Back to FCBD with Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9

Legendary comic book writer and editor Christopher Priest has a Writer's Commentary's for Vampirella #9 from Dynamite. It turned out to be one of the last books to be published by Dynamite before the shutdown. He writes for Bleeding Cool;

I actually don't remember why I chose (bizarrely) to preview our new VAMPIRELLA series, for Free Comic Book Day 2019, with a glimpse of events taking place somewhere around Vampirella issue #8, but I did. Vampirella #0, our FCBD preview, left a lot of people scratching their heads as it introduced a couple of new characters and seemed to walk the reader into the middle of a movie well in progress.

I suppose I thought it was a good idea at the time. I'm sure I wanted to preview a taste of the irreverent and distinctly different tone we had in mind for the series. What I didn't realize was our Year One story would grow to several more issues so the issue #0 story, intended to take place around issue #8, actually takes place somewhere in the neighborhood of #14 — a long wait for explanations of what the heck was going on in #0.

Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.Art from Dynamite.

"Flight Plan," the three-part climax of year one of this volume of VAMPIRELLA, tells the story of the central event of our series – the tragic crash of Affirm Airways Flight 1969. Our series opened with this crash, an event which has been told piecemeal by Vampirella to her therapist over the course of our first eight issues. The tone of the series shifts markedly toward the dramatic for these issues as we finally come full circle to where we confused everyone with our FCBD preview.

Page 1
With issue #9, we are no longer in flashback but are now moving in real time, meeting Dr. Emmanuel Chary the morning of the day he meets Ella Normandy, the sole survivor of Affirm Air 1969. It is the first time we see Doc Chary (think "Daktari") outside of his office.

Writing Chary is always a challenge. Usually, it's important for him to be funny. Chary's penchant for injecting race and class into his analysis underscores the metaphors employed by most vampire lore, the conflict between the living and the undead. VAMPIRELLA has not historically been very ethnically diverse, which makes Chary's at times outrageous commentary even sharper.

It is also important to me to portray Chary as a competent, knowledgeable professional and not just a caricature. Yes, he's crotchety and outrageous, but he actually knows his stuff. The character also represents the author's general skepticism and frustration with tribal polemics supplanting empirical evidence or, frankly, common sense. Chary is everybody's grampa, everybody's landlord. Yes, it's fun to laugh at him, but we also take him seriously.

Ergün Gündüz, who has heretofore illustrated Chary with enormous humor, now depicts the psychotherapist with great sensitivity and endows the character with enormous poignancy and gravity as Chary's daily ritual begins with his morning chat with his dead wife. I am always floored by the depth of character this artist brings to my work, like a running back with a firm grip on the ball hauling ass for the end zone. Ergün routinely adds levels of depth to my scenes that I did not and in some cases could not imagine, seeing things I failed to see and writing his own harmonies to the melody. Yes, I scribbled some words on a sheet of paper, but this is Mr. Gündüz breathing life and depth into a comedic sidekick, turning the character ninety degrees to reveal so much more depth than we suspected was there.

Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.Art from Dynamite.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.Art from Dynamite.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.Art from Dynamite.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.Art from Dynamite.

Pages 2-5
So, now we're back to Stan the Rat's narration from our #0 issue, reintroducing the group home Katie, our Vampirella-obsessed preteen, is living at. Those who read issue #0 should be exhaling a bit, seeing light at the end of the narrative tunnel, while those of you who missed issue #0 are just going, "Who's this kid?" The answer is both simple and complex at the same time.

Katie represents my knee-jerk hesitancy to write this book. I am a great critic of how mass media exploits kids, bombarding children and teens with all of this noise. You gotta have this toy. You gotta wear these shoes. These clothes. Beg mommy for money to go see the Penguin Movie.

Most insidious is the use of sexual themes to manipulate a child's self-image and the routine body shaming – either deliberate or indirect – that results. Katie is not a fashion model, is not a sex kitten, is not a Tik-Tok girl. She is a normal 13-year-old lost in the chaos of puberty and abandoned at a terrible group home run by ass-hats.

But when she looks in the mirror (issue #0) she sees perfection, strength, and power in a reflection of Vampirella. This was inspired by an old NAACP print ad which featured a young African American boy posing in front of a mirror with a towel tied around his neck and seeing a white superhero in his reflection.

The real damage our idealized portrayals of muscled heroes in tights or scantily-clad heroines with perfect skin and 5% body fat is the toll it takes on the self-esteem of the Katies of the world. While not a specific condition of my taking on VAMPIRELLA, I knew Katie would be part of my narrative theme: little girls idolizing unrealistic and unsustainable airbrushed perfection.

(Minor Spoiler) Katie is about to become starstruck (which you already know if you've read issue #0), and become drawn into Vampirella's already complex world.

