Darkly Drawn: The PopMatters Exclusive with "I, Vampire's" Josh Fialkov
Screenwriter and comics creator Joshua Hale Fialkov pens one of the most perfect horror-romances in I, Vampire. The horror, and the romance, shouldn't be mutually exclusive story elements, he reminds us in the first part of this exclusive interview.
It's a vampire love story with teeth. As part of the New 52, screenwriter Joshua Hale Fialkov helms the relaunch of the classic DC vampire story, I, Vampire. It's the story of Andrew and Mary. But this time it's the story of how Andrew and Mary become trapped in their roles on opposite sides of the vampire struggle for freedom. And it's a vampire love story like you've never read before. A true vampire romance, I, Vampire is not about the seduction and the glamour but about that inner darkness forcing the hand of two people who clearly love each other. A romance that darkens the spirits of those who love. It's a story about vampires that do more than sparkle in the sun. I, Vampire is the place you go to next. And one single morning, under the California sun, Fialkov took the time to map out some future I, Vampire directions in a PopMatters exclusive.
Act One: Cometh the (Hit)Moment, Cometh the Hitman
Everything dies baby, that's a fact. And maybe everything that dies someday comes back. Put your make-up on, do your hair up pretty. And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.
Everything's different now, Wired Editor Chris Anderson assures us. The collapse of The Music Biz in the opening years of this new millennium was so much more than a one-hit-wonder. It was a qualitative change in the way in which produce and distribute media. It's not really Napster that was to blame for sinking the Top 40, it was the internet itself. 2001 wasn't just the end of The Biz, it was the end of the Hit economy. Hits worked so well for our grandparents. It was easy to draw near the TV set at the appointed hour and watch Happy Days or M*A*S*H or Family Ties or Charlie's Angels. But in the warm afterglow of the year 2000, CSI just didn't enjoy the same audience as top shows that came before it. Clearly it's not Napster to blame for that backslide.
Rather, Anderson reminds us, it is culture of infinite choice of which the Web is the prime purveyor. Why watch mass market, mass-produced pablum when something particular to your tastes could easily be found? Something as particular as deep-house trip-hop performed exclusively by former stage magicians. With the infinite shelf-space the internet represents, there're no artificial constraints to preference one sub-genre over another. The hit economy is dead, Anderson reminds us in the Long Tail, and so is the non-targeted mass market.
The future is coming on. Strange then, that this future seems to have been coming on since the early 80s, since the long, cold dark of the early days of Reaganomics and Trickle Down. The crushing loss of material wealth is something all too palpable in Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City", the second track off his album Nebraska.
Small and compact and portable at the level of its meaning, "Atlantic City" is that kind of track you can hold in your hand. It's solid, its edges are clearly defined, it can be handed over to someone in one or two key phrases. This is the story of a man about to take an impossible risk, just to provide for his young family. "I met a man and I'm gonna do a favor for him", The Boss croons on the track. No clue what that favor is, but you can be sure it's dirty work.
But what's really engaging about "Atlantic City" (in fact about all of Nebraska, if your tastes run to arguably the darkest of Springsteen's dark albums), especially listened to in the wake of rereading Anderson's the Long Tail, is what an accurate predictor it is of sheer catalepsy of consumerism. The breakdown Anderson notes as happening around the year 2000, is already there, fully formed in 1982. It's just a question of geography. Almost as if the Depression never ended, Springsteen's character breaks free from material dearth by just one geographic relocation. "Things will be better in Chicago", Tom Waits reminds us on Bad As Me, echoing the sentiment.
The real art is how Josh Fialkov leverages the story of a poisoned love affair to tell the story of material wealth and the culture of choice. It starts with love.
"I think every story that's worth its weight is about love", Josh opens his first response with. A beautiful sentiment, but something realized uniquely in the pages of Josh's I, Vampire. "If you go and look at something like Die Hard even", he continues, "which you would not think of as a love story. But what's Die Hard really about? It's about a guy who flies to Los Angeles to try and patch things up with his wife. His wife gets taken by terrorists and then he has to fight to save her, to prove how much he loves her. It's about the lengths to which people will go. So, I mean, any story that's truly emotionally involving for the reader is about love. So I took that approach".
But there's a corollary, isn't there? Play out the love angle and that inner darkness that drives a vampire is watered down, often to the point where the vampires themselves become defanged, toothless. Josh continues, "But the unfortunate thing is, with a lot of vampire stories is that that part's been lost or has kind of taken over in lieu of horror. So the idea for me was, 'Let's do a book that's hard horror'. Which wasn't too hard. That's what I'm known for, I'm known for doing upsetting grotesqueries. Y'know? But at the same time, a story that has this genuine heart".
So is there any connection between Josh on I, Vampire and the ultimate story of poisoned love, Shakespeare's Hamlet? There's no doubt Hamlet falls in love with Ophelia. But equally no doubt that Hamlet drives her to madness, in his actions if not by his intentions. Then Hamlet exploits this madness in a cat-and-mouse with his uncle Claudius, recently the new King of Denmark. The thematic connections between Hamlet and I, Vampire seem clear to me, so I ask Josh the question.
"The thing about the idea of Hamlet is that Hamlet is not… like he's mopey, but he's very active. For being a sad sack character, he's very active in trying to fix things. And I think that's what gets lost a lot in these romances, especially vampire romance stuff. It's the idea that if you look at your popular vampire romances today, it's almost as if the romance is secondary. It's sort of two separate stories. And it's almost as if there is not horror there sometimes. But if you think about it, what worse horror is there, than having the person you love turn into a monster. And not losing the love.
"And that to me is the drive of I, Vampire. It's the idea that he loves her beyond words. And he doesn't love old her, her before the transformation. He loves her as a vampire. And that's the real point. If Andrew were in love with this 500 year old version of Mary that no longer existed, he would have just cut off her head a long time ago. But the fact is, he still feels the love and he still has this desire for her. And his hope, is not even to 'cure' her, it's to 'fix' her.
"Once again, I think a lot of us, when you're in a bad relationship, that's what we do. The hope is, 'I'll just stick around and eventually it'll work out, eventually it'll change, and everyone'll be happy'. The reality is that never works".
I need a breather after that. For a writer who in his own words built his fame on "doing upsetting grotesqueries", there is an amazing depth to the insight that Josh Fialkov brings. As a thinker, Josh simply defeats traditionally imposed genre expectations. And his thinking is clear to seen in the pages of I, Vampire. This is that complex moment when love itself becomes a horror story, when romances darkens naturally, and simultaneously, that moment when horror itself offers an engaging romance.
It's that simultaneity that is at the true heart of I, Vampire. And that simultaneity that elevates I, Vampire to the status of true art.
I know where the story ends. It ends with a rejuvenation of the vampire romance genre by tapping a post-hit economy model. I know it ends with Mary, the Queen of Blood, spearheading a terrorist attack on the humans she deems nothing better than food. It ends with a culture of choice. But how does it get there?
I have more questions. And after a moment to allow Josh's insights to sink in, I'm ready to ask them again.