Stephen King on His Comics' Debut
American Vampire marks King’s comic book arrival—he talks exclusively to The Daily Beast about boy-toy vampires, loving Casper the Friendly Ghost, and wanting a “fun quotient.” Plus, VIEW OUR EXCLUSIVE GALLERY of pages from American Vampire.
Tomorrow, Stephen King and Scott Snyder will turn loose American Vampire, a new DC Comics series about a Wild West outlaw who’s a sociopath even before he gets vamped. This fresh, rough-and-tumble breed of vampire will rip out throats and hearts, but they most assuredly won’t sparkle—sorry Twilight fans.
“There’s been a whole spate of vampire stories where the vampires are kind of like boy toys, and they’re kind of beautiful, and you want to kind of pet them and take them home with you,” Stephen King exclusively tells The Daily Beast, in his first interview on his new project.
While King has made some forays into comics before—notably the adaptation of his Dark Tower series, which also deals with vampires and a Wild West theme— American Vampire marks the first time he has done an actual comic script. King’s arc will trace the origins of the first American vampire, Skinner Sweet, as he goes fang-to-fang with even nastier vamps, a group out to get rich by damming up a river to create a new town. “It’s really the vampire as American capitalist gone totally wild.”
Click Image to See the American Vampire covers and Read the First Three Pages
Which isn’t to say that the Skinner character is anything less than monstrous. Unlike those pretty boy vampires dotting the pop culture landscape as of late, “This guy was a real, undomesticated animal, and I liked that,” King says. He liked it enough to agree to pen five issues for American Vampire, based on a proposal sent to him by Snyder, and in spite of being occupied promoting his newest novel, Under the Dome.
How Scott Snyder Snagged Stephen King for
Despite the differences in the formats, doing a horror comic reminded King of his own television miniseries like The Stand and The Shining. “Every night is like one issue of a comic book. And what you’re trying to do is to create a build to a certain point, and then you go back and you start at a higher point and finish up a little higher than the first one, so that it’s almost like tsunami waves. You’re trying to build and build on that. So you’ve got some things in common with the short story, but it’s got its own rhythm to it, and you’ve gotta kind of catch hold of that.”
“One of the things that happens when you write something like this is the themes start to suggest themselves. No matter what format you’re working in, whether it’s short stories, novels, or comics, you oughta be writing about something or you’re wasting your time,” King says. “And it seemed to me that this was about time, and how we get older. I loved the whole concept of the vampire—the most attractive thing about it is that you never age.”
Of course, King isn’t the only one who likes vampires. In case you hadn’t noticed, they’re pretty much everywhere lately, and are certainly more prevalent than they were when King’s own Salem’s Lot was published in 1975. “I see a lot of appeal, particularly for teenage readers. I think that the Twilight books, while they do have some crossover, sexually, boys and girls, for a lot of girls, this is an extremely romantic and highly-charged concept that has a sexual element but it doesn’t seem as dangerous,” King says. “I go back to that thing about how vampires are terrifically sexy from the neck up and dead from the waist down, because the original vampire thing, the whole element of that was oral, you know? It was basically giving girls hickeys in the middle of the night.”
Though this is King’s first venture into writing comics, he grew up reading them, including the classic EC Comics—like Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Vault—that inspired his own 1982 film Creepshow. “They twisted me entirely,” he says with a laugh. “I loved Superman, Captain Marvel, all those guys. I even liked Casper the Friendly Ghost! I probably should be ashamed to admit it, but I did.”
“I loved Superman, Captain Marvel, all those guys,” King says. “I even liked Casper the Friendly Ghost! I probably should be ashamed to admit it, but I did.”
But he fell away from the genre for several years, and in that time the form had evolved considerably, which made writing for the medium a new challenge for even as seasoned a writer as King. “You have to be very humble, and you have to take advice because it’s a new way of seeing, to actually write it is a new way of writing,” King says. “I found out that Scott and Mark Doyle, who is the editor of the book, were kind of shuffling around some of my layouts because they were seeing it more clearly than I was, and I was just trying to be a good student and learn how to do it.”
One example:Thought bubbles—those puffy, dotted clouds that were a staple of early comics—have been phased out. “I got this kind of embarrassed call from the editors saying, ‘Ah, Steve, we don't do that anymore.’ ‘You don't do that anymore?’ I said. ‘No, when the characters speak, they speak. If they're thinking, you try to put that across in the narration, in the little narration boxes.’” So King happily re-wrote to fit the new style—though he still laments the loss of the thought bubble. “I think it's a shame to lose that arrow out of your quiver. One of the nice things about the written word as opposed to the spoken word in a movie is that you can go into a character's thoughts. You do it in books all the time, right?”
Comics have certainly changed since Casper. King points out that the influx of other heavyweight authors like James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, and Michael Chabon into comics, along with mainstream hits like Watchmen and Batman, have done wonders for the genre’s reputation: “They used to be kind of the fallen woman of literature, but they've really been spiffed up, and they’ve got a lot of their reputation back.”
Comics aren’t be the only medium to benefit from King’s singular style as of late. He recently recorded the narration for a high-concept by Shooter Jennings—he plays the last free DJ at a pirate radio station who’s playing his favorite group before he goes off the air for good.
After the massive success he’s enjoyed worldwide, King seems to have entered a more improvisational phase of his career, but don’t mistake his ventures into comic books and music as calculated moves. “None of it’s planned. If somebody comes along with some idea that I like, I’m willing to try just about anything,” King says. “I went in and recorded all the spoken word stuff in about four hours, and I sent all the tapes to Shooter and he put it all together, so that was kind of fun. That's really where I'm coming from right now, at the age of 62, is I want a high fun quotient.”
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.