We Talk Legenderry Vampirella with David Avallone
David Avallone is a comic rookie, although with an impressive writing career in other mediums. Despite his lack of experience he hit the ground running with Legenderry Vampirella, a steampunk take on the bad girl character. We got a chance to talk science, feminism and goggles.
Graphic Policy: Legenderry is a world of characters from Dynamite put into a steampunk setting. Why do you think that steampunk has become so popular as a sub-genre of science fiction?
David Avallone: Of course, any individual fan might have a different answer to this question, but I can think of a couple of things. The future is notoriously hard to visualize well. Steampunk allows the creator and the audience to have comfortable, attractive visual and thematic “hooks” to hang the story on. Also, it’s probably not a coincidence that science fiction, in the modern sense, originates in the late Victorian era. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were creating steampunk before there was steampunk. The Nautilus and Cavor’s moon capsule and the Martian War Tripods and the Time Machine are all a beautiful cross between the Industrial Revolution and the then-undreamed future. That’s irresistible. I would say that trend even extends to Star Wars, which owes as much to the 1870s and the 1930s – design-wise – as any imaginary future.
GP: What were the challenges of incorporating Vampirella into a steampunk setting? And were there aspects of the character that were vital to keep?
DA: I can’t claim to be the one who faced the initial challenge: our steampunk Vampirella is the creation of original Legenderry writer Bill Willingham and artist Sergio Fernandez Davila. I think they kept her essense while dropping maybe her most iconic aspect: the 1969 monokini costume. That’s my favorite thing about Legenderry Vampirella: she proves she’s more than just the costume. The most basic aspect of Vampirella that I’ve tried to maintain is her incredible strength. Not physical strength, but strength of character. She is no one’s victim, no one’s damsel-in-distress. In this series she gets some help from men (and a lot of women) but she is always in charge of every situation, and always the smartest, toughest one in the room.
As an aside… Bill Willingham prefers his own neologism “SteamPulp” for the world of Legenderry, because the elements are really more Pulp than Punk.
DA: This is a tough one to answer without spoilers, but let’s just say Vampirella has had a few origin stories over the years and I have leaned heavily in the direction of science fiction and away from the supernatural.
GP: Vampirella is a strong female character, but generally one that is based in modern times. Is it harder to base a strong character in a time when women were less empowered than they are now?
DA: I’ve thought about this a lot, actually. Unlike some writers of iconic female heroes, I’m happy to identify myself – and Vampirella — as Feminists.
“Legenderry” is, of course, an imaginary world… but to a large extent their cultural mores mirror ours from the turn of the 20th Century. As a writer, I think it’s more interesting, and not necessarily harder, to tell a story of a strong, empowered woman in a time of greater oppression. Honestly, even in the stories set in modern times, an aspect that makes Vampirella “scary” – on a cultural level – is that she can’t be oppressed, she won’t be controlled, she won’t shut up and she won’t stand down. And that’s why I absolutely love her, and love writing her.
GP: It seems like one of the challenges with Vampirella is that she is a hero that has no problems killing her foes, and thus she does not have an arch-nemesis or even a common group of villains. Was that a problem when interpreting this story?
DA: I can’t claim this is a very original observation, but she’s almost like writing Superman. There’s no one like her, and she’s virtually invulnerable. In fact, I’ve been trying to work this one Kryptonite-related joke into every issue and I still haven’t been able to find a spot for it yet. Because of the science fiction setting, I have been able to effectively threaten her life in a lot of situations… or at least present her with challenges she’s not sure she can survive.
In the past I think Dracula has been presented as her Arch-Villain, but I’m leaving him completely out of this. Bill set up a “Council of Evil”, to which I’ve added a handful of my favorite (public domain) villains from literature. Collectively they have a lot of resources and skills and are a real danger to her: an army of ants can take out a scorpion.
GP: Vampirella is a character already from different eras. Her popularity began as a pulp heroine with a cult following in the 1960s when such characters were still considered taboo and so escaped mainstream success. Equally the character has struggled at times to gain a following in the modern day. Is there a time and place where you think the character best fits?
DA: She started out very much like a character from a Hammer horror movie and she’s come a long way since then. I think she’s been dismissed by some fans and readers, over the years, because of the costume, and because of the perception there isn’t a lot more to her than exposed flesh. (And let’s face it, she has also gained a lot of readers because of the costume, and the exposed flesh.) I also think the frequent re-writing of her origin story hasn’t helped. But she’s still around, and her longevity speaks well of the ability of the character to apply to all sorts of genre settings. For myself, I don’t see a limit to the kinds of stories you could tell with her.
GP: What can we look forward to in this series?
DA: A kickass heroine in a fascinating setting, with a fun supporting cast. Robots and airships and swordplay and disintegrator pistols and autogyros and a whole lot of “spot the 19th century literary character”. A little more seriously, I hope people find a compelling adventure about a very powerful woman trying to make her way in a hostile world.
GP: Is there any other character that you think would benefit from the same treatment?
Longer: When I was asked to do this book, I had a nice phone call with Bill Willingham, and I told him some of the characters I wanted to bring into his world of Legenderry, and he gave his enthusiastic approval. So the real answers to this question are already in the book.
I wouldn’t mind doing a steampunk epic where the superteam is Kafka’s Joseph K, Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter and William Burroughs’ Inspector Lee of the Nova police.
I’ve had an idea for decades about a mash-up of Homer’s Odyssey with the Black Sox Scandal in a steampunk milieu, but that’s another story…
GP: Characters in this setting have specific visual qualities (for instance goggles) incorporated into their design. Vampirella still looks very vampire like, but were there any design aspects that restricted what you thought that you could do with the story?
DA: I will admit that as a writer I’ve been struggling to come up with a reason for someone to actually USE those goggles, but human dress often has pointless design elements. I don’t actually use my tie to wipe my mouth with at the table, for example.
I find in some ways being in the steampunk setting is freeing rather than restricting. In the present day, anyone can call anyone on a cell phone, find out any information instantly. The characters having such conveniences can get in the way of drama. Sort of like on Star Trek… the communicators had to be blocked or stolen, and the transporter had to malfunction… like, all the time… or Kirk could simply pop out of any trouble he might find himself in. The writers had to solve that every week. Without those “modern” conveniences it’s easier to back characters into interesting corners. And that’s what action-adventure is all about: backing characters into interesting corners, and then getting them out again.