AiPT: I loved the first issue of Bad Blood and wanted to get a little bit deeper understanding into how this brilliant series came about. Here’s my first question:
In my recent review, I praised the novelty and cleverness of your new concept. A vampire biting a human but then getting burned by the chemo in the human’s blood; that’s pretty brilliant. Why did you choose to take a more serious route with this series, making the story deeply emotional and slightly depressing and not more like, say, Chew?
Maberry: Let’s face it, Bad Blood is not the ‘feel good story of the year.’ It’s downbeat from the jump. The main character is a teenager dying of leukemia. That brings with it a bunch of difficult questions about like: what defines us as ‘alive?’ What is the role of hope in our lives? Where’s the dividing line between optimism in the face of adversity and acceptance of the inevitable? When, if ever, is it okay to stop fighting?
Then when you add vampires to the mix, you have cosmic irony. For them, the pathway to immortality is through death. But their immortality requires the death of others.
Chemotherapy itself is bizarre when looked at from a certain distance. Essentially it is controlled poisoning in the hopes that one part of you dies—the cancer cells—before the rest of you does. It’s a crapshoot. And for people who have undergone several series of chemo, it gets harder each time, and there is less of them left to fight with and fight for.
Although I have some humor in the books, it’s an element of the life of Trick, the main character. I didn’t want to make it a comedy because sometimes you can lose the poignancy of satire that way.
AiPT: Vampires in modern times have a reputation of being featured in sappy teen love stories rather than the troubling, insightful type of story you are weaving. How do you hope Bad Blood will change the way people view vampires, at least within the comic book community?
Maberry: The modern perception of the vampire as a tragic, semi-heroic romantic figure is the product of late 19th century novelists and all of 20th and 21st century spin. The vampires people used to actually believe in were completely different. They were monsters. Ugly, predatory, merciless monsters. And they came in a lot of varieties, from creatures that looked more or less human to more alien and hideous forms. They had no noble nature, they didn’t wrestle with existential angst, and they pretty much viewed humanity the way a bunch of tailgaters at a football game view a bucket of hot wings. So, Bad Blood makes vampires new again by showing what they were like before they got their Hollywood makeover.
AiPT: As the series goes on, do you plan to really delve deep into the race of vampires and their presence in the universe you have created, or more of Trick’s story and how he interacts with them?
Maberry: The story of Bad Blood expands out as Trick begins hunting for Lord Sturge and the other vampires. We will learn more about their world, and we’ll learn something about the backstory of these particular vampires. The vampires have been hiding from humanity for a long time, so they’re not at all familiar with the modern world. It’s a tough learning curve for them, and Trick’s toxic blood has them confused. Does it mean that humans aren’t safe anymore? Or is it only some humans? The main story, though, focuses on Trick and a girl he meets who will share the hunt with him.
AiPT: Bad Blood comes off as very personal and close to the heart. Were there any experiences in your life that inspired you to write this story?
Maberry: My best friend died of leukemia when I was fifteen. It was the first time a peer had died. It changed me. He was the popular kid in our crowd all through middle school, but then he was wasted down to a stick figure and finally edited out of our experience. All of that potential, all of the possibilities of who and what he was were simply cancelled out.
We explore some of that in Bad Blood. But we also look at the value of life and immortality. One thing we won’t do in the book is hit anyone over the head with it. A lot of the exploration is built into subtle things. Tyler and I discussed the colors of the art palette, the use of certain tones to suggest elements rather than have to rely on exposition to say what we want to say.
AiPT: So this really is your story as much as Trick’s or Kyle’s. If you had this experience so early in life, and you have realized that vampires have been misused in all types of media for quite some time now, why are you only telling this story now? What makes now the right time in your life, and the right time to release this story to comic book fans?
Maberry: Well, first off…I got into this whole line of work because of vampires. Quick backstory: my grandmother was a big believer in everything. Ghosts, goblins, vampires, you name it. She was also an amateur anthropologist and folklorist. She gave me tons of stuff to read as a kid, mostly nonfiction; and she shared with me a lot of oral histories about monsters.
