When writer/artist Tim Seeley and his co-writer/studio mate Josh Emmons pitched the five-issue horror series "Ex Sanguine" to Dark Horse Comics, they had some very specific, very gruesome ideas about vampires. Though the bloodsuckers of literature are at an all-time high popularity-wise, the pair felt the romantic elements of the undead had tipped the scales too far away from the dark sides of the cursed creatures of the night ideal. Of course, the only way to solve that problem was to make the most horrific romance story they could think of.
"Partially the reason why Josh and I started talking about this book was our frustration with not understanding the 'Twilight' phenomenon," Seeley told CBR News in advance of this week's "Ex Sanguine" #2. "To put a pun on it, that sort of took the bite out of vampire stories. It just turned those stories into this mild thing. You can't play baseball and sparkle and feed on animals when you're a vampire. To me, the thing that always made vampires scary was that this was their curse. We wanted to show both the lifestyle a vampire would lead and the monstrous actions he'd have to take on when he had to do the job of feeding himself."
The poster boy for their take on vamps was Saul -- the centuries old lead of the story whose jaw full of jagged teeth set the stage of gory fun on the series first throat-ripping cover. "We wanted to come right out the gate with a cover that said, 'This is not a story where vampires are wussy and romantic and like mopey girls with no personality.' This is a curse that makes the vampire see the people around them as giant Capri Sun packages ready to be drank from. It had to show the worst things about vampires in addition to the romantic parts, like immortality and not aging. It had to share the give and take, where you get to live forever, but you also have to do horrible things to other humans. Without that, you're not as good of a monster."
On the other side of the love story is Ashley -- a young psycho killer whose string of stabbings put Saul on the radar of the authorities in issue #1. Seeley and Emmons envision her as a realistic if rambunctious counterpoint to her fanged boyfriend. "I think one of the things Josh was going for with Ashley was that, in the real world, the people who end up being serial killers are always the ones where you say, 'I just never suspected [them]. They were a pleasant neighbor and a good co-worker.' It's not until after, when people start to think about it, when they classify that person as odd and think on things they might have noticed sooner," Seeley said. "We wanted to do that to the reader too. You were just dealing with someone cute and pleasant. She had a job that is completely public and isn't her hiding off in a cave somewhere. She's a waitress. She's got to deal with 100 people a day, and she's got to flirt with everybody and be nice. That's the perfect situation for a serial killer because they can know everyone's business and talk to everybody. As a social circle, going to a restaurant is something where nobody appreciates that they go in there and get asked about their life. A waitress is a person we trust to talk to us and bring us our food. That almost makes this more frightening when a waitress could talk to you, invite you to her house and then stab you to death.
"One of the things we talked about was that we wanted Ashley to be really likable. Everything about her except what she does is totally understandable. Saul is like that too. They're both victims of their own circumstances. They're doing what they feel like they have to do."
One of the themes "Ex Sanguine" deals with is the price of immortality; Saul is not so much a warrior who can't be killed as he is a man lost in the flow of time. "That's something we want to play with -- the notion of immortality sounds great until you think of how much of you you're able to keep. There's such a difference in your life between you at 12 and you at 25, so how much difference could there be between you at 38 and you at 524? So much life happens in between that you've got to ask how much of yourself you're hanging on to and how much you'd want to hang onto. Saul has to remind himself of who he is by writing everything down. There's only so much room in his brain, and he spends so much time trying to find his next meal that he can easily forget the reason he's doing this. If he's just feeding himself for no reason because he has no self left, then why do it? Saul is always balancing that idea of whether this is a curse or a gift. He has to remember why he took the gift."
But that ruminative thought doesn't slow the book's action down. With five issues to tell a story, the creators had to ramp up quickly, with the antagonistic FBI Agent Quinn stealing a piece of Saul's past on a quest to pin Ashley's murders on him. "We had to get this going fast," the artiest explained. "We wanted five issues of really intense story. We pitched this as a one-off story for the two characters, and that's really what it's about. As we get into the second issue, they've both been thrown into these events. How are they going to handle that? We went in focusing on that story, and Dark Horse is really good at publishing material like that. We never thought about whether we could ever do a sequel or anything. We just want to tell a good story. But as we've gotten into this, some opportunities have been presented to go forward if we were asked to."
For now, Seeley promised that the series would remain fast-paced while going deeper into the world of Saul's curse and the particulars of his relationship with Ashley. "I think this becomes a complex mystery story wrapped around a vampire/serial killer romance. It takes advantage of a lot of things we don't always get to take advantage of in comics like visual iconography. It makes for a really cool book," he said. "I left a lot of the twists up to Josh because working on 'Revival' and drawing these pages was kind of whooping my ass. So I let Josh go, and he's really good at doing that J.R.R. Tolkein thing where he loves the language and the math of a really layered story. This series has kind of evolved in ways you'd never expect from a series I'm involved in. If you're read 'Hack/Slash' you know that I'm doing more character-based stuff that plays on horror tropes about blood and boobies. Josh takes a very literary approach that has more complex relationships."
Well known for his freelance work on superhero series like "Ant-Man & Wasp" and "Wildcats," Seeley chose to draw "Ex Sanguine" for a change of pace and style. "A lot of it is that when I was just drawing and not doing much writing, one of the most pleasurable experiences drawing was when I did the 'Halloween' book [from Devil's Due in 2008]. When I do horror, I get to draw in a slightly different style. I can draw normal people wearing clothes instead of spandex. I mean, I love superheroes, and I have no plans to stop drawing them, but it certainly is its own discipline. After doing freelance work for the big two over the last several years and doing superhero stuff or variations on big punching matches, it all felt like the same kind of thing. The horror stuff gives me a looser style. There's something inherent in horror stuff where you want the art to have an off kilter feeling which matches the way you want the reader to feel. I can accomplish that in a different way than I can with superheroes where the current fans of that material want things really realistic and detailed.
"When we started talking about doing a story with Dark Horse, they said to us, 'We want you guys to put this together' I realized that I'd never gotten to draw a vampire comic. Josh and I started talking about the setting of this New England town and a vampire who's sort of an English, foppish sort of dude. I thought, 'Oh, I can actually break out my horror style!'"
"Ex Sanguine" #2 is currently on the stands from Dark Horse.