Forget the glimmering and seductive vampires of pop-culture obsession: writer David Lapham and artist "The Strain." Adapted from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's series of novels, Lapham and Huddleston's series wrapped its first arc this past February, and the two are wasting no time in leaping into the second, "The Strain: The Fall," with #1 hitting stores on July 17.
"The Strain" sees a plague of vampirism descending on Manhattan, as The Master, a renegade ancient vampire, begins an onslaught with the aim of worldwide devastation. Vampirism spreads like a viral contagion, sweeping through the New York population. The vampires of "The Strain" are barely human, feeding with a mindless bloodlust while lashing out with thick, muscular, feeding-tube tongues. All that remains of their human nature quickly fades -- early in the infection they seek out those dear to them in life, but soon, any food source will do. A few citizens have banded together to try to stop the contagion, but the battle is taking its toll. Protagonist Ephraim Goodweather finds himself protecting his son from his ex-wife-turned-vampire while battling his own struggles with alcoholism.
Lapham is frank and to the point, describing the trajectory of "The Fall" in a single word: "Down." Everyone, it seems, is at their wits end, and things will definitely be getting worse before they get better -- if they get better.
"At the end of 'The Strain,' we're left with Eph, Nora, Fet and Setrakian giving their all and failing. 'The Fall' picks up only a few days later," Lapham said. "Too late to contain the vampire strain, the group pin their hopes on acquiring an ancient text called the Occido Lumen in the hopes it will hold the answer to destroying The Master. Eph has started drinking again and is contemplating some very crazy ideas. Eldritch Palmer and The Master are looking toward completing their plan, which is much bigger than just spreading their vampire 'virus' across the Earth -- so very much bigger. The simple title 'The Fall' is the clear theme here. If you thought it couldn't get worse, shame on you."
Ephraim is, luckily, not alone in his efforts. "The Fall" will see Augustin "Gus" Elizalde and exterminator Vasiliy Fet taking on a larger role in the story, and the series will introduce the rest of the seven Ancients -- the original vampire lords. "The Fall also features a character just barely glimpsed in the first series, Mr. Quinlan.
"Quinlan is a unique and rogue vampire, sort of a Ronin vampire and an X-factor the group sorely needs," Lapham said. "The Born -- he's a total badass, the only vampire that gives the Master goose bumps. We saw him a little in 'The Strain,' we'll see a lot more of him in 'The Fall' and then he really opens up in the last book, 'The Night Eternal.' He's so cool we've been talking of doing some spinoff stories."
Ephraim, the CDC official leading the charge against the vampires, is also struggling to protect and shelter his son, Zack, from the nightmare unfolding around them.
"I don't think [Zack] can fully comprehend the magnitude of things," Lapham said. He's trusting in the adults around him, especially his father, Eph, to make things safe. Eph, on the other hand, is falling rapidly. He's drinking again and his skills as a doctor are proving to be not so useful. As a fighter, he's learning, but he's clearly not as valuable as Fet or Gus who are both natural killers. As I said, he's getting some crazy ideas that may work to the benefit of humanity, or may not, but certainly aren't working to the benefit of his son or his own soul. Again, the title could refer to Eph's journey as much as the plight of the world."
Lapham, and artist Mike Huddleston, are adapting their comic from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's series of novels. The process of adaptation, or reinterpretation, is a challenging endeavor, dominated by the art of condensing the original tale. Lapham is as concerned with capturing tone as he is the plot, first approaching the novels as a fan and wrapping himself up in the thrill of the story. Then, the decisions begin.
"I read it again and break it down, scene by scene," Lapham explained. "Then you have to look at it and make decisions. To translate a novel exactly would be insane. It would be a 50-issue series and read poorly. Just like you have to reinterpret a novel to be a movie, you have to reinterpret it to be a comic. Everything, from how in a novel you're constantly inside the character's heads, explaining motives and histories -- in the comic, you have to find entirely different ways to get those ideas across. You have to examine every scene to see what Hogan and del Toro were getting at, what they were trying to accomplish with that scene, then see if maybe you can do that differently but still get to the same place."
Occasionally, he and Huddleston are able to take liberties with the story, adding their own spin on del Toro and Hogan's tale.
"Sometimes we think of a few curve balls with new scenes or a new take on something that wasn't in the book," Lapham said. "There's a lot to it, but it's very freeing. The books establish the playground, and the more comfortable I become with the world, the more I can play around inside it, if that makes sense. I thank the gods every day that Guillermo has been so awesome and so open to letting Mike and I do our thing. As a creator, he understands these processes."
Huddleston brings a distinct aesthetic to "The Strain," his tongue-lolling vampires something alien and horrific. Lapham and Huddleston have built the comic book world of "The Strain" as a team, and each is integral to the success of the story telling.
"You can't think of 'The Strain' comics without seeing Mike's visuals," Lapham said. "His storytelling is top notch and really sells horror. And, man, he's on a very short list of guys whose ink line is something to be jealous of. It's rare, too, that a book is done entirely by one artist. This has become a dream adaptation project. We both have the space and the commitment of Dark Horse and del Toro to make this book our own, a real work that stands on its own, basically transcending adaptation and becoming an interpretation. I can just write, and Mike will pull everything off. I don't have to compensate, don't have to rewrite or add dialogue to make a scene work. It's really freeing. One thing I think is evident in 'The Fall is that we're both now fully comfortable in this world, and it shows."
"The Strain" is something of an atypical take on the vampire myth, combining some of the traditional tropes of the genre with those of zombies and medical contagion thrillers. The books resonate with readers because of these changes, bringing horror back to the creatures of the night.
"It puts the scary into vampires," Lapham affirmed. "When I was a kid, I remember one of the scariest aspects of the vampire was them biting you and you would rise from the dead and become a vampire. It's the same here, but the contagion element takes it up a notch by making the stakes global. We're working against Armageddon here, but it's all horror. Insidious. It's creeping all around us, infecting, expanding exponentially, and nobody's caught on except Setrakian and a handful of people. I think you feel that in the atmosphere of the story: that if everyone caught on tomorrow, it might be too late. There's a real horror in that feeling of doom."
From a storytelling point of view, "The Fall" revels in its descent. As the city, and world, is unraveling, it seems that there is little to offer hope that the human protagonists will succeed in defeating The Master. Lapham, when asked about the role that hope might play in the story, or if, in fact, any remains, refers again to the series title:
"Hope? Does that have to be a part of this? Well, true to the title of the book there's not a lot of hope going around, but there is a glimmer of one in an artifact called the Occido Lumen: An ancient book that might be the key to defeating the Master -- if they can get a hold of it. Other than that, hope is in short supply."
So, do we even need to see the so-called heroes prevail?
"Of course not," Lapham replied. "But they might. Or not. Again, see the title of the book. I feel like this is a trick question. Are you on Eldritch Palmer's payroll?"