vampires in World War I. This story combines the creator’s interest in the era, with Angel and Byrne’s own deep familial connection with the war itself.

Angel: Blood & Trenches #3

In Angel: Blood & Trenches, Angel is on the trail of experiments by the WW1-era Germans in the use of vampires as soldiers in their attempted conquest of Europe. The series is a rollicking adventure on its own, as well as hinting back to why Angel was so reluctant to work with the U.S. during WW2 as seen in the episode “Why We Fight”. With the third issue due in stores this week, we talked with Byrne about the series so far and what’s to come.

Newsarama: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us, John. This has been one hell of a World War I epic—what kind of research have you been doing to get it accurately depicted?

John Byrne: That was a kind of odd experience. I picked up several books on weapons, uniforms, the nature of trench warfare -- and then after flipping through them I found I didn't look at them again. It was as if I already knew what to draw. I would almost have expected to be able to do that with WW2, since I have read so much and seen so many movies, but I was surprised to be able to do it with the Great War.

NRAMA: Since this miniseries takes place during the early 20th Century, which finds Angel with his curse of the soul in full effect – and not the more villainous Angelus. Does this pop up at all in the series?

Angel: Blood & Trenches #3, pages 2-3

JB: There are a few vampires in my story who don't know about Angelus' transfiguration, though, and so refer to him by that name,

My next Angel project for IDW will feature Angelus, however!

NRAMA: Ah-ha! There is more to come – great!

You created an interesting solution to Angel’s allergy to sunlight so he can go out in the sun for this – it’s not something I’d seen done before with vampire fiction. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet – but it’s good.

Trying to word this in a non-spoilery way, is this something you’d been carrying around in your head for awhile before using it here? How’d you come to think of it?

JB: I had not been carrying it in my head for long, but I'll admit it was a centerpiece to my plotting when I started working out my story. Sort of the sine qua non, as it were.

NRAMA: Doing some research, I found that your maternal grandfather was a soldier in World War I and was actually a German POW for awhile. Did his experiences color the way you approached this series?

Angel: Blood & Trenches #3, page 4

JB: Not consciously, but perhaps I was channeling Granddad Hulme when I was drawing all this stuff that seemed to just fall out of my pencil!

NRAMA: Maybe it’s in your blood! For this book you decided to forgo an inker and it was colored straight from pencils. How’d this idea come about, and how do you think it’s turned out in print so far?

JB: It's printed a tad lighter than I expected -- something that can perhaps be corrected in the trade paperback collection -- but other than that I think it looks great. I'm very happy with it.

NRAMA: You’ve recently done several comics with origins in television and movies, and your ability to depict likenesses of actors without slavishly becoming too-photoreferenced is amazing. When you’re drawing something like this, how do you balance getting it right without going overboard?

JB: In fact, I think my likenesses suck, and that's one of the reasons I have generally avoided such projects since the nightmare that was Space: 1999. But Chris Ryall talked me into doing the Star Trek: Romulans one shot, and since Mark Lenard isn't around any more to give me grief over his likeness I was sort of able to ease myself back into the saddle. Then more Romulans, then Chris asked about Angel.

(Confession: one of the reasons I chose a WW1 setting was so that I have would have only one likeness to worry about!)

NRAMA: Well, you’ve done good with Angel.

Angel: Blood & Trenches #3, page 5

Your work has constantly matured over the years – year to year, I see you keep refining your work. Is this just a natural effect of doing it day-in and day-out, or are you consciously working on your style with each project?

JB: There are few things in this world that scare me more than stagnation. I just can't stand still, as far as my work. I have to keep experimenting -- messing with success, as it were. I'm sure there are a lot of fans who would have been perfectly happy to see me draw the way I drew on X-Men for my whole career (preferably with Terry Austin still inking!) but if that had been the case I would have opened a vein long ago! I consider my art a living thing -- Geez, is that as pretentious as it sounds? -- and a living thing must grow or die.

NRAMA: You mentioned earlier that you would be doing another Angel miniseries in the near future. Can you tell us about that?

JB: A: I have an Angel / Angelus one-shot lined up for Halloween this year, and was talking with Chris [Ryall] the other day about something of a Spike kind. Ultimately, it depends on how this one sells! Then we'll see if IDW wants more.

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