Midtown Comics in NYC's Times Square was buzzing and packed at 6pm on a Friday night, as I headed in for the very first Midtown Comics Book Club. The retailer was featuring newly hot American Vampire scribe Scott Snyder, with a focus on the recently published first collection of his Vertigo series. The Book Club wouldn’t start until 6:30pm though, so I spent a little time browsing, figuring I could pick up some recommendations from friends, and then set up early to cover the event.
At about 6:15pm, I decided it was enough dilly-dallying, bought the books in my hand, and asked he guy behind the counter where the Book Club would be held. He paused for a second, and then said, “Downtown.”
You see friends; Midtown Comics has three locations in Manhattan, including a recently opened downtown space with an alcove for events like the Book Club. But on auto, I had headed to Times Square, and now had fifteen minutes to travel the equivalent of half the island. Thank goodness for the MTA actually running on time for once, as I only missed the introduction, and was all set up by the time hosts Thor Parker and Zoe welcomed Snyder up in front of the packed crowd.
“With iPads, Twitter, and Facebook, people are creating online meeting places,” said Thor when we chatted after the event. “I wanted to bring that feeling of community back into the store.” And it seems like this first event, at least, is a big success. With only 25 seats available, reservations of Facebook filled up quickly, with 45 people vying for the coveted spots. For future installments Midtown will be reworking the reservation process, and possibly allowing a few more in the crowd – but for a first run, things went smoothly, and both the crowd and organizers seemed happy.
So what is the Midtown Comics Book Club? It’s not a circle of people sitting around discussing the book they all read that month – as I suspected. Instead, it has a pretty straightforward panel structure, followed by a signing. The two hosts of Midtown Comics podcast interviewed Snyder about the book for about twenty minutes, followed by another forty or so minutes of audience questions, and a signing of American Vampire volume one. Parker says that he played around with the idea of other formats, but in the end, this is the one they were most comfortable with, and made the most sense. That said, he’s been pushing for a more boutique type signing, slightly less structured than the old fashioned line-up and get ‘em signed version that happened that night.
Now I realize most of you are probably reading this article to find out about how I got to the event, and what Midtown Comics plans to do in the future. But if you don’t mind, I’m going to take a slight digression, and actually talk about the content of the chat with Snyder. Don’t worry, fans of non-news, I’ll be back with more commentary after this.
The writer started off by giving a bit of background on the book, talking about why his vampires are different than other modern vampires – or at least, are more like the terrifying and dangerous vampires he read about as a kid. “Vampires are scary because they’re ‘us,’” said Snyder, a point that he would reiterate several times throughout the night. “They’re our mothers, our fathers, our family and friends.”
On other popular vampire books, Snyder was complimentary, at least: “I’m not a humungous fan of Twilight, but I give kudos to Stephanie Meyers for doing something new with vampires – vampires as teen heartthrobs is new. I felt like as long as there’s nothing similar in concept, we’re okay.”
That said, as he would detail later, Snyder and artist Rafael Albequerque – who will be listed as co-creator of the book starting with issue thirteen – wanted to market the book as an anti-Twilight, or anti-True Blood, because those takes are all about vampires being exotic, not scary. To that end, Albequerque made two posters, one with anti-hero Skinner Sweet standing on a pile of dead bodies, with the tagline, “This isn’t your little sister’s vampire.” The other had Pearl, the other lead of the book, also standing on a pile of dead bodies with the tag, “I don’t fucking sparkle.” Vertigo marketing shot down the ads, though, because they didn’t want to alienate the Twilight/True Blood fans – and later, Snyder has come to agree they were right; though he does still hold on to the posters as souvenirs.
There were a few more “could have been” tidbits throughout the evening, as Snyder talked about the original conception of the book. When asked about how he originally came up with the idea, Snyder told a story about heading to an RPG, model shop type store in downtown NYC, looking for a Doctor Who figure for a friend of his, when he saw a model of a Confederate soldier coming up from his grave as a zombie. He had already been thinking about vampires, but this crystallized the direction he wanted to head in. He later went back to buy the figure, as a souvenir, but it had already been sold.
The original pitch to Vertigo, meanwhile, started with what is currently issue 12 of the series, about a vampire who had stayed young as the West got old. The Editors shot it down, though, because they felt it could be too easily pigeonholed as “Vampire Western.” They suggested instead starting with a minor plot point later in the pitch, the introduction of Skinner Sweet’s protégé Pearl in the 1920s, which Snyder felt worked much better.
