By Michele Brittany, a West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
It is said that truth is often stranger than fiction and in 1954, a group of children went searching in the Glasgow Southern Necropolis cemetery for the “Gorbals Vampire” (Gorbals is a district in Glasgow) who had purportedly killed two children. The incident was ruled a result of mass hysteria, but for American writer David Black Lucarelli, he found inspiration. He penned the coming of age teen appropriate (but also a fun read for adults!) horror story of Gavin and Doug, who get swept up into fighting vampires when they return to the Southern Necropolis in contemporary times in Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade (CVHB).
I was initially fascinated by the fact that Lucarelli’s story was based on a real life event. While I know that this is not a new concept, I thought that he provided enough of the urban myth as a backdrop to his own story. Juvenile delinquents Gavin and Doug are likeable characters that must face the horrors of the Gorbals Vampire as well as a few of his friends. The story has charm and matched up with Philippines artist Henry Ponciano’s black and white illustrations complement the horror story. Also, there is a balance of details with the minimal color palette.
During the chaos that is San Diego International Comic Con, I had the opportunity to interview Lucarelli and Ponciano via email and talk about the story, the art, and working together from two very different parts of the world – a trend that I am noticing with comics today.
Michele Brittany: David, the original 1954 Scottish story is a fascinating background and really a jumping off point for your contemporary story. How did you come across the Scottish story and when did click that this could evolve into your own story?
David Blake Lucarelli: I discovered the story late one night fishing around the Internet. I was fascinated that this real life incident of would be child vampire hunters was blamed on American horror comics, and that the youngest child involved was only four. I had recently become a father, and I could already see that the seeds of bravery that we generally associate with adults actually start very early on.
MB: How long did it take to write CVHB? Did you start out intending it for a teen audience?
DBL: It as around December 2011 that I had the initial idea, and I debuted the first version of issue 1 at Wondercon 2013. I then ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and we had all four issues out by November of 2013, including having Henry redraw the beginning of issue 1, because it was originally done by another artist who dropped out of the project.
All along I knew that I wanted it to be geared for teens, because I think it says something relevant about finding your place in life when you are young and only have the cards you’ve been dealt to work with. At the same time, I wanted it to be dark, and edgy, and slightly subversive. I wanted to be able to express that these teens aren’t angels. They drink. They are sexual beings. They are just figuring out a lot of things about their lives and themselves. So, just to portray the teens in an honest way, I knew the book would be PG-13 in nature.
MB: Did you have an idea of how you wanted the story to look visually?
DBL: I knew I needed an artist who could draw ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and I knew I wanted it to be in black and white. From the Universal Horror films to Night of the Living Dead, to The Walking Dead, there’s just something about black and white that seems especially fit for horror. It’s immediately disorienting o an almost subliminal level to the audience, and that’s a good place to start in horror. Also, it was important to me that our sixteen-year-old boys didn’t end up looking like championship weight lifters, and the girls didn’t look like playboy bunnies. There’s a place for that in some kinds of superhero or fantasy books, but that wasn’t what I wanted to see.
MB: CVHB represents a recent trend I have been noticing and that is the long distance – international – collaboration between writer and artist. How did this come about for the two of you?
DBL: The original artist was American, but when he dropped out I put an ad on the Deviant art classifieds, and Henry was one of the many who responded.
Henry Ponciano: I saw an ad David circulated and emailed him. CVHB provided me a platform to do what I’ve always loved to do, drawing comics, and that’s all the reason in the world for a geek like me.
MB: Henry, can you tell me more yourself and your interest in art and comics? And what was it that attracted you to CVHB?
HP: I grew up with a comics collecting older brother, so I took up his interest very early in life. As a child I don’t recall drawing animals or houses; I drew superheroes like The Hulk, on walls and pillowcases.
MB: Can you tell the readers what the industry of comics books is like in your country of the Philippines?
HP: If by industry of comic books you mean publishing, there are some very good independently distributed Filipino comics out. Unfortunately the mainstream comics industry has been dead since the 90s. But I’m not worried about comics fans dwindling in the RP. Because Leinil Yu and those other big name Filipino artists will provide inspiration for the new generation of fans, like Whilce Portacio was to my generation. By the way, Whilce’s main character Joel Alonday aka Grail from Wetworks, an actual friend of his, was my college professor.
