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‘American Vampire’ Comic Series Makes Return

If the yearlong wait for the return of the Eisner Award-winning American Vampire series has been difficult for its fans, imagine being Scott Snyder. As the co-creator of American Vampire — one of Vertigo Comics’ current crown jewels — he wasn’t prepared for just how bad he’d want to get back in its Western saddle.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Snyder said of the return. “I missed the series tremendously. It actually surprised me how much I missed it.”

Snyder and fellow American Vampire artist and co-creator Rafael Albuquerque had discussed taking some time off once the series reached the halfway point — with issue No. 34 in January of 2013. A break only seemed natural, since Albuquerque works on other projects, and Snyder also writes titles starring DC Comics’s two most valuable properties — the reimagining of Batman’s New 52 origin in Batman: Zero Year, and Superman Unchained, a series drawn by DC Comics co-publisher/artist Jim Lee — as well as writing the Vertigo title The Wake.

“Both me and Rafael had done so much of American Vampire so quickly that we were both thinking a break might be nice to recharge,” Snyder said. “And then the moment I was off the book, I immediately regretted it.

Now, he says, “I can’t wait for people to see what we have in store.”

The wait ends with the arrival Wednesday of the first issue of American Vampire: Second Cycle. The lifeblood of the series remains the original all-American vampires Skinner Sweet and the bloodsucker he helped create by saving her life, Pearl Jones. They first crossed paths in the Roaring Twenties, but now it’s 1965, and Sweet and Jones find themselves trying to “go home again” — with almost a decade passing since the two went their separate ways at the end of issue No. 34.

“Pearl and Skinner have gone back to their roots in some ways, and they’ll quickly realize those are choices that aren’t going to be able to last, with things coming the way they are,” Snyder said. “Skinner has gone back to one of his favorite hideouts, which is a really colorful location that I’m excited for people to see. He’s sort of gone back to his outlaw ways on the Mexican border.”

In American Vampire, Sweet may lack a cause, but not his keen survival skills and a disregard of authority.

Skinner “loves doing things that he knows he’s not supposed to do and then seeing what the consequences are,” Snyder says. “One of the reasons he’s so fun to write as the century changes is because the 20th century is largely about the closing of that frontier. You see fewer places unexplored, where you can go and find some kind of lawless landscape — where you can find yourself against these primal conflicts.

“And that’s where we find Skinner in 1965. He’s found sort of a new Wild West in the Mexican borderlands with smuggling and the cartels. At the same time, he has that sense that he’s making that place when it doesn’t exist the way he wants it to. There’s still borders around him all the time. That’s what humanizes him and makes him vulnerable and also desperate and dangerous.”

Meanwhile, Pearl Jones, having endured many personal battles and the death of a loved one, has gone home to her family farm in Kansas. She is dedicating herself to a new cause after taking time to determine what the next phase of her seemingly endless life will be.

“One of the things we wanted to do with Pearl was to really un-lore her, and show how the first half of the series represented a time in her life that would end very conclusively with her love interest Henry’s death, and with Skinner leaving, and sort of the repercussions of that storyline,” Snyder said.

Come the ’60s, he says, “She has found a new purpose in life, but it’s one that I think will be both surprising to people and also when readers see what it is, you’ll see it’s true to the core for her. The period that we’re moving through, 1965is a time of turmoil and a sense of growing unrest and a sense of an even bigger storm coming. The status that Pearl has created for herself and the life she has made for herself is one that is going to be upended by that. She’s got a real mission and a real purpose that I think is really admirable and also really dangerous.”

Pearl Jones stood out from the beginning of the American Vampire series, long before she had fangs and claws, making her the type of strong female lead character that the comic-book industry is realizing it needs more of to continue growing a diverse fan base.

“A lot of my favorite characters have always been women,” said Snyder. “I love writing women characters. A lot of the time, I just forget that there is a drive right now in comics to try to embrace a bigger and growing female readership.

“Honestly, I try to just write Pearl⅜the way I would write a male character. For me she’s just endlessly interesting. She’s got a really strong moral compass, but she’s also kind of fiercely independent.”

As for the title’s art, Snyder says that Albuquerque is a true “co-creator” — not only because of his stunning visuals, but also because of his help in plotting.

“What Rafael brings to the series isn’t just sort of what you see on the page. He’s a terrific writer himself,” Snyder says. “He comes up with ideas for not only how to visualize, but sort of how best to play the story out pacing-wise.

“We’re teammates through and through, and I love giving him references and suggestions for designs. Rafael to me is just a brother-in-arms on this thing.”

So does Snyder see himself and Albuquerque needing another hiatus as they work toward the ending of American Vampire ? (It’s an ending that Snyder originally envisioned arriving at issue No. 76 — though he says he wouldn’t be surprised if the series goes beyond that) — that will probably include a spoiler by a mysterious villain named The Gray Trader, who’s an evil force connected to the very beginnings of vampirism.

“This is it — we’re on it,” Snyder says. “And we’re not going anywhere until the whole thing is finished.”