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[Retrospective]Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat

Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
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Continuing this month's theme of monster comics, today we have...vampires. More specifically, the 1990/1991 graphic novel adaptation of The Vampire Lestat (1985) from Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles series. This was done as a 12-issue maxiseries by people you probably haven't heard of, by a company (Innovation) which no longer exists, and if anything represents a bit of a throwback to the days of the Classics Illustrated line, being a full-on abridgment rather than a prequel, sequel, interquel, side-story, or original work, and later released as a fat graphic novel/trade paperback.

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It was goth bait.

That might sound a little simplistic, but I don't think it should be underestimated how much Anne Rice re-imagined vampires to the syntax of the times - in this case, the 1980s - much as Bram Stoker did back in 1897. Gone were the opera-capes and subtle allusions to syphilis, yet Rice's vampires retained the weird sensuality of the vampire, the fascination that teenagers have with living forever, and she hit an aesthetic which, by luck or something else, more-or-less dovetailed with productions like The Hunger (1983), The Lost Boys (1987), and Near Dark (1987); and essentially directly inspired the "Gothic punk" sensibilities of Vampire: the Masquerade (1991).

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Much later, there would be a manga adaptation. Let's not go there quite yet.

I'm going to talk a little more about Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat, but to try and explain the significance of it in comics terms, you have to understand that for the most part, comics are a very regressive medium when it comes to monsters - which is to say, that like with superheroes a lot of vampire characters trend back toward a certain average. When The Vampire Lestat came out, for example, the most prominent vampire in comics was still the 70s-era Dracula in Marvel, opera cape and all.

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To be sure, there were others...and Dracula had a varied side-cast, including Blade the Vampire Hunter, who would later go on to have three movies and a terrible tv show under his belt. And who, it must be admitted, was shortly updated to a more 90s style in Marvel's Nightstalkers.

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But Dracula-in-an-opera cape was a regression back to the popular image of the vampire, a reaction against some of the excess of the 70s, which gave us characters like Vampirella:

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It feels like I'm doing a disservice here, because I'm not mentioning any of the more innovative vampire comics from the 80s and early 90s, but trawling through the collection all I can really find is stuff like Blood of Dracula as far as ongoing series go, which is both long-forgotten today and not terribly influential when it was new.

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The one thing I will say about Blood of Dracula is that, like The Vampire Lestat, it sort of addressed what you might call the realities of vampirism - not just the moping ennui of centuries of unlife and endless cravings for blood, but the practicalities of experiencing different times, places, peoples; to see with their own eyes the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki...and that's the old vampires. Comparatively younger vampires worry about shit more like an X-rated episode of Friends with bloodsucking and dark sunglasses, like in the DC miniseries Vamps:

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Or a night in the life of Preacher supporting character Cassidy:

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Cassidy is actually a pretty good example of the impact of The Vampire Lestat - not necessarily the graphic novel, but Anne Rice's media presence full stop. Because of course during his run in Preacher he encounters a group of goths surrounding a vampire that basically based his ideas of unlife off of Rice's books.

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It's a beautiful take-down of the pretentiousness of Rice's "beautiful, glamorous, seductive" vampires without getting into any of the body-horror vampire monsters that came a bit later. And it wouldn't have been possible (or necessary) without the widespread appeal of Rice's Lestat (yes, yes, Interview with the Vampire came first, but you know that Tom Cruise stole that movie, don't even front).

Yet at the same time, you probably wouldn't have a down-to-earth alcoholic vampire like Cassidy without Anne Rice & co. Cassidy might take his lead more from Near Dark, but he's still very a creature with the appetites of life. Predator, yes; beautiful ethereal creature of darkness, no. Which brings us, sadly, to the next step on the vampire trail a couple decades later...

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Eric Powell, have I told you lately that I love you?

I'm not even intending this thread to be a quick and dirty overview of vampires in comics; that would probably take an entire book. But if you look at Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat as a starting point, I think you can maybe appreciate it for both how it was different from the early takes of vampires up through the 70s - as creatures that basically stepped out of Weird Tales and Universal Monster and Hammer Horror films - to the 90s, where some of them became supervillains and some of them became much more realistic. And we're still dealing with the supervillain/realistic split today, in a lot of ways. Most vampires in superhero comics essentially act like supervillains (or heroes, depending; Kurt Busiek knows how to make a vampire hero), the rest tend to be regular-people-with-vampirism to various degrees, in which category I cram all the Twlight stuff, because even with all the sparkling it's basically just a heterosexual tweak on Anne Rice's vampire couplings.

