Christopher Priest has a writer's commentary on Vampirella #7, on sale now from Dynamite. He writes,
When I was around 18 years old, my mentor, Larry Hama, had two Marvel staffers hold me down while he force-fed me sushi. As a black kid growing up in New York City, raw fish wasn't ever on my menu, but Larry always knew better than I. Today, I routinely drive an hour and a half up winding mountain roads to scarf sushi with Underworld creator Kevin Grevioux, who lives somewhere near a mysterious Area 51-style air base in the California desert.
Ginger is used as a sushi palette cleanser; a sharply acidic "bite" that prepares you for the next variety of fish. For our VAMPIRELLA series, we realized our wonderful artist, Ergün Gündüz, would need to take a break somewhere around issue #6. Rather than slot in a guest artist to tackle a chapter of our "Seduction Of The Innocent" storyline, we decided to take a brief break from the main story and give our narrative device– Vampi relating the story in past tense to her therapist– a rest.
So we jettisoned the good Dr. Emmanuel Chary and Vampi's narration along with him in favor of following our favorite space vampire on a Caribbean vacation. Accompanying her for this trip is guest artist Giovanni Timpano (BATMAN/THE SHADOW) and, delightfully, Benny The Witch.
While I try never to ask an artist to draw something I cannot fully describe or provide reference for, every now and then the whims of imagination produce something indescribable: a structure formed from organic materials (mostly wood branches) that forms the shape of a demon head with an open maw. Oh, and the woods of the British Virgin Islands are FULL of bats. Welcome to VAMPIRELLA, Giovanni!
PAGES TWO AND THREE
An ongoing theme for my VAMPIRELLA run has been the conflation of the unknown with magic or the occult. I tend to lean on Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law which suggests that, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Of course, his Fourth Law kind of undermines that by stating, For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.
Are these creatures, speaking on these pages, voices from the grave? From Hell? Too often in comics, that answer has been "yes," which bothers me a bit. I am not anti-Hell or even anti-The Devil, I am merely of the opinion that Forrest J. Ackerman created a science fiction horror satire, and never really intended the concept to drift too far in either direction.
In the end, life and death are full of mysteries. How we interpret what we see and what we hear relies a lot on what we believe and why we believe it. But most any rational examination of history reveals countless examples of how the unexplained, first thought to be mystical or even divine, turned out to be, y'know, a solar eclipse or a whale farting. My leaning toward Ackerman Science should not dismiss my belief in Heaven or Hell, but rather place my specific interpretation of this franchise firmly within the realm of possibility.
So here we have The Saint, who appears to be an angel or demon. He is neither. He is bacon.
PAGES FOUR THROUGH SEVEN
This is a wonderful example of dual-track writing. I am exploring the feminist argument against the objectification of women, of "it", while Giovanni is writing an entirely different scene in the background. What you see here is entirely his invention–the business of the tourists and playing compositional Whac-A-Mole with their genitalia.
Of course, Benny The Witch is just joking here. His belief system respects the uniqueness of all creation. He'd never reduce his new friend Vampi to merely "it." I think she knows this and thus teases him with the beguiling possibility of the ravages and depth of interspecies sex.
I'm cheating quite a bit here: public nudity is against the law in the British Virgin Islands, something I hadn't realized until the script was already up on its feet. But the gaffe worked for me as the code violation ended up solving some problems later on in the story.
I think tribalism would be a perfect platform for humor if we actually had much of a sense of humor. Tolerance is a casualty of the hardening of America's social arteries caused mainly by ingesting way too much cable news. Benny The Witch's utter lack of guile, in the face of mob rule, is part of the character's charm. His respect for life and culture, even in the face of his own impending harm, is foundational to his personal belief system. Benny does not impose Benny on anyone the way so many of us impose our views and sense of self on others.
I've also been trying to place Vampirella's notoriously minimalist costume within the feminist context in which it originated. Her dress code is part of her belief system, the belief system of an extraterrestrial who doesn't have the hang-ups we humans do. I see Vampirella as a woman with few personal conflicts and little self-doubt. She is not Peter Parker, a bit neurotic and obsessing, nor is she Diana of Themyscira, on a mission to change our way of thinking. Vampi is just a girl waiting on a bus. A stranger in semi-self-imposed exile who spends way less time angsting over life than we do.
I thought it would be fun to flip the script on her, a character under attack for 50 years for not wearing enough clothing.
Here I had to keep the overarching plotline moving because several things need to happen before Benny and Vampi fly home. I wasn't entirely happy about having to cut back to California with a "meanwhile, back at the ranch…" Ergün interstitial page, but all the ducks needed to be in a row before our main story arc resumes with issue #9.
Victoria is a strange bird. I really love the character because I know this woman so well. I think most every woman I've dated has been Victoria.
