When Stephen King writes his first original work for comics, an origin story of a new American breed of vampire, artist Rafael Albuquerque will be the one drawing it.
Based on a concept by short story writer Scott Snyder, the Vertigo comic American Vampire will include a five-issue story written by acclaimed novelist Stephen King. Each issue of the Vertigo comic, which begins in March, will include two stories -- one by short story writer Scott Snyder and the other by King.
As Snyder told Newsarama earlier this week, the character King will be writing about is Skinner Sweet, a bank-robbing, murdering cowboy of the 1880s who becomes a new type of vampire that thrives in the sun of the American West.
Snyder's half will tell the story of a vampire in the Hollywood of the 1920s who is killed by some of the old-school, night-dwelling vampires of Europe. After meeting Skinner herself and becoming a vampire, she decides to take revenge.
Both of the stories will be drawn by the same artist, but their styles will be markedly different. Albuquerque, who will continue with Snyder on the series after King's five-issue contribution ends, has taken approaches toward each of the stories that are representative of both the era being depicted and the personality of the characters featured.
First noticed for his American comics work with Blue Beetle for DC, Rafael Albuquerque has been working in comics for years, including comics with Boom! Studios, project with the Middle East publisher AK Comics and several works in his own country of Brazil. Since Blue Beetle, he's stayed with DC Comics on titles like Strange Adventures and Superman/Batman.
ENLARGE IMAGE But now that he's working with Snyder and King on American Vampire, Newsarama talked with Albuquerque about his artistic contribution to the series and what it's like to work with the master of horror himself.
Newsarama: This is quite an opportunity, Rafael. How does it feel to be working on Stephen King's first comic book writing project?
Rafael Albuquerque: It's thrilling. I'm a big fan of Stephen's work and to be part of his debut in original comic books is really a big honor. I try not to think about it that much, though. As much I respect his awesome work, I try to give my personal vision to his script, not only as an artist but as a collaborator. My editors encourage this, and I'm grateful.
Nrama: How has King been to work with?
Albuquerque: It's been challenging, but in a good way. He has a great timing for action, and it's really interesting to read his script, because it's different from the other writers I've worked with. He doesn't approach it as a regular comic writer. He does it as a novelist, so everything is more complete and descriptive, which is pretty good for the artist to get the mood of the story or create the personality of the characters.
Nrama: What about working with Scott? Are their scripts similar?
Albuquerque: Working on Scott's script is very different than King's. His scripts are more direct and more comic like scripts. It's been really fun to do this book because it's almost like drawing two books, so I have to rethink my whole work dynamic every time. It's rewarding.
Nrama: How do you visually distinguish between King's story about Skinner in the 1880s and the other story about Pearl in the 1920s?
ENLARGE IMAGE Albuquerque: American Vampire has a whole different look than my past works. It's more personal and raw. The focus is not exactly on how accurate the inking or the lines are, but on the storytelling and compositions. For Pearl's story, I tried to do a very contrasted art, strong expressions on the characters, with heavy black and whites, because that's what I think of when I remember the movies of that decade. For Skinner's story I decided to try a different, dirtier, sketchier technique, mixing traditional inking, washes and pencils, making it clear we are in a rough and violent place.
Nrama: What was your thinking behind the way you designed Skinner Sweet?
Albuquerque: Scott came with a basic idea, saying he should have a rock star feel. We got some influences from Curt Cobain and Johnny Depp to define his look and attitude.
Nrama: We know this includes Skinner's origin as a vampire. But how do you describe King's storyline about the character?
Albuquerque: Skinner Sweet is an outlaw in the Old West and he got caught. What would his gang do to get their leader free again? Remember, it's a Stephen King story, so expect the unexpected.
Nrama: What was the approach to Pearl's design?
Albuquerque: Old photos from the 20s. Scott was very specific about how he imagined her. I just tried to make her as close as possible to what he had in mind.
Nrama: What's Pearl like in this story?
Albuquerque: Pearl is a naive young actress who is seduced by Hollywood. She and her friend, Hattie are trying to make a living on the big city, and that's when luck smiles on Pearl. A smile with fangs.
Nrama: How hard was it to design the old-world vampires from Europe? Did
you reference any previous vampire interpretations or references?
Albuquerque: These were probably the coolest characters to design, because I believe they are like an homage to the classic vampire movies, at least that's the way I'm facing them. I'm trying to do a realistic approach, though – more Nosferatu-like.
Nrama: What other characters have you gotten to design?
Albuquerque: A bunch of them. Hattie is one of my favorite designs. She isn't as pretty as Pearl, but her charm makes her more attractive, in my opinion. The reporter William Bunting is a nice character. I liked to draw Skinner's guys as well. I'm happy because all the characters have their own personality, and that's where I like to play.
Nrama: What do you think of the vampire craze that is happening now in media?
ENLARGE IMAGE Albuquerque: Honestly, I don't know much. All I know is that vampires now look like a Backstreet Boy and have their hearts broken. Heh, seriously now, when they said it was a vampire book, I didn't like it at first because I thought it was in the vein of these teen books and stuff. But then I read Scott's idea and I saw it was going in a very classic and gritty horror direction, and that is something I wanted to do. It's way different from what you are seeing around.
Nrama: Besides its nod to the vampires that came before, how do you think this series will be different?
Albuquerque: Scott's concept is just too cool. It shows how the classic vampire icon went to the next evolutionary step. It's a beautiful homage to classic horror, but with a modern and gritty vision. All the characters have a very important role in the story and it was so well developed that each one of them could have their own series.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell people about your work on American Vampire?
Albuquerque: American Vampire has very different art from what I did in Superman/Batman or Blue Beetle. It's more experimental, more personal. I just hope the readers enjoy it as much as I'm enjoying drawing it!