With Vampirella celebrating her 50th anniversary this July, Dynamite Comics and acclaimed writer Christopher Priest (Black Panther, Deathstroke, Justice League) are set to release a new ongoing series. With art and colors by Ergün Gündüz and letters by Willie Schubert (Deathstroke, Batman, Justice League), the first issue will coincide with the Daughter of Drakulon’s first magazine cover from July of 1969.
Priest’s career has spanned 40 years and is filled with high-profile credits and milestones such as being the first African American editor in mainstream comics, a huge influence on the Spider-Man titles, and writer for Deadpool, Green Lantern, and Conan the Barbarian, to name a few. His run on Black Panther was also a huge influence on the Academy Award winning MCU film from 2018.
The Beat sat down with Priest to chat about taking on yet another iconic character, Vampi herself.
Deanna Destito: Before jumping into this, were you a Vampirella fan? What appealed to you about this project?
Christopher Priest: No, I wouldn’t call myself a Vampirella fan (which is sure to annoy Vampirella fans!), although I was certainly aware of the character. But I’d guess I viewed the property nostalgically. Fondly, for sure, but if I thought of Vampirella at all I thought of her in a kindly past-tense, as an artifact of the 1970s and my misspent youth.
Destito: What inspired this story arc?
Priest: Well, when approached by Dynamite Publisher Nick Barrucci, the first question any writer might reasonably ask is, what might I have to say with this character that hasn’t been said or at least hasn’t been executed in the same way. Former Marvel EIC Tom DeFalco taught me to make lists of character attributes. Those lists will help you see story possibilities.
I liked the challenge of grounding the premise in as close to the “real” world as Dynamite might allow. An occupational hazard in this business is we, all of us, tend to get so immersed in the mythology that we begin to take it for granted and it loses its magical appeal.
I remember, in Spider-Man Vs Wolverine, writing, “Spider-Man swings across the Manhattan skyline.” Now, I was the Spider-Man editor, up to his nose in Spider-Man. But I wanted that double-spread to be exhilarating and magical. Spider-Man swinging across Manhattan, Superman flying across Metropolis, should take our breath away. We should never get tired of it and it should never become routine. But it does. Because we’re fans (yes, even me), because we’re so immersed in it.
I wanted to bring new notes to Vampirella’s chorus, to remind myself first and foremost of why she is unique and interesting, and to engage the reader in her personal journey. My best friend is an amazingly gifted musician who combines traditional Gospel styles with darkly baroque classical forms and a pinch of jazz to create what is a timeless sound that is difficult to categorize (http://darrylcherry.com/idx/1/about/). I’m trying to bring a similar uniqueness to my Vampirella run, something that maybe echoes Black Panther or Quantum and Woody while still being its own thing. Miles Davis plays the Munsters theme.
Destito: Vampi has a long history. Did you find it difficult to find a fresh approach to her or did you use that history to jumpstart the series?
Priest: I’m pretty sure I said to myself something like, “What would a Netflix Vampi series look like?” and went from there. Some of that stuff really works, some of it is Lost In Space. Stay tuned.
I just wasn’t inspired to go classical or even to sing to the choir. There’s a lot of Vampirella product out there and will continue to be a wide selection of varying interpretations. I guess I wanted to create the interpretation that would interest me, someone who might not necessarily be a regular Vampi fan.
I’m kind of into Brian K. Vaughn now, whose laptop I am not worthy to plug in. The economy of expression he brings to Saga and Paper Girls, among others, is something I am clearly ripping off– er–echoing. The writing is a bit different from what my readers would be used to, and artist Ergün Gündüz is bringing a very non-commercial, non-Marvel House Style, underground feel to the book that just knocks me out.
Destito: What about this series will appeal to both old and new fans?
Priest: I’m afraid old fans will firebomb my home. I went through that with Black Panther— die-hard Don McGregor fans screaming at Quesada and Palmiotti, the Marvel Knights showrunners, because we gave T’Challa a bullet-proof costume and an iPhone. Here I’m giving Vampi a smart watch, so I fear for my life.
