Skinner Sweet’s his name, but the long, lean drifter is anything but.
The titular character in Vertigo’s ongoing "American Vampire" series, the former outlaw turned bloodsucker is charting a course of decadent evil, pacing the expansion of growing United States as Hollywood moves from silents to talkies and Las Vegas begins its bloom of avarice, greed, lust and power.
Created by writer Scott Snyder, Sweet’s story was augmented by Stephen King, the author whose literary creations have been creeping out readers since the early 1970s.
"Scott and I did each other a favor. I lent my name, which got the mag going with a little bit more of a higher profile, and he lent me his expertise," King said of the collaboration.
But unlike the wave of pop culture vampires in recent years — grounded, lovelorn, conflicted — Sweet is shiftless, selfish, utterly without redemption and pure evil.
King wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sweet, he said in an interview, is the "anti-‘Twilight’ vampire, the anti-Edward," a "dissolute Kurt Cobain" with a mean streak a mile wide and a sweet tooth for hard candy to match.
He likens the story arc prepped by Snyder to the work of crime writer James Ellroy whose work has explored the "underbelly" of America.
"Scott put this thing together where you have a chance to see all these aspects of American life, American growth and American expansion," King said, and Sweet is "sucking the life out of everything."
The aim of the series — King helped write Skinner’s origin in the first five issues, now collected in a hardback edition for sale at book stores and US comic book shops — is to chart how a new world means a new type of vampire. The art is done by Rafael Albuquerque.
The story concerns Pearl, a wannabe actress from the Midwest who is fed upon by a cabal of old world vampires from abroad and left for dead in 1920s.
Her story runs parallel with Sweet, the bank robber also left for dead and infected by the vampire virus in the late 1800s, his coffin below not just the ground, but a newly created lake. He’s released when souvenir hunters dive down to reclaim his bones or hat or anything that they can sell to collectors.
King said he was exposed to the character when Snyder e-mailed him a draft of the initial script, seeking his thoughts and, maybe, a blurb for the cover. Snyder got more than that.
"I read it and I was turned on by the whole idea that it was the anti-‘Twilight’ vampire, the anti-Edward. I said I absolutely loved this and would like to be involved and he brought me on board," he said.
King said it was also a chance for him to get involved in a medium he had, until now, largely not been part of, comic books. Some of his works have been adapted for the format, including his "Dark Tower" series, along with others.
"The more that I came to it, the more that I saw, the more that I thought the whole comic book thing — there’s such a tendency for people who are, particularly my generation — to think of comics as Caspar the Friendly Ghost and Little Lulu," King said. "But there’s some amazing things. … It’s a serious format and I think a lot of people come to it expecting juvenilia and they find something that’s a lot more sophisticated.
"If ‘American Vampire’ helps to open up people’s minds to that, then I’m happy."
So far, King said, he’s hooked and "American Vampire" won’t be his last foray into comic books. He’s mulling a creator-owned book for Vertigo and possibly another tale about Sweet, too, that he’s discussed with Snyder.
"I did talk to him a little bit about doing a Skinner Sweet rock ‘n’ roll story. You know, around the time of Elvis and Carl Perkins and Little Richard and all that," King said. "That would be fun."
King said the format is ripe for storytelling.
"There’s room to grow. I like new stuff. Short stories, novels, screenplays, all those things are great, but I’ve done them all and this is something new and it’s kind of fun," he said.