Shadow Drainers

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Vampires no longer hunt you in your nightmares—they now appear out of the shadows too.

Combining the legend of Romanian count Vlad Tepes Dracula with a take on vampires so unique you won’t dare think of Bram Stoker or Anne Rice for a second when one shows up, Impaler was one of the strongest debuts coming from Image Comics last month.

BF spoke to writer William Harms about where he plans to take the book and what inspired him to move into a world of shadows in the first place.

BROKEN FRONTIER: The first and second issues can be seen as setting up the premise of the book—the vampire plague is spreading rapidly, but the top dog, Dracula, has yet to show his face. Did you decide to build up the story over several issues to convey a sense of dreadfulness?

WILLIAM HARMS: It was definitely a conscious decision to have the story unfold the way it does. Because this is one long story, I felt it was necessary to really take the time required to set up Victor as a character, introduce some mysteries and establish the world. Those things are very important to me, and they’re important in creating an effective horror story. Just jumping into the story and showing a madman slicing up people isn’t horror. It can be a real hoot, but it’s not horror.

BF: What’s your definition of good horror?

WH: Stephen King pretty much created the blueprint for good horror: Take interesting, sympathetic characters who are going about their lives and then introduce something that places them in danger. What makes horror scary is when something really bad threatens a character that you truly care about.

Look at long-running horror franchises, like Halloween and Friday the 13th. The first couple of movies were scary—you didn’t want any of the characters to die. But over time, that was lost and the focus of the movies changed from trying to scare you to trying to shock you. The characters were little more than Generic Teenager #1, and the fun came in seeing how they met their horrific demise. I think too many horror comics follow that model, and it’s something that we’re trying to work against. We want people to worry about Victor and the other survivors, to be scared for them. They’re not just random victims who are lining up to be killed. They’re people with lives, histories and dreams.

And lest anyone think I’m a horror snob, I love all brands of horror and think Jason X is a fantastic movie. But it’s not the kind of horror that we’re trying to deliver.

BF: In the letters page of Impaler #1, you state that you want this series to be unlike any other vampire story released in recent memory—in part because you felt these stories didn’t do the concept of vampirism any justice. Please explain…

WH: Vampires aren’t scary anymore. They either sit around whining about this or that, or they’re members of a secret cabal plotting how they’ll stay hidden. That’s not scary, that’s a bureaucracy with vampires.

Vampires are creepy when they’re monsters; you’re afraid of them because you don’t want to become one and you’re terrified of what they will do to you. The vampires in Impaler are monsters. They don’t sit around contemplating anything; they just kill. They love to kill.

Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons zombies have come back is because they’re one of the few “monsters” that remain scary. They haven’t been neutered.

BF: From a creative point of view, why would you pick vampires over zombies any day—or night?

WH: I love zombies. A lot. I’ll read any zombie book or short story, but they’ve pretty much reached the saturation point in terms of what is happening with them. From World War Z to the zombie books that BOOM! and IDW are doing, zombies are covered.

So creatively, I was more interested in exploring vampires and trying to come up with some new ways to approach them. And I think that we’ve come up with some pretty unique angles—the traditional things like crosses and holy water don’t work, and if you can shoot a vampire, it dies. However, the vampires are essentially living shadows, so they can get into any space and when they’re shadows, they’re practically indestructible. Those are some fairly unique angles and it’s a lot of fun exploring them.

BF: Since you want to go back to the core of the vampire story, and open up your story with a look at Wallachia in 1460, a time when Vlad Tepes Dracula is at the height of his reign, to what extent will you revisit the historical legend surrounding him?

WH: Vlad’s past plays a pretty prominent role in the story. Issue four begins with a flashback to him fighting the vampires in Wallachia, and there will be other flashbacks as the series continues. There is a pretty rich and detailed story in his past, specifically how it details his initial war against the vampires. Increasingly, I’m thinking that that will be a separate mini-series that runs parallel to the main book.

BF: The title itself is a clear reference to the historical Vlad Dracula, who made a habit out of impaling the heads of his victims. Yet, you’ve indicated that Impaler will depict Dracula as a vampire killer. In what light do we have to see both the term ‘impaler’ and the persona of Dracula then? It seems fair to say that your version will differ from how Bram Stoker interpreted the Romanian count.

WH: There’s really no mention of “Dracula” in the book. Other than Vlad’s name, which includes Dracul, it never comes up. So in that regard, there is no Dracula in Impaler; there’s simply a man who has done something very bad in order to fight the vampires. And the ramifications of those actions will impact a lot of what happens in the book.

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeAs for the impaling part, that comes up in a number of ways. There will be actual impaling of people in one of the flashbacks, but it also informs Vlad’s character. Historically, there is no question that he was a vicious tyrant, and those are the aspects of his character that I’m exploring. We have a dictator from the 15th century in modern-day America; how will he interact with the other characters? Can someone who does horrible things in the name of good really be considered “good”?

