Vampire Litblog Tour – Interview with Gabe Soria
It’s a little ironic that I agreed to do a piece for First Second’s Vampire Month during the same week of the Summer Books Blog Tour. Today’s interview is not a part of that tour, but is very much in the same vein (and with that I hereby stop with the vampiric puns). When Vampire Month was first proposed it was supposed to be the least spooky and scary time to consider doing something celebrating critters of the night. That was before New York went through the coldest, rainiest, miserable-ist (totally a word) month I’ve experienced in years.
Not that that’s gonna stop me. Today’s guest is Gabe Soria, a man you may know from his co-authorship of First Second’s marvelous graphic novel Life Sucks. If a tale of the undead working for minimum wage in convenience stores sounds a little bleak, it is. But it also happens to be a quick, smart, fun look at vampires through the lens of dead (last pun, I swear) end jobs. As his online bio describes him, "Gabe Soria is a Brooklyn-based writer of weird fiction and strange music journalism whose work has appeared in Mojo, Arthur, and DC Comics’ Batman Adventures. Life Sucks is his first graphic novel."
Fuse #8: So why vampires? Not that they aren’t cool, but there had to be a reason you combined vampire mythology with minimum wage drudgery.
Gabe Soria: Well, when Jessica and I originally conceived of the idea for Life Sucks, way before it was even called Life Sucks, we wanted to take a look at vampire life from the ground up. In most vampire literature, the creatures are immortal rich folks who have put the mundane things about day to day "living" behind them. Food, shelter and money are never really an issue, and we were intrigued by the idea of a vampire who has none of that security, a guy who had to have a JOB to maintain a lifestyle that was still recognizably human. A new vampire who was still at least a century away from solvency and who was still, for all intents and purposes, a regular guy. We didn’t assume that a new vampire would automatically become a sociopathic monster who would steal money and other loot from his or her victims and support themselves that way. I mean, how many people do YOU know who would become a petty thief the moment their bank balance got a little low? Not that many, I assume.
Once we had that idea established, the true horror came in: What could be scarier than the possibility of having the same menial job with little hope for advancement, a job you couldn’t quit, for eternity? That’s the metaphorical boat Dave, the protagonist of Life Sucks, is in – he’s young, he’s immortal and he’s trapped in a dead-end job. Hopefully folks will be able to relate to his goofball existential despair.
In essence, Life Sucks is a vampire book about making hard choices about where your life is going, or not going. It’s about confidence and about being honest with yourself and with the people you love. And it’s also about vampires who drink blood and work bad jobs.
Fuse #8: You wrote Life Sucks with Jessica Abel, but I’m a little unclear on who contributed what. Seriously, how do you go about writing a graphic novel with someone else? It’s not like you can alternate panels, after all.
Soria: It will be forever unclear as to who contributed what, because Jessica’s and my work process was forever changing. Plotting the book was entirely collaborative, a process that involved a lot of meetings at each other’s homes and coffeehouses, a lot of pacing (usually me), a lot of trading places at the keyboard of the computer and a lot of staring into space and wondering what would come next. Eventually, we hammered out a workable plot together. When it came down to actually writing the thing, we tried a million different techniques: we’d sit down together and painstakingly write the book from panel to panel; we’d assign each other scenes to write as homework and when we were done, we’d trade the scenes and edit and rewrite them; we’d argue over whether this person would say this or that; we’d let the other one go when they were on a roll. It’s a mutant of a book, really. I can point to lines in it than are pure me and lines that are pure Jess, but only we know for sure.
Fuse #8: Warren Pleece was the artist on Life Sucks and, as far as I’m concerned, did a kick-ass job. But when you were writing it, you probably had a vision in your head of how it would look. Let’s say Pleece didn’t get the job. Who else would you have considered would give the book the feel you were going for? Heck, let’s say that any artist living or dead could have done it. Who would you pick?
Soria: Before Warren was hired, Jess and I spent a lot of time spitballing ideas back and forth about who we would like to hire for the book, and actually, I can’t really recall who else we considered. Honestly. The process of someone thinking of Warren and getting him on the project went fairly quickly, so as far as I’m concerned, he was always "the guy."
As for a wishlist of other artists, I can’t speak for Jess, but I would love to see what Jaime Hernandez would have done with the book. I would love to work with Jaime Hernandez on anything, really. If he’s reading this, I’d like to let him know that I’m available. Hi, Jaime — I’m available.
Fuse #8: You had a post on the First Second blog about comics and soundtracks. Your argument was that while you don’t need music for a "pure" comic experience, music can actually enhance the graphic novel in your hand while you’re reading it. So tell me, what to your mind is the soundtrack to Life Sucks?
Soria: In the first panel of the first page of Life Sucks, we see our protagonist Dave asleep in his room, and surrounding him are stacks of vinyl records. As a character, he was always conceived as a dude who dug music, and I always saw him as the type to hang out at places like Aron’s Records (a record shop in LA that I used to go to all the time in the 90s) looking for weird obscurities and debating the merits of the bands he saw the night before at Al’s Bar. We don’t really get to see that part of Dave in the book, however, so here’s a short, woefully incomplete, kinda LA-centric playlist of albums for Life Sucks, the kind of things I think Dave would dig (and which I really, really like as well). Everybody who reads this should buy all of them immediately:
Possum Dixon, by Possum Dixon
Star Maps, by Possum Dixon
What Part of Get Thee Gone Don’t You Understand?, by the Geraldine Fibbers
Swingers, by Slug
Summertime EP, by Charles Brown Superstar
Sunshine, by The Archies
Love Story, by Love
Led Zeppelin III, by Led Zeppelin
Repo Man Original Soundtrack, by Various Artists
Fuse #8: And, of course, the obligatory question no writer ever likes to hear: What’s next?
Soria: Next? Well, I have a bunch of projects I’m juggling right now, some of which are close to fruition. I’ll be co-writing a new graphic novel with my good friend St. John Frizell for First Second, and that will feature art by Simon Fraser. It’s a graphic novel about cooking, and that’s all I’ll say about that, other than it’s going to be totally badass. Jess and I have already turned in our proposal for the sequel to Life Sucks and we’re waiting on the word on that. Hmmm… Ron Wimberley and I might be working together on a series of graphic novels set in New Orleans, where I used to live and am back living in now. That one’s what I call a "loser noir." Also trying to hustle my buddy Arik Roper into one of two projects, both of which are very bananas – lots of monsters, lost worlds and occult stuff therein. Very H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard pulp stuff, with a lot of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Ray Harryhausen and Heavy Metal magazine influences all thrown in there for good measure. If you’ve seen Arik’s art, you’d understand. An in addition to that, I’m always trying to get some sort of film project off the ground. So for the next few years I’m just going to stay married, raise my son, write a bunch of weird stuff, play in three or four weird bands, pay the bills and try to live and interesting life. What else can I do?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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