Wednesday, March 17, 2010

American Vampire #1 – A Review

American Vampire #1

Publisher Vertigo

Writer/Creator Scott Snyder
Writer Stephen King

Artist Rafael Albuquerque

Colors Dave McCaig
Format 32 Pages Story and Art
Price $3.99

vam•pire Function: noun Etymology: French, from German Vampir, from Serbian vampire Date: 1732

1 : the reanimated body of a dead person believed to come from the grave at night and suck the blood of persons asleep

2 a : one who lives by preying on others b : a woman who exploits and ruins her lover

American Vampire – Function: noun, Etymology: American, springing from the brain of Scott Snyder. Date 2009

1: A literate tale of a young woman named Pearl in Hollywood in the roaring 20’s

2: An origin story from the old west about how Skinner Sweet becomes the first American Vampire.

I loved this book and I have to say that I liked the first half of the book by Scott a little better then the back half by Steve (I heard he likes to be called Steve). The only reason I liked Scott’s side better is because you fall in love with Pearl, you don’t fall in love with Skinner.

First off I want to mention the artwork by Rafael and the coloring work of Dave McCaig. Rafael achieved a few things with his work on this book. First off I believe his work has moved up another notch. It was obvious from his work on Blue Beetle that story telling and layouts were already part of his skill set. As time progressed on that book you could see the actual art itself improving. Not that he was ever a poor artist just that he got stronger and more consistent. I thought his work was a little more on the lighter side for the super hero work and was questioning the choice of him on this type of story. I shouldn’t have, his work was outstanding. He has very distinct characters and every person in the book looked unique. I have to think he spent a lot of time on character design and it shows. I have already fallen in love with Pearl from the first story and the countless expressions and body language that Rafael portrayed were excellent. Then add into that the second half of the book where he adjusted the style of his art to achieve a different look, but still totally Rafael. (The two pages included in this post is the Pearl story to the left and the Skinner story to the right.) I have to read his interview to learn how he achieved the effect, but both halves of the book are Rafael, but the second half has a heavier feel to it and is grittier as befits the time. In this type of job the work of the colorist to carry the tonal feel of each story can’t be understated. Dave did a great job and achieved keeping each story having its own flavor yet being true to being one larger canvas.

The first story by Scott Snyder is called “Big Break” and focuses on Pearl a gal who is trying to make it big in Hollywood in 1925. It starts with her body being thrown into a mass grave and we see her open her eyes and say “Please..I’m alive” and then we flashback 3 days and learn her story. Along the way we find out Pearl is a hard working gal, a good friend to her roommate, a girl with a lot of spunk and someone with a good sense of humor. You have to fall in love with her. Scott tells us her story via dialogue and a natural back and forth between the people in her life. Scott’s dialogue is fantastic and this book rises to the point of being one of the more literate comic books on the stands. You would think Scott has been writing comics for years and years the way he allows the art to carry its part of the story and the dialogue add what is needed and yet be very natural dialogue.

We also get to met Skinner Sweet in this issue and the first chapter ends as Vampires are attacking Pearl. The foundation has been laid so well for this story that you are just chomping at the bit for the next chapter. This was a stunning debut issue for Scott. I know other work of his has been published, but two short stories are not what I would call a debut as a comic writer. Scott states that he writes his scripts multiple times to get it right, well he got it right. This book is pure gold.

Stephen King’s half was very strong also, my only issue was that since this is the origin story of Skinner Sweet if felt like it moved a little slower in getting started, but once we go going this issue was a slam bang great tale of the old West. Skinner Sweet is a notorious bank robber from 1880. The story starts with the Pinkerton Agency celebrating their capture of Sweet. Along the way we learn just how bad Sweet is from killing children with no apparent remorse to poisoning the girl friend of the agent credited to capturing him. He is shown as cunning, ruthless and very much in control of his situation even though he is the guy in handcuffs being taken by train to his hanging. The interchanges between Sweet and his captors is great stuff and I have to say that Steve’s dialogue is every bit as tight as Scott’s work.

I can’t believe I’m reading King’s first comic script as this book read better then a ton of books by other comic writers who have been in the field for years. I also enjoyed comparing what we learn of Skinner in this book to the glimpses we got of Sweet in 1925. This chapter ends with Skinner being killed by a vampire and not staying dead.

It was a great way to start of my week of reading and both chapters have me wanting more. I can see this being a great collected hard cover already. Scott Snyder and crew have a real winner with this book and Vertigo gets to place another book in a long line of comics that truly achieve something way too rare and that is graphic story telling. It is not fair to call it a comic book when the work is at this level, graphic literature maybe the best category for work such as this.

Overall Grade – A+ - I love Pearl, intrigued by Skinner and can’t wait for more. AV #1 makes St. Paddy’s day a joy.

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