The Dynamite Report #4: Christopher Priest Revamps Vampirella
Welcome back to The Dynamite Report! We’ve come out of hiding to bring you a lengthy sit-down with Christopher Priest, the writer behind Dynamite’s Vampirella series.
In our inaugural column, Dynamite executive editor Joseph Rybandt told us that when Priest took over the book, he “set us on a course unlike any other Vampirella writer,” and it’s not hard to see why. Within the opening pages of Priest’s first issue, Vampirella is shown standing over the flaming wreckage of a plane crash. It’s a cataclysmic event that leaves death all around her. From there, Priest and artist Ergün Gündüz jump around in time to show us how Vampi got to this point and how she’s coping in the aftermath.
Priest has carried on an unsung tradition of writers who have imbued Vampirella with more depth and characterization. At the outset of his run, Priest began digging to the heart of Vampi’s trauma by exploring her relationships with her mother, Lilith, her ex-girlfriend Victory (who later takes on the mantle of Draculina), and her half-brother Drago, to name a few. Priest even put Vampirella in therapy as a framing device throughout the recently-concluded “Seduction of the Innocent” storyline. The ensuing “sessions” have made the series an excellent jumping-on point for new and old fans alike.
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Earlier this year, Priest also launched the Sacred Six miniseries with artists Jae Lee and Gabriel Ibarra. Dovetailing with her primary series, the spinoff puts Vampirella in the middle of a conflict between a town of peaceful vampires and religious zealots who want to destroy them.
Despite his busy schedule, Priest spoke with us about his Vampirella tenure and teased his plans for the character’s future. He was even nice enough to share some of Gündüz’s artwork for the upcoming “Interstellar” storyline. Check out what he had to say below!
It’s been over a year since you took over Vampirella. Looking back on the last 15 issues, plus the Sacred Six spinoff, would you say you did exactly what you set out to do with her?
Christopher Priest: (Laughs) Oh, come on. That never happens. At the end of the day, three things remain true:
(1) Nobody Knows Nothin’–Anybody, including me, who tells you they know how a project will perform is lying to you. Trends move faster than we can track, and our efforts should be focused on innovating and finding new ways to exploit these properties rather than trying to second guess the market.
(2) The Characters Will Write Their Own Stories–Twist my arm all day, it won’t matter. Once the writing begins, I am at the mercy of my characters and the discoveries I make about them along the journey. If I forcibly stick to the grid birthed out of editorial meetings, my book will be stillborn. I need to keep my narrative available to the turns in the road the characters themselves will present as I get to know them better. Having said that, Vampirella really has not strayed all that far from what we had in mind. It’s been a pretty good ride.
And (3) Nick Barrucci is the Exception to (1)–The success of our Vampirella owes almost exclusively to relationships Nick has built among our retailers and their support for this project. As a guy who has wasted more than half his life losing fights with Marketing departments, I’ve got to say Nick is an enormous breath of fresh air. It is such a relief to have one of the sharpest marketers in the business working with you and not getting tripped up over his own ego.
The main engine, of course, is the simply jaw-dropping, amazing and glorious artwork of Ergün Gündüz. I am seeing things in issue #18 that are just astounding; Ergün growing as an artist with each issue turned in, experimenting with new techniques. He brings so much to the table, adding little details and humorous turns I hadn’t thought of, and endowing Vampirella with enormous empathy and warmth.
The “Seduction of the Innocent” storyline delved into Vampirella’s attempts to live a normal life, specifically by fleshing out her relationships with other characters like her mother, her girlfriend Victory, and even her therapist. Which relationship was the most rewarding to explore?
They were all rewarding to explore, actually. They all existed to hammer home a point: Vampirella Is Not Us. She’s trying to be “us,” whomever “we” are, but she is a unique individual that does not conform to “us”, is not limited to “us.” Too many of us waste far too much of our lives trying to fit in to some idea of “us.” Vampi ain’t “us.” Neither am I. That makes life a real challenge because people are always expecting us to be “us.”
What made you want to give Vampirella her own brush with celebrity culture?
(Laughs) I don’t. I don’t think we do all that much with it, actually. It’s been done before, first and foremost by the original Warren writers, and later in Dynamite’s own Vampirella: Hollywood Horror collection.
Rather than focus on the celebrity aspect, my goal was to point out how quickly a loved one can weaponize intimacy and trust if that loved one is as shallow and codependent as Victory obviously is. I’m an old guy now; I should know better. But even I have a hard time spotting “Crazy” when it comes shambling toward me. You get burned like that enough times, and you just feel more comfortable being alone. As much as “alone” sucks, the quality of your life is less dictated by The Crazy.
Have you been able to gauge any sort of a reaction to the series’ theological discussions? Especially through the lens of your own background as a Baptist minister.
Most people in a position to evaluate the huge chunks of theology I’m force-feeding Vampirella fans just because that was the deal I made with Dynamite Publisher Nick Barrucci are not likely to react because they are unlikely to read Vampirella. Like it or not, a book truly is judged by its cover. That’s just how we’re wired.
