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.


Jennifer Loring said...

What 30 Days of Night really did was prove that vampires don't have to be a bunch of whiny-asses eternally mourning the loss of their humanity. Hell, these vampires LOVE feeding and killing, as they should--they're the ultimate apex predators.

As an aside, I met David Mack at the Pittsburgh Comicon a number of years ago. Such a nice guy. Signed two of my Kabuki books and a print. I need to see your tat!

Creature said...

Vampires as predatory monsters isn't anything new. It was their default mode before we...ahem...defanged them. I should have probably mentioned that in my post. Hell, I should do something about the weird dichotomy of extremes between broody bitch vampires and laughing sociopath vampires.

David Mack is one of the most talented dudes and a big sweetheart. He needs a bigger career. I have a print of his on my way. I got the Kabuki dragon tattoo on my back, but the artist was shitty and my later add-ons were worse.

Jennifer Loring said...

Oh, believe me, I know what they used to be (in folklore and in film) before the 70s ruined everything. I've been researching them since childhood, seriously. :) My point was more along the lines that many people have either forgotten what they're supposed to be thanks to Rice, Meyer, et al, or are too young to have ever experienced it in the first place.

David Mack's art is so stunning, he really should be insanely famous.

Cin Ferguson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cin Ferguson said...


This story (and the artwork) were new for me too. I even bought the film so I could watch and compare. It wasn't as good as the graphic novel, but I enjoyed it. I didn't mind the artwork at all. I believe it did the story justice. The worst for me was trying to decipher the text 'cause it's too damn small and my 49-year-old eyes needed a mag-glass to pick out the lines.

Jennifer, interesting point about whiny vampires (Interview with a Vampire and Lost Boys comes to mind). I enjoyed the struggle between the 'youthful' vamps and the 'older/more experienced' feeders. Even among vampires there's idiots who are impulsive and don't think things out, and those old-timers who cling to the way things are done. In the end, we think things change, but the life puzzle is always the same...

C. R. Langille said...

I was put off a little by the artwork at first as well. However, it grew on me as the comic went on. I had the same issue though, where there were panels that I couldn’t really tell what was going on, and I spent too much time trying to figure it out, and that pulled me out of the story at times. I want to touch a point you mentioned, about the Masquerade. I think we’re on the same wavelength here. I loved how the older vamp came in and beat the snot out of the younger one for fucking up, and cited that it took centuries for the vamps to hide themselves from human’s minds. I eat that kind of stuff up, and I wish there had been more of that. I think the only way vamps could survive in our world, was to be in hiding. I don’t know if you’ve seen the new Underworld movie, but it touches on a version of what could happen if we knew of their existence. We would wipe them out, or try to. As cheesy as those movies can be, I think the theme is neat, and love the world they set up.

R. D. DeMoss said...

You have said a lot of stuff I support wholeheartedly, sir. From your respect for Marvel cards and thoughts on bullies loving the mutant movies that have been released in the last decade to your comparison of Templesmith's art and the feeling of this story being hollow.

In my blog, I compared Templesmith's work to Kiki Smith: Templesmith's jagged underlying sketches seem to become a harsh contour of a gritty reality while the blurring effect seems to represent chaos and gore. Smith tends to focus only on harsh contours to express grotesque realities. Or what I'm really trying to say is that I analyze Templesmith's work as fine art; it falls into my guidelines for fine art and not comic art. I feel like fine art is out of place in a comic, and in comics art needs to help tell the story, not become the center of the story.

As for the hollowness of the story, I can't say that's a terrible thing. I just didn't understand what the hype was regarding it. Sometimes a fun vampire yarn is exactly what I'm in the mood for--I just get surprised when such a series starts getting nominated for awards and being turned into a big-budget Hollywood film.

Jeff Brooks said...

Love the mention of Vampire the Masquerade. I too really liked that concept that their existence had to be a thing of myth, because otherwise humanity would hunt them down and destroy them. It doesn't matter how invincible you you at night, there will always be a day, and its best of nobody knows about you, so you can be safer during your most vulnerable time.

Nicole Miller said...

I think the vampires benefit in several ways by keeping their identity secret. They can sneak up on unsuspecting victims, but I think there might be a larger theme. It can be extremely difficult to avoid mistakes like these when you are in a different area. By reminding the reader that vampires need to maintain their secret identity, it reminds us that they work to blend into society on some level. When you get right down to it, I think it's pretty terrifying to imagine there could be a vampire living next door or in the seat next to you at a movie theater. For me, that is one of the many reasons I love vampires as a horror monster.

S.N. Graves said...

I think for me the best part was definitely when the older vampires showed up and laid the royal smack down on the younger ones. Is it terrible of me that, even with the vampires being pure monster, I was more interested in what was going on with them than the pitiful peoples hiding from them? I also loved how shark-like the vampires appeared. For me that really brought up the level of scary a good bit (Sharks on land, oh no!). My biggest issue was just trying to follow the sequence of events, because the artwork did, at times, make that incredibly difficult.

Rhonda JJ said...

It was pretty cool that the vampires were conflicted over the slaughter. Not just from the perspective that Vicente considered it tacky, but also that he pretty much told Malcom he was too dumb to remain in the ranks when he vampire pimp slapped him.

Don Dudelson said...

I think the art is sweet. Lots of character.

The story isn't as good as the concept. It's called 30 Days Of Night, but it seems like 10 Minutes Of Night.

Niles is very overrated. He has good ideas but does not know what to do with them.

Anonymous said...

the art is horrid.