Updated on Aug. 19th: Due to an email mix-up, we overlooked this special Skinner Sweet piece prepared especially for Newsarama by series artist Rafael Albuquerque. We apologize to both Albuquerque and our readers and include it here now...Original story: On September 8th, American Vampire starts its second storyline, moving the comic's characters to Las Vegas and a new decade of characters and vampire evolution.
Readers of the successful Vertigo series have been introduced to the concept that, in the "AmVamp" universe, vampires can evolve into new species. For example, the older vampires from Europe must stay out of the sun, but descendants of the relatively new vampire Skinner Sweet thrive in the sunlight and have powers that are distinctly American.
American Vampire's first storyline covered almost 50 years of time, introducing readers to a cast of creepy yet compelling characters on the American landscape. With a story that explored the Old West and the Hollywood of the roaring '20s, AmVamp captured the imagination of readers with its stories by series creator Scot Snyder and best-selling author Stephen King.As the series heads into its second arc, Newsarama sat down with Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque to find out more about who's who in the "AmVamp" universe and what comes next for the series.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be doing a series of profiles on the comic's characters, beginning this time with Skinner Sweet, whose story is just beginning as the series moves into the 1930's.
Origin: Skinner Sweet was an outlaw in the 1880s in the Old West, but was turned to a vampire after being captured by a Pinkerton Detective named Book.His attacker was a European vampire who attempted to contain Skinner by burying him under water. But decades later, a scavenger disturbed Skinner's watery tomb, allowing him to escape and enact revenge.
"In life, Skinner Sweet was a very ruthless outlaw," Snyder explained. "He was a real demon of the Old West. And in death — or in un-life, I guess — he’s even worse. With the powers sort of bestowed on him to not be hurt, his invulnerability to bullets, he just has a field day."
Powers: "He's a first American vampire," Snyder told Newsarama. "The central concept of the series is that vampires, as their bloodline has hit different people in different parts of the world, develop into different species. Every now and then, the blood will mutate or will evolve, essentially, into a new species.
"And so Skinner is part of a new species that's born in the American West and has almost served as an evolutionary leap from the vampires we all know — the classic European vampires with the small fangs who are burned by the sunlight and have a pathogenic allergy to wood."
In contrast, Skinner has no aversion to wood and the sun heightens his invulnerability. He also has claws and a snake-like mouth that emphasize his animalistic nature.
"Skinner has extremely long, spiderlike claws, and big rattlesnake fangs – his whole jaw dislocates and opens so that the lower jaw almost distends," Snyder said. "The gums come out of the skin, you know, with big lower fangs.
"And also, one thing that didn’t get a lot of panel time in cycle one, is that American vampires inject a venom into you when they bite you that causes a temporary paralysis," Snyder told Newsarama. "So, actually, when they bite you, you wind up becoming frozen for a while. They’re kind of extra deadly in that way that they can freeze you or paralyze you and drag you back to their lair and eat you whenever they want."
One surprise twist in the first story arc was that Skinner seems to be weakened when the moon isn't in the night sky.
"With no reflected silver light, the idea is he’s at his weakest," Snyder explained. "We were trying to make it as pseudoscience as possible. So, that’s why, for example, the European vampires have almost no reflection in a mirror, because of the way they reject sunlight and natural light, but American vampires have a distorted reflection."
This one weakness isn't much, considering Skinner has evolved into a daywalking vampire without the normal limitations of the European strain.
"Skinner is bigger and tougher and stronger," Snyder said. "All the European vampires and everybody’s sort of clamoring to learn what the weakness of the American vampire is, because otherwise, you’ll have to track Skinner down during this one particular moment when he’s weak, you know. But if you knew what it was that was his weakness, you could attack him anytime you see him."
Archenemy: James Book, and his descendants. "Book is sort of Batman to Skinner’s Joker in a lot of ways," Snyder said. "He’s been chasing Skinner obsessively for years."