MB: Did you both encounter challenges collaborating on this project that stems from language or cultural differences? Were there any surprises while collaborating, such as ﬁnding similarities where you did not expect?
DBL: I was initially a little reluctant to hire him because he was from the Philippines, and I worried about whether or not there might be language or cultural problems with our communication, but he was very persistent that he wanted the gig. My wife, who used to be a flight attendant that flew to the Philippines, told me that it was the most Americanized of Asian countries, including Japan, and it turns out she was completely right. I think now, more than ever, we’ve been working together for a while, and we really seem to be in sync with each other. There was one instance where a character had to pull a sword out of the small of his back, sort of like from The Highlander, and I probably didn’t do a very good job describing the exact sequence, so ultimately I just ended up taking a series of pictures of myself holding my son’s plastic sword and posing with it, and he got it right away.
MB: What was your working process? David, what did you provide Henry in the way of direction for completing the visuals? Henry, did you complete rough sketches or storyboards by hand, scan them in, and then work with the images digitally?
DBL: I give Henry a script with a panel-by-panel breakdown as well as a PDF with the dialogue in each panel, for about 23 or so pages at a time, or roughly one issue. Henry sends back rough sketches, and I give him whatever notes I might have, although these days it’s rare for to have any. Then Henry does the final pages, and if I have any notes at that point I may have Henry do some final adjustments, but again, that hardly ever happens. Then I do the lettering. But I always tell Henry too, the panel-by-panel breakdown is a rough suggestion, and if he has a better way to make a page work, by all means, do that instead.
MB: What’s interesting about also about CVHB is that it takes place in Scotland and London while you are both living elsewhere. How did you prepare for the Northern European locale? Was writing in the accent and word emphasis difficult?
DBL: I did a fair amount of research looking at pictures, and Google maps to establish the various locales and try to make them fairly accurate. For the accent, I hired a dialect consultant, George Bell, who gives me his accent notes on every issue. It’s a bit of a fine line, because I want it to feel relatively authentic to a Scottish reader, but I don’t want it to be confusing to the non-Scottish reader. I think I hit a pretty good balance thanks to George.
MB: Henry, what artistic styles and/or artists inﬂuenced the direction you took with CVHB?
HP: When I replaced David’s former artist halfway through issue number 1, I was thinking emulating Mike Mignola’s work would provide a great atmospheric vibe on the title. But as the second issue came, I gradually drew what comes naturally to me. It’s an opportunity to improve my own style and decided to take that route. You should see what I’m gonna do with issue 7.
MB: This was titled volume I, so are you both working on the second volume? If so, when do you expect a release?
DBL: We are! And I’m extremely excited about it. The Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade Vol 2: Age of the Wicked is about halfway done. This book picks up right where the first one leaves off, and for our heroes Doug, Gavin, Lucy, and Amanda, I’m afraid it’s very much a case of out of the frying plan and into the fire. But we’ll also learn a little bit more about what happens to young Percy, so again, you’ll have the two storylines from different time periods that reflect and impact each other. I’m going to debut a “first look” first issue at APE this year, and run a Kickstarter campaign for it this fall, and the full book should be done and out sometime next April.
MB: Where can people ﬁnd you? Any upcoming events?
DBL: People can contact me on the Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade Facebook page, or our website cvhb.net, which I’m in the process of revamping, no pun intended. I’m excited to say I’ve been invited as one of the guests at the After Con Party this Wednesday July 30th from 6 – 9 PM at Golden Apple in Los Angeles. I’ll be happy to swap Comic Con stories, tell you more about my book, sign a copy, and give away some free swag to boot.
MB: Anything you would like to add that I might have missed?
DBL: It’s strange. I feel very close to Henry, although I’ve never met him. Never even heard the sound of his voice. In my dreams, when we are working on the fourth volume or so of the Brigade I hope to be able to fly him out to Los Angeles and do a convention panel with about our book to celebrate. And I know that the first thing I’ll do when he gets off that plane will be to give him a big hug, for all the great work he’s done, and continues to do to bring our story to life!
The first volume of Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade is available on Amazon and Comixology. And if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area this Wednesday evening, July 30, make a point of stopping by Golden Apple and meet Lucarelli in person.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of the forthcoming title James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company). She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies.