Stephen King in Comic Books

I’m not the kind of English major who is going to lie to you and say that a Stephen King novel is not in one of my Top 10 Favorite books of all time. Hell, there might even be two in there. *cough* It and The Stand *cough*. I was raised on a steady diet of Dean Koontz and Stephen King in the 5th and 6th grades, and picking up one of King’s books now is like settling down to a heaping plate of mashed potatoes or curling up in a pile of clothes fresh from the dryer. Satisfaction.

When someone told me that Stephen King was writing a comic book about Vampires (with a capital V) I was insanely there. Actually, I’m not sure when or where I heard of it, but I picked up the first issues of American Vampire and N. and was immediately hooked. And then life happened and they were both made box regulars and several issues piled up and I lent them out to someone.

Last week they were magically returned to me, and we swung by our comic book store to empty our box, and yet more issues landed in our hands.

With a big old stack of comics to sift through, you might not be surprised to discover while I gravitated heavily towards the One Shots featuring Marvel women characters, it was American Vampire and N. that I read first.

Once a Stephen King fan girl, always a Stephen King fan girl.

There was a small part of me that secretly hoped, wished and prayed he would make an appearance at Comic Con to promote these books. Of course he wasn’t there. He’s an old man, and he doesn’t need the publicity. Who is foolish enough to think that Stephen King needs a promoter? But yes…would I be a true fangirl if I hadn’t daydreamed at least once?

So he wasn’t. And I read the books anyway.

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STEPHEN KING’S N.

They are certainly Stephen King, but paired with some of the most amazing artists in the industry. Alex Maleev has crafted some of the most gorgeous artwork I’ve come across in my nearly two decades relationship with comic books. Outside of perhaps Alex Ross. He is one of the few artists who I will follow to any book for any reason.

So N. is immediately going to suck me in as a reader. Pair that with a truly creepy Stephen King tale, and who could NOT be sold? The writer doing the adapting is someone I was not familiar with before picking up the series, but I think a lot of what you really need to know about Marc Guggenheim comes across in the afterword in the first issue. Before I started this blog and dedicated a considerable chunk of my time to Comic Books, it never really occurred to me to read what writers and artists scribble in forewords and afterwords. But now, I think it’s very important.

And Guggenheim seems like the perfect person to adapt what originally appeared as only documents in the King version of the story. He gives them excellent textual and graphical context, and if it’s even possible with a Maleev piece, I found myself being quite drawn away from the images and transported instead into the visuals that the words inspired. It’s kind of a battle then, which I will say ended (for me at least) in a draw.

There are certainly haunting images here. Maleev paints such vivid pictures and emotions, it’s like looking at snapshots rather than lines and ink.

But the story – about Ackerman’s Field, the stone circle, and the obsessive need to count objects in order to keep evil at bay is what really drives the book and puts it all together. I’ve got all the floppies, but am dying to purchase this series as a trade and leaf through the collection again. It’s so haunting…the kind of story that sticks with you. I found myself telling it around the campfire this weekend as if it truly were a scary story, but also a real thing. And god, that final panel makes the hair on my arm stand up…thinking…what if it were?

Especially since 8 is my favorite number, and I feel a particular aversion to 7.

For a small sample of the story and the captivating art, you can check out Episodes 1-5 of the motion comic on this here YouTube video:

Bechdel Test: This miniseries does NOT pass the women test, does PASS the men test and DOES NOT PASS the race test.


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AN ASIDE: I’ve decided after watching my third motion comic (if you count The Tales of the Black Freighter on the Watchmen DVD, which I do)…that I do not like motion comics. Especially when it over tasks and wastes the talent of an amazing artist like Alex Maleev, whose work is gorgeous and much better conceived in panels. Plus…seriously, webcomics are like single frames with bad voice acting and zooms and pans. There is nothing remotely “motion” about them. I could probably slap together a fanvid with a fun song in the background with much less effort to the same effect. I think it’s a waste of comic books to make them motion. If you can’t read the subtext between panels and frame, or can’t read the text…don’t fucking bother reading comic books in the first place.

Of course, I say this now and later on I will fall in love with motion comics and eat these words. Maybe.

Anyone else? What is the deal with motion comics for you? Like them? Hate them? I understand, perhaps, the market they are aimed towards. A web 2.0 attempt to get people hooked up into the comic book world. But damn, they are absolutely nothing as fantastic as reading a comic book itself. It just seems so…lazy.

