Slayer Lit Feature
Novelist Jackie Kessler sinks her teeth into the Buffyverse
So, the entire world has changed.
After having skulked through history’s shadows, vampires are now front and center, their existence revealed to the world at large, and undead is most definitely the new black. Currently the hottest thing in Western Civilization, vamps now find themselves feted and fawned over by the public at large.
To chronicle this rather drastic turn of events in the Buffy cosmos, Dark Horse Comics has been turning to noted authors to put their own spins on Joss Whedon’s little toy top. Last year, Becky Cloonan took us into a world where vampires are much more popular than Slayers. Next up, Jackie Kessler gives us "Carpe Noctem", which will appear on the Dark Horse Presents MySpace website.
No one was perhaps more surprised than Kessler herself to be approached by Dark Horse to tackle this story. Although she has been a longtime reader of comics, the successful dark fantasy author (the Hell on Earth series of books, as well as the upcoming HUNGER, among other genre works), had never written for the medium before.
"I was at Dragon*Con last year, on a number of panels," she says. "Scott Allie, the editor of Dark Horse Comics, was on a few panels with me. After the last one, we chatted, and I offered to give him one of my books. He asked if I had anything dark. Yep! I sent him HELL’S BELLES."
Not thinking much about it after having left the convention, Kessler was pleasantly surprised by another unexpected path crossing with Allie not long afterward. "I had a Twitter contest and he was one of the ten random winners. Truly random... copies of my second book went to the first ten people who re-Tweeted. He was number two. When I emailed him to confirm his address, he asked if I’d be interested in doing a comic book project for him."
"I was. And when he asked if I would be comfortable writing in the Buffyverse, I jumped at the chance. Writing any story set in the Buffyverse is a dream come true."
As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jackie certainly needed no introduction to the characters. "Scott asked if I’d be willing to write a "Tales of the Vampires" short, one that showed more of the Buffyverse from the point of view of the vampires. I came up with an idea and wrote a synopsis. Scott and I worked together to revise it. Joss approved it. And then it was time for me to write the script."
Rather than take the perhaps obvious route of showing vampires simply reveling in both their power and their celebrity, sucking blood and killing with seeming impunity (BtVS readers will recall what a ratings boon it was for Harmony Kendall’s reality show when she slew a Slayer on the air), Kessler has opted for something that delves more deeply into character and psychological issues. "Not all vampires are happy being thrown into the spotlight. Some of them prefer the shadows," she reveals.
The story follows two vampires, Cyn and Ash, who are diametrically opposed to one another both in personality as well as in their take on being ‘outed’ to the mortal world. Just about the only thing that makes them friends/family is that they were sired by the same vampire. Other than that, they are as different as night and... a sunless day.
Although the notion of vampires being known and recognized in the everyday world is not a new one, it’s still uncommon enough for an author to be excited by working with the concept, especially if she also gets to comment on our society’s penchant for making celebrity idols out of dubious characters. "I think the best monsters are the ones that enjoy being monsters. With that bias in mind, it seemed only natural to me that not all vampires would be thrilled over being considered celebrities. And vampires ARE monsters. They might be sexy. They might be charming. They might be everything you’ve ever wanted in a person. But they’re monsters. You can’t change a person’s nature just because they’re suddenly in the spotlight."
But then what is it about such monsters which enthrall readers (and have for centuries)? Kessler has her opinions on that: "Say the word ‘vampire’ to people, it will mean different things. Some will automatically think of the charming, sexy, darkly brooding bad boy who wants to be saved. Others will think of monsters who will gleefully suck you dry. Still others will think of something else entirely. When we read about monsters, we get to confront truths about our own humanity. What makes a monster a monster? What makes us human? Whoa... I think I just lapsed into Battlestar Galactica territory... ."
But the story and words are only a part of a comic book story. To translate her writing into something visual, Dark Horse turned to artist Paul Lee, who ha worked on Buffy properties before. And what did Jackie think when she first saw her words brought to two-dimensional life by his pencil? "I was utterly blown away. He’s so talented! It’s one thing to picture the characters, and quite another to see them come to life on the page. He did a phenomenal job." And for his part, Paul was impressed with what the first-time comic book writer had created: "I loved working on it, of course," he says. "Anything in the Buffyverse is always a fun project. The story Jackie wrote was great. It’s a small taste o a whole other story. She’s created this slice of live among vampires. It is definitely an interesting take."
Having dipped her toe into the comic book waters and found them inviting Jackie says she’d love to do more work in the field. She’s already been exploring comic-based themes in a new book series she’s co-authoring with Caitlin Kittredge; The Icarus Project delves into the world of super-heroes and villains, but it’s a realm where such lines are blurred. The first book, BLACK AND WHITE, was released in 2009, and the follow-up, SHADE OF GRAY, hits stores this summer.
Readers can also check out other works from Jackie: the aforementioned Hell on Earth series (HELL’S BELLES, THE ROAD TO HELL, HOTTER THAN HELL), as well as two upcoming young adult novels, HUNGER and RAGE (written as Jackie Morse Kessler).
Find out more about Jackie online, where she’s all over the inter-webs!