Thursday, March 31, 2011

Therapy with the Vampire: A Biased Review

Disclaimer: I fucking adore Robyn E. Kenealy, both as a friend and an author. I will now attempt to write about her new comic calmly and without over-gushing. I may not succeed, but I will at least describe in detail WHY I'm gushing.

Robyn E. Kenealy excels at writing fan fiction, although the term hardly does her work justice. Her Roddy McDowall fandom inspired Roddy's Film Companion (which I attempted to review earlier), and the Battlestar Galactica fandom brought on the brilliant Emissary from Another World, written in character as Gaius Baltar (a very difficult task, as the character is so layered). Her latest work, Therapy with the Vampire, delves into the pscyhological underpinnings of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. The first part can be found here on DeviantArt. For some reason, you must click on "Prev" to get forward.

Ms Kenealy writes slice-of-life. I don't mean the Questionable Content type slice of life where nothing happens and the characters just sit around being witty. Ms Kenealy's writing is like an episode of Mad Men or the Sopranos: every word contains meanings and emotions, the whole history of the characters comes out in the way they interact with each other. Deep issues with humanity and the characters are explored in small moments. It's not really about what happens, per se, or what changes (very little, I'd imagine, it's Lestat and Louis after all). It's what is bubbling under the surface, what is implied. Life itself becomes the plot.

What I love about this kind of writing is that it makes you think. It makes you ask important questions. Like who is Lestat? Why is he the way he is? What general human issues does he embody? What about Louis? What's under Louis' angst? Is Lestat in fact angstier but just tries to hide it? What about me?

Life and humanity for these characters is particularly painful, because they must live forever with all of their issues and problems. They are not intact to self esteem issues, jealousy, anxiety or even guilt. There is nothing glamorous about being a vampire, in this comic; it is the pain of humanity multiplied, and one that goes on forever.

A lot of this is probably present in the books already. I have read none of them, but this does not stop me from enjoying the comic. The history these characters share can be read from just the expressions and dialogue. There's clearly a very fucked up couple here, and it's beautiful. Kenealy gives time to the first scene, letting the characters slowly build up to the fireworks of emotion between them. The first panels are just Louis and a lot of night sky; it takes a while for him to notice Lestat, so it takes a while for the reader too. The buildup is slow and calm, Lestat's appearance almost ghostlike after the serenity of the stars and black sky. Throughout the comic, the night sky remains the backdrop, and it's both beautiful and fitting.

There's something delicious about their constant tug-of-war, Lestat trying to be suggestive or seductive and Louis bringing it back to reality and their issues (see especially this page). This is supported particularly well by Kenealy's drawing style, which is sketch-esque in other details, but utterly precise in the expressions. Lestat's luscious leer is perfect. So is the sulky silence between them in many panels. It's like the conversation keeps starting up and then coming to a halt, over and over again, because Louis refuses to take Lestat's crap. This can prove unbearable for Lestat, whose rage is clearly always just beneath the surface. Louis remains composed and unstartled by it.

It is hard to tell how much of this is Ms Kenealy's brilliance and how much is Anne Rice's. In great fanfic, the border between author and fan is blurred. The fan might have insights the author never had. (This might be why Ms Rice has publicly renounced fan fiction, which hasn't stopped fans from writing it.) Kenealy has a specific talent for peeling the layers of a character and writing them so that every layer becomes visible, every bit of the character's history is always there. This is the thing that is often missing from fan fiction (and let's be honest, even from book and TV sequels).

I also particularly like the dog and his expressions. It's a nice visual detail in an otherwise minimalist comic. You'd think a dog is a bad companion for a creature living for all eternity, though. Also, Lestat's flirtation with the waitress. "It's French, darling - it's French FOR darling". As if no one could help but find him adorable when he speaks French and asks like a charming little boy. (Which might be why Louis calls him The Brat Prince.)

I'm very curious to see how the therapy is going to develop, and how deep Louis can cut into Lestat's onion of self-denial and self-indulgence. The therapist is, at least, not scared of asking personal questions. (Do they even have sex?)

I'm not sure if this was already too much gush and too little substance, but read it for yourselves. A must-read for a Vampire Chronicles fan, and highly recommended for everyone who loves psychological drama.

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