On the other hand, the Editors also were pushing the idea that the first few pages of the book should contain more vampire action, jumping out from places, or bursting from coffins, instead of leaving a bit of mystery throughout the first issue, as Snyder eventually did. It wasn’t Snyder who won them over, though, it was collaborator Stephen King, who sent a vitriolic – and apparently hilarious – e-mail titled, “Why All Editors Should Die.” Needless to say, no vampires appear jumping out until the end of issue one.
On Stephen King, who wrote a back-up story in the first few issues, Snyder also had only glowing things to say. King was apparently incredibly collaborative, writing like a young, hungry writer looking for praise and criticism, rather than an experienced, best-selling author. Snyder recounted the following exchange, after Snyder had asked him to write the Forward, and he came back asking to write a piece of the comic:
King: “I’ve never written a comic, they probably wouldn’t want me to do it.”
Snyder: “…No, they’ll want you to do it.”
Which provoked laughter from the audience. Snyder got more laughs when he quipped that he was glad he sold the book before King’s involvement, because he knew they wanted it regardless; but that we was also not glad, because he could have sold it for way more money.
In regards to the possibility of fellow Vertigo writer/artist Jeff Lemire and Rafael Albequerque switching art duties on Sweet Tooth and American Vampire, Snyder quipped, “I hope it does happen. We all have a big bromance on Twitter.” After the laughter died down from the audience, more seriously Snyder said that they are all big fans of each other, and would love to do something together in the future.
Then the discussion turned to the future of American Vampire, where Snyder dropped some major spoilers.
Though the series has yet to go pre-Wild West, Snyder would like to do a Roanoke story, as well as a story focusing on the Carpathian species of European vampire, and how they became the dominant species in the current storyline.
As for the more immediate future, the next big cycle takes place in World War II, and follows Skinner, Pearl, and Henry (Pearl’s human boyfriend) equally – following up on the events of Pearl Harbor, no pun intended. Simultaneously, Vertigo will be publishing a mini-series penciled by Sean Murphy – who was in attendance on the event – that takes place in Eastern Europe, and follows some of the other characters trying to find a vampire cure in the mountains.
Also coming up, the son of a family killed in a boarding house in the Las Vegas – who only briefly appeared in the previous arc – will come back twenty years later as the biggest, most bad-ass vampire hunter in the series. “He’s our Punisher,” said Snyder. “He has teeth that are different metals, and wood, because he wants to bite them back.”
Even though American Vampire has hit some pretty major landmarks, Snyder keeps it grounded in the characters, not the time period. “I don’t want it to be just about the era, because then it gets soapboxy,” said Snyder. “If I wanted it to be about the ‘30s, I would have set it in the dustbowl. It’s about using the locations and the time periods as a context for what you’re interested in about the characters at that moment, and something that informs them and their journey.”
And for those people who aren’t reading the individual issues, Snyder ended with this thought. “If you’re trade waiting on it – which you shouldn’t do,” joked Snyder, “The second volume comes out in May. And the third trade will be out in the Fall.”
A few more notes about the event in general, before we go:
- No insult to regular panel crowds, but the Q&A period was mostly marked by actually intelligent, well thought out questions, rather than typical fanboy vitriol or continuity goofs. That may have to do with the intimacy of the crowd, or that the material is a little headier than the latest superhero punch-fest. But it was noteworthy. Hence this note.
- I don’t know if I’m defeating the purpose of this by even bringing it up, but the crowd was pretty evenly distributed between female and male fans, all of whom seemed to be into the talk, and asked questions evenly. That said, the boyishly good looking and charming Snyder had a gaggle of female fans crowded around him after the signing, hanging on his every word. Take that as you will.
- On a whole, it was a successful event that was more intimate than your usual signing, and more informative than your usual panel. Everyone was well behaved, and the only major disaster was when I knocked down an entire shelf of action figures right at the end of the talk. Double oops.
Next time, the Midtown Comics Book Club will be focusing on Guerillas by Brahm Revel; but before that, they’ll be holding a talk and reading of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy's latest issue of the excellent Comic Book Comics. We’ll have more on that later in the week. Until then, I’ve been walking disaster area Alex Zalben. Good night.