‘American Vampire': Rafael Albuquerque talks monstrous ‘Second Cycle’

March 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
amvampv2 1 page 11 American Vampire: Rafael Albuquerque talks monstrous Second Cycle

A motorcycle-riding, gun-wielding Skinner Sweet is seen in the 1960s in an exclusive image from "American Vampire: Second Cycle" by writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque. The latter says "Easy Rider" has been a key visual reference for the new arc. (DC Entertainment)

americanvampiresecondcycle1cover American Vampire: Rafael Albuquerque talks monstrous Second Cycle

Rafael Albuquerque's cover for "American Vampire: Second Cycle" No. 1, on DC's Vertigo imprint. (DC Entertainment)

americanvampirelongroadto hell American Vampire: Rafael Albuquerque talks monstrous Second Cycle

Rafael Albuquerque scripted and illustrated last summer's "American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell." He worked on the story with series co-creator / writer Scott Snyder. (DC Entertainment)

Skinner Sweet is hell on wheels, and “American Vampire” co-creator Rafael Albuquerque says the visual engine is “Easy Rider.”

The original Abominus americana rides in the sunlight again Wednesday as Brazilian artist Albuquerque and writer Scott Snyder’s Eisner Award-winning Vertigo series begins its “Second Cycle” after a planned hiatus that lasted more than a year.

Set in the 1960s, the new arc finds the deadly outlaw Sweet, first of a new breed that walks in daylight and is felled by gold, up to no good in Mexico. Meanwhile, the woman he turned, former aspiring actress Pearl Jones, has returned home to Kansas from Los Angeles, an ever-young widow who outlived her beloved musician husband Henry. And, as teased in the last regular issue before the break, a mysterious threat called the Gray Trader is on the horizon.

“AV” readers’ blood thirst hasn’t gone unnoticed: Albuquerque scripted and illustrated June’s “The Long Road to Hell” one-shot, featuring the greaser vampire hunter Travis Kidd and a young orphan called Jasper, with story input from Snyder, and the team curated and had work in August’s “American Vampire Anthology.” (Both are collected in the hardcover “American Vampire Volume Six,” also out Wednesday.)

And the creators have missed their fanged friends too: Though Snyder writes the bestselling “Batman” and other series and Albuquerque drew “Animal Man,” both have talked about a hunger to get back to the series that made vampires scary again.

In an email interview, Albuquerque discusses the visual elements of “American Vampire: Second Cycle” and his changing approach.

Hero Complex: As “Second Cycle” opens in 1965, Skinner is in Mexico and Pearl is back at her old family home in Kansas. You’ve already drawn evocative settings in the Old West, 1920s and 1950s Los Angeles, the Pacific theater in World War II and elsewhere for “American Vampire.” What are the keys to these new environments in the late 1960s? Any particular references that have been especially helpful?

Rafael Albuquerque: We’re really taking some time to immerse in this time period, through movies, and even music. Some are more apparent than others, of course, but everything is important to make the setting believable. For Skinner’s sequences, for example, I’ve had a lot of influence from the movie “Easy Rider.” It was my main source of references.

"American Vampire" No. 28, set in the 1950s, kicked off the last arc before the series' planned hiatus. (Rafael Albuquerque / Vertigo)

Skinner and Pearl are seen in 1950s Hollywood in “American Vampire” No. 28, which kicked off the last arc before the Vertigo series’ hiatus. (Rafael Albuquerque / DC Entertainment)

HC: Pearl and Skinner have been seen across decades, and their looks have evolved. What do you see as most important to their visual presentations for continuity of character?

RA: Yeah, it’s a tricky thing when characters’ looks change all the time, and since the beginning we’ve been struggling to make sure that they are recognizable, no matter how they are dressed. I used to think that Pearl’s short hair and Skinner’s unshaved beard were what made them iconic, but the more we do it, the more we realize that it’s their personality. The way they move, talk, their expressions. That’s what makes them recognizable.

HC: Readers have been told that the mysterious Gray Trader will be a major player in “Second Cycle.” There was a brief look at him – assuming he was the shadowy figure in the bowler hat – in No. 34, the last issue before the break. I realize you’ll want to avoid spoilers, but can you give readers an early feel for what you’re going for in his overall design?

RA: Yeah, it’s hard to talk about him and avoid spoilers, but, the Gray Trader will be, visually, very surprising. We gave a hint on No. 34, but he is definitely more than what’s there, and visually is something we have never done before. 

HC: Your co-creator has said that some as-yet-unseen creatures in “Second Cycle” will be scarier than anything readers have seen before in “American Vampire.” Now, your vampire and other designs seen so far in the series have not lacked in horror. How are you approaching the challenge of upping the fright factor – and what, for you, makes for truly scary monster design/presentation?

RA: I appreciate that. We are definitely bringing our A game to this. Scott and I are on Skype all the time, discussing new ideas for sequences and what’s the best visual for the new vamp species. We’re really trying to bring something unique to the book, and the new monsters will be awesome.

HC: It’s been over a year since the last regular issue of “AV” – though you did write and illustrate last June’s “The Long Road to Hell” one-shot and write in August’s “Anthology.” You did a run on “Animal Man” with Jeff Lemire and, in a recent interview, Scott said you’re “switching up [your] style” for “Second Cycle.” What differences from earlier “AV” issues do you see in your art in looking at your “Second Cycle” pages? What are your goals for the series’ latter half?

RA: Yeah, I’m back to the ink washes again. It fits with the tone of the story, in the same way it worked out on the “Ghost War” arc. The differences between this, and the first part are laid on the storytelling, more than the art style, I think. It’s more cinematic than ever. My editor, Mark [Doyle], said it looks like “Robert Altman directing ‘Nashville.’” I took it as a big compliment.

Rafael Albuquerque scripted and illustrated last summer's "American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell." He worked on the story with series co-creator / writer Scott Snyder. (DC Entertainment)

Rafael Albuquerque scripted and illustrated last summer’s “American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell.” He worked on the story with series co-creator / writer Scott Snyder. (DC Entertainment)

HC: Speaking of your writing, do you see more “AV” stories ahead that you’d like to script?

RA: I’d love to write more “AV” stories. “Long Road” was a really nice experience, and I think there is a lot of room to continue Jasper’s story. We have no plans for it soon, but definitely talk about it as a possibility in the future.

HC: Pearl and Skinner are back, with lots of familiar faces from the Vassals of the Morning Star alive and available to appear. And certainly you have new characters you and Scott are creating. But don’t you miss Henry? Anything you’d like to say about the late Mr. Preston?

RA: I do miss Henry. He was a great character, and, even dead, he plays a major role in this new story.

HC: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about “American Vampire: Second Cycle”? There may be some new ones drawn in by your work on “Animal Man” and Scott’s work on “Batman.”

RA: I’d like to thank our fans for all their patience. We’ve heard how much they missed the book and we know how much they care about these characters, and we also understand that they are so devoted to the book, because they know we work hard to deliver the very best we can. That’s why we needed to take this break. To keep the ideas fresh and original, as much as possible. There is a lot of heart on this new cycle, and it’s definitely made for all our readers.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

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