The End of I, Vampire and the Cancellation of Creativity

A spoiler-free farewell to my beloved favourite, and a note of regret from an ex-fan of the New 52.

I, Vampire #19 Cover

I almost didn’t pick issue one off the shelf. In a year saturated with vampires, the cover suggested that this would be one more silly dark romance yarn but with added naked and fanged women: not always what I look for in a comic. Still, in the spirit of being one of the rare new New 52 readers – previously I had only bought the trade collections – I had a quick peek within and immediately added it to my haul. Settling down at home with my spread of Batmen, ex-Vertigo characters, Morrison-penned heroes, and random picks, I came to I, Vampire last. And was immediately delighted. This was it, this was the comic I’d been waiting on. I foisted it upon my friends, “read this,” I instructed, and begged them to ignore the cover.

DC’s New 52 was, I believed at the time, an experiment in tempting new readers into the comic shop, to rejuvenate a stale stable of titles for a wider audience. I, Vampire was unique, creative and a future classic. It was the jackpot. Despite increasingly low monthly sales, the first trade collection made the top 5 of the New York Times bestseller list for paperback graphic novels, following in the footsteps of many an acclaimed Vertigo series and soothing the fears of fans worried by the number of DC titles being cancelled. After 15 issues though, cancellation was announced.

I, Vampire #10

Until then, I hadn’t quite realised how much leeway I was allowing my erstwhile favourite publisher. Creative teams were seemingly trapped in revolving doorways, as short term performance was increasingly given priority over any thought towards greater legacies. Of course some cancellations were to be expected with such a large number of titles launched at once, but at least I could always point to I, Vampire as an example of a great book that DC was standing behind. When that pillar was smashed, it became impossible to ignore the rubble I’d been standing in, and DC fell off my monthly reading list.

The first issue of I, Vampire had me hooked and immediately moved to the top of my comics pile. In the year and a half since, only Saga has topped it, and it has remained a consistently refreshing and fantastic read. While on first glance I was blown away by Andrea Sorrentino’s stark and dramatic style, and his incredible use of panels to reinforce key moments, Joshua Hale Fialkov’s skill with jumping from character to character in order to add greater depth to the ongoing story was apparent after three issues: each directly narrated by someone with a very different perspective on events, yet maintaining the overall dynamic with ease. Two issues can fly past with characters desperately trying to grasp the complexities of the situation, and our lead confirms or subverts our suspicions when the dust settles.

I, VampireAn early crossover with Justice League Dark is the type of event that usually annoys me, forcing me to buy into another book I’ve not been keeping up with. In this case I was able to ignore that fully as I had no problems keeping up with elements outside of the main title. In later months I went back and read the early JLD issues and was delighted by the writings of Peter Milligan, only to find myself disillusioned with the sudden creator change after only eight issues. (An example there of two creators I like equally, yet still being thrown out of the book by change so early on. It led to the disappearance of characters the first creator was building up, and the introduction of new characters out of nowhere.) Sorrentino was also absent for issues 15-18, coincidentally when cancellation was announced, but the book recovers well after the initial jarring handover with Fernando Blanco (#17-19) in particular driving us back towards that harsh tone.

I, Vampire #2What appealed to me most about I, Vampire was that it was populated almost entirely by villains, but outside any of the stereotypical costumed over-dramatics. Our hero becomes our villain, our villain our reluctant hero, and our human representative a destructive ball of ignorant impulse. There are no heroes here, and there is plenty of hope, yet the overall tone is far less depressing than your average Batbook. Andrew Bennett, cursed with vampirism and humanity in equal measure is no Edward Cullen or Angelus (much as I love the BtVS world), but a complex man bound by his failings but striving for his demanding morals. Mary Seward is his lover and his nemesis, revelling in her sexual and carnal power, and planning the destruction of all mankind. Cain, the father of all evil is stripped of his might and underestimated, while Tig is so wrapped up in her moral high-ground that she repeatedly causes mass destruction from her selfish actions.

Buffy it ain’t, and the story keeps turning on itself magnificently, flipping the roles of everyone involved, and managing to distance itself from the DCU while still being forced to acknowledge the existence of superheroes and costumed vigilantes: strange bedfellows in the world of DC mysticism. Our key outsider character is of course Constantine, and his earlier appearances in JLD at the hands of Milligan are tellingly classic. I would go so far as to say in fact, that the Constantine that appears in I, Vampire is very much the John of old, rather than the “new and improved” non-Vertigo version.