Pages 6-7
I love the Blood Red Queen of Hearts. I've met this woman, likely dated her a bunch of times: strong willed, self-possessed, perfectly comfortable in her own body – a body that does not evoke a sense of anorexia, silicone or Botox. This was another thing I wanted to bring to VAMPIRELLA: sexiness is not confined to popular stereotypes. I believe, fervently, all women are sexy. Young, old, tall, short, thin, curvaceous — all women are beautiful, all women are works of art. So let's have more diversity within our definition of beauty.

In previous continuity, the Blood Queen was blinded by the Mad God Chaos but to my knowledge the character has not been depicted as blind. Here we have the BRQ navigating without sight and, ultimately, using her hands to sense the pixel movement on her monitor screen.

The rest of our rogues gallery boards on page seven with Nyx, in human form, hitching a ride disguised as a pilot, and the yet-to-be-seen Baron emerging from a cargo crate.

Pages 8-9
And here we are, back to issue #0, with Vampi and Benny The Witch returning from their Tortola vacation. Vampi is looking forward to returning to her life, to the kids at her school. She's likely a bit anxious about having to deal with Victory – who had previously schemed to go on this trip with Benny by herself but ended up being arrested in issue #6.

I don't know if it's possible for fans who have been reading the series so far to not read between these lines, the sad irony underlying this otherwise frothy banter. If I've done my job right, and I pray I have, we should all be just a little bit in love with Benny The Witch, an enigmatic "Whozat?!" character in issue #0 now a tentpole personality of Vampirella's cast. By the time I wrote these pages, I was looking for a way out. Benny has been a delightful character to write for and there's miles of unexplored road with him. I was actually kind of hitting myself for having boxed the character into so limited a role.

Once again, I'm just awed by Ergün's ability to convey nuance through acting. He floods Vampi with life and we can read her anxiety and the comic relief Benny brings.

Page 10-13
Of course, somebody has to offer a warning of things to come. Victory epitomizes the look-before-you-leap wisdom of going slow when dating. Vampi dove into this relationship head first in issue #2, but, as Doc Chary might tell you, you really do have to learn to spot "The Crazy" when it is coming for you.

Having developed a crush on Benny as well as jealous rage over Vampirella's affair with Mother Mary, leader of The Six Marys (both issue #4), Victory's intent is to pick up her things from Vampi's place, break things off, and then make her play for The Witch. So, of course, in sitcom trope fashion, we have the wheels come off the wagon with an encounter with Mother Mary which snowballs into bloodshed and evolves the Victory character to her next operational level within this series (and ultimately into our spin-off series sacredsix).

I really dig how much Victory reminds me of the late singer Prince back in his "Dirty Mind" days, wherein the singer would wear a trench coat over a pair of bikini briefs.

Pages 14-15
More wheels come off of more wagons. I told Ergün he could have Baron Von Kreist salute any caged animal he'd like to draw. Ergün selected an aardvark. An… aardvark?! Hilarious. Last thing I'd have ever guessed.

Page 16
Absolutely gorgeous. Katie, who may ultimately become Robin to Vampirella's Batman, enters Vampi's series with the plane crash. Here Ergün takes some small artistic license by playing with perspective a bit. The plane's crash path would logically extend for a few miles, and Katie would have to pedal through flaming debris to arrive there by page 20.

Also, the fuselage cracks in half (issue #1), a throwback to a Warren-era vintage Vampirella story, so we probably would not have seen the tail section in this shot.

But man, gasp, does this page work. The traumatic event that ends one character's arc and begins another's. Brought vividly and stunningly to life by Mr. Gündüz.

Pages 17-18
In parallel to Katie experiencing her trauma, Victory has dealt with her own. As for how she survived her encounter with the bloodthirsty nuns, that'll have to wait for next issue. But Victory, already vampire-obsessed, has had her blood baptism of sorts, which elevates everything to the next level. Long-term Vampirella fans should recognize the black costume; I mean, we're being fairly blatant about where we're heading here.

Nevertheless, gotta get her cleaned up in time to meet Vampi and Benny at LaGuardia (issue #1).

Page 19
And here it is: the beginning of Vampirella's first session with Doc Chary (issue #1) as they are introduced for the first time. Ergün's simple yet elegant line work here reminds me of animation cells. I would so love to see this stuff executed as anime or high def animation. Ergün adds the period to our sentence with this final shot of Vampirella answering Chary's question.

Page 20
All right, I'll admit: I ran out of room. We obviously had to cut someplace, so here we are, back at issue #1, with more to come!

Thanks for reading!

Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.
Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.Art from Dynamite.
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Back to FCBD with Christopher Priest's Writer's Commentary for Vampirella #9.Art from Dynamite.

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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