Undying Love #2After last month’s sell-out success of Undying Love #1, creators Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman are gearing up to continue that success with both a reprint of #1 and an all new issue coming out on May 11, 2011. Their story of a special forces soldier named John Sargent fighting to loosen the grip that vampirism has on his girlfriend Mei has taken him from his homeland of the United States into the belly of the beast – the Chinese underworld, ruled by a 1300 year old vampire who made Mei generations ago. With time, power and experience on the side of this vampire sect, the soldier is relying on his love for Mei – with a little assist from his firearms and years of special forces training. In this week’s Undying Love #2, Sargent and Mei are going into notorious vampire hangout and nightclub called Club G-Boss to try to do the deal with as little bloodshed as possible – but have you ever known vampires to negotiate?
As we’re just hours away from the second issue, we caught up with the creative duo for a chat.
Newsarama: Say you meet someone in an elevator and they ask what Undying Love is about – what do you tell them?
Daniel Freedman: After all the uncomfortable confessions that it's about vampires and yes we know the genre is going through a over saturated and somewhat weird patch, I tell them it's a love story about a man and a woman overcoming nearly impossible odds in order to be together.
Tomm Coker: Yeah, after all the vampire apologies it’s easy – A supernatural love story set in Hong Kong – American ex-soldier falls for a beautiful Chinese woman – the catch: she’s a vampire and the only way the two of them can be together is to track down and destroy the bloodsucker that made her.
Exclusive SketchFreedman: After that we’d talk about the Undying Love world – the really awesome Chinese folklore and how that influenced the story.
Coker: The nice thing is now we can just hand them the first issue and let them see for themselves.
Nrama: And with that in hand, I have a question -- at the center of this is a couple comprised of a soldier-for-hire and a young vampire woman. Did he know she was a vampire when they met?
Coker: Yes, no doubt about it, Sargent knew from the very first moment. I’m actually drawing that scene right now. Really fun, but I’m not giving anything away.
Freedman: For sure John was aware of Mei being a vampire from the get-go, but like Tomm said, that scene is the beginning of issue three and we’re not gonna say too much here.
Nrama: How does Mei being a vampire color their relationship?
Freedman: It doesn’t make things easy but I don’t know if the vampirism changes a whole helluva lot in John’s mind. He loves this woman and she has a problem that needs fixing before the two of them can be together. That’s it. It might be a strange problem that John never imagined existed, but that doesn’t change the fact that it needs fixing.
Coker: Both of these characters are coming from dark places – John is a hired gun and Mei is a blood thirsty creature of the night – they might feel undeserving of love or happiness or those types of emotions – but together they create something good and they're gonna fight to hold on to it.
Exclusive SketchNrama: Why doesn’t Mei simply give in to her vampiric nature and feed on others – maybe in a more humane way – but feed?
Coker: For Mei I think there’s a lot of different issues tied up in feeding. I mean, the way a vampire feeds is violent; it’s forcing yourself upon someone else. There’s sex and death and violation involved. But more than anything it’s about control. When Mei feeds she loses control; becomes a predator -- an animal driven by hunger to kill and that is what Mei is trying desperately not to be. When you factor in the Chinese ideas and what Mei believes – the vampire is an abomination – a creature of evil and hate that goes against the natural order of things.
Freedman: Also, Mei was turned against her will and that plays into the violation/sex aspect of feeding. AND she doesn’t want to accidentally create another vampire so that means killing – leaving no chance the victim might survive and become like her.
Nrama: This unique world doesn’t begin and end with just vampires – you have also included Chinese spirits called ‘Huli jing’ (or ‘Kitsune’ in Japanese). What is this world like?
Freedman: Yeah, the Fox Spirits, not to be confused with werewolves. They’re ancient spirits that inhabit a lot of Asian folklore. They can be good or bad depending on the story. Most recently they tend to be viewed as seductresses, luring husbands away from their families.
Coker: We co-opted the fox spirit for Undying Love and re-shaped them into an opposing force against the vampires. Our idea is these spirits help to maintain the balance between good and evil and guide souls to and from the afterlife. They aren't necessarily good guys in the traditional sense more through circumstance.
Exclusive SketchFreedman: And like all magic, over the years, the fox spirit has been pushed aside, replaced in the hearts of men by technology and entertainment.
Coker: Somewhat forgotten but still out there doing their job.
Nrama: The guy that turned Mei – and is also the man they must go to for salvation from her curse – is a Chinese warlord named Shang-Ji. Can you tell us about him and how he’s lived so long?
Coker: Shang-Ji was born during the time of the Three Kingdoms and even served as a soldier in the Three Kingdoms War. Obviously he met Mei and was turned into a vamp way back when but that’s about all we can say for now regarding his past. Our plan is to tell the Mei and Shang-Ji origin story in issue 5.
Freedman: Today, Shang-Ji, appears to be a successful businessman that’s built a financial empire. In reality he’s used his supernaturally long life to amass influence and power. He lords over his organizations (both legitimate and underworld) with a cruel code of honor – an ancient man using ancient morals and convictions to function today.
Coker: As far as a being a vampire is concerned – Shang-Ji is at the very top of the blood hierarchy in China – more on that in future issues.
Nrama: How can one human man with a weakened vampire girlfriend hope to go up against a 1300 year old vampire warlord with an entire army at his employ?
Freedman: I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t. I mean Sargent is a REALLY good soldier with tons of experience but now he's up against unbeatable and inhuman odds. He doesn’t stand a chance.
Coker:But that’s what makes it a love story – the idea that Sargent will more than likely NOT survive but he’s willing to do take the chance in order to save the girl.
Nrama: Tomm, in our interview last year you hinted that our lead character and ex-gi John Sargent might owe a little bit to a famous portrait painter with the same name. Is it true, or just a coincidence?
Coker:Mostly it’s just the name. I’m a huge fan of John Sargent’s work and when Daniel and I were coming up with character names we scanned the bookshelf and John Sargent’s name just jumped out at us. It’s a great name...
Nrama: Although super-heroes might be the dominant genre in comics, vampires and supernatural creatures are a close second. Tell us about your own early influences with vampires – where’d you first hear about them, and what made them cool for you?
Freedman: As a kid I spent an entire year, systematically working my way through every title in the horror and sci-fi section of my local video store. I loved it – zombies, werewolves, space aliens etc. But vampires took awhile. They were very angst-y and didn’t have cool claws or lizard skin. For the most part they looked like regular people and as a 14 year old that wasn’t very interesting.
It wasn’t until later, after The Keep, Anne Rice and Vampire: The Masquerade, that I realized, it was the fact that vampires were once human that made them so appealing – that they could be more than a brooding bad guy with a cape and a castle.
Coker: For me it was the book. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was one of the first novels I read as a kid and although most of the subtext went right over my head, it still scared the hell out of me. After that it was the Hammer films and Christopher Lee. I’d stay up late and watch those with my dad. Terrifying stuff.
Nrama: Have either of you been to the locales shown in this series, such as Hong Kong? Maybe you could do it as a business expense!
Freedman: Not yet. But, if the book is a hit, we can do a signing tour of China. See all the places we wrote about first hand. And hear what the Chinese have to say about vampires.