I, Vampire #14The Vertigo tone of the book is also key to why it became the DC book I was most passionate about. The New 52 had already snatched the characters it wanted to play with from the Vertigo realm – Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Constantine, Madame Xanadu – leaving the once extraordinary imprint to rot. Creativity, critical acclaim and uniqueness were sacrificed for brand awareness and profit maximisation, a familiar tale for those superheroes that once fought the shackles of capitalist greed. But the seeming security of The Dark family of titles at least allowed titles like Animal Man and I, Vampire to mostly ignore their DCU setting and revel in sheer creative wealth; titles that would not have seemed out of place at Image, currently one of the highest marks of praise.

I had hoped that DC, in its enthusiasm to find new readers and tap into the hundreds of thousands of consumers that had already bought into the superhero and comic movies, was on the brink of something truly new. Comics that would appeal to all readers; diverse output for a diverse audience. That the superwomen were going to be put character first, dress code second. That any kid, no matter their background or dreams would find a hero to believe in. That maybe comics would no longer be missing from the high street, that people could pick up a comic alongside their magazines, groceries, hell even their clothes or cosmetics. That a Batman comic would be as common as a Batman lego set, or a Wonder Woman comic as popular as Wonder Woman converse or mugs.

TigIt became apparent that very little of that was true, yet I kept picking up new books – Sword of Sorcery, Batman Incorporated, Dial H… With the exception of Morrison’s books, DC did little to advertise the titles I liked which often led to the inevitable cancellation or creator switcheroo. Many of my book buying pals, avid fans of China Miéville, had no idea he had a comic. Or where to get it. My friends raised their eyebrows at the covers of busty women and went back to reading Hawkeye and Saga. With the cancellation of I, Vampire I started to join them.

It was never going to be the kind of title that DC would actively push. There was no franchise to be spun out, no demand for action figures (at least of the kind the publisher would deem tasteful), and no opportunity for huge events that would thrust vampires outside of their own book and into the world of the superheroes. Sure Batman shows up at one point, but he looks painfully out of place amidst the magic and mysticism tearing Gotham apart, while the only way of stopping the vampires – killing them – leaves him stuck in a moral quagmire. I, Vampire fits neither the grim and gritty Nolan approach, nor the played for laughs and explosions Marvel movie juggernaut. Even an animated take would be hard pressed to capture the stark ink-work of Sorrentino that gives the book its soul.

I, Vampire #3

In short, I, Vampire could only exist as a comic. It was doomed. While it’s pointless to argue that a corporation should put quality above profits, it’s not without longing that I look back on the Vertigo classics of the past that would surely never be signed off on today: Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Sandman, Hellblazer… would even The Unwritten or Astro City be appearing on our shelves if created today? Before Constantine jumped ship, I wondered whether I, Vampire would have fared better on the Vertigo label, but the low sales of titles there (excluding of course the trade collections) seem to only be pointing in one direction.

I, Vampire #18Fialkov has moved to Marvel with Alpha, and other titles for IDW and Top Cow, while Sorrentino is killing it on Green Arrow with Lemire. Fialkov plus Sorrentino remains my dream team though, and I can only hope that DC will put out a decent collection of their 19 issues of genius. Preferably with one of Sorrentino’s covers that really illustrates the tone of the book.

As for the ending, Fialkov does a great job of wrapping up things satisfactorily, although it’s clear that this was more the end of an arc rather than the end of the saga. Some miscreants live to fight another day, while many questions do go unanswered – the greater history of Cain and Lilith in particular is sacrificed in the need for speed, while the larger role of the House of Mysteries and a tantalising glimpse of a very non-retired Lucifer are naught but mist. The return of Sorrentino to end the story as it began – and beginnings are indeed the key to these ends – is very pleasing, and I’d like to think perhaps some measure from DC towards acknowledging the fans of this book, whether they be comic shop buyers or book store patrons. (Sorrentino provides art on the flashbacks, Blanco on the present day.)

I, Vampire #0To describe the plot of I, Vampire to the non-reader is difficult, in much the same way as any art that is a true partnership of images, writing and tone. While I adore many comics for their writing and art, there are few that blend so completely as this. Just as 30 Days of Night is not merely about vampires attacking an Alaskan town but an original and terrifying image of the creeping darkness upon humanity and the chilling hopelessness of terror, or the Let the Right One film is not simply about an ancient young vampire and a lonely boy making friends but where love and blood combine in a beautiful creation of restrained cinematography and quiet darkness, so I, Vampire is not content to be described as simply a vampire love tale with stylish gore.

