This is how you tell a good vampire story. You can’t take yourself too seriously. You need to know more about vampires than the average reader. And you can’t be afraid of blood, actually, a lot of blood. Robert Heske has written a damn good vampire story with his graphic novel, “The Night Projectionist.” There is a goofy-as-hell premise here but it works: the damned but well-intentioned Dragos will ultimately fullfill his destiny on the last night of the last picture show in town.
Unlike zombies, that are so full of subtext since they’re basically ciphers for social commentary, vampires are highly sophisticated creatures. A vampire story is a character driven story lest you get lost in the trappings of goth. What Heske does is jump right in and lay claim to his vampire history in broad strokes at the start of his book: Kisilova, Hungary, 1709. There is Dragos, a dashing young man who doesn’t believe in vampires while the rest of the village is terrified of vampires. Dragos is the man. You can’t convince him that Burak, a mad scientist who some claim turned into a monster, is indeed alive and well and behind the village terror. No talking sense to Dragos. He’s too cool and good-looking. He is going to go to the house of Burak’s daughter and warn her that the villagers want her dead because they’ve concluded she’s a revenant, basically her father’s accomplice. But, finally, once Dragos does find Carmilla, he discovers to his own horror, that, yeah, she’s a vampire. Dragos meets Burak, is finally convinced he’s way over his head, and the once vampire naysayer finds himself tunred into a vampire! Jump to present day Crosston Falls, Massachusetts and that night’s entertainment, the closing down of the old movie theater on Halloween night with a Draculathon. Many of the town’s teenagers, and loose cannons, will be out to catch the show. And Dragos will be at their service as the night projectionist.
A good horror story, let alone a good vampire story, will intertwine things in interesting ways: the time, the place, and the supporting characters. The vampire history lesson we begin with dovetails into the closing of a scary, yet sweet, bedtime tale as told by mother to child in a modest home in present day Crosston Falls, Massachusetts. Nicki is a young mom who has made the mistake of letting her sister, Tina, stay with her, a woman who has no inhibitions about bringing men back home to have loud raucous sex. The little boy, Michael, must make do with trying to have a childhood while unsavory reality is pounding against his very walls. Then we jump to that night’s activities. Where there’s a small town, there’s definitely high school football, and desperate longings. Halloween night will take the cake and leave no crumbs, just scorched earth. As evil as vampires might be, a spoiled brat jock, like J.C., the mayor’s son, who thinks he owns the town is pretty evil in his own right. For starters, he almost burns down the high school. Even worse, he nearly rapes a girl. Tonight, his misdeeds will fan flames that will take the whole town down.
The artwork of Diego Yapur is right in step with the kooky offbeat world of horror. Yapur has a great eye for characters. He brings to life a whole town of misguided youth, shiftless and corrupt officials, and a bloody-happy crew of vampires. It’s a fineline between being offbeat and inaccessible and being offbeat and way cool. Yapur is way cool. The chemistry between him and Heske is solid and we readers are rewarded. Between Yapur and Heske, we get lost in the narrative and feel for the victims caught in the crossfire. Even a rather subtle subplot involving Danielle, a goth girl with asthma who “hates” her grandfather for no apparent reason, is saved my this writer/artist team that provide the much needed authenticity. At his core, Dragos is a vampire, a monster who drinks human blood to stay alive. But, with the proper attention to detail, Dragos is much more than that. He’s a conflicted hero. What makes this story so enjoyable is that Heske and Yapur both believe enough in Dragos’s journey that we want to read about it ourselves.
“The Night Projectionist” is a 132-page graphic novel published by Studio 407. Visit Studio 407.