American Vampire Anthology by Various

comics-american-vampire-anthology coverI should be bored of Vampires by now. Some days I think I’ve seen it all and that I’m sick of the bloody creatures. Come nightfall though I’ll suddenly find another take on the idea and the thirst for these creatures awakens in me stronger than it ever has before. It was in one of those daytime states of boredom that I passed on the opening issues of American Vampire some years back. I figured that Vampires had gotten stale. All the book would be was another story about tortured immortals pottering about through history as they complained about how undeathly dull it was to be a creature of the night, while staring vacantly at some sleeping bint they’d fallen in love with despite the fact that she has barely enough personality to count as one of the living and was roughly a teeth their age… Yeah, when I saw that first issue I thought all that and carried straight on by to the spandex books

Take note people. Even those of us who have been at this for years don’t always see the game changers, even when they’re tearing up the rule book.

So spin forward a few years and I’ve read the first trade of American Vampire & yeah I still have the bruises from where I kicked myself, but I’ve never really had the chance to catch up on all of it so when JaneMOMB talked about the new American Vampire anthology on last weeks MOMBcast I thought this might be a good way to acquaint myself with the universe.

 man comes around

With the exception of the wonderfully brutal “The Man Comes Around” by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque that opens and closes the book, the American Vampire Anthology tells its stories in chronological order, allowing a wealth of comic talent to compile their own chronicles of the American Vampire (or Canadian in Jeff Lemire’s case – because someone had to be different). Now for those of you that thought my greatest comic book sin would be not having read this book when it started I have another confession to make. Most of the writers and artists peddling their wares here are new to me and I picked up the anthology as much top see what I thought of the creators as I did the stories.

Lost Colony sees Jason Aaron focusing on old school Native Americans rather than the modern ones he was more concerned with recently in Scalped. Declan Shalvey’s art is a great fit for the story which is a wonderfully simple, yet still creepy, little folk tale about a tribe on the run from an entirely different kind of settler that wants their land. The star of this little show however is Jordie Bellaire, whose colours coat the story with a rather effective set of war paints.

Rafael Albuquerque hands over pencilling duties to Ivo Milazzo so he can step up to the writing plate in Bleeding Kansas. Set on the edge of the New World this fable finds a young couple being attacked by a very old evil. While being quite simple in its telling the the dialogue about the slave trade helps to set the tone and create depth, while making a nice historical point regarding the validity of opinions past. It is Ivo Milazzo’s art that stands out here though with a staggering set of colours that really look like nothing else you might have seen recently (unless you’ve been reading Ivo Milazzo comics, in which case it probably looks like that).

Canadian Vampire finds Jeff Lemire dragging the Vampire back over the border and onto home turf for this little tale with help from Ray Fawkes whose lovely art makes use of almost as many shades of snow as the Inuit’s allegedly have words for it. Not only is the story set in Canada but it also involves the relationship between an old man and a young child which ends with a brutally emotional suckerpunch for everyone involved, so this is basically Lemire doing what he always does – which is write good comics.

Becky Cloonan’s Greed is reminiscent of Shadow of the Vampire and tells an unheard of story from the past of Skinner Sweet, that hints at why he may have headed Hollywoodward all those years ago. Cloonan’s art is as enticing as it always is and after all the previous stories being set at night it makes a nice change to stumble out into the bright harsh sunlight of Death Valley.

The theme of Vampires being there for the birth of the moving picture business continues in Francesco Francavilla’s The Producers.. Feeling very much like an Eagle one off from the mid 90′s The Producers may lack some of the impact or power of its bloody brethren, but it still makes for a short sharp and punchy feature that hits the spot.

 essence of life

Hattie Hargrove’s first experience of the casting couch provides the inspiration for Essence of Life by Gail Simone and Tula Lotay, a hugely effecting narrative that deserves all the praise and plaudits that can be heaped upon it. Simone’s story and dialogue walk the fine line between beautiful and brutal without ever missing a step while Lotay’s beautiful artwork that evokes a sense of the period so strong you can almost smell the blooms in Clara’s flower shop. In short Essence of Life is incredible and easily the stand out tale of this volume.

With such a hard act to follow you might think that the other players would give up and go home, but Gabrielle Ba and Fabio Moon play their hearts out nonetheless. Last Night is an outstanding story and while the twist may be obvious to some quite early on, this tale is a catchy little ditty that sticks in your head, with Dave McCaig’s colours providing the perfect backing to the story and art.

Skinner Sweet returns in Greg Rucka and JP Leon’s Portland 1940, a tale that finds our protagonist feeling a little sour for once. The story serves as a nifty reminder that much as we love Skinner he’s still a monster but of course that’s probably why we love him.

The American Vampire anthology may be a little more expensive than the average book but it has introduced me to a number of creators who I had never seen before and the variety of stories, as well as the skill in their telling, means there’s something in this volume for everyone. Whether your a fan of American Vampire already or looking for a way to jump on board this compilation of stories is a worthy purchase