Instead I can only say that it is a book that is both innovative and extraordinary, and would passionately encourage any comic or book reader to give it a try. Volumes one (Tainted Love: #1-6) and two (Rise of the Vampires: #7-12 + Justice League Dark #7-8) are both available, and volume three (Wave of Mutilation: #0, 13-18) is published in October.

Issue #19 preview:

I, Vampire #19 I, Vampire #19
I, Vampire #19 I, Vampire #19

I, Vampire #1-19
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Pencillers: Andrea Sorrentino, Fernando Blanco, Dennis Calero, Scott Clark
Inkers: Andrea Sorrentino, Dennis Calero
Colourist: Marcelo Maiolo
Cover Artists: Andrea Sorrentino, Clayton Crain, Jenny Frison
Letters: Pat Brosseau, Dezi Sienty, Taylor Esposito
Editors: Matt Idelson, Wil Moss, Chris D. Conroy
Publisher: DC

[Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter]

Comments

  1. This new DC 52 has been a dismal long-term failure.
    Before the new DC 52 we will find that Batman,Superman,Green Lantern,Flash,Wonder Woman and Justice League titles were the best sellers just like now during the new DC 52 they still are.
    If DC is smart they should just contract to a DC 26 which would include only Batman,Superman,Green Lantern,Flash, Wonder Woman and Justice League titles plus what ever Johns decides to write.
    Really just about half of the DC 52 original line up has been cancelled less then 2 years into this failed dismil experiment. It`s time for DC to pull the plug on the new DC 52 ,and begin to really concentrate on making good Batman,Superman,Green Lantern,Flash, Wonder Woman,Aquaman and Justice League comic titles ,so the big wigs at Warner will greenlight them for more movies,videogames and action figures.
    respectfully “The Amazing Stam”
    Make Mine Marvel!

  2. If i had a million dollars, I’d pay to see Sorrentino go back and draw all the issues he didn’t. Either that, or I’d pay to see Fialkov and Sorrentino reboot the old 80s DC series Thriller for someplace like Dark Horse or Image.

  3. Have to say I’m sorry to see this book end; it was truly a great series. I was skeptical at first, but they won me over. So long as DC produces runs like this — or OMAC or Dial H or Jenkin’s Deadman in DCU Presents — it’ll get my business.

  4. Chris Hero says:

    I’m not trying to pile on, but “cancellation of creativity?” That’s like admonishing McDonalds for gouging gourmet food when they take the McRib off the menu. DC is part of a big corporation and like McDonalds, creativity is not a goal. The goal is making a product that satiates the needs of the greatest number of people. There’s nothing wrong with someone liking McDonalds as their favorite resturaunt or DC comics as their favorite reading material, but if the reason for the preference is creativity, you’re enjoying something they never intended to give you.

    Like you said in the column, the days of Vertigo being a bastion of creativity for DC are long over. The current mindset at DC s the same as any other corporation: make as much money this very second and damn tomorrow.

  5. Thomas Wayne says:

    All the NEW 52 has succeeded in doing is bumping sales for a handful of months and alienating a large core of older fans for the sake of (and by the judge of things, failure of) an attempt to bring in and keep new fans on a variety of books. But in fact, any new fans who came in came to and stayed with the same old books that have always sold well (JLA, Batman, Superman).
    Has any book that hadn’t had much success before the NEW 52 actually had success after the NEW 52? Perhaps Aquaman? But I have said a thousand times over you didn’t need a NEW 52 rebooting to make Aquaman popular or at the very least a solid comic. All it took was….imagine this….Good to great writing and good to great art. In most comics that will spell some level of success. It works almost every time.
    The example I always go back to (at least in recent comic history) is THE WALKING DEAD. If the Walking Dead had been a DC or Marvel book chances are it would have been cancelled by issue # 20. But with Image and Kirkman pulling and controlling the strings it had a chance to grow and build and become the HUGE CULTURAL PHENOMENON it has become. I, VAMPIRE may have gone the same way had it been given the chance. But DC isn’t worried about solid storytelling – they are worried about sales…period. And when you worry about sales and nothing else something like I, VAMPIRE suffers greatly. If it was given another 6, 8, 12, or 15 issues perhaps it hits its stride, perhaps it joins the ranks of a lot of current Image books that are drawing people in after an initial low sales period. Another book that comes to mind is THE SIXTH GUNN. Oni clearly wants to let Cullen Bunn tell the story he wants to tell. If it didn’t – if it was all about early monthly sales – the book would have been canceled by issue 6 or 7. I believe its around issue 40 now.
    DC and Marvel have all the main characters we crave – but none of the creative minds they need to truly run a 21 century comic company. They have a formulaic approach to publishing. Books that don’t reach certain numbers get canceled. They know that generally speaking first issues sell pretty big so that’s why they have no problem canceling both good and bad books with low sales numbers because a new #1 will get them a sales bump even if that new number 1 (something like VIBE…and I mean really…VIBE???? Who thought that was a good idea needs to move on to janitorial work) will most likely be canceled and replaced with another new #1 sooner than later.
    We need more Walking Deads….and fewer Vibes. DC (and Marvel)…..please wake up and get with the program.