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Twilight actually makes a good point of comparison for The Vampire Lestat, and not just for the usual plot-bashing. The thing about Anne Rice is that her vampires are still definitively operating in the horror tradition. They are, or can be, monsters. They're not all pretty to look at. Terrible things can happen to them. Being immortal doesn't mean being unchanging.

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And there's a deeper story and background involved. Now, you might well be critical of the background and story - quite frankly, Queen of the Damned was Anne Rice just letting herself go, and it's the blatant origin of "vampires with superpowers" that Stephanie Myers took to excess - but hey, at least Rice gave some support and justification for it. Plotwise, you will never hate yourself for reading The Vampire Lestat, no matter how silly it gets at times. And the art is lovely in that kind of 90s half-drawn, half-painted way.

I want to draw a comparison here with The Crow, which pretty much directly preceded Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat. The aesthetic is different - you can already see the split between the "pretty vampire" and "Gothic punk" styles - but a lot of the underlying philosophy, the sort of teenage/early twenties morbid thinking about death, love, and eternity are very much in tune with each other. That is, for all that The Vampire Lestat lacks guns, drugs, and katanas, they're both quintessentially romantic narratives. Eric Draven and Lestat de Lioncourt do not spend their unlives making long-term investments and planning to take over hospitals so they can get regular access to human blood or whatever without alerting the authorities - hell, police are never more than a second- or third-thought to either of these guys, prisons a joke - and that's the power trip part of the fantasy. But what drives these characters are their relationships with others - even if those others are already dead.

And these guys are monsters. Not because they prey on human beings - though they do - but because they're still recognizable as human, but stripped of a lot of the social trappings and human frailties that restrict us (which is, more or less coincidentally, why a lot of postmodern superheroes are also often considered posthuman monsters). It's hard for a reader above the age of twelve to really feel a sense of terror that "Oh no, somebody might swoop me up out of the dark and eat me." Childhood fears become replaced with adult fears - and Stephanie Myers isn't going to write "Date-raped by My Vampire Best Friend" anytime soon. Adult fears include things like losing your family members to old age - especially your parents. Of being alone in a strange city, making ends meet. And, as you get older, of being alone - the 30-year-old that watches all your friends get married as you drift through lonely weekends or a string of bad relationships. Now imagine that being the case for eternity, and you start to see the adult fear-version of being a vampire. Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat doesn't quiet get there, but it's a step, a transitory phase for teenagers that are old enough to realize Dracula Isn't That Scary but not yet old enough for You're Going To Die Alone to really sink in. I mean hell, when you were thirteen a summer without your schoolmates seemed like forever. And that's basically the spot that I think Anne Rice hit, though she maybe wasn't aiming that low.

Okay, so I think I wandered a bit far there, but brought it back at the end.

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    vagrant_windsvagrant_winds Overworked Mysterious Eldritch Horror Hunter XX Registered User regular
    My random comment, but The Unwritten has my favorite modern comics vampires.

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    manjimanji Registered User regular
    i had the adaptation of brian lumleys necroscope books. trashy as those books are i did enjoy the whole UK vs russia paranormal spy division thing they have going on. also there are much grungier vampires. more a body-horror kind of a deal where they are created by parasitic flatworms warping their hosts...

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    Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    My random comment, but The Unwritten has my favorite modern comics vampires.
    I love me some Mike Carey, but man, I really could not make it through The Unwritten. I kept wanting everyone in it to die in a fire, from the Harry Potter expy to his dad to his best friend to his broken not-quite-girlfriend to all the bad guys to the crossover characters from Fables.

    The Unpublishable - Original fiction blog, updates Fridays
    Sex & the Cthulhu Mythos
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    NoneoftheaboveNoneoftheabove Just a conforming non-conformist. Twilight ZoneRegistered User regular
    I think where the vampire genre really gets going is when it stays within the Anne Rice boundary of the depressed immortal and the narratives set in the present, while reflecting on the long passed. And I agree with keeping the powers these creatures possess to a subdued minimum. Distill all that into a really great gothic horror tale that is not strictly contemporary and I'm sold on that kind of graphic novel!

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