I’m fairly dedicated to not retconning other writers’ work. There’s a lot of that going on these days, which is unfortunate. Writing is hard. People invest themselves and bleed into their work. Then some schmuck comes along and declares none of that ever happened. Part of the challenge of being a good writer is to show respect for writing and for other writers. Having your work retconned feels as bad as when your woman leaves you. It sucks.
So far as I am concerned, everything that happened to Vampirella in the past happened. Whatever version of her origin story you want to believe is the official story. Nothing that happens in my run (so far at least) contradicts anyone else’s, and where it possibly may we’ve inserted some loophole or another by which means the past remains in canon despite whatever wacky things I come up with.
But (not speaking for Dynamite because I don’t know or want to know numbers) it is my assumption that there are not enough die-hard Vampirella fans to make the series as commercially viable as Dynamite would like it to be. It’s 2019, not 1979 (not a dig, I rather enjoyed 1979 to be honest), so how do we reimagine this premise in a way that makes the character relevant and commercially viable in the Me Too BLM MAGA era? The world is a much touchier and less flexible place now, and a semi-nude buxom neck biter is just asking for trouble in this environment.
So the premise needs to evolve. I don’t know that what we are doing is the definitive answer, but it’s our shot at it. I doubt my Vampi run will be as startling a change as my Panther run, but both were developed from the same philosophy: enlarging the tent for the character and the franchise.
Destito: How was working with the rest of the creative team?
Priest: Dynamite graciously welcomed my letterer, Willie Schubert, aboard. Willie and I live in the same town and are good friends. He is my voice; he knows my eccentricities and I don’t have to go through the awkward breaking-in process with a new guy.
Ergün Gündüz is an amazing gift. More of a digital painter than comic artist, Ergün brings incredible magic to the party. He has a wicked and audacious sense of humor that makes me look funnier than I actually am, and his moody and deliciously offbeat art, which looks a lot like animation cells, is just amazing.
Editor Matt Idelson is actually the father of Everett K. Ross, whom I created during my Ka-Zar run, which Matt edited. Every day I keep expecting the call from Dynamite telling me to knock it off– stop being so irreverent and stop pushing the envelope. But the call hasn’t come yet. If anything, Matt is our co-conspirator so, if I do eventually get that call, it’ll likely be the person who gets Matt’s job after he’s fired for allowing (encouraging) our offbeat take on the character.
Destito: Of the newer characters you have introduced, who is your favorite and why?
Priest: Benny The Witch, who we will see mostly in flashbacks because he dies in the plane crash in issue #1. The story arc is about this plane crash, what caused it, why it has so deeply affected Vampirella. Benny is a big part of that. He is the warm, funny soul of this story arc, the nicest witch you’ll ever meet, and maybe the most grounded and self-possessed of the cast.
Destito: You have a rich history of writing some of the best characters in comics. Now with Vampirella added to the list, are there others you have your sights on?
Priest: Well, here’s where I get to whining, so maybe I’ll stop now. I tend to not set my sights on anything because I am not usually invited to the party. You name a mainstream character, I’d probably love to write them. Flash. Iron Man. Superman. But nobody’s going to offer me Flash, Iron Man, or Superman. It’s not going to happen. In 40 years it has never happened. So I don’t waste my time thinking about what I would do if I got my hands on those characters.
I’m always amused when anyone refers to me as “name” talent or uses the (can’t help but laugh) term “legendary” in association with my name. I don’t have a reason why nobody will offer me Banana Man, but I know I won’t be offered it. It’s quite possible that, much like my best friend’s music, my writing is just odd enough, just baroque enough, that mine is not a name that occurs to anyone looking for a Banana writer. I’m really not a mainstream guy. Most of my work actively mocks the mainstream (Everett K. Ross, Woody). But I think the mainstream is well overdue for a kick in the ass, for different thinking and fresh approaches rather than the perpetual motion of the same.
So, for now, I’ve set my sights on Vampirella and ideally developing, finally, some creator-owned projects this year if I can find time to invest in them.
Vampirella #1 is set for a July release. For those who prefer digital, check out Comixology, Kindle, iBooks, Google Play, Dynamite Digital, ComicsPlus, and more.
Deanna Destito is a writer and editor based in New Jersey. When she is not writing about comics or scripting her own stories, she’s watching the lowest budget horror movies available.