  6. Dmike says:

    Hate it when any series you dig ends prematurely but with Screw 52 its t.b.e. To be expected. They make enough from their core 20 something Batman family titles, the bottom half is cannon fodder and nothing more monthly series parading as watered down mini-series.

  7. Jim Sheridan says:

    I’m a little fuzzy on the chronology/ publishing; are there trade paperbacks of issues 1-6, 7-12, and then 13-18, and is the series then going to end with issue 19, leaving the series’ conclusion NOT part of the collected TBs?

  8. Good point Jim! Although the solicitation states that volume 3 holds #0 and 13-18, it does use the cover of #19 so I’d imagine that’s a mistake and that it does in fact hold the entire end of the run.

  9. george says:

    I know how you feel, Laura. I felt this way 30-something years ago, when Marvel axed my favorite comics, “Tomb of Dracula” and “Howard the Duck” (after the departures of their writers, Marv Wolfman and Steve Gerber, respectively).

    Can anything succeed with fans that isn’t about superheroes? As “stam” implied, it seems that only characters with movie, TV or videogame deals are going to survive.

    BTW, the original “I, Vampire” series from the early ’80s has been collected as a trade paperback and is worth seeking out.

  10. Mikael says:

    Oh please. Just because it’s good and at DC doesn’t mean it’s a fluke. DC has had these sort of titles for decades and Image/Dark Horse have put out crap and fan-service titles just as well. Guess what – sometimes some writers/creative teams are good, sometimes they aren’t. And sometimes they just want a check. Matt Fraction on Hawkeye = good. Matt Fraction on Fear Itself = paycheck. It’s called a job. This ain’t high art.

  11. Linnen says:

    The One True b!X – you are a genius! Those two on “Thriller” would be incredible! I used to love that book so much.

  12. Linnen says:

    Sorrentino drawing Scabbard would be INCREDIBLE!

  13. At least they tried… one can’t really blame DC for cancelling the book, the sales were really bad, but you are right, they could have promoted it a bit better.

  14. Jon C says:

    @Stam – how has the New 52 failed, when all sales are up! Pre-new 52, Batman was selling in the 40K.

    You can make yours Marvel – but it’s not as if Marvel is creative or adventurous either. Everything published there is Avengers, Spider-Man and X-Men and that’s it! – and they don’t promote their more quirky low-selling books like Morbius or FF.

    If DC publishes just Batman and Superman (the DC 26, as you call it), it wouldn’t be anything different to how Marvel usually do things.

  15. When Marvel cancel X-Factor, will we get an article “The End of X-Factor and the Cancellation of Creativity” for that book too?

    Or do only DC books get this? Oh yeah, forgot about the anti-DC stance on this site.

  16. It’s all confusing. If it’s so good, then why doesn’t it sell better? We sold 45 copies of #1. We sold only 9 copies of #18.

    What caused 36 of the people who bought #1 to quit buying the book? Did they not enjoy it? Obviously, 9 people still liked it.

    Is it lack of marketing? Would better marketing have helped? I do feel that marketing in the comic industry usually equates to sending press releases to the usual suspects.

    And in the age of digital, we can’t really blame the comic shops. If it had a wide appeal, it would have sold more trades on Amazon and more digital copies. It would have had healthy enough sales to warrant continued publication. Good trade sales aren’t really enough to warrant bad monthly book sales because “good” trade sales really aren’t that good. It just didn’t find its market if it actually had a market to be found.

  17. Thomas Wayne says:

    Kard,
    X Factor had a run of 200 plus books….I’d hardly call that a like wise comparison with a book that lasted less than 20.

    And I am not a part of this site – but my Anti DC stance is firm because I LOVE DC and Its characters….and it pisses me off with what they’ve done to their entire in-continuity line over the last few years.