Appearance: "Skinner, in the first arc is a madman who is just figuring out how to deal with his new 'vampire' situation — the powers, the weakness but especially his anger," said artist Albuquerque, who designed all the characters in American Vampire. "So, visually, we needed to get him a a crazy look. He is always dirty, unshaved, with long hair. We needed that idea of someone who doesn’t really care about anything else than his revenge.
"For the second arc, Skinner is still the same guy, but more experienced now," the artist said. "He understands that 'playing the game' can be good for him. So, on Issue #6, we see him as someone more seductive. Evil, but interesting, you know? Yes we cut his hair and put him in a suit."
But Snyder wanted to make sure readers know the character is not Kid Rock. "People sometimes think that he’s supposed to look like Kid Rock, but Kid Rock has no part of his DNA," Snyder said with a laugh. "No offense to Kid Rock. But neither me nor Rafael are real Kid Rock fans. If there’s a rock star that Rafael began to base him on, it was more of a Kurt Cobain. He actually used a photo of him at one point when we were discussing expressions and looks."
Personality: "Skinner Sweet is the star – or central figure – in the entire series and mythology," Snyder said. "His mission in life is essentially to keep the West and the country wild. That’s his ideology. He’s not just an anarchist like The Joker or someone. His point of view is essentially is that what makes us special – what makes us American – is the ability to be wild and your own person and the sense of freedom you find out in the middle of nowhere and that kind of anarchy that comes with the Old West and forging yourself through violence.
"He really is somebody who is very playful and mischievous, but his goal – he really dislikes anything that he sees as kind of civilizing the west and civilizing the country into a kind of Euro-centric mold. "
But Snyder pointed out that, for some reason, Sweet doesn’t really make a lot of other American vampires. "He’s not a team player at all," the writer said. "[He's] a huge leap ahead of the European vampires because there are so many of them and there’s only really one of him. Until he turns Pearl, who is — as far as we know — the second American vampire."
The King Connection: Although the character was conceived by Snyder, his origin story was told by the best-selling author Stephen King. The prolific writer was asked to write an introduction for the Vertigo series, but when he saw Snyder's outline, he instead offered to write a five-issue story to introduce readers to the character and to establish the link between Skinner Sweet and James Book.
Now Snyder takes on the character solo, but he's thrilled with everything King added to the mythology. "He's definitely added a ton of great story material," Snyder said. "But he's also been good about following a general outline we had planned. So there wasn't any problem taking the baton from him as he finishes his Skinner story and moving forward with it."
What's Next: Beginning with September's American Vampire #6, the story moves to 1930's Las Vegas, right around the time Hoover Dam is being completed. The series will introduce a few new characters, and readers will find out more about Skinner's plans.
Snyder promised that readers will also see evidence that Skinner is not the first evolutionary leap forward in the vampire bloodline.
"This cycle is very much about that — broadening the mythology," Snyder said. "We wanted to step away a little bit from the ‘20s and the West, even a decade and show you how far-reaching this series is and the breadth of the bloodline."
But that doesn't mean Skinner and other established characters play any less of a role now that the series moves forward.
"Pearl is back and Skinner is back in a big, big fun way," Snyder said. "Henry, Felicia, the European vampires — they’re all there, but we wanted to try and broaden it a little bit by using a couple new characters to give us a new angle. But they’ll all play major parts in the whole series. None of it will be thrown away.
"We’ll never do that. We’ll always stay focused on Skinner and Pearl. Anyone we introduce, we really intend to follow through the years," Snyder said. "This line of vampires and adversaries, with Skinner and Book and Pearl, will always be the main focus of the series. But the story will feel like time has passed and you'll get a set-up for the next chapter in their story. We'll take a breath and introduce a couple new characters, but then we'll catch right up with your favorite characters."
And although Skinner's archenemy, James Book, may not seem like a threat to a vampire who is immortal, the Pinkerton agent's descendants are still after Skinner in the next arc. "The House of Book will carry on as a villain to Skinner and his plans," Snyder explained. "They’re locked together — the outlaw and the lawman. They’re two halves to the same whole.
"There will always be a Book to fight Skinner," Snyder said. "That will play a major part in the entire series, in the mythology of American Vampire, and especially in the next story."