Priest On Deconstructing Vampirella – 'The Idea of Empowering Women has Gotten Lost in the Titillation'
Priest is the co-creator of Quantum & Woody, writer of legendary runs on Black Panther as well as Deadpool, Batman, Spider-Man Vs Wolverine and Catalyst Prime. He is the new writer of Vampirella for Dynamite for her 50th anniversary and recently wrote the Free Comic Book Day preview of the title. In an open letter to comic book retailers, he has talked about his decision to write the character and where he intends to take her, in a storyline tutled 'Seduction Of The Innocent', playing up on the paper presented by Dr Wertham about the evils of comic books in the fifties that helped kill EC Comics and oher horror titles…
From the mouth of Priest:
My take on Vampirella is less a continuation of the franchise as a deconstruction of it. Vampirella's original concept, a satirical Barbarella With Fangs, has sailed along for decades as an often lightweight and frothy cheesecake series with an overemphasis on the occult as opposed to the series' schlock science fiction roots.
Like Barbarella, Vampi also began as a kind of exclamation point to the women's liberation movement, her sling bikini making a statement about the role and power of femininity. I've felt that, over time, the idea of empowering women has gotten lost in the titillation factor of Vampirella's increasingly diminishing "costume," to the point where the provocative graphics overpowered whatever message her series was intended to carry.
I don't know if what we're doing will correct any of that but my intention, as self-aggrandizing as it may sound, is to write a series that aims to celebrate women rather than exploit them. This doesn't mean Vampi will be wearing a poncho and hip boots. Quite the opposite, my intent is to raise the question of what qualifies as acceptable femininity in the #MeToo era and who gets to decide.
If Vampirella comes from a planet where people are simply better adjusted than we are and thus women wear few if any clothes at all, then her costume is not, to her mind, sexist at all. If anything, much like Deanna Troi from "Star Trek: The Next Generation", Vampirella wonders why humans insist on suffocating themselves in layers of fabric and why we have so little self-control over our sexual urges. Both of which are actually reasonable questions.
Rather than maintaining a cast of identical white female body types, we will see a varied cast of characters, many of them female, in a variety of ages groups and body shapes. It is my position that all women are beautiful, that a woman's beauty is inherent in their design, regardless of age or race or body shape.
What we will see in "Seduction of The Innocent" is a kind of mashup between Lena Dunham's amazing hit HBO series "Girls" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula." Or, maybe Brian Michael Bendis's "Jessica Jones" with fangs. We've wrung most of the whimsy and satire out of the premise in order to take a very hard and unblinking Netflix-ish look. Who this person might literally be as an extraterrestrial who is not, technically speaking, a vampire but whose culture and biology echoes our Earthly vampire superstition.
Without specifically retconning anything, we have gently re-shaped the premise, scaling it back from what I consider an off-model bloat of Vampi battling hordes if not armies of demons and dealing with Satan himself and angry demon gods. This all seems off-model to Vampirella's smaller and more whimsical origins. Ours is a more personal story of a true innocent (which I believe Vampirella is at core) lost in a cynical world full of intransigent, zero-sum Twitter-happy impulsive and deeply superstitious political and religious tribalists, otherwise known as the world we all actually live in.
I would imagine such a woman, dressed in so revealing a fashion and thrust into the public eye, would be the source of heated debate and the target of angry constituencies of every imaginable persuasion. Now, how does such a person respond? Does Vampirella lash out, go on offense, does she become embittered, does she go into hiding? Does she get a new outfit just to shut people up about how "sexist" her costume is? Who gets to decide that?
"Seduction Of The Innocent" is meant to engage a contemporary generation of readers on issues elicited from the age-old premise of the strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. It's an old story generating newer and tougher questions not only about who Vampirella is but who we all are and how we will ever manage to learn to tolerate one another.
I hope readers will find the series thoughtful, dramatic, poignant, engaging, and at times (hopefully) hilarious. I'd prefer to avoid the cliché of saying this is a new take on the premise with its own unique voice, but, well, it is. I believe readers will either love it or hate it, some will prejudge it without ever reading it simply because of how she's dressed–which really is the singular point of controversy. Everybody loves vampires, so the fact she rips out peoples' throats and drinks their blood is of far less concern these days than the way she is dressed while she does it.
Changing her clothes, however, is not an answer. You either want to publish Vampirella or you don't. This is who Vampirella is, so the challenge becomes how to develop this as a viable premise amid the heightened sensitivity and (appropriately) higher accountability and responsibility of today's society.
I can't promise everybody that "Seduction Of The Innocent" will reach that bar, but Dynamite Publisher Nick Barrucci's challenge to me to try was irresistible. I'm having a blast writing this thing and artist Ergün Gündüz is an absolute gift to me. His intuition, sensitivity, and stellar sequential art chops are simply amazing; a refreshing break from the Superhero House Style. His amazing color rendering takes the work to an even higher level, making me look and sound smarter than I actually am.
(W) Christopher Preist (A) Ergun Gunduz (CA) Frank Cho
In July 1969, the world was first introduced to Vampirella. 50 years later, she doesn't look a day older!!!! Now, to celebrate her gold anniversary, Dynamite is launching a brand-new, ongoing series featuring the talents of Christopher Priest (Black Panther, Deathstroke, Quantum & Woody, Justice League) and European star/American star-in-the-making, Ergün Gündüz (Tales of the Great War, Taxi Tales)! You'll experience the first, mysterious taste of things to come in Vampirella Free Comic Book Day #0, and the story continues here!!!In Shops: Jul 17, 2019
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