Saturday, February 11, 2012
30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith
I love comic books.
Cartoon strips were the first stories I fell in love with. As a very small child my folks read picture books to me and it was a natural transition into the Calvin and Hobbes books that I still love and revere to this day.
One fine day, I was out grocery shopping with my mom and I saw and Archie's Digest on one of the spinner racks between the thing and the other thing. I loved the stories and will defend them to this day, and when my father came home from work that night I asked him if he would pick up another issue from the comic store next door.
He bought me an entire box of 70s-era Archie comics. My dad was that kind of guy.
When I hit age nine, give or take, Marvel released trading cards of their heroes. The images on the cards were crisp and vibrant and the character bios on the back were fascinating. Plus you got little sport-stat assessments of the character' intelligence and fighting ability. I left the clean, sexless, halcyon fields of Riverdale for the elaborate costume dramas of 616 Manhattan.
I kept reading comics throughout my childhood. I was not particularly bullied as a kid, but I had to eat shit a fair amount of shit for it. I like to think that the little bastards who teased me for loving Jim Lee-era X-Men books loved all the movies that came over the last ten years.
I've been going to comic book conventions ever since they were shady affairs held in church basements full of Comic Book Guys and pedophiles. Now they're somewhere between nerd Mardi Gras and heartless corporate marketing machines. Still, I love the medium. My pull list is about ten bucks a week, give or take.
I love them so much, I want to write comic books for a living.
Shhhh. It's a seeeeeecret.
Comic books have to be judged by a slightly different standard than prose. They are primarily a visual medium, they're often serialized so the story construction tends to be both longer form and paced in fits and starts.
They can be deep. Watchmen is deep. But Watchmen is probably the best American comic ever made. Most of the rest of the mainstream books are fight books between characters that have been teenagers and young adults for over fifty years.
The horror genre has a shaky history in the medium. It nearly killed comics during the panic in the fifties, the seventies saw the birth of the horror-themed superheroes, and the eighties saw the creation of the DC offshoot Vertigo and books like Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Neil Gaiman's Sandman, both of which are classics by any standard. Horror, however, is not a mainstream thing. Comics in America mean superheroes and savage cyber-killers, not monsters skulking in the dark.
I've seen it all. I've read it all. And I never got around to reading 30 Days of Night.
The reason I've never picked up 30 Days of Night is that I don't care for the art of Ben Templesmith.
I don't think it's bad art. It's definitely unique. It reminds me a lot of the fluid styles of David Mack, which borrows more from the fine art world than from the hidebound styles of comic draftspeople.
Experimentation is fine. Hell, I have a David Mack piece tattooed on my body. But I am not a particularly visual person and it's easy to lose me to overly clever artwork. Templesmith's style is too fluid. Frankly, I have no idea what the hell is going on most of the time. And it's also somewhat of a bad fit for Steve Niles, one of the only purely horror writers in the medium.
30 Days of Night is a fairly straightforward vampire yarn. There's a town in the arctic circle that stays dark for a month, so a bunch of vampires decide to throw a celebratory massacre and invite some of their big leaders. The rest of the story becomes a struggle between frightened survivors and the squabbling vampires.
It's....a'ight. A bit character-lite, not a lot of surprises, pretty to look at. Some of the vampires are nifty. Nice bittersweet ending but it ultimately feels a little bit hollow.
The one interesting thing that stood out was the conflict between the vampires. The younger vampires organized the whole party. The older vampires they invited to impress are furious with them for drawing attention to their existence and because the whole event is, by elitist snooty vampire standards, tacky. I love that stuff.
I've discussed in the blog how I learned my storytelling chops from running role playing games and the very first game I picked up was Vampire: the Masquerade. Long and the short, the Masquerade is the law in vampire society prohibiting its members from revealing their existence to humanity.
I love this stuff. It's the only way vampires work in modern society and I'm pretty sure that White Wolf Games' product line helped kick start the whole urban fantasy thing.
So, there ya go. It was pretty good for what it was. It was worth the four bucks I spent but I don't really see it shaking any new ground in my vision of vampires.
"Hey, vampires can't be out in daylight. Let's set it some place where night never comes."
And they did.