  18. george says:

    I’m afraid creativity is not important to a lot of people who seek out comics stamped with the Marvel or DC logo. I’ve heard fans use the words “comfort food” to describe their favorite superhero comics. Some people don’t want to be challenged by anything different.

    It seems a big appeal of established, long-running series is that they offer a familiar, comforting refuge from a scary and unpredictable world. That’s why Batman and a few other big names will sell in acceptable numbers, regardless of quality, while something like “I, Vampire” struggles for recognition.

  19. Thomas Wayne says:

    All told from its inception X Factor has over 250 published books…the most recent run having 94 issues…hardly a case for the cancellation of creativity…

    I, Vampire…well…that’s a completely different story….the original story was told in House of Mystery in the late 70′s or early 80′s and was spread out over roughly 20 issues.

    This new series adds just short of another 20….

    Again, quite the difference from X Factor….which in its original form was the original 1963 Xmen…..

    Like I said….not even a remotely comparable situation…

  20. comicsatemybrain says:

    Thomas: It doesn’t really change your point, but just to set the record straight… the current run of X-Factor was a few more than a 100 issue run, not 200 (there was a re-numbering stunt in the middle of Peter David’s run, that’s why the current issue numbers are so high).

  21. Gianluca Glazer says:

    I don’t hate the new 52, but I do hate how untimely DC is with the release of the trades. I have to wait until October for the last story arc of a series that ended in late April?

    I think this series could have been more successful if the first few issues had used Sorrentino as the cover artist. It’s rare that a books interiors are way better than the cover artist. The first trade did do good numbers. Maybe if the trades were more timely, it could have raised the orders of the individuals issues that followed.

  22. I was deterred by the #1 cover too. You’ve got me curious. I’ll have to try it out.

  23. I’m really chuffed that people are giving the series a try – it really is such a beautiful book :)

    I do like Jenny Frison’s covers on other titles, Revival in particular has some incredible work, but it just didn’t seem to fit I, Vampire’s very stark interior style. The covers definitely give the wrong impression of what kind of book lies within, and the first two trade collections sharing those covers rather than Sorrentino’s very stylish ones (#6-9,14,17-19) was another misstep.

    The huge wait between singles and trades has been a major headache for this bookseller – Marvel, Image, and Dynamite are often way ahead of the game on that score. Having to wait 6 months for a finished run is not exactly profitable for anyone!

  24. Thomas Wayne says:

    Comicsatemybrain,

    Thanks…I wasn’t a hundred percent sure about my info on the actual numbering or current issue of X Factor…but I knew it was somewhere around there. Thanks for the proper info.

  25. Chris Hero says:

    I think george really hit the nail on the head with his comment.

    Anyway, I’ll give it a read, too, Laura. I was disappointed by the last batch of Marvel/DC comics I tried, but they all seemed pretty run of the mill. It’s quite possible I, Vampire might end up in that small pile of Marvel/DC books I enjoyed. ^_^

  26. As someone that’s more of a Vertigo fan, I dismissed “I, Vampire” because of the cover of the first issue, but I haven’t paid too much attention to the New 52 with the exception of Wonder Woman. I wonder if this is another title where keeping it under the DC New 52 umbrella was a mistake. That perhaps it would have gotten more attention & readers under the Vertigo label. Despite it’s cancellation, I’ll definitely check out the trade of this after this glowing review.

  27. Dial H cancelled now too. And then there were none :/

    I hope everyone who tried I, Vampire enjoyed it half as much as I did!

  28. I agree with pretty much all of this. DC gives a lot of good ideas chances, but without proper promotion they really don’t realistically go anywhere without a big name attached like Morrison, Johns, etc. It’s definitely sad that a lot of great books tend to have the “while it lasted” tag at the end, but I don’t know what can be done. It really is all about profits at this point. The market wants what it wants.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] up I, Vampire #1 before working backwards to pick up everything else and keeping up with the writer since that series was erroneously cancelled. To say that The Bunker piqued my curiosity would be quite the understatement – so thank goodness [...]

  2. [...] written before about my deep love for I, Vampire, and how the cancellation of that title really shook my belief in DC as a publisher. Alongside Saga [...]

  3. [...] written before about my deep love for I, Vampire, and how the cancellation of that title really shook my belief in DC as a publisher. Alongside Saga [...]

  4. […] runners up: Andrea Sorrentino (I, Vampire, Green Arrow); David Aja (Hawkeye); Fiona Staples […]

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