American Vampire is a graphic novel series by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque. The first volume falls under the fantasy umbrella, with the following volumes being far more noir in nature. I had the pleasure of reading the first two volumes in October after it came highly recommended to me via my cousin and Sir Betrothed. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy them nearly as much as I did.
American Vampire is essentially about a new bread of vampires that arose during the 1880s with a man named Skinner Sweet. These vampires have abilities that their traditional counterparts could only dream of, such as walking in the sunlight. Feeling threatened by the new race of vamps—called American Vampires—and their near invulnerabilities, traditional vamps, and vamp haters alike, go searching for a means to wipe out their existence.
Volume one alternates between two time periods, the 1920s and the 1880s, with Skinner Sweet’s origin story. Stephen King authored that specific arc of the graphic novel, and as someone who tends to loath anything the man writes, it was pretty damn good. This is probably because the concept is completely Scott Snyder’s who is absolutely brilliant. Nevertheless, this volume introduces the MC and some basic differences that set him apart from your classic monstrous killers.
For an introductory volume, it was fantastic. The storytelling has perfect pacing, even with the alternating time periods. These switches allow for the tension to build slowly, which then enhances the anticipation for when certain characters will eventually come face-to-face. While maintaining a nice, slow pace, it never came off as being too sluggish or stretched out. We get to know the different cast members, the setting, the political and supernatural atmosphere—everything you need for a grade-A foundation for things to unfold and get more complex.
Some of my favourite aspects of the narrative included the Western mechanics. It’s quite classic to that genre with shoot-outs, cowboy hats, and bandanas. I like that there are Latinx characters who are cowboys in the series. There’s not a lot of them, and they are minor voices, but there are a couple and it added to the authenticity of the time period. I don’t typically like Westerns. For some reason, most of the time they tend to bore me. But with American Vampire, I was quite intrigued. I’m going to credit this to the originality of the whole thing.
The vampires aren’t some sparkly, sexualised beings. They are vicious, terrifying, and beautifully violent. Their design is very unique compared to others within vampire literature and I appreciated this element so much. I think it takes quite a bit of imaginative power to revitalise a common trope or creature with such zest. The elongated claws and teeth and the sheer brutality that they inflict is bloody marvellous. The American Vampires and the mystery surrounding their evolution is one of the most enthralling parts of the entire story.
Another facet that popped out at me is the exploration of morality between the two separate sorts of vampires. One breed is decidedly far more unforgiving in their mayhem and bloodshed and just overall depravity, while the second breed retains some minor aspects of their humanity. The distinctions are fun to think about and compare-and-contrast while reading.
The second volume, as I mentioned earlier, eliminates almost all of the Western aesthetics, and takes on a beautifully dark and gritty noir vibe. Additionally, the focus shifts from breed versus breed to engage the reader with the characters themselves. We learn more about a girl named Pearl, who’s introduced in book one, and her connection to Skinner Sweet; how she’s adjusting to life in the wake of events from the first volume, and more. There is a rise in a specific vendetta, while another age old one begins to take stronger shape. There is a lot of exploration of the moral grey areas of all parties involved, and once more, really makes you think about what is right and wrong. What constitutes acceptable and unacceptable? Does a person’s race alone make them a vile existence? Or is it their actions?
Everything is perfectly balanced and brought together with the exceptional artwork. The illustrations, from their colour palettes to the design of the vampires and the action sequences—all of it is akin to the work of old-time horror films, like Hitchcock’s works, and American Westerns. The style is classic illustrations, like the drawings you would see in old books from the mid to late 19th century, which is the perfect complement to the tone and plot.
All in all, I absolutely adored my time with American Vampire Volumes 1 and 2, and I can’t wait to get my hands on more so I can continue my journey with Skinner and Pearl. If you’re in the market for a horror graphic novel that has an original premise and morbid aesthetics, then I highly recommend that you pick up this series. You shan’t be disappointed.