Without knowing a single thing about my Vampirella run, people will assume it’s just like any other Vampirella run. But that’s not how Dynamite rolls. They have afforded each writer, each creative team, the opportunity to explore the world of Vampirella in their own voice. They don’t come on like, “Banana Man Only Has Three Fingers!” I’m so used to that, to the company constantly hammering me about the rules.
I told Nick I could only write about the devil if I’d be allowed to write about God. I wasn’t asking for equal time, but God has to show up. This would have been a deal breaker elsewhere, but Nick didn’t even blink. He just smiled, “Sure. What else?”
Sacred Six also deals with themes of oppression and zealotry. Was that the main reason behind launching this series in the first place?
Greed (Laughs). Vampirella launched huge. There was enormous interest in the title and our take on the franchise was warmly greeted. Dynamite wanted to expand on the universe. So I thought we’d chop off our Vampire Civil Rights story–which initially scared the hell out of Dynamite during the arduous start-up period–and transfer it over to the new book.
What you are reading in Sacred Six is actually the Year Two storyline plan for Vampirella, just with an expanded cast. In many ways, S6 is a bit more serious, a bit darker than my Vampirella series, which itself tends to be lighthearted with copious amounts of humor.
Sacred Six goes straight at issues of “us,” of belonging, of culture. I think the book provides very few answers to our culture war issues, but gives a thorough airing of grievances while cloaking today’s thorny issues in metaphors of vampires and ghouls: are they, in fact, people? Do they have civil rights? If a vampire is not being a predator, is not running around biting people, is not a vampire entitled to un-live his un-life in peace? Yes, it sounds absurd, but S6 really is about us, really is tackling existential questions of the very issues tearing our nation apart.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the new series is that it shows Vampirella working with the Six Marys to hunt down other Vampires, which she repeatedly dismisses as “not her kind.” Can we expect this dichotomy to come back and bite Vampi in future issues?
Sure. I mean, Vampirella is constantly being referred to as one of the undead. Vampirella is not “undead.” She is an extraterrestrial alien creature whose biology mimics that of creatures we consider to be “undead.” However, I’m not convinced a stake through her heart will actually kill her. Or if it does, that she would reanimate once it was pulled out. She really is not that “kind” of vampire, subject to all of those Bram Stoker rules of play.
Over the years, writers have moved Vampi too far from what the character actually is, making her character too steeped in occultism. The books became all about demons and devils, and even the actual devil himself. And, of course, God was nowhere to be seen. Which always irks me, how scared publishers are of God while the devil gets, what, 20 books on the racks. Is there even one book about God in your local comics shop?
What I’ve seen, too often, is Vampirella as a generic vampire hunter. [She’s] traveling the world, becoming involved in large intrigues, or even going to literal hell and engaging armies with only her sling bikini and her claws. That just didn’t work for me. Not to overly criticize other writers (but of course, I am). But that if you go back and read the original 1969 stories, none of that seems a logical extension of the character concept.
Your run on the main series also brought back Vampi’s tactical look for when she’s scouting vampires for the Six Marys. Why did you decide to pick that outfit?
Because it was already in her closet! It’s a great costume design, hampered mainly by the choice to force it on the fans; it felt like censorship. Most writers’ main struggle with choosing to take the character on is her costume. If she were wearing slacks, my life would be a lot easier; I’d face less accusation of hypocrisy.
My rationale for the battle suit is character driven. It is illogical for Vampirella to knowingly go into battle against supernatural phenomena wearing a thong and a smile. That’s just dumb. We should stop doing that. Vampirella is not an effing moron. She is not a bimbo. Allowing her to do that, have superhero fights dressed like that, makes her a bimbo. As I said, either take on the gig or don’t. If you do, then the integrity of the character becomes my responsibility.
Any woman I personally know who is planning to go into battle (and I know quite a few battling sisters) will prepare for battle. They won’t just wander onto the battlefield in their high heels. It insults Vampi, but it insults women, I think, to show all that butt crack while we’re doing the Batman BANG! POW! fight scenes.
Now that “Seduction of the Innocent” is finished, what’s next for Vampirella?
Space: The Final Frontier! Our new arc is called “Interstellar,” which finds Vampirella returning to Drakulon for the trial of her mother Lilith. Expect a lot of wild turns in this pseudo Mandalorian–flavored arc, which includes a special “flashback” issue set in the year 1969 (issue #17) that was a huge blast to write.
Hoping and praying for a season of safety and peace, restoration, healing, and unity for our country. Wash your hands. Give each other a break.
You can check out some artwork and covers from Priest’s Vampirella and Sacred Six runs below. What do you think of Priest’s work on the series so far? Let us know in the comment section!
Recommended Reading: Vampirella: The Dynamite Omnibus 1
The Dynamite Report #4: Christopher Priest Breathes New Life Into Vampirella