No amount of stakes in the heart will kill the legend of the vampire, and these creatures get an entirely new mythology in the dystopian graphic novel "Things to Come," due out in bookstores October 20. Walter Koenig, best-known for playing Pavel Chekov in "Star Trek" and Alfred Bester in "Babylon 5," penned the story originally as a screenplay, but felt turning it into a graphic novel upped his chances for a movie and created another outlet to tell his story. To do that, this writer needed an artist, and so he hooked up with JC Baez, loving the lushly atmospheric drawings Baez created to his words.
Instead of the typical vampire-as-pure-evil or vampire-as-romantic-heartthrob type stories we’ve been seeing, Koenig wanted to write a deep-thinking and philosophical piece where vampires grapple with issues of morality and the meaning of existence. While Baez insisted he was there just to back up the world Koenig already created, the use of his artwork also brought the story to life with vivid detail. With the single issues already coming out and the graphic novel’s release around the corner, both Koenig and Baez spoke to MTV Geek to get our appetites whetted.
MTV Geek: Can you tell a little about the plot of the story?
Walter Koenig: The story takes place on two planes. It’s the last days of the human race and humans have been living under the ground for two hundred years, trying to find the way out. It also takes place above the earth, where the vampires have developed and taken over. In the first fourth of the book, you see the humans struggling to find a way out of their underground cave/jail. The vampires above the earth are coming into their own, trying to understand why they are there. Each story progresses from there as it alternates between the humans and the vampires with the last quarter of the humans' story becoming a bridge to the last quarter of the vampires saga. One ties into the other. It’s an interesting device, I think. The readers are finding out about differences and parallels between both groups, and, in doing so, discover that no matter how much things change, in many ways, they also remain the same. Incidentally, the story does not end as one might suspect.
Geek: How is "Things to Come" different from other vampire stories out there now?
JC Baez: We’re avoiding the elements of glamour when it comes to vampires. Our vampires really have no fashion sense and the mystical element has been stripped. There’s a scientific base to how these vampires came about. You have to take in mind the parts of the story dealing with pollution, radiation and mutation, and all that ties in to these specific vampires.
Koenig: This is not a drink-blood-first-ask-questions-later kind of story. It’s very introspective. These beings did not ask to be here and found themselves thrust upon the earth after an apocalypse. While there is the occasional battle between the vampires themselves, there’s a lot more personal conflict. The vampires don’t know what their purpose is and are desperate to find answers. They know they are mutations living in a poisoned atmosphere in which humans could not exist. The big question is "why." Some build a church trying to find redemption while others believe their creation is part of a natural evolution that is not yet understood.
I think the characters are not prototypical. There’s some individuality there; I don’t think we generally see vampires with a sense of morality and a violent disposition at the same time. Those characteristics pose some interesting questions: Is there a God, and what part does it play? If there’s not, are we talking about a natural course of events that, at present, is beyond our comprehension? We look for the missing links in the chain of human development, so perhaps there are missing links in the chain between human beings and vampires.
Geek: What do you want readers to take away from it?
Koenig: I want them to be able to identify with these beings, even though they are so different from us, at least at first glance. We dig a little deeper, and we see that in some instances they are dealing with the same situations and problems we do. Certainly, mortality. Certainly, morality. What is their purpose? What is their destiny? Are they improving the world or making it worse? No easy answers; no cut-and-dry, black-and-white answers. But things to think about.
Baez: I hope they enjoy the book and it makes them think. There are a lot of deep questions. Who are we? Where do we come from? They question their situation as vampires: why did they become like that, how is God connected to that? How would they be accepted by God if there is a God? These are questions they deal with and wrestle with, so it can be quite deep on many levels.
Geek: Did you have an art style in mind before you met JC Baez?
Koenig: No, but as soon as I saw his work, I knew he was the guy. It was on the Internet that I was looking for an artist and he contacted me and sent me his work. I flipped through it and passed it on to my publisher. He was the only one we interviewed for the job and he’s terrific to work with. We have a wonderful communication. I write the panels, I describe what happens, what the perspective is, and he takes those written words and adapts them and makes something so much more.
Geek: How did you create art to Walter’s story?
Baez: Once I got the script, I started trying to imagine these characters. For the first week, there was a lot of brainstorming. We’d keep adding visual elements — the way they looked, the way they dressed. From there we came up with environments. We wanted to create a world that was believable, so you could really believe these characters lived in a physical place, that these were real people in the future. His script was so visual and so descriptive; to me, it was easy to translate his words into a visual medium.
He would describe characters, their emotions, their facial expressions. He would describe the clouds, little creatures crawling in the periphery. You have to remember he had written this originally as a film script and it really was very visual. As a comic book and storyboard artist, I really picked up on that.
I would add elements of my own that wouldn’t clash with what he had already. For example, in the last page of issue one, when you see the ship moving off into the distance, I drew a seagull with two heads. In this world, things have changed because of the radiation and there are mutant creatures all around, so I wanted to convey that. Walter liked it and people who have read the book have liked it.
When the script mentions a crowd, I try to put in as many characters as you could distinguish instead of a crowd that looks like a mass of people. I wanted to give them personalities. And I’ll bring them back in other panels. Visually, I just wanted to do justice to Walter’s story. I figured my job wasn’t to be flashy or overshadow the story. A lot of modern comics seem to have a clash between the art and the story, seeing which can be louder, but my main interest was to be a good storyteller.
After I drew, Jon Lyons, our colorist, would work over my pencils and it was a really collaborative effort all-around.
Geek: What else are you working on with comics?
Koenig: Back in the 90s, I pitched an idea to Malibu Comics and we agreed to my doing three issues about a character named Raver. They sold pretty well, but my contract was for just three issues. My publisher Bluewater thought we might be able to get a new audience for Raver and asked me to write a fourth issue. We could put that together with the first three and put that out as a graphic novel as well. That is all written and drawn, and we’re waiting for the coloring. Again, I had a wonderful artist — his name is Henry Martinez. He has the same kind of sense of humor I have. I had a lot of fun with the fourth issue; I’d learned some things in the interim and I think it’s more tongue-in-cheek and contemporary.
Baez: Right now I’m working with Jon Anderson from the band Yes on a comic book called "Violin Stories." It’s a multimedia project; we hope to have the comic book and the CD released together, whether in actual form or the comic book as a digital download. It’s part of a larger project where there’ll eventually be performances. We’ll hopefully have a DVD that uses music and images from the comic book together. We’re trying to push the envelope. If you know the music of Yes, and Jon’s the main architect of the music and the lyrics, it’s very faithful to that. It has science fiction and fantasy, a really cosmic theme.
Read a preview of "Things to Come" by clicking the image below.