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AMERICAN VAMPIRE

This is a gem of a series I like to think I would have been drawn to, regardless of whether or not Stephen King were attached to the project. Because it’s fucking brilliant. It’s a wonderful use of the Vampire craze exploding all over popular culture now, but it’s taken a unique enough twist that is differentiates itself from the meshed worlds of TwilightTrueBloodVampireDiaries and stands on its own two feet by presenting two meshed story lines and engaging main characters.

It’s vampires are hard and fierce looking. They are ugly and brutal. They are movie extras from the 1920s and hired guns in the Old West. Those elements in themselves are sexy, but the history that’s imbued in the story line and in the characters is what makes these particular vampires stand out as being engaging.

We’ve had vampires in New Orleans and the South and Forks, Washington and New England…but I like these turn of the century AMERICAN VAMPIRES trampling all over history and changing the story a bit.

I’m always so compelled about how each author approaches their take on these mythological creations. The RULES they create. Perhaps that is the allure of some people for Science Fiction (which I dabble in). How SciFi often has characters living in a world and life that has rules that must be learned and followed. And piecing them together is like solving a mystery or puzzle. Fascinating.

There is also a different audience for each type of vampire being unveiled lately. Or the same kind of audience for each, but with a different attraction. Twilight is stupid fun. True Blood is sexy fun. Vampire Diaries is like the worst of both. But American Vampire, much like it’s two titular characters, is a new breed entirely.

The construction of the tale is unique, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a comic book series with a similar division of narrative. Scott Snyder is the principle writer, and Stephen King is lending a five part short story about the background of the sociopath Old West outlaw named Skinner Sweet (such an apt descriptor), which is tacked onto the back half of the main story penned by Snyder. Snyder takes us on a journey with the swinging, independent Pearl Jones struggling to become a movie star in the silent films of the 1920s, who falls prey to a coven of vampires embedded in Hollywood (no metaphors there folks).

But she and Skinner cross paths, and that’s when the two separate story-lines merge and the real sparks happen. While Snyder has some waffley dialogue that doesn’t ring especially true for the time era he’s depicting, I am willing to overlook these small aspects because the narrative and plot are strong and intriguing.

Also – the art doesn’t hurt either. This is a Vertigo + Creator Owned series, and a true collaboration between Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque. Albuquerque’s work has some elements of “sketchy,” but there is enough smooth and roundedness and sumptuous coloring to over-ride my usual distaste for imperfect lines.

Plus, it’s a horror book, so sketchy is absolutely fair game. It reminds me of the Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark artist Stephen Gammell, to some degree and there is nothing more frightening in my mind than those illustrations.

There is speculation about whether or not Stephen King will stay on after submitting his five issue storyline (which wrapped up with the release of Issue 5 this last Wednesday) but regardless, I will be continuing on with the series. While Vampires will never trump Zombies in my book (and robots, you’ll always be taking a back seat to both), there is plenty of room in my heart for this engaging series which mixes history, fantasy, horror and reality.

Bechdel Test: The first four issues of American Vampire PASS the women test, PASS the men test and DOES NOT PASS the race test.

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About tinyheroes

Mindy Crouchley is a 33 year old woman with a degree in English and Technical Writing from Portland State University. She has accumulated three+ years experience in the Marketing and Communications field - with an emphasis on creating digital media content. She has been reading comic books since she was 10 years old. She currently lives in outer southeast Portland with her spouse Dan Robertson, her baby girl, and their dog - Jabba the pug. She spends her free time devouring books, crafting cosplay, video gaming, attending comic cons, writing stories/screenplays, attending book to film adaptation club meetings, volunteering, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies.

8 responses to “Stephen King in Comic Books”

  1. Michael says :

    Not so much about the content of this post, but I’m interested to hear you say that The Stand and It are on your all-time fave list. I just finished The Stand and thought the beginning was superb and that the end was kind of a letdown. Maybe we’ll chat more about this sometime in the future. (Although, related to the post, I didn’t know Maleev was doing the art on N. I might check it out now.)

    • tinyheroes says :

      The Stand has a lot of sentimental value to me – I actually watched the miniseries with my Dad when I was a kid, and only recently read the book. Plus – post-apocalyptic + creepy disease = automatic win in my book. Upon re-watching the miniseries, I didn’t like it nearly as much as the book…but there are certainly issues with some of the characters. Frannie in particular grated on my nerves. This definitely would not be considered any kind of feminist manifesto, that’s for sure.

  2. Addie says :

    I remember sitting in a car with you and Kati as you read a sex scene from a Dean Koontz book back as 6th graders. That was the first thing that came to mind when I read your opening paragraph. 🙂

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