Seems like you can't swing a dead bat without hitting a vampire these days, doesn't it?
Considering the popularity of the CW Network's The Vampire Diaries, HBO's True Blood and the Twilight series of books and movies, among others, blood has become the proverbial flavor of the month in pop culture.
But for author Victor Gischler, who has made his own contribution to the boom with his novel Vampire a Go-Go and his writing of Marvel Comics' Death of Dracula graphic novel series, this perceived fascination with all things vampire is nothing new.
"I think if you're standing up close to the situation, it looks like a surge (in interest), but they've always come and gone," he said of vampires, which, by most accounts, had been part of the oral traditions of some Eastern European cultures for centuries before they entered the literary world in the 19th century with the publication of John Polidori's The Vampyre in 1819 and later, of course, Bram Stoker's seminal Dracula in 1897.
"I think what is more important is that while vampires are trendy or popular now, they never really go away," Gischler said. "If and when we find ourselves on the down side of this trend, vampires are still not going to go away. They're so much a part of pop culture. No matter how sick of Twilight we may become, they're going to keep coming back. They're the crabgrass of pop culture."
That theme -- the prevalence of vampires in books, movies, TV and other media these days -- will be the subject of "Novel Talk: Literature With Bite," a two-hour symposium set for Saturday, April 9 at the Aaronson Auditorium at the Central Library at Fourth Street and Denver Avenue. The event begins at the decidedly unvampirelike hour of 9:30am.
"You can do so much with a vampire, and yet, he's still a vampire," said Gischler, explaining the character's everyundeadman appeal. "They can be terrible and scary, like Dracula, and steal your soul, or they can sell you breakfast cereal and still be a vampire. They can also be sexy and romantic. There's something intangible about them that's hard to put your finger on. Maybe that's part of the attraction."
Gischler -- who lived in Skiatook for five years and taught at Rogers State University in Claremore before moving to Baton Rouge, La., with his wife several years ago -- will be part of the "Novel Talk" event, delivering what library officials have billed as a "freewheeling" presentation on bloodsuckers.
"'Freewheeling' is code for 'not much in mind.' It seems like there are always going to be academics available to provide a well thought-out view of Dracula, " Gischler said, explaining that his presentation will differ from that classical approach. "I'll start with my own impressions of Dracula and vampires and where they fit in popular culture, then I'll be looking at my own experiences of writing about them."
Providing that academic take at the symposium will be Joshua Grasso, Ph.D., an assistant professor at East Central University in Ada, will who present "How to Read 'Dracula': A Primer to Sink Your Teeth Into Bram Stoker's Classic Novel," and library associate Laura Raphael, who will lead a discussion on "The Meaning of Vampires in Popular Culture."
Grasso, a native Tulsan, is an expert on the subject, according to Raphael, and "has forgotten more about Gothic literature than most English majors ever knew." He will explore why Stoker's work has lasted as long as it has, she said.
Raphael has her own theories about the resurrection of vampire popularity, crediting much of it to the rise of social media and the speed at which they help pop-culture icons move these days.
But she believes there's also something darker at work, as well, explaining that the trend is a reflection of some aspects of the American psyche since 9/11.
"I think there's a really compelling case to be made for that, particularly in regard to terrorism and immigration," she said.
Vampires represent "The Other," she said, but the ambiguity of that notion is reflected in contemporary portrayals of vampires. Rather than being cast as pure evil, as they were in the past, many vampires now feature redeeming characteristics -- an attempt by their creators to make the point that goodness and evil sometimes aren't as far removed from each other as those who favor a black-and-white approach suggest.
The kinder, gentler vampire has been around since the character of Barnabas Collins in the 1960s ABC gothic serial Dark Shadows, she noted, though it has only been in the past couple of decades that vampires have truly emerged as complex, tortured souls or been painted in overtly sexual tones. The most ingenious vampire character of all, Raphael believes, was Angel, the vampire cursed with a soul in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Raphael said library staff members noticed that requests for the Twilight series of books was constant over the past several years, but the popularity of True Blood more or less pushed interest in the subject over the top.
"You can't go anywhere without seeing vampires now," she said, explaining that she initially wanted to call the symposium "Vampires: What's Up With That?"
Gischler, an accomplished crime novelist, provides a somewhat different take on the legend in his novel Vampire a Go-Go. He describes his protagonist as "a windblown graduate student who bumbles around and uncovers a mystery" at a Prague castle, and Gischler injects plenty of humor into the story. That approach was not quite as revolutionary as you might think, he said.
"I think you can have humor with anything," he said, noting he always found Count von Count, a Muppet character on Sesame Street, very funny when he was a kid. He cited the 1979 film Love at First Bite -- an ill-advised comedy mixing the vampire legend with disco music -- as another example.
"My first recollection of that is that it was not a hilarious movie, but it was an interesting take on vampires," he said, adding that there have been other humorous portrayals of vampires over the years. "You just have to be warped enough to go for it."
Gischler maintains that his vampire character actually plays only a supporting role in Vampire a Go-Go, which he originally had given another title. His publisher changed the title for marketing reasons, he said.
"The vampire's not an insignificant character, but I'm not sure he's significant enough to put on the cover," Gischler said grumpily. "I always sort of questioned that."
Vampire a Go-Go also features the usual suspects of Gothic literature -- ghosts, witches and werewolves -- though Gischler acknowledged that motley crew can't match the star power of contemporary vampires. Butt-ugly portrayals of vampires -- think the 1922 German Expressionist classic Nosferatu -- have been ushered out in favor of sleek, sophisticated ladykiller types like Spike, as portrayed by James Marsters on Buffy, he said.
Gischler learned first hand of that character's appeal recently when he made an appearance at a comic convention in New Orleans. Gischler was having a drink in the hotel bar when Marsters walked in, so Gischler invited him to his table and snapped an image of him with his cell phone. When he sent the photo to his wife, the reaction was immediate, he said, and illustrated the vast difference in popularity between vampires and, say, werewolves.
"She goes apeshit," he said. "I can't tell you how many woman love Spike. You never hear any of them say, 'Ooh, Lon Chaney really does it for me. Oooh, furry.'"
Much of that comes down to simple table manners, he noted. Werewolves tend to be sloppy eaters, and that puts the ladies off. Vampires, on the other hand, approach their victims hypnotically, and when they sink their fangs into a perfumed neck, it's often done with a sense of refinement that blurs the line between fine dining and sex.
"The werewolf or the mummy don't quite pull that off," Gischler said.
Advance registration for the symposium is encouraged, Raphael said, adding that the auditorium accommodates approximately 110 people and almost half that many people already had registered by late March. To register, call (918) 549-7474, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit tulsalibrary.org and sign up under the "Books & Reading" tab.
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