If there’s one thing people can’t seem to get enough of, it’s vampires. Or do you feel like the infamous Twilight saga brought doom upon this genre? If you crave a fresh take on everyone’s favorite bloodsucking monsters but fear another sparkling teenage romance, I have just the right read for you. Here comes Brotherhood of Blood!
(Also do you like robots? There will be robots.)
THE HERO’S JOURNEY
When we meet our hero with fangs, Jan, we get know quite a lot right quite fast. It’s pretty refreshing to have an effectively flashed out character by the end of the second page, though I can imagine some might be put off by his rather misogynist inner monologue.
As we get a peak of what’s in his head, second later we get to see what’s under his clothes as well. His happy ending with Petra is somewhat prevented by an impolite interruption by Veronika, a fellow vampire, taking our hero to Rome, where the real action begins.
The world of these characters is not exactly the same as us. The split in timeline comes in October 2019 (we still have a few months, guys!), when their world is ‘visited’ by a race of technologically advanced aliens, who offer peace and elevation of humankind. Planet Earth is colonized, but it’s more or less a pretty decent deal. It’s just that our vampires don’t exactly want to go along…
As the story quickly turns into a survival comedy thriller, we get to know more about the world and how exactly it functions. Most of it is playfully light-hearted. Characters are often very coarse with each other, swearing right and left and in general, projecting as much macho vibe as possible. Yet their choice of words feels very natural and their banter is genuinely funny.
THE ART OF ADAPTING (ONCE AGAIN!)
Excluding a few text-overloads, the reading experience is smooth and well-paced. Time to time reader can hit a roadblock in the form of an exposition-heavy voice-over. Some scenes feel rushed and once or twice you doubt the motivations of the characters, because there just isn’t enough space for their motivations to be explained.
There comes the biggest challenge behind this book - the art of adaptation. Brotherhood of Blood, the prose, has been on the shelves of bookstores for quite a while.
We discussed here before the struggles of adapting, exploring how a story changes when it transforms from a TV show to comics. Naturally, we wanted to ask Jana, the artist, how she faced the many challenges of taking 300 pages and turning them into 122 pages long comics.
‘You have to let out a huge chunk of the story, but at the same time, you have to pay attention to the continuity and logic of the butchered remainder. And you have to remember, people are always going to be angry that you left their favorite part out. Be it just a sex scene or a rumored death of a character. There was simply no other way, no matter how hard we tried, without making the comic feel like a chore to read.’ she says.
The ‘butchering’ wasn’t the only hard part. The book was originally published in 2010. Now, nine years and two sequels and one prequel later, the fanbase is quite substantial. Needless to say, many fans have already had an idea of what the characters should look like.
EVERY FAN A CRITIC
Jana had to deal with her own inner critic, but there were also the writer’s expectations and what’s more, internet full of fans. She admits the pressure was hard to ignore:
‘There is always the fear of not getting the characters right, of deforming the story and going against the wishes of the fans. You will never please everyone.’ she says. ‘I actually took a lot of the hate to heart and redrew the characters and overall style a bit. I think it was for the better, so props to you, haters!’ she adds light-heartedly.
It was an ongoing process. Jana elaborates: ‘In the beginning, I played with the style a lot. It took some time to be happy with the first style choice, only to be completely torn apart by the fans. So I had to sit down and try to come up with something a little bit more adult. And I managed. It still gets a lot of comparison to manga, but I don't really see it.’
The man behind the book, František, agrees: ‘The first time is never perfect. I had no idea how much work it would take, or even how emotionally draining it eventually becomes. More than the work itself I found myself swept away by the reactions, varying from ‘this is the best thing ever, ‘ and ‘ I want sequel NOW‘ to very harsh criticism from other authors. I expected all that, yet I wasn’t prepared.’
NOT THE END
But it is the fans after all to whom we can thank for BOB comics version. After hearing that it would make a great graphic novel for years, František finally decided to push for it. When it comes to comics, he admits that he has never really been ‘in the picture’, as he’s more on the ‘practical’ side of the industry: ‘Do fans like it? Is the publisher still in business? If the answer to the both questions is yes, then I am happy.’
And he is not wrong. The fans came through and the story even found new ones, as the sales are looking pretty good. Good enough for a sequel? There are two more books that make the story complete.
‘We have already started working on the second and third book.’ He’s ready to make some changes though. ’There’s a new team and that will make things for me and Jana much easier.’ he says and right after chastises himself for being an irredeemable optimist as always.
MACHO FICTION IN TODAY’S LANDSCAPE
Working on this article, there were noticeable humorous gaps between Jana’s and František’s answers, the latter being very in-character for the heroes of BOB story. In other words, while Jana talked about challenges and impact, František’s answers could be summed up like ‘comics good because girls naked.’
I turn to Jana once more to explore this, knowing that Czech and American (=Western) standards of what falls under the criteria of ‘sexism’ or any other ‘-ism’ is vastly different. The original text has for sure moments that could probably be deemed as 'politically incorrect'. Or does it…?
‘I don't see the book as overly misogynistic. Sure, it's full of sex, but I think the content is aimed both at men and women alike. It is the B-action genre after all. The work is overly exaggerated in every aspect.’ she says.
That might catches upon you in a very unexpected way. Reading on the app, listening to the soundtrack on low volume, when music and gunshots suddenly turn into lavish moans and you are immediately center of attention whether you’re reading in coffee shop, at school or at home.
ALL THAT YOU EVER WISHED FOR (TO EXPLODE)
This comics truly is a love letter to its genre. Splashes of blood, perky breasts, explosions of buildings and bodies alike, you can find all that in Brotherhood of Blood. Needless to say, that’s where the most entertaining details of the parallax scrolling can be found. Simply put, it’s fun to see all that human debris flying around.
The art has some almost childish qualities in its stylization, contrasting heavily with the themes. Even though especially in the beginning the character designs feel a bit wooden and their expressions misplaced, the art gets better with every chapter, gradually delivering smoother visuals and well-thought compositions. Jana’s skill is at its best when given bigger formats, be it single panel pages or large horizontal panels.
With all that, I think have a lot to look forward to. If you need one final hook, here are Jana’s final thoughts on this:
‘There are some things that could be considered on the edge in the next book, but one of the most favorite characters is a black drag queen. I think it's the type of inclusivity that's not pissing people off.
Author: Štěpánka Jislová
Štěpánka Jislová is a Czech Illustrator and Comics artist. Born in 1992, she resides in Prague and apart from numerous illustrated books and two stand-alone graphic novels, she enjoys doing tattoo and cloths designs, teaches, writes and gives talks and presentations. She participated in the comics symposium The Superheroes of Eastern Bloc (2015) and was awarded a prestigious Getting to know Europe grant at Wilkinson College, CA. She’s a co-founder of the Czech branch of Laydeez do Comics. Main focus of her work is storytelling via symbolism and archetypes, which she explores through carefully crafted compositions and precise line-work.