Monday, May 9, 2011

True Blood Geeks Out

True Blood Geeks Out
By Patrick Shand


1 Southern-fried Louisiana.

1 A buxom blonde protagonist surrounded by a cast of strapping, muscular men who, more often than not, tend to lose their shirts.

2 Vampires.

1 Shape-shifter.

Add liberally: Mostly foreign actors playing American southerners. Lots and lots of sex. Lots and lots of violence. Often mixing the violence with the sex.

Well. That sounds like a recipe for something you’d catch after hours on Cinemax, but things get a bit… different when it’s mentioned that Alan Ball of Six Feet Under and American Beauty (otherwise known as “One of the Best Damn Films of All Time”) fame.

That’s True Blood.

It’s not as introspective as some of Ball’s other works, but it’s gritty, smart, and impossible to turn off once an episode begins. Everything about the show is captivating, from the cast to the stories to the look of the series; True Blood has led to HBO completely conquering the Sunday night slot, and now the series has set its sights on conquering something else altogether: Comic books.

IDW Publishing recently put out their first hardcover collection of True Blood comics, titled “All Together Now.” Tie-in comics often get overlooked, but fans of the show will be delighted to discover that the story was plotted by series creator Alan Ball. Ball worked closely with writers David Tischman (Bite Club, Star Trek, Angel) and Mariah Huehner (Angel) to create a comic book that remains true to the series while still exploring new territory. On working with Alan Ball, Mariah says, “It still feels a bit surreal, to me. Alan Ball is one of those creators whose work I really love. Six Feet Under? That remains one of my all-time favorite shows. So when the opportunity to work with him on the True Blood comic came up, I sort of pinched myself a lot. And it was amazing. He sat with us and hashed out the plot, the individual back-stories. We made sure it all worked with the theme, and made sense with what the show has been exploring. I think the most amazing part was how similar our ideas and approaches were. It was great to discover that our instincts with the stories were largely spot on, like Lafayette's mother and Tara's heart-breaking childhood. It's not an experience I'm likely to forget anytime soon.”

Now, it’s a safe bet that a good number the copious amounts of True Blood viewers out there aren’t familiar with the comics medium. Fortunately, there’s not much to worry about, as the characters and tone of True Blood are so well captured within these pages that the medium of the story is completely irrelevant. When reading Eric Northman’s dialogue, the Viking vampire’s deep rumble of a voice pours from the pages; when a speech bubble pops up above Lafayette’s head, you’d think Nelson Ellis was sitting next to you, calling someone a “hooker” while rolling his eyes. From Sookie to Bill, from Sam to Jason, from Eric to Tara, each and every character is captured almost supernaturally well.

The plot of the story is simple: An Imp Shaloop (read as: bad-ass monster with razor sharp tentacles and a set of fangs worthy of Jaws) named Ted traps Sookie, Bill, Eric, Jason, Sam, Tara, Lafayette, and a few obligatory hicks in Merlotte’s, Sam’s bar and grill. He forces his prisoners to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets to him, their friends, and us, the lucky readers. Ted could seem like a plot device, for sure, but Tischman and Huehner expertly steer clear of that speed bump by making Ted… well, despite how creepy he is, pretty hilarious. When Sookie mentioned Bill, Ted replies, “Beel?” to which Eric says, “You get used to it.” The book is packed with hilarious one-liners like this, which serve as an antidote to the character revealing drama that makes up the meat of this collection.

One of the major fan concerns is the art. I understand that too, seeing as the cast is so damn pretty. The women are beautiful and, as a straight male, I feel no shame in admitting that even some of the dudes make me weak in the knees. I mean, just look at Eric Northman, he’s like a statue of… okay, I’m stopping. Anyway, longtime Angel and Star Trek artist David Messina brilliantly renders all of the characters, capturing not only their likenesses but their expressions, how they move, and how the physicality of their interactions. For all intents and purposes, the writing and art combine to form this explosion of sexy, dark, profane awesome that reads like an exceptional episode of the show.

Alan Ball once referred to True Blood as “Popcorn TV for smart people.” The same idea holds true for the comic book. It’s smart, dark, sexy, and as addictive as the show. Once you turn the first page, you’ll be stuck in Merlotte’s with Sookie, the vampires, Ted the Imp Shaloop, and the rest of the gang.


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