Now, roll forward to the year 1998. I approached a publisher with an idea for a big book on the myths and legends of vampires and other supernatural predators around the world and throughout history. That book was published in 2000 as The Vampire Slayer’s Field Guide to the Undead, under a pen name of Shane MacDougall. The first and only time I’ve ever used a pen name.
The book was very popular and it brought me into the horror community as a speaker on vampire folklore at conferences and horror cons. So, in 2004 I decided to start writing my first novel; everything I’d written up to that point had been nonfiction magazine articles or books. The novel, Ghost Road Blues, was the first of a trilogy of vampire novels set in rural Pennsylvania. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. A year later I published a new version of the nonfiction book on vampires: Vampire Universe, this time under my own name. Over the next few years I wrote the two sequels to Ghost Road Blues and did several more nonfiction books.
So…I was deeply involved in old school vampires from the beginning of my fiction career. Sure, for a while I kind of became known as the ‘zombie guy’ because of the success of my Rot & Ruin series, the novels Patient Zero and Dead of Night, and the movie options for a couple of zombie books. But I’ve always wanted to continue to explore the world of scary vampires. They were my first fascination, and they fascinate me still.
From a creative perspective—both as a novelist and comic book writer—there is so muchto say about them. There are hundreds of different vampire species in world culture. They’re all different and they are all scary. Bad Blood gives me a chance to take those ancient evils and explore them in a contemporary context.
AiPT: When people respond to Bad Blood are they saying things that you guessed they might have said, or has the critical reception been totally unexpected?
Maberry: I’ve been very pleased with the response. I expected a bit of push-back because it’s a vampire story, but we seem to have moved past that because anyone who reads it sees that it’s not a vampire retread. I was delighted with how many places—stores and bloggers—chose it as they ‘pick of the week.’ That caught me off guard and really kicked the new year off right.
AiPT: To you, what does Trick represent as a character? And how did you decide that he was the perfect character to play the role you needed to tell the story?
Maberry: Trick is the farthest thing from a superhero you can imagine. Weak, sickly, dying, and depressed. He has no future. I wanted to put him into conflict with creatures who are powerful, immortal, and predatory. That should have resulted in an easy win for the bad guys and quick trip to the boneyard for Trick, but that’s the thing about human beings—they’re capable of so much more than even they give themselves credit for. Also, Bad Blood puts Trick in a weird place in terms of goals. Even if he wins this fight…he’s still dying. So, we get to explore the dynamics of what makes him a ‘hero.’
AiPT: What should we be expecting down the road in terms of Trick’s response to the situation and his behavior throughout his hunt?
Maberry: We’ll encounter more of the vampire subculture and explore why some people would love to meet a vampire. We also touch on addiction and trust issues. And, of course, there’s the problem of learning how to become vampire hunters. They’ll get some advice from an odd source.
AiPT: Will Trick be reckless as he hunts down vampires, because he knows he’s going to die and has nothing to lose?
Maberry: There’s no way Trick could be anything but reckless. He doesn’t value his own safety and he doesn’t know how to do what he’s doing. Mistakes will happen. And he’ll have to put his trust in the people he meets along the way. We’ll see how well that works out for him.
AiPT: Will he be angry because he has this vendetta against the creatures as a race? How will he go about his quest?
Maberry: Anger is difficult to sustain. Trick wants to stop the vampires, but this isn’t really a vengeance story. Not in a standard comic book way. This is about finding meaning in your life, and about sacrifice. And that will carry us all the way through some very tough decisions Trick has to make. When we get to the end of issue #5, Trick will have a different perspective of living and dying.
AiPT: How does writing so much nonfiction about vampires mold the characters in Bad Blood? Are there certain behavioral patterns the vampires display in Bad Blood that you have researched before? Or is it mostly just the looks that are rooted in fact?
Maberry: Having written several thousand pages of nonfiction on folkloric vampires, I have a solid perspective on what makes the mythology tick. Vampires, as a phenomenon, represent that thing which takes something valuable from us by force. They are analogous to theft, rape, the ravages of disease, and other violations. In Bad Blood I take that phenomenon and build it into Trick’s developing awareness of what he’s facing. And into how the vampires mythologize their own nature.
AiPT: Thanks again for answering all of our questions!
Maberry: Groovy. Happy to help. And they were darn good questions. Made me dig a little.