That’s what really interests me about Vlad, especially when Victor enters the mix. On one hand, we have a dictator used to getting his way, and on the other we have a cop who believes in fairness and justice. A pretty interesting mix, if you ask me.

BF: Can you lift the curtain a bit as to how the first meeting or confrontation between Vic and Vlad will go down?

WH: Initially, Victor and Vlad are on the same team, as it were. Vlad saves Victor’s life (and the lives of some other survivors), so Victor is in Vlad’s debt. It’s when Vlad reveals his plan for fighting the vampires, and how he views everyone as being expendable, that the two of them come into conflict. Victor isn’t about to let Vlad sacrifice people to fight the vampires, even if it is for the larger good.

BF: In related, page one of the first issue shows a quote of Franz Kafka talking about the messiah. Does it have to be interpreted as if Dracula has some sort of messianic qualities of his own in your story, or am I totally missing the point?

WH: You’re almost right. The meaning of that quote won’t really be revealed until the end of the series, so mum is the word for now.

BF: With all the talk about Dracula, we haven't zoomed in on your other main character, Victor Dailey, in great detail. Since he’s on the brink of retirement, how does he get sucked—the term seemed rather appropriated—into this whole affair?

WH: Victor’s wife died of breast cancer, and it devastated him. Now he just wants to retire and move to Florida, but before he can, vampires attack New York. He’s with a group of survivors that are rescued by Vlad, so from that point on, they’re pretty much attached at the hip. He’s the heart and soul of the book, and despite the book’s title, he’s the main character. The journey Victor takes through his grief and how he comes to grip with what has happened is really the core of the story.

BF: You do seem to find a great deal of pleasure in mixing an age-old folk legend with an urban, modern day setting. What kind of depiction of New York are you aiming for?

WH: By issue three, New York is destroyed and by issue four or five, there are maybe 100 people left; everyone else is either dead or a vampire. It’s not a happy place. NYC becomes the base of operations for the vampires, and all of their plans project out of that area. There are going to be bodies hanging from buildings, telephone poles, etc. Anyone who enters NYC does so at great peril, because they odds of them surviving are very low.

BF: The only real complaint I had about the first issue was that there was too much black, so much in fact that it was sometimes a bit hard to see what was going on. How do you, as the creator of the premise, perceive such criticism? Is it valid?

WH: I think any criticism is valid; who am I to say that someone’s opinion is wrong? I personally like the dark look, especially because of how the vampires function. They can move unfettered through the darkness and pop out and kill you before you even know what’s going on. Thematically, this is a very dark book, and I think the art is perfect.

BF: Regardless of my point of criticism, it must be said that the artwork here is very distinct. What were you looking for in an artist, and what ultimately led you to Nick Postic and Nick Marinkovic?

WH: I wanted someone who could capture the mood and despair of the book, all while conveying some killer action scenes. And the Nicks fit the bill perfectly. In issue three, all hell breaks lose, and it looks amazing.

I first found their work in Digital Webbing Presents, and at the time they were busy drawing the Underworld comics for IDW. I decided to wait for them to finish, and here we are.

BF: You’ve stated that you want this story to be as epic a vampire story as there has been. Clearly, you’ve got a long-term plan in mind for this book. Can you shed some light on those plans?

WH: The military seals of NYC, or attempts to, rather. The vampires sweep out of NYC and begin to decimate the East Coast of the US. There may or may not be nukes used at some point. Vlad and the others begin to wage war against the vampires, but maybe it doesn’t turn out so well. How are those for some vague spoilers?

BF: Vague enough! [Laughs] The pesky critic in me comes up again briefly, but after a dozen issues or so, how do you prevent this from becoming a ‘who-gets-killed-this-month?’ type of story? Robert Kirkman’s succeeded in avoiding the same trap in Walking Dead by introducing new locales and characters. Are you shooting for a similar modus operandi?

WH: This is a very different book from Walking Dead. Walking Dead focuses on a small group of people and never shifts away from them. Although Impaler is mainly Vic and Vlad’s story, we will show what is happening in the rest of the world.

I love end-of-the-world stories, especially when we actually get to experience it unfolding; we will see every second of it in Impaler. It’s a lot of fun sitting at my notebook and wondering: If vampires were real and attacked New York City, what would the President do? What would the military do? All of those little details will keep Impaler fresh and exciting.

BF: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the book, or other creative endeavours perhaps?

WH: For the past year, I’ve been focusing all of my energy on Impaler and making it as good as it can be. Now that it’s underway, I’m developing a couple of other projects, one of which is another horror book and the other is more action-oriented. I have artists for both of them, and I hoping that they both see release next year.

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