feature by David Brothers, originally published in IMAGE+ magazine
You may think there's nothing new under the sun when it comes to vampires. From the early stories that sketched out the myth in different forms across cultures to the novel that redefined it for our modern age, vampires have been mixed, remixed, and thoroughly explored. But as time goes on, our culture evolves. In the same way that Bram Stoker's Dracula and Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla dug deep into the mores and fears of their time, writers like Richard Matheson and Anne Rice updated the legend for their own times to great success. Much of the modern power of myth can be found in its infinite malleability—one century's fear is the next century's kink, and the following century's mundanity—so each update of the legend tells us not just about ourselves, but how far we've come as a culture.
Which brings us to Miles Gunter & Kelsey Shannon's DARK FANG, coming this November from Image Comics. DARK FANG is a vampire story for today, a world of social media, live video streaming, and YouTube personalities. Gunter & Shannon shed the fine gothic robes and florid speech you've come to expect in vampire fiction, and even the emphasis on love and lust, for something different. "I love when you can take a mythos and not necessarily do something different but approach it in ways never thought of before," said Shannon. "When done correctly, it should make everyone question how they never saw those possibilities."
Creatively, Shannon & Gunter are working not just to entertain the reader, but each other as well. "Things like [a creatively depicted dress in issue one] are designed for Kelsey because I know it's the kind of visual he will enjoy drawing. Drawing and coloring a comic is an enormous amount of work. My job as a writer is to make that work as enjoyable as possible. It's the alchemy of joy. When you put joy into the making of comics, that joy transmutes to the reader."
Shannon agrees. "We're fairly close in our interests and tend to share ideas quite freely. We've been working as a team for so long now that our instrument is finely tuned, and we just play beautiful music together. The hallmark of any good team is synchronicity, and Miles and I have developed that through years of friendship and collaboration."
Valla, the central figure of the new series, left the world of mankind decades ago and has returned to find that humanity has made significant and baffling strides in her absence. Men walk the street with small devices that display everything from simple text to indecent behavior. Money has turned from paper to something even more ephemeral. Images can be captured in an electric box for later dissemination, and rather than being honest about their feelings, the youth of today use little yellow symbols to suggest an emotion or deceive others. What's a vampire to do?
"Our current social media-obsessed culture is ripe for an ambitious vampire with glam abilities," explained Shannon. "Vampires are very real and use this to their advantage. Maybe they don't suck blood, but they certainly drain you of time and resources." Valla is that vampire, and she quickly discovers a clever way to make money hand over fist. She also discovers something we don't usually associate with social media, but a vital part of what makes it work: discretion.
It's tough to remain undercover when you make a splash, and Valla is forced to learn how to use finesse in concert with her powerful and unnatural abilities. Gunter explained, "Valla is extremely powerful. She can change forms and bend humans to her will. Valla is not jaded about being a vampire. She embraces it and uses her immortality to cultivate her knowledge base and grow as a person. But she has a huge appetite, which is sometimes a weakness."
DARK FANG is no straight-faced remix of vampire lore. Shannon's art is lively and cartoony in all the right ways, with some great acting, killer shots, and clever staging. Gunter's script matches Shannon perfectly, with its loose, casual, and funny approach to this fish-out-of-water tale. Valla is new here, but that doesn't mean she's going to merely assimilate into our modern world. No, she's going to remain herself and maybe even leave the world a little better than she found it...once she gets enough money to turn her wishes into action.
"I'm sure a lot of us can relate to her point of view," said Shannon. "When confronted with tough situations, we tend to hide in our warm and safe bubble, but the world does not respect your solitude. It will encroach on your happiness until you're left with the choice of crawling deeper into that denial or you stand and fight against the madness. Valla chooses to fight."
Even with the social media aspect, and an inspiration that comes from the effects of climate change, DARK FANG is neither a chastisement nor dry editorial. It simply takes a look at the modern day and throws a wrench in the works in the form of Valla, who is no typical vampire herself. She's clever and funny and greets our modern era with grace and aplomb. DARK FANG is no dimly lit, gloomy piece of vampire fiction. It revels in the modern day even while poking gentle fun at it.
"I liked the idea of a vampire trying to save the planet," said Gunter. "It's the closest I've ever come to writing a superhero comic, only instead of leaving the bad guys tied up for the cops, she's feeding them to white lions and drowning them in jello."
DARK FANG #1 debuts 11/15 and is available for preorder now.
David Brothers was born in the South, became an adult in Oakland, and edits Image+ when he's not sitting by the dock of the bay. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.