I am SO digging Vampi dancing with Benny. I once spent a long evening in an Atlanta dance club with artist Mary Wilshire. She virtually exhausted me but, at age 21 or so, I dared not let her know that. Man up, dude. By the time we limped off of the dance floor, Mary's hair and that incredible dress–a truly incredible black dress I helped her shop for earlier in the day–were soaking wet. I fell in love with that woman, that funny, gorgeous, incredibly talented person who invested a lot of time explaining the world to this kid sitting in Larry Hama's office. God bless you, Mary!
PAGES TEN and ELEVEN
Here is where Tortola's restrictive morality laws helped move the plot along, getting Benny The Witch arrested for, essentially, standing there and breathing. Benny's inscrutable conduct suggests a repression of emotion. I doubt he's repressing anything. The Saint sails on wind currents, Benny sails on the currents of reality, moving along with the ebb and flow of where life takes him. I hope I'm getting some of that philosophy close to right. I don't actually consider myself an authority on much of anything, but I am better versed in Christian theology so I'm kind of reaching for Benny's point of view.
Love how Giovanni handled The Saint's and Vampirella's wings, constantly reconfiguring them like actual wings would based upon the attitude of flight. A lot of comic book artists just draw wings in static and often illogical configurations. Here Gio has composed this gorgeous moonlight shot, shading the enigmatic Saint in romantic tones–which is where we're heading with him.
PAGES TWELVE and THIRTEEN
Here we have a literal reality bite, seeing how Vampirella survives on Earth. I am assuming human blood must be like Dom Pérignon to a vampire, so here we have Vampi choosing Ripple (a cheap wine from a convenience store) instead. This demonstrates a general respect for human beings as actual people, the major theme of this episode and something Lilith (Vampirella's mother) doesn't quite understand.
Giovanni effectively blends sensuality and horror here, giving us a stark reminder of who our protagonist actually is as well as how lethal she can be at any given moment.
Vampirella is accustomed to men trying to manipulate her, trying to harm her, control her, possess her. She drives this scene, moderately curious about The Saint and whatever he wants from her, but only willing to engage him on her own terms.
PAGES FOURTEEN and FIFTEEN
More ducks getting in a row: Nancy A. Collins' enigmatic Drago returns, either working for or against his and Vampirella's mother Lilith as he attempts to thwart whatever plan Vampi's rogues gallery has been cooking up for the past few issues.
Writing long-form plotlines is a lot like telling a joke on Snapchat. You hope you've got your timing right. You hope the punchline lands. You hope somebody laughs. But, truthfully, you won't know until a decade later when some fan stops by your convention booth and says, "Hey, issue #16 was hilarious."
I hear complaints from fans impatient to know all the answers to a given conspiratorial plotline. This may be due to the trend away from complex plots and favoring simpler and more streamlined narratives that hand everything over. I'm still learning this gig, so I'm not sure how you sustain reader interest when you give everything up like that.
Whatever Drago is actually up to is an obvious thread. Threads can be ignored; this business hasn't much to do with Vampi's vacation story. But stuff is obviously going on back home that our heroine will be forced to deal with. I have no idea if that's fun for readers or frustrating for readers, given they have to wait thirty days for the next installment.
PAGES SIXTEEN and SEVENTEEN
Giovanni's comedic instincts elevate a fairly lame script here as Benny The Witch becomes part of an unorthodox Vudu ceremony (these rituals don't include human sacrifice). Our thuggish police officer reappears as an out-of-shape Brother Voodoo along with what I suppose may be racially insensitive depictions of his followers if they weren't also reasonably accurate.
Even in the face of certain death, Benny is fascinated by other cultures and belief systems and fails to impose his own on anyone else. Flavio Dispenza's subtle use of color is especially effective here, creeping us out while heightening the comedic atmosphere at the same time.
PAGES EIGHTEEN through TWENTY
More magical flying against romantic moonlight, something Léger The Saint is oblivious into. Here we postulate the notion of kindred spirits: two aliens marooned on Earth. But Vampi instantly knows that is not true. Having spent his entire life in a bizarre tree house, Léger is all but completely unaware of his own humanity, something Vampirella can literally smell on him.
I'm really happy to see Vampi with a more plausible wingspan, even if the sheer size of those wings makes them, ironically, less plausible that they could or would fully retract into her back. I've been meaning to explain how that is done and, full disclosure, just keep forgetting to mention it.
Bat wings are literally skin stretched over their arms. Vampirella's wings weigh almost nothing and can fold over themselves and retract to a width less than an inch deep. I'd guess a chiropractor would notice the collection of membranes and skin, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it until someone smarter emails me a better explanation.
I haven't dealt much with the idea of Vampirella being homesick. We will be getting into the current sate of Drakulon shortly but, my take on it, Drakulon is in pretty bad shape, suffering drought and all of the economic, political and social challenges that come along with it. Vampirella's loneliness and, therefore, emotional vulnerability is an ongoing theme. But, does she want to go home? Home is what The Saint and his chittering friends are offering her.
Of course, something is not quite right (wouldn't be much of a story if it were), so we'll have to stiff you for a month until we get it all sorted out.
Thanks for joining us!