After more than three decades spent writing across a variety of mediums, it’s hard to believe Stephen King has never written a comic book. His vivid, visceral prose seems primed for graphic rendering, and he’s shown an affinity for the format with works like the 1982 film Creepshow, which paid homage to E.C. Comics series like Tales from the Crypt. But while some of his works, like The Stand and The Dark Tower, have been adapted into graphic form by other writers, King himself has never penned a comic.
In March, Vertigo, an imprint of DC Comics, will begin publishing a new series, American Vampire—and today it was announced that Stephen King will be co-writing the first five issues. This may well be the final nail—or stake—in the coffin against those who think comics haven’t become a pop-culture mainstay.
Click the Image Below to View Character Sketches from American Vampire
So what lured the master of horror to comics after all this time? He certainly hasn’t been lacking for work, with a new novel, Under the Dome, due out November 10. He also released a novella, Ur, exclusively for the Amazon Kindle in February. But apparently, the promise of a fresh take on vampires was enough to entice King to make the jump.
American Vampire is the brainchild of Scott Snyder, whose 2006 short-story collection, Voodoo Heart, was well-received in bookish circles. (Disclosure: This reporter took a writing class Snyder taught at Columbia.) He first made the leap to the comics genre with The 13th Egg, a short story for the superhero-inspired collection Who Can Save Us Now? A gig with Marvel, penning a Human Torch one-shot and an upcoming X-Men arc, soon followed.
When Mark Doyle, an editor from DC Comics, attended a reading of selections from Who Can Save Us Now?, Snyder got his opportunity to pitch an idea he’d had for a uniquely American take on vampires. Doyle loved the idea and took it to his bosses at Vertigo, who agreed. Says Vertigo’s Executive Editor Karen Berger, “If we’re gonna do a vampire when everyone else is, we’d only jump on something if it was really fresh, and different, and edgier than vampires usually are.”
The series twists the well-trod vampire legend by allowing the creatures to evolve into a distinctly American creature and will follow the adventures of Skinner Sweet, a sociopathic outlaw in the Wild West who becomes the first American vampire. Unlike European vamps, Skinner is powered by the sun and, true to his native environment, has rattlesnake fangs. Each cycle, consisting of five individual comic issues, will take place in a different period of time in American history, tracing Skinner’s descendants, with Skinner himself as a recurring character.
“I love vampire stories, and the idea of following the dark exploits of a uniquely American vampire really lit up my imagination.”
When American Vampire was in the early stages of being greenlit, the editors at Vertigo asked Snyder if he knew anyone that would be willing to give a blurb to the project. Snyder had maintained a friendship with Stephen King after King had written a blurb for Voodoo Heart, so he sent King what he had so far of the series.
“He came back saying he loved it and he’d actually be willing to do a few issues at some point if we wanted him to,” Snyder says. “I went back to Vertigo and pretty much made sure that they were gonna take it regardless. It was really important to me that they weren’t going to take it because Steve was involved, because I’m the one who has to carry the series beyond Steve.”
At first it wasn’t clear how much writing King would be doing—the assumption was maybe an issue or two. With that in mind, Snyder wrote a series of guidelines for the background of Skinner, and King started writing. “I start getting these emails from him that are like, how much he’s enjoying Skinner, and maybe he’ll actually do a little more, and finally a little ways in he’s like, ‘Do you mind if I go off the res a little bit?’” Snyder says, laughing. While the characters as Snyder had imagined them were already well-developed, “Steve took that story and took it to so many places that were not in the original script, and it was just amazing to watch. He added terrific story twists—he added incredibly scary and wonderful gore.”
In the end, King had written five issues, a standalone cycle exploring the origins of Skinner. Snyder, meanwhile, had penned five issues revolving around Skinner’s first descendant, Pearl, an aspiring starlet in glamorous and decadent 1920s Hollywood who gets turned into a vampire by Skinner. Starting in March, Vertigo will release five monthly double-issues, 16 pages of Pearl’s story penned by Snyder and 16 pages of Skinner’s story penned by King, with Rafael Albuquerque doing the artwork. Issue six will pick up with a new cycle set in the 1930s and penned by Snyder.
King, who will be doing his own round of press closer to the comic’s March release, released a statement through Vertigo, saying "I love vampire stories, and the idea of following the dark exploits of a uniquely American vampire really lit up my imagination. The chance to do the origin story—to be ‘present at the creation’—was a thrill.”
The admiration, needless to say, is mutual. Of his writing partner, Snyder says, “People think of Steve as this story master, and he is. He’s just this master of story, plot, and horror, and that’s just amazing to watch, but one of the things that was also interesting to watch is how layered and rich he makes a story from a literary standpoint. He worked along these themes in his cycle, of fact versus fiction, and legend versus history.”
Berger is confident that Snyder and King’s novel-writing prowess will translate to the illustrated page. “As novelists, they really just got it, which is great because not all novelists do,” she says. “Comics writing is such a different way of thinking, you really have to be able to wrap your head around a visual component, and there’s a real streamlining component as well. Both Snyder and Stephen took to it perfectly.”
Snyder hasn’t left his roots behind completely, however—his upcoming novel, The Goodbye Suit, is due out from Dial Press in 2011. In the meantime, though, alternating between comics and fiction allows him to balance the two disparate writing processes. “Writing literary fiction, you write alone in a room, then you hand it over to somebody when it’s done, they give you edits, and you go back alone in a room and you do it,” Snyder says. “Writing comics, you’re constantly collaborating. It’s a creative process that’s just so fun and fluid. I didn’t realize how lonely literary fiction is until I started doing this.”
Shannon Donnelly is a video editor at The Daily Beast. Previously, she interned at Gawker and Overlook Press, edited the 2007 edition of Inside New York, and graduated from Columbia University. You can read more of her writing here.