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Posted at 1:15 PM ET, 10/28/2010

The 'Riffs Interview: 'American Vampire's' SCOTT SNYDER on vampires, Vertigo & collaborator Stephen King

By Michael Cavna

vamp1.jpg (DC Comics/Vertigo)

Unlike his tag-team partner in vampiric crime, SCOTT SNYDER does not strike a pose that embodies the macabre. Stephen King, of course, sometimes likes to glower at the viewer of his publicity stills, fulfilling our visual expectation that this man -- this visage as feral as Neil Young under a full harvest moon -- is a true master of horror. Snyder, by contrast, beams at us with a certain boyish glee.

But then, horror is so much about deception, and Snyder is slipping us the ruse of rouge-cheeked youth. The truth is that as prose stylist and comics writer, Snyder -- as much as his collaborator King -- revels in a bloody good romp through the graveyard.


Then again, Snyder partly has King to thank for his path. Now in his mid-30s, Snyder first thrilled to King's writing as a kid at summer camp, when counselors entertained the tykes with the chilling "Eyes of the Dragon." This helped spark his passion for horror -- and put him on a path that has led to his now calling Stephen King an influence, an admirer and a creative partner.

In March, DC's Vertigo imprint began publishing "American Vampire," Snyder's comic creation that, for the first five issues, also featured a storyline by King. In time for Halloween, Vertigo has collected their stories in a hardcover edition.

Amid Snyder's year of thrills as a comics writer, it can be easy to overlook that it was his genre fiction that first brought Snyder to King's -- and Vertigo's -- attention. Four years ago, Snyder published his acclaimed short-story collection "Voodoo Heart," of which King said: It "just blew me away." King hand-picked two of Snyder's stories for 2007's Best American Short Stories anthology short list. A mutual admiration was born.

So much so that when Snyder decided to turn his attention to writing comics, his new friend Stephen King was more than a little intrigued. Eventually, King inquired whether he might contribute to the dawn of the American Vampire.

"I'm so proud of what Steve did," Snyder tells Comic Riffs. "It's exponentially better for his involvement."

Snyder e-mailed King an outline of his story, about a different breed of New World vampires that can stalk by daylight and continue to evolve. "He said, 'Maybe one day I'll write an issue for you,' " the younger writer recounts.

Snyder made sure King meant it because, as he told King, "If I tell D.C. that Stephen King wants to write one, they will want you to write it." "I left a message [with Vertigo] on a Friday after the office closed," Snyder says. "On Monday morning at 8, the whole Vertigo office was calling me back to ask with quickened breath: 'Did you say Stephen King would write an American Vampire?!"

Snyder wrote an outline for King, who began plotting his story and then asked: "Do you mind if i go a little further?" Snyder's reply: "Go as far you want." DC Comics couldn't have been more thrilled with the result.

"At first, I thought: What more stuff could be done with vampires?" DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee tells Comic Riffs. "But it's amazing what they did. They created a structure where both he and Stephen could tell their stories in the same kind of world, but make them independently vibrant.

"It was one of our breakout hits of the year."

DC was so pleased that it made Snyder its new writer of Detective Comics. "It's great when you see a young writer burst on the scene," says Lee, as he has helped make Snyder a DC exclusive talent. And again, the admiration is mutual.

"Vertigo is what I grew up on," Snyder tells us. "Everything from Swamp Thing to all the Sandman stuff to Y: The Last Man. Vertigo was always there once I reached my early teens -- the stuff you reached for to be challenged creatively. ... There was nowhere else I wanted to bring American Vampire, so it's really a fantasy come true."


Snyder was also pleased because he believes the American Vampire stories became as personal to King as they are to him. "The characters are hugely richer and more layered because of Stephen's involvement," he says.

King wrote the origin story for Skinner Sweet, the lean, stringy-haired cowboy vampire from the Old West. And Snyder wrote of Pearl Jones, the ambitious Jazz Age flapper who finds that Hollywood has its share of bloodsuckers.

According to "American Vampire," these two "intertwined tales tell the story of a new kind of vampire: a species born in the American West and powered by the sun -- a monster more powerful and vicious than anything that has come before."

Both King and Snyder eschew the vampire as dashing sophisticate or dewy-eyed romantic ("King hates 'Twilight' more than I do," Snyder notes). Viscerally and metaphorically, they want their bloodsuckers to be as ruthless, as monstrous, as a young America fighting to define itself. Writes King: "There's a subtext here that whispers powerful messages about boundless American energy and that energy's darker side: a grasping, stop-at-nothing hunger for money and power."

The American Vampire series continues to explore that manifest voraciousness of America through the decades, including the birth of Las Vegas as desert Gomorrah. But Snyder definitely wanted to start with the American West.

"I'm a huge fan of American Westerns, and Steve is as well," Snyder says. "So we said: Let's pick figures we have personal connections with as American symbols -- [cinematic] giants like John Ford and modern-day Clint Eastwood in 'Unforgiven.' " This is stuff from where American vampires need to be born -- they're not burned by the sun, they have longer claws, bigger fangs ... bigger powers."

In illustrating these greater powers and endowments. artist Rafael Albuquerque's was crucial, says Snyder, emphasizing: "His talent is indescribable." Albuquerque's palette for the Jazz Age is heavy on blue hues, and violets and gold; the Old West pulsates with burnt oranges and browns. And everywhere -- O everywhere -- spurt the richest crimsons.

And that sense of collaboration -- with King and Albuquerque -- is something that Snyder cherishes, given his background.

"It's so different how collaborative comics are," says the Long Island-based writer and instructor, who relishes going into Manhattan for DC Comics meetings. "Literary fiction is so isolating, so solitary. With comics, it's so fun to be a part of a whole team. You chat every day ... you feel like you have an office."

Not that Snyder has sworn off literary fiction; he appreciates that the divisions between comics and "literature" have come down.

"Thanks to people like Neil Gaiman and Greg Rucka, crossover seems pretty widespread," he says. "It makes it an exciting time to be a writer in general."


By Michael Cavna  | October 28, 2010; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Comic Book  | Tags:  American Vampire, Jim Lee, Rafael Albuquerque, Scott Snyder, Stephen King  
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