Voodoo & Vampires: Some Thoughts on Scott Snyder

Posted by Tobias Carroll

A couple of years ago, I first encountered the work of the writer Scott Snyder. He was taking part in a reading at McNally Jackson (disclaimer: so was I); the story that he read there did a fine job of getting under my skin, and I picked up his collection Voodoo Heart before leaving. I read it not long after that, and was as impressed with it as I had been with his earlier story.

What Snyder captures incredibly well, in my opinion, is a certain strand of irrational behavior in men — moments of unexpected emotion (usually anger) that arise from nowhere to harm or ruin friendships, relationships, and other bonds between people. His is a clean style of prose, and I’ll be curious to read his upcoming novel The Goodbye Suit, both based on the collection and on the very different work he’s doing in another medium.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up the first collection of American Vampire, an ongoing series from Vertigo that Snyder is writing. (The art is by Rafael Albuquerque; Stephen King, who enthusiastically blurbed Voodoo Heart, contributed work to a series of flashbacks here.) And it’s quite good: a historically-rooted horror story (really, two stories told in parallel) that doesn’t forget the horror, whether rooted in fear of something awful, a more subtle shudder at a body that doesn’t behave as remembered, or a moment of unexpected intimacy that shatters a handful of comfortable strictures.

It doesn’t hurt that Skinner Sweet — who, as of now, looks to be the closest this series will have to a central character — is a particularly nasty piece of work, a man who was, for all intents and purposes a sociopath before getting be-fanged. (It’s implied that his one seeming act of kindness in this collection is motivated more by self-interest than anything else.) And there’s an interesting idea at the center of the series about a sort of evolution of vampirism, which allows Snyder to play with assorted traditions of the genre, modifying or discarding them as needed, and dodging expectations whenever possible.

The section of American Vampire that dovetails most closely with Snyder’s studies of irrationality occurs late in the collection. Curiously, it takes place in one of the sections in which King is working from Snyder’s outline. (I’m intentionally being a bit vague here, for obvious reasons.) It is, in many ways, the highlight of the origin story that runs through the collection. And it’s telling that the most horrific thing in those scenes isn’t the vampire walking with a severed head in his hand, but rather the ordinary man suddenly doing things he’d never thought himself capable of.