“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” These words by Stephen King illustrate the concept of the modern literature: what is treated as an imagery shall become a fixed figure of the culture. The effect of the mass culture provoked a big irreversible changes of the European culture into the mass one. For example, a vampire no longer rises from his grave and turns into bat to fly from place to place. Skinner Sweet, an anti-hero born from the comic book series by Stephen King and Scott Snyder, is the first American vampire, who does not know anything about his European predecessors and breaks all the existing stereotypes about the vampires known as Count Dracula’s descendants. The series “American Vampire”, from the viewpoint of mass culture, causes interest the American youth because it reinterprets the well-known vampire stories, changes commonplaces, and interests young people to learn about the European origin of this mass culture comic story. Moreover, the character from the series “American Vampire” is the vivid example of the anti-hero figure that appears to be crueler and ambiguous character than his European version.
In this essay there will be analyzed the difference between the European and American interpretation of a vampire character, the roots of these changes and possible consequences of the image evolution.
THE ROOTS OF A VAMPIRE IMAGE CHANGES
Firstly, the most important change of a vampire image lies in catering for the mass-reader. Nowadays, it is hard to impress the modern reader with the old-fashioned story about the Count Dracula who sleeps in his coffin, feeds with virgins’ blood and can die of sunrays. This European concept of anti-hero was developed by an Irish author Bram Stoker in 1897, when he issued his novel “Dracula”. According to the comics series, the main concept of his hero was based obviously on this character. There would be no Skinner Sweet if Stoker had not been investigating the background for long 8 years. This is not just a figment of imagination, Bram Stoker drew on the legends, history and folklore of Transylvania, he studied the works of scientists about the rulers of Moldavia and Wallachia, and he researched materials about Wallachian Prince Vlad Dracula. Bram Stoker personally met with the Hungarian scholar Arminius Vamberi in order to plunge deeper into the history of the Danube. It should be noted that Stoker vampire is not a fictitious person, but a historic one, Vlad III the Impaler. He was a cruel and inventive torturer, who used to execute people, but he was not a mystical creature. His character is more mysterious than cruel: “How good and thoughtful he is; the world seems full of good men--even if there are monsters in it.” (Stoker, 94).
Basically, this story told by King differs from its European “forefather”. Skinner Sweet was born in the American West. His history dates back to the late 19th century. He is a vampire who was not brought from the Old World, not as an immigrant from Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods” (2001). He is a new kind of vampire with new abilities: “In the end, though, it's all about giving back the teeth that the current 'sweetie-vamp' craze has, by and large, stolen from the bloodsuckers. It's about making them scary again.” (Snyder, “Vol. 1”, 2). Another comic book heroine is Pearl Jones, who is also different from the European way of Dracula’s wife Mina. Yes, she had been bitten by a representative of the European vampire community, but later she was rescued by Sweet, and this fact is already moving the story away from the accepted European commonplace. These characters are the brightest representatives of the mass culture, which are focused on the rejection of conventional patterns. According to Stephen King and Scott Snyder, these new images of vampires were made in order to interest the younger generation to learn about the real origins. Definitely, their characters are of absolute American origin, but the changes in their abilities can be interpreted as the beginning of a new story that will not be based on the old-fashioned canons.
THE MASS CULTURE AMERICAN ANTI-HERO VS EUROPEAN VILLAINS
The European vampire’s story told by Bram Stoker is based on the legends and myths of Transylvania and Walachia. Broker created a stable image of a vampire that can be recognized with the following distinguishing features. Vampires belong to the class of the undead. Blood is the source of strength for them. They hate sunlight. Holy water burns their flesh like acid; pets are horrified by only their presence. They are extremely strong and fast; moreover, they are able to turn into bats (however, this story was invented by Stoker himself, because vampires from the myths and legends could change into any animal and not only into bats). The mirror does not reflect their faces. Their hearts do not beat, but they are not dead. Their lips are of a bright red color, but their faces are lifeless pale: “I saw the Count lying within the box upon the earth, some of which the rude falling from the cart had scattered over him. He was deathly pale, just like a waxen image, and the red eyes glared with the horrible vindictive look which I knew so well” (Stoker, 597).
It was believed that a red-blooded person could quickly become a victim of a vampire and become a one himself because of a bite that entailed the transformation into a werewolf (as people of the middle ages could also call vampires). However, the European folklore traditions have preserved that some people were more inclined to vampirism than others were. Those who lived at the bottom of society were always treated with suspicion, and that were they had been suspected of returning to the light of God from the tomb (Snyder, 1). These traditions of treating the poor as the possible “bloodsuckers” were changed with Stoker’s novel. However, the American tradition has took into hand exactly that authentic tradition: “There are such beings as vampires, some of us have evidence that they exist. Even had we not the proof of our own unhappy experience, the teachings and the records of the past give proof enough for sane peoples” (Stoker, 99). Another target of suspicion were red-hair people, and, in general, all people who were born under unusual circumstances or with certain physical defects, such as cleft lip deformity of the skull or limb. In Greece, people are mostly dark-eyed, and those who had blue eyes were considered to be vampires. Prime candidates for revival as bloodsuckers were suicidal, because they excommunicated themselves from the Church.
Nevertheless, the tradition of the American vampires invented by King and Snyder is opposed to the old European canon. Images of vampires from the comic book series, Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones, are not based on the book, and not adapted. These authentic characters are already the characters of the American folklore. It is a self-contained work, which name is “American Vampire”. Comic book series tells the story of how the “land of freedom” has got its first “own” bloodsucker (up to this point, in the territory of today’s vampires are populated by the exclusive US immigrants from the Old World). The character of Skinner Sweet appeared in the “Golden State”, in California, in the late 19th century. He is superior to its European neighbors by all existing indicators: he is a mutated vampire, vampire of a new breed (Snyder, “Vol. 1”, 29). But the main difference is that he fights against the evil: “But just know that there is evil in the world. Real evil. You can fight it, or you can hide and pretend it doesn't exist.” (Snyder, “Vol. 2”, 13). However, European vampires of the old assembly announced a hunt for him precisely because of this vague status. The comic book shows a clearly visible struggle between two clans: the Old and New World, the European and the American vampires. Young people, the future world empire, has created in him its embodiment: a vampire, Skinner Sweet, differs from the European vampires as well as a modern man differs from prehistoric one. He is much faster, stronger, with a mouth like a huge snake, and has long, like daggers, claws. He is not afraid of aspen stakes and silver flowing or standing water, and most importantly, the sun does not terrify him, on the contrary, he even likes it, because it recharges the vampire’s energy: “- What are those? - Teeth. Wood. - But w- I like to bite them back.” (Snyder, “Vol. 2”, 21). American Vampire owns both daytime and night. Skinner is a very good and strong image; people who love America, do not fail themselves with the illusion of it, appreciate it: “But that's not true. You know it isn't. It's about believing in people, believing in the good. In the will of people to do what's right despite their own instincts” (Snyder, “Vol.2”, 12). Like any American anti-hero, he fights against the old system in a very cruel way that implies a large amount of murders.
Originally, like any character of the mass literature, Skinner has many bad habits, from which it would be hard to get rid of. He did not ideal in his composure as his European competitors. Skinner Sweet has disastrous passion for sweets and has a nasty southern character. According to the comics, there are many of the vampire stories, but in which of them vampires are depicted like toy boys, very beautiful, that is why many people want to see him in order to make friends with him or take him home. There are no philosophical maxims or literary delights in this story. This story really focuses on adolescents, but according to the authors, it will develop their interest to learn and explore the ancient myths and legends about vampires, to conduct a comparative analysis. It would be wrong to blame the popular literature of distorting the old canons; on the contrary, it gives them a new direction and gives the opportunity to develop the old truths in a new way.
“American Vampire” is a story in two voices, two layers of time: on the one hand, the reader sees the time of America during the “dry law”, in which Scott Snyder reigns, on the other - Wild West of Stephen King, who based his character on the American and European confrontation between two vampires’ “schools”. In the second case, there is a story about the appearance of the first American vampire; and the continuation of his adventures in the first chapter. The theme of vampires has always had a special mystery. Perhaps it is the reason why the popularity of vampires has increased recently during the time of scientific progress and biological explanation of any mystery. Many writers romanticized cruel and bloodthirsty bloodsuckers. There was a certain philosophy of cold-blooded and mysterious creatures. The Comic book series “American Vampire” is aimed at creating a new character without frills of the old European novel based on Bram Stoker’s image. This is a new interpretation, which main goal is to create a new character that will interest young readers to explore the vampires’ backstory with the European “accent”.
Stoker, Bram. 1997. Dracula, edited by Nina Auerbach and David Skal, Norton Critical Edition. NewYork: Norton
Snyder, Scott. “American Vampire”. Vol. 1. DC/Vertigo, 2010.
Snyder, Scott. “American Vampire”. Vol. 2. DC